20 July 2019
Gezelligheid is a Dutch word which is hard to translate as it does not have a direct English equivalent. It can mean different things according to the context in which it is said, but ‘cozy, fun, content, joyful’ are some of the things it means. It is often used to describe a social and relaxed situation. It can also indicate time spent with loved ones, catching up with an old friend or just the general togetherness that gives people a warm feeling. A common trait to all descriptions of gezelligheid is a general sensation of individual well-being that one typically shares with others. All descriptions involve a positive atmosphere, flow or vibe that colours the individual personal experience in a good way. A Dutch lady we met tried to explain it, ‘going out to a nice candlelit restaurant is gezellig, but MacDonald’s is definitely not gezellig. A dentist’s waiting room is not — though it can be gezellig if your friends accompany you. A cozy living room with a movie and glass of wine, with books and Nic-Mac’s surrounding you is gezellig, but a loud cafe full of screaming kids is definitely not’.
But as we all know, there are two sides to every coin, ongezellig is the nasty twin brother. Again, ongezellig does not have a direct translation but means something like, “Let’s get out of this place, its just so ongezellig”. Perhaps it is because we have left such a friendly, chilled nation behind, but we are not finding all elements of Germany particularly gezellig.
Once through the Kiel canal we took the last space on the town quay and the next morning we went looking for some charts and stumbled upon the most amazing little cafe overlooking the canal. Everyone was very friendly, and Tinker made a little friend, a scruffy little terrier with as much spirit as Scrappy Doo. For me they did a fresh bread roll with cheese for breakfast and a camomile tea and for Jules a bratwurst sausage which he shared with Tinker. We sat in the cozy German deck seats and watched the big ships enter and leave the canal. One evening we wandered around for an evening drink, which was even more delightful at €2 for a third of a bottle of nice wine. In fact we were so ‘gezellig’, we forgot the time, and ended up running for the last ferry at 10pm and nearly didn’t get back to the boat.
We are now in the seaside town of Laboe to get more water. It is a very Germanic seaside town, which charges a tax to go on the beach and money to visit the war memorial (totally not gezellig). It is stunning, with clear seas, sandy beaches and deck chairs. We walked out to see the only surviving Uboat that the Danish gave back to the German nation and had a look at the amazing war memorial in honour of seamen of all nations that died. We ended our promenade at the busy waterfront where we found a local place off the tourist track for a glass of beer/ wine and a fish sandwich for me, and a meat one for Jules. The lady behind the counter was really friendly and appeared to ask Jules if he wanted sex... apparently it was Sext, a fizzy white wine. However, Jules reaction made everyone laugh, and we were made to feel part of the community, which gives you that warm gezellig feeling.
Our electric bikes have been a godsend, and have revolutionised our trips on land. We cycled to the city of Kiel and had a great afternoon wandering around. It is a very modern city, but the Lutheran church was stunning and the town hall was very grand. Jules tried out several different types of sausage, and I enjoyed the fish rolls. We found a lovely artisan tea shop, where the lady could not have been more helpful. She gave me samples to take home of those I liked, and some free gifts as we all muddled by in our school German and English. We have met some really nice people. Whilst out cycling I pulled out a little too quickly, causing a lady to swerve around me. I apologised and she used the lovely expression, “alles ist gut” (all is good). Our dinghy blew away the night we moored in the canal (both of us thought the other had tied it on) and some young children rowed out and bought it back. They were overjoyed that we gave them some bonbon money. Before we went through the last lock a very helpful man took our ropes and came over for a chat. He had seen the boat was out of Southampton, a place he often went with work and wanted to practice his ‘conversational ‘ German. This morning I was in a shop and put my code in the machine, before pressing the okay button. Hence, my bag nearly cost over €15,000. Luckily, the man noticed just in time, and had a laugh with me, asking how my husband would feel about my expensive accessory !!
Every marina, town quay or harbour has different methods of collecting payment for staying the night. Usually you go up to the office to pay, or the harbour master comes round morning and evening to collect his dues. After navigating the canal we took the last place on the town quay and fell asleep. We were woken at 3am by a boat trying to raft up against us and failing. Jules, ever mindful of the solar panels rushed up on deck and helped them on their second. It felt as if we had just dropped off to sleep when we were woken by a loud banging on the boat. It was the harbour master, knocking very loudly on the deck with the words, “Hafenmeister, geld” (harbourmaster money). We thought it was a joke, but no! For the 4 days we stayed he did his rounds at 6am every morning and payment in advance was not possible. He was a rotund, cumbersome man with breathing difficulties and needed a personality transplant. He insisted on the first morning that he board our boat in order to go and knock on the rafted boat, lest he be done out of €10. Somehow, he managed to slip on the wet hatch and next thing we knew, he was lying flat on his back on the deck of our boat ( dew or Tinker wee, we shall never know). What do you do at 6am in a morning with a man lying flat out on your deck and wedged between the dinghy and the rails? Luckily for us, after several tense minutes he managed to get up. The next day (at 5.45am)he reported back that he had had to go home for the day, as he felt concussed.... but not before he had collected dues from the rafted boat. Luckily for him it wasn’t a Tinker Poo he slipped in. With that thought in mind I feel so much more gezellig about the whole thing!!!
Helga, from Borkum island insisted that it was safe to fill our water tanks, even though it said ‘Kein Trinkwasser’ (not drinking water on the tap). For a few days now, I have said my tea tasted funny, and yesterday when I turned the tap on the smell was rancid, and the water a brown colour. Obviously, we had taken on bad water. So, instead of a night at anchor, we motored to the nearest marina to empty out the tanks, bleach them, and them refill them. Not a quick job when the tanks hold 160 gallons. Whilst in the middle of this massive task the Hafenmeister frogmarched down the pontoon, insisting that the diesel in the water must have come from our boat, and we were going to have to pay him to get his machine and clean it. Jules insisted not, we had no diesel leak, and it was water we were sorting not diesel. Jules said that perhaps it could be one of the 35 charter boats that had just come in. At this point, I disappeared before I said something to get me into trouble. With everyone now looking, a diver was summoned and sent to inspect the bottom of our boat. A few minutes later, he declared there was no leak or diesel coming from our boat. Strangely, the diesel no longer posed a problem and the machine was not employed. Jules encouraged me to see it as gezellig, we had had our bottom inspected for free!!!
Whilst on Tissen quay we took the ferry each day to the other side. It was a superb, free service. Tinker particularly enjoyed it, especially when the ramp was pulled up, and she ignored the ‘Verboten’ (forbidden) sign and stood on the outside of the boat looking for seals. Each trip at least 50 cyclists tried to get on a ferry designed to take 20 bikes. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and queue jumping. Getting off was just as bad, no one was willing to wait, which always resulted in chaos as bikes were rammed into each other. Push, shove, push shove, anyone would have thought we were in the labour ward!! It is the same with boating, as I write this I am watching boats race into the marina for the last few spaces. It is the first time I have seen boats overtake on a narrow entrance channel with a blind bend!!! This morning I went to the shower block, and was delighted to find them all free. However, the German ladies had hung their towels over the shower doors, whilst they cleaned their teeth, removed make up, and changed into their ‘pube trawlers’ (flip flops for the shower) and eventually entered the shower cubicle. The private cubicles are big affairs, with an area to sit and pegs to hang your clothes on inside. As Ruthy would tell everyone, I am not prudish about taking my clothes off, but with perfectly good private cubicles, I have no idea why they felt the need to walk around naked.... not with that amount of hair!!! Definitely, Ongezellig, but it did have the advantage that the bed was made, the washing hung out and breakfast made by the time I eventually got back to the boat!!
The Kiel canal has a set of huge locks at each end. We had to wait a little while for the one at the eastern end to open to let us through. We were in the lock with about 6 other small yachts and a large oil tanker. When we learnt to sail all those years ago, we were told the three tips to boat handling were “slowly, slowly, slowly’. We were the last boat to go in and as we passed his office, the lock keeper came running out shouting, “Schnell, “Schnell!” (fast, fast) as he closed the lock gates on the stern of our boat. It was straight out of the vocabulary of a war film and of Jules’ childhood action man who did the talking when you pulled a string. Sadly he did not go on to say “Achtung!” or “For you Tommy the war is over!”
This is our first German fforde, and it is simply stunning. The beer is cheap, the food is tasty and the harbours are cheap. Despite some ongezelling, and difficult characters, “alles ist gut!”.
16 July 2019
Jules and Sade
Recently we have had more Dutch Customs officials on board. They were bored on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so came on board for a cup of tea and a talk about politics. We have had the same conversation many times over with Dutch people about Brexit. They think it is a mistake for GB, and for the peace and stability of Europe. They ask the same questions of us, “What do we hope to achieve? What will happen with borders? Will the price of living go up? Will the pound drop in value? Are we really silly enough to pay billions to leave the EU? Will jobs be affected? And “can we still bring our dogs to the UK”? All we can say is that we honestly don’t know, but that we certainly did not vote for it. At that point, we get clapped on the back, and there is usually a conversation about Boris and Trump being from the same ‘pod’. What we have found out, is that if we do leave, with or without a deal, The Netherlands has trained up 900 new customs officers. For those of us wanting extended holidays, or who have holiday homes or boats, they will strictly enforce the non Shengen rules of no more than 90 days in any 180 of us being in the EU. Many Dutch have also confessed to not planning on visiting the UK on holiday until they pay know all the implications and costs.... so much for not affecting the tourist industry!
Prostitution has recently figured as a topic of conversation. We were in the university city of Groningen, which is really beautiful. We walked round the city gardens, the magnificent churches, through the vibrant markets, and round the bustling cafes. We took a turn off the Main Street and found ourselves in the Red Light District. Most of the women are as old as me and with as many sags and wrinkles to match, and were on the phone, or drinking a cup of tea. In their windows they display various size dildos, some are the size of my thigh! There are handcuffs, whips, gels and lubricants, chains and harnesses. Jules and I have talked about it many times and commend the fact that the women are safer, but will there ever be a time when prostitution is a thing of the past?
We found a pop up cafe by the side of the canal in Groningen, with deck chairs and sand, and the guy at the next table started a conversation. He was off a ship and was waiting for friends to arrive, and wanted to practice his English. He was keen to know how we could have six months of sailing this year and was amazed that Jules had a private pension at the age of fifty. We have seen a lot lately on Facebook about how the UK has one of the worst pensions compared to the rest of Europe. However, the facts on Facebook do not tell the whole picture. He was telling us that the Dutch can not claim a pension before the age of 65, which is increasing to 66 for his generation. Whilst the Dutch do receive a much, much greater pension than that of the UK, it is not all a state pension. The government makes it clear that they have a three tier pension - state, occupational and private. The state pension is not meant to be a stand alone pension as it is not “a liveable pension”, and the difference is that unlike the UK most Dutch people pay into all three pension schemes. In addition, they have to pay 5.4% of their pension towards their health care system. An interesting conversation, and dispels the myth that things are ‘rosier elsewhere’.
I bought a ceramic sheep for the garden, tasteful in bright pink!!!! I got talking to the shop keeper, who wanted to know where in England, his sheep was going to live. He was so pleased, as everyone else has been, that we love the country and asked what we liked about it so much. The answer was simple, the friendliness of the people, the cleanliness and care taken of the environment, the countryside, the cycle paths, the beautiful canal networks and of course the beautiful food markets, especially the fish. Groningen has the best markets since leaving France, and the fish is second to none. The tuna is sold for eating raw, and the fresh herrings melt in the mouth. We bought hake, mackerel, smoked salmon, whelks, gurnard, mixed fish kebabs, mussels and cooked octopus, and still had change from €30!!
In Groningen I visited the local synagogue, which was of moorish design. They had an exhibition on upstairs of the Holocaust and I got talking to a Jewish lady. She told me that over 4,000 Jews lived in the city before the war, and only 300 returned. When they did, most of their homes were occupied by other people, and the Synagogue had been turned into a laundry. The Jewish quarter had become a shopping area and coming home was so difficult, hence why so many Jews moved to Israel after the war. I did a dissertation at university on the Holocaust and thought I knew so much, but going through The Netherlands, has made me pause for thought. If the Jews had not been through enough, returning home after the war, must have been so traumatic, without homes, Synagogues, jobs or communities.
We have also talked about stereotypes, mainly because we have been watching a box set of ‘Allo ‘Allo on the boat, ( we have now hidden it at the bottom of the laundry bag, in case German customs board us, and don’t find it very amusing!! We both said that they don’t really exist, but we were wrong. At the beach cafes the Germans really do place their towel over the best seats before going to order. The Harbourmistress on the island of Borkum has had us sniggering a few times as she so reminds us of Helga from ‘Allo ‘Allo. She is a busty lady who marches down the pontoon everyday dressed in black and with boots that click. She demands €20 daily in cash (without a receipt) and constantly moans about the number of English boats in the harbour. The other morning, she decided that we all had to move as she wanted to fit a much bigger boat and demanded that we all raft next to a boat that wanted to leave in a few hours. The same day, we walked Tinker through the National Park and were marvelling at a little vole on the path. A cyclist who looked just like Herr Flick came by, and despite our shouting, he rode straight over our little bold, and all that was left were blood and guts, and I did detect a little grin on the man’s face!!!!
Our constant conversation until yesterday had been about the weather and whether it was safe to sail in. We have been spoiled by glorious sunshine and now the weather gods are getting some pay back. We stayed at the island of Borkum for two days longer than we had planned; the first day because there was no wind and the next day too much. Our neighbour, a Belgian chap was very cautious and filled us with dread at every forecast. On the third day we were ready to head out to sea when it started to rain. Sailing in the rain is to be avoided at all costs these days!! We drank another pot of tea and then decided to walk Tinker. We were rewarded by being greeted by a big friendly seal right next to the boat. Finally the rain stopped so we headed out to sea. Our next port of call was Brunsbuttel at the start of the Kiele Canal. This meant sailing for a day and a night and neither of us was looking forward to the night bit. Our plan was to time it so that we got to the start of the river Elbe just as the tide started to carry us up river. I had assumed we would make about 6 miles per hour which is pretty good going for us.
When we got out to sea proper the wind was much stronger than we had planned and Leslie Frank was flying along. The sea was extremely lumpy with short steep waves rocking us back and forth like a mad fair ground ride. On the top of one large wave I saw a big seagull standing on a huge floating dead fish. I think that fish still looked happier than us at that point! We never saw the sun for the whole day and the sea and the sky were a kind of battleship grey. Thanks to our amazing speed, reaching up to 9 knots for Sade on her night watch, we reached the start of the Elbe channel a good 5 hours earlier than we had planned. Good news you would think.. but not so, as we started up the river just as the tide turned against us. Pretty soon we were doing 5 miles per hour through the water but being pushed back at 4 miles per hour by the tide. It is equivalent to a human trying to run up a down escalator and barely making progress. It was now dark, and we were called by Cuxhaven port to ask us to keep as far over in the channel as we could. It soon became clear why. Ships of every type and size came whizzing by. One of them, a huge car carrier called us to tell us he was going to overtake. As always, the captain was calm and charming. He wished us a good watch and passed on up towards Hamburg. Sade did a fantastic job navigating from green lit buoy to green lit buoy as we slowly made our way up the river, but I am not so sure she has forgiven me yet for making her do that leg-of the passage. By daylight the winds had eased and we were now benefiting from the long awaited tide. By 11.00am we were tied up in the lock of the North Sea Canal, waiting to be let out into the next leg of our journey. This huge canal is the busiest man made waterway in the world. It was built (and named after) Kaiser Wilhelm to transport the imperial German navy from the Baltic to the North Sea, thereby avoiding the need to sail all round Denmark to get there. As I type this we are tucked up about a third of the way along in a beautiful tree lined pool. A sail like we have just had reminds me of a tee-shirt that Sade used to have.. it said “a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office”. With a huge sense of satisfaction we now have left the North Sea and tomorrow will see us in the non tidal waters of the Baltic.
Island Life - The Frisian Isles
12 July 2019
Since our last blog we have had lots of messages from friends asking about the Frisian Isles, so here goes.
The West Frisian Islands are all Dutch, and the Eastern Isles are German. We can not get into many of them as the harbours and channels are too shallow for Leslie Frank, but this is what we have thought of those we could visit.
Texel is the largest and most populated of the Dutch islands and they say that there are more sheep on the island than people. I can well believe it, the smell drove Tinker wild. We called them ‘pig sheep’ as most of them are really ugly. Wool, jumpers, socks and lamb rugs are available at nearly every little town, but I was mightily tempted with the sheepskin saddle cover. After all the cycling we have been doing my bum really needs one!!!
We are also right at the beginning of the herring season in the islands. The first catch is traditionally sold in a cask at an auction for an extraordinarily high price. Last year it went for €78,000 which all went to charity. Dutch herring is eaten raw and is usually served with onions and pickles and is filleted with the pancreas left in, in-order to give the herring more taste. It is salted, and has been left to age for at least five days in oak casks. I can truly say it is delicious, and I can’t pass a herring stall without having one. The only thing that tops it, is the raw tuna coated in sesame seeds and served with wasabi mustard which they sell here. In addition the island has perfect weather for berries, and I have to say that the fresh strawberries are the sweetest I have eaten for years, and remind me so much of the flavour of childhood. I would handpick strawberries in Enville with Mom, Dad and my brother. They used to have an honesty jar in case you had eaten the odd one or two, James and I had eaten so many we were nearly sick on the way home, and our elderly neighbours were fed on strawberries and ice cream for several days!! It just makes you realise the taste of ‘real’ food, without being forced in greenhouses in Spain.
Texel even has its own craft brewery and it lies one kilometre away from the village of Oudeschild where we moored. Apparently there is a tasting room onsite which we did not manage to get to, but it did not stop Jules sampling the odd bottle or two on the boat. It is relevantly weak for Dutch beer at 6.5%.
It is also famous for Nature reserves and is the only area in Holland to which the North Sea is allowed unhindered access. After a storm surge one lagoon is entirely underwater, and as a result it has evolved into a unique natural landscape with small creeks and salt marshes filled with the purple blooms of sea lavender and wild orchids. It is also home to Europe’s biggest spoonbill colony. We enjoyed cycling round the creeks and marshes and have had superb views of the spoonbills and avocets as well as snipe and storks.
It also has 30 kilometres of sandy beaches on the west side of the island and is a paradise for beach lovers, if you don’t look at the colour of the sea!! We have walked miles on the beaches and enjoyed a mint tea or a glass of wine at the various beach cafes. We also had a real laugh when we stumbled upon a naturist campsite right on the edge of the beach. I am not sure I would have been keen on using the washing up facilities as one old wrinkly seemed to be dangling his willy over the washing up bowl. Perhaps he had dropped his tea on it!! There are beachcombers along the entire Dutch coast and we cycled past the outdoor museum showing the countless buoys, shoes, bottles and boats that have been washed up on the island. On the East side of the island there are huge sandbanks at low water where hundreds of seals can be seen basking in the sun. Sailing past them was magnificent, although we had to be mindful not to get too close and go aground.
Texel has seven villages and we got to cycle to all of them. All but one were really pretty with unique natural scenery and little shops and teahouses. I was keen to buy some wool, but Jules reminded me how stressful I find knitting, and that even my leg warmers were given to Mom to finish and my scarves usually ended up with a few holes. I found a beautiful sewing shop instead, and bought some material with sheep on to remind us of our trip.
Vlieland is Texel’s neighbour and is one of the smaller islands and is car free except for a few permitted vehicles for locals. The island is less than 2km wide and the largest part of it, is a desert-like area. There is one village on the island with a population of approximately one thousand people. The island can be walked easily in a day and there is little to do except enjoy the sand flats and watch the seals playing. We entered the channel mid tide with water all round us. We carefully selected the depth and swinging area of the chain and gingerly dropped the anchor. Two hours later, we were floating nicely in a ‘sea gat’ (narrow channel) with sand banks all around us. We enjoyed a glass of wine on deck whilst I thrashed Jules at backgammon and enjoyed seeing nosy seals popping up around the boat. The sandbanks were covered in seals enjoying the last of the sun. We went to bed listening to them calling to each other. We decided that it was too special to rush on and stayed another day, swimming in the sea and walking Tinker on a sand bank. The tide was racing in, and we started with a sand bank half a mile long, and an hour and half later there was no island in sight!!! We also took the dinghy close in to one of the larger sand banks. We dropped the anchor and just sat and watched the seals at play. Late afternoon we went ashore and had a drink in the busy little village which consisted of no more that one street with a few bars and restaurants and the local butchers where we got some provisions for a BBQ aboard Leslie Frank. It was the most amazing day, but sadly as the sunset the wind got up and we knew we would be moving on at day break.
Terschelling is the second largest of the West Frisian Islands. At low tide, you can walk across the bottom of the Wadden Sea, which consist of huge mud and sandbanks. It was quite scary sailing in at low tide as our charts were all incorrect. It is one of the few places in the world, where your charts are out of date before you buy them. The sand banks move all the time, so it is more important to follow the buoyed channels, than the charts. Each morning we have enjoyed walking Tinker at low tide across these beautiful banks and beaches which go on for mile after mile, with hardly a soul on them. Tinker has enjoyed wandering without her lead on, although we have had to shout when she has found a crab to chase, and has ended up with it in her mouth until it has bitten her.
Each of the small villages is slighly different and there is an immense wealth of flora and fauna on the island. We have seen so many beautiful butterflies and dragonflies on our walks. The landscape changes all the time as you cycle around the island. There are beaches, mudflats, polders, woods, healthland, little villages, dykes and salt marshes, all within a few kilometres of each other. We set off for an hour walk with Tinker few days ago and arrived home 7 hours later. We walked through little villages, had tea in a windmill, Tinker swam in lakes, we scrambled onto the dunes, paddled in the sea, walked through the woods and visiting the hundreds of bunkers when everyone else had gone home and it felt very eerie.
We also had a day cycling round the island, and were astonished at a few statues, which are anti British. We then discovered that we burnt the island down in 1666. In the same year there was the great fire of London. The Dutch saw it as divine retribution! We picked up a great map to follow one of the many bikes routes and love the name of the bike paths ‘sporen in het Zand’, (tracks in the sand). It was great to cycle through woods and dunes and to stumble upon a fantastic wildflower meadow. It is a beautiful farm, which grows wild flowers and fresh herbs. We sat between the trees with a strawberry, lemon and elderflower smoothie and returned later for a fresh herb tea and to pick some wild flowers to take home. I collected a wooden flower basket and scissors from the barn, and wandered freely, choosing which flowers I wanted to cut. I picked a basket full for €2. I also got some fresh mint and lemon verbena.
The island is famous for its herbs and natural wild berries, and of course the humble cranberry is king. We have tried Cranberry cake, tart, pate, wine, liquor, jam, compote, cheesecake, tea, beer, chocolate and biscuits. It has been delicious, with the added health benefits to of being a great antioxidant, and great for cystitis (Ruthy)!!! I have to say, I was unsure what Cranberry beer was going to be like, but it was delicious, especially accompanied by wild cranberry and meat pate. An odd combination, but it strangely worked!! The cranberry wine on the other hand was far too sweet for my palate.
Due to high winds we left the islands and headed through the Dutch canals once more. Because of the strong tides around the islands we have to be careful as the sea can be very dangerous when a strong westerly wind blows against a fast flowing ebb tide. The resulting steep seas are really horrible, so we opted for the easy option. This part of the canal network was our favourite, with highland cattle bathing in the canals a metre from the boat and fields of beautiful flowers. We stopped for a night in a picture perfect location under an old windmill and then in the University town of Groningen, a place that really grew on us. The fish market was excellent and I made pots of fish soup and boiled up quite a few whelks!
Borkum (the only German Island we can get into).
We left the canal and spent a night at the German town of is Emden which was okay, but nothing special before we sailed the 25 miles to Borkum island. It is the most westerly of the seven East Frisian Islands, and at 36 square metres, it is also the largest. It has a mild climate, low pollen counts and air containing high levels of iodine, which apparently makes the brain work better!! It is also known for its famous beach tents on the 26km sandy beach. We took the bikes out and cycled along the beach paths and stopping for photo opportunities of me in the beach tents and of the hundreds of seals. We also walked for miles along the deserted beaches, with just seals for company and through the National Parks with plenty of wild birds, including eagles, eider ducks and red kites.We also had a ride on Germany’s oldest island train, the “Dünenexpress” (Dune Express). The colourful train took us on a scenic voyage through the UNESCO World Heritage parkland and we were lucky enough to get an outside seat. I have enjoyed crab soup and Goulash soup, whilst Jules has been trying the different types of sausage, including the famous currywurst! What has surprised me is their puddings. Naturally Jules has enjoyed Black Forest Gateaux and Cheesecake, but who would have guessed that the German’s are a fan of the humble rice pudding. It is sold in huge quantities, with various toppings, along with cinnamon sugar. Instead of Cranberries, the island grows ‘Sanddorn’ ( sea buckthorn berries) and you can get it in tea, honey, jam and every type of alcohol imaginable, but the grog seems especially popular. We have noticed a huge difference in diet in Germany. It is far more meat orientated, and so far the people seem much bigger than the Dutch, and everyone on the island seems to smoke!!!
Tomorrow we hope to sail for 24 hours to the start of the Keele canal. We learnt this morning that not only do we have sandbanks to consider, but a cargo ship has lost its containers overboard, so we have those to watch out for as well. All should make for a busy trip.
Our Personal Trip Advisor
20 June 2019
This is how we work when sailing. Jules does all the navigation planning whilst I mainly focus on where to visit, the cost of the moorings and what to see when we get there. We work well as a team!
We do not carry guide books, I do some internet browsing. They all have the same format.... the top ten things worth visiting, most of which cost a small fortune. So, here are my top ten tips on travelling through The Netherlands that are fun to do and excellent on a limited budget.
The Dutch people are charming, and perhaps a little mad at times. We met a lovely lady who said that the Netherlands surrendered after 5 days of Nazi bombardment on Rotterdam, as they wanted to protect their medieval villages!!! I am sure there were more pressing reasons, but unlike a lot of France and Belgium all the villages and towns remain perfect examples of medieval architecture. Willemstad, Dordrecht and Haarlem have taken our breath away. These amazing towns are built on the canal network, with flower baskets draped over the hundreds of bridges. The streets are cobbled and each has a huge town square, with a large Gothic Church and a town hall with bells. They wake you up at 7am each morning with their chimes. The old buildings usually have brightly painted red shutters and tilt at all sorts of angles. It is wonderful to just waste a couple of hours wandering along the tree lined streets or to have an early evening drink next to the water as the sun sets. Often the churches have free concerts. In Haarlem we heard the church organ, which both Mozart and Handel had played, and in the smaller church I sat and listened to a classical guitar concert which I stumbled upon whilst out shopping. There are often Jewish quarters and of course the iconic windmills. Round each corner you find another branch of the canal network, a stunning garden or park, bridge, church, chocolate shop or little tea house!
One of the things we have enjoyed most has been the cycle paths. In many places the roads are empty, but the cycle paths, with their own road signs and maps are busy. Bikes come in all shapes and sizes here, with baskets on the front to fit small dogs in, or chariots attached with seats for up to three small children. A great way to see an area is via bike, where you can stop at any point for a glass of mint tea or a yoghurt ice cream by the waterside. Trains and water-buses are all designed with bike stands and we took our bikes into the city of Rotterdam and to the Kinderdijk world heritage site. We spent three hours cycling round the various windmills and dykes. We stopped for a picnic beside a working windmill and found the basket in the bullrushes. A local story tells that after the floods in the middle 1500’s, the local people saw a cat jumping on and off a basket to keep it afloat. They found a baby alive and floating in the basket and hence called the area Kinderdijk (child’s dyke). It’s also the story which gives rise to the cat and the cradle fairy tail. The Dutch love to have a window display, usually flower displays or the usual nick naks. However, some go to town, with mannequins or strange statues in their windows, causing us great hilarity as we cycle along.
We just love the fact that rather than hopping on and off a normal bus, you can get to places a lot quicker by taking the waterbus. We took our bikes to Rotterdam. We sat outside on the boat and enjoyed seeing the various landmarks flash by, including a real life Noah’s ark. Apparently, it has been built by a nutty American who has turned it into a Biblical museum, including real animals which rarely get cleaned out, to give the impression of what life must have really been like on the ark!! We had a great day cycling round the rather spread out city, and saw the hotel where many Dutch set off to start a new life in America, and the cube houses, which look amazing. However, having gone inside one, living in them must be rather difficult, but their hefty price tag shows that despite this, they are much sought after. We had a drink in an old lightship and cycled round the port of Rotterdam and the old docks of Delfshaven. We visited one of the tallest buildings and got an amazing view out over the Erasmus bridge.
Markets, cafes and bars
In cities like Rotterdam the market halls are open everyday. There are stalls and diverse restaurants where the food is cooked freshly for you. In the Markthal the ceiling is a tiled mosaic of food and wildlife and the outside is a an arch of glass, reflecting the nearby buildings. We enjoyed Spanish Tapas and a glass of beer. Two days later we were back again to the Fenix Food factory, an old port warehouse where a group of entrepreneurs sell local produce. We enjoyed a beautiful platter of cheese where they lay it out in order of how you should eat it. The local markets are more about food to buy and take home. The fruit and veg are beautifully fresh and there are plenty of cheese and olive stalls. It is truthful to say that I must have eaten my body weight in cheese at Haarlem market and bought a blue coloured Gouda (pronounced “howda “) full of lavender oil and petals!!! We enjoy walking Tinker in a morning and stopping for fresh mint tea served in a glass with honey for me and Jules has enjoyed the coffee with apple cake and cream. The chocolate shops are bountiful, but we have fallen in love with dark truffles filled with light whipped cream for a daytime treat ( slagroom truffles) and dark chocolate with rose petals and pistachio nuts for an evening. The pancake houses have been a massive hit with me, especially the Poffetjes ( small pancakes made with buckwheat flour), which you can have with a sweet or savoury topping, I like mine sprinkled with cinnamon. Jules on the other hand is a fan of the fish stands, and has enjoyed Kibbeling, lightly battered and spiced fish bits with a pickle sauce.
The Netherlands abounds with museums, from the big ones like the Van Gogh, Anne Frank and The Rembrandt houses in Amsterdam to the small and specialist ones. We went to Haarlem not to see the beautiful town but to visit the Ten Boom house. Since first working at Tipton, I have been teaching the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian clock maker who with her sister helped save hundreds of Jewish and resistance lives in Haarlem from the searching of the Nazis. Only 20 visitors are allowed per trip round the small house today and we were lucky enough to be given places, despite large numbers of people queuing patiently outside. We got to hear the story from a volunteer guide who was fantastic. I got to stand in the hiding place and the whole experience was really moving. Moreover it is free. They just ask for a donation at the end. One ticked off my bucket list.
We have been lucky enough to enjoy a few festivals since we have been here. On Whit Monday the whole of Dordrecht came out to celebrate the ascension of Christ by gathering round the cathedral and eating breakfast together. The local bakers supplied all the food, and the tea houses provided the drinks. The atmosphere was jolly, even for an early start and the trestle tables went on for miles. A few days earlier we witnessed thousands of children walk through the streets of Dordrecht to marching bands. Once a year they all walk for 5-15km per night for four nights and on the last night family and friends turn out to honour them with medals and presents. Everything is tied on ribbons and placed round their necks. Some of the children were staggering under the weight of all their gifts. Whilst sailing along the smaller canals we came across a very odd thing, flagpoles with not only the flag flying, but rucksacks and books attached as well. It turns out that if a child has passed their high school exams, rather than telephoning round everyone, they are notified by the rucksack on the flagpole.
I was really gutted that we missed out on the tulip season, but it has still been wonderful sailing through the tulip areas, and seeing the huge fields where they are grown. What I had not expected was the wonderful flower markets. The stalls go on and on, and are extremely cheap. A huge bouquet of mixed, fresh flowers might set up you back €6, whilst a dozen roses €2. Then there are stalls just selling hanging baskets and garden plants for a fraction of the cost in the UK. However, it is the waterlilies we have enjoyed the most. We have sailed through canals so thick with water lilies and pads that we have expected the prop to get tangled up in them.
The Netherlands has many parks and wildlife centres up and down the country. We cycled from Dordrecht to Biesboch National Park and enjoyed the Bank Holiday sun with every Dutch person who lived within a 20KM radius. Despite it being busy we managed to hire a two man canoe and kayaked down little creeks and streams. It was too busy and bright for the hundreds of local resident beavers to be seen,but we did glimpse many trees that they had felled with those sharp teeth, and had to limbo under quite a few. A few days later we cycled to the big park in Rotterdam and enjoyed relaxing in big deck chairs with a glass of tea under the watchful eye of the Eurotower. We were meant to go to the park in Amsterdam, but ran out of time. Apparently, whilst almost anything goes in the Park, outdoor sex got banned only a few years ago!!!
Black turns, Egyptian geese with their brown eye patch, coots and baby moorhens have kept us company in the canals. Now we are back on the coast we decided to brave the grim North Sea and to take a dip yesterday. Jules was just a little way off and shouted to me to stop swimming and to turn round very slowly. I was face to face with a seal, we looked at each other for what felt like a lifetime and then he dived down and I felt his flipper against my leg. He popped up the other side of me and stared at me again with those big dark eyes. It seemed he wanted to play, but I was a little wary of his size, and so he took to fishing once more.
It is little known but there are quite a few Dutch Friesian Islands and they are very well worth a visit. Jules has always wanted to come to them since reading Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands. The book is set in the German Friesian islands a little further north but the Dutch Islands are truly magical. As we approached Texel, we were swept up through the seagat with huge tides pushing us forward past low sandbanks swarming with seals. The island has a very different feel to the mainland, rather like stepping back in time. The highlight was magically being in the same place, at the same time as friends cycling round Holland. We met up for coffee on the boat, before they set off for a 100km cycle ride, and we got the electric bikes out to tootle round the island!!
Canals, bridges and locks
20 June 2019
We were meant to be passing through The Netherlands in a week, but a month later we are just a few miles past Amsterdam and have arrived at the sea once more. Lots of people (including ourselves) thought we were mad not going back to the Mediterranean this year, but so far this has truly been a trip of a lifetime.
The sailing, or rather motoring through Dutch canals has taken us right out of our comfort zone, but has been a fantastic experience and definitely one to repeat. We have motored past working windmills, thatched cottages, through medieval towns, acre after acre of green pastures (polders) as well as industrial factories pumping clouds of pollution into the atmosphere. We have been on aqueducts over busy motorways and through inland fresh water seas. We have motored past cows and sheep on the waters edge, that I swear if Tinker could have stuck her tongue out an inch further, she would have been able to lick. We have had anything from 7 metres under our keel to 10 centimetres and have touched mud several times on waiting pontoons. We have sailed down huge canals at least 100m wide and hugged the middle of other canals with barely a metre on each side. We have had ducks, Egyptian geese, moor hens and hundreds of crested grebes for company and have been worried about the prop getting wrapped in water lilies. We have dodged water ferries, which vary from big boats which take 300 passengers to little rope ferries that people manually work to get them and their bike from one side of the canal to the other. We have met other yachts, coal fired steam boats, the ubiquitous Dutch barges, small canoes and vast container ships. We have watched ships unloading coal, cars, scrap metal and containers on the side of canals and we have met tourists piling off exclusive river cruises. On one branch of a canal (the Oude Maas) we were unable to cross sides due to the sheer size and volume of traffic coming up and down. We ended up with a very friendly police vessel coming alongside with flashing lights and sirens. They kindly cleared the way for us to cross and escorted us to our destination. And finally we have learnt that when it rains, it rains hard, raising the water in the canals significantly, and the windmills work hard pumping the water away. Along the routes are ‘watering holes’ where you can moor up and stop for a cup of tea or bite to eat or just to wait for the next lock. In the quieter canals there are jetties where you can stay up to three nights for free, and enjoy the local villages.
We have had to take ‘the standing mast route’, which starts in Zeeland and runs through to the German border. Consequently we have had to have an awful lot of bridges opened for us. Most towns and villages have been charming, but the odd one objects to stopping the traffic and allowing yachts to transit, making for a long wait. We have had little drawer bridges opened for us, by a man on his bike who closes off the road, manually opens the bridge, and then cycles on to do the same at the next bridge. How fast he cycles, determines the speed in which you pass through. It’s pretty slowly when there are sixteen in a row!!!!! We have had railway, dual carriageway and motorway road bridges lifted for us. Some of the bridges you wait and go through in a convoy with other boats, some only open at set times, but most are opened on demand for one boat at a time. Some are left open at night and close during the day whilst others close at busy periods allowing people to get to and from work. It is all very confusing when the Almanak ( the boating bible over here) is in Dutch!!!! Some bridges lift all the way up and others lift to just a metre above the height of the mast, which was very scary, when we hoped and prayed we had accurately measured mast to sea level height. Others swing outwards, but what they all have in common is the light system. Red for stop, green and red means get ready and green for go. I have never been into engineering, but I can not believe how clever the engineers must be who designed it all. Many of the older bridges look Victorian but still work perfectly.
We have shared small locks with other leisure craft and mega locks with cargo vessels and pilot boats. Some take minutes whilst others take an hour to allow the water filtration systems to work, preventing salt water passing through to the fresh water lakes beyond the lock. Some hardly move at all, whilst in others the water rises or falls a lot. We have been in locks which have been so full that boats have rafted up four deep. Yet others meant for 100m long boats have only had us in them. We have been in areas where the locks are in such demand, that there are six working all at the same time, all in a row. This is very odd and a little daunting when the super tanker in the next lock is higher than you as his lock is filling quicker.
One thing is for sure. The Netherlands has cured me of my fear of locks and canals and tonight it seems very odd to be at sea once more. Even the temperature is colder!!!
Tomorrow we hope to head North again to the Friesian Islands. Very excited!
01 June 2019
Facts, Fiction and Preconceptions of The Netherlands.
We arrived in the Netherlands nearly two weeks ago and Leslie Frank spent some of it on a working quay surrounded by fishing vessels, whilst the gear box was removed and repaired. The poor guy, having repaired it ashore, carried the 70kg gear box onto the boat and fell, causing him much bruising, a broken rib and a chip or two to our gel coat. When the gear box was finally fitted, he had broken another part when he fell, which resulted in a longer stay. The harbour master was lovely and found us a space on the fishing quay right next to the engineer’s workshop. The local fishing boats, whilst very friendly, moored inches away from our bow and stern, and were not quiet when unloading their boats at 3am!!
We have spent our days motor sailing, sightseeing and enjoying the various villages, and some of my preconceptions of The Netherlands have been challenged, whilst others have been reinforced.
The Dutch are very proud of their cheeses (kaas) and the supermarkets are packed with shelves of Gouda of various ages and ripeness. I have always preferred a French goats cheese or runny Brie to rubbery Edam but the farmer’s market here made me question that view. They had Dutch cheeses of all colours, shapes, sizes and maturity. Some tasted like a mellow Parmesan, others smooth and silky and a few were runny and ripe. They must have had a selection of at least 200 Dutch cheeses, and everyone of them had a tasting bowl. I must have gotten through at least a pound of cheese and was impressed with them all, including the tricoloured Gouda... however I paid for it with a night of bad dreams!!!
I thought that Belgium was the place to go for chocolates, but the Dutch chocolates are giving them a good run for their money. Our favourite is ‘Slagroom truffle’. For those of you who have never visited The Netherlands, slagroom (cream) is served with everything, usually the squirty canned variety. These chocolates are dark rich chocolate truffles, coated in cocoa powder and filled with lightly whipped fresh cream. Apparently they don’t last long, but so far that has not been a problem on board the boat!!!
In my mind Apple pie is a very English thing, something Jules’ Mom and my Nan always made, but here it is sold at every cafe as a special... coffee and pie for €4. Jules has not been able to resist, and often in a morning you have to wait a few minutes for it to come out of the oven. In Jules’ eyes the only thing missing is a good dollop of custard!!
I realised that the Flemish love their sauce, in fact chips are a mere accompaniment to a portion of mayo in Belgium, but here there is a sauce for everything. The Dutch really like their fries with a lot of toppings such as mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, curry, tartar, cocktail, peanut, piccalilli or even apple sauce. If that is not enough you can have the famous combination- toppings of mayonnaise, raw chopped onions and peanut sauce and is called a ‘patatje oorlog’ (‘fries at war’). Kibbeling is the Dutch variety of fish and chips, (but without the chips). ‘Kibbeling’ refers to battered and deep-fried white fish. It is served with dipping sauces like a mayonnaise-based remoulade sauce (similar to tartar sauce) or garlic sauce. In the same shop you can choose smoked or plain eel, battered prawns and octopus salad, but if you want chips, you are going to be sadly disappointed! This seems very odd to us, especially as potatoes are a national dish and can be bought grilled, baked, cubed,spiralled, diced, straight, in sauce, in spices, but mainly in croquette form. Apparently Mac Donald’s is famous for the golden Croquette here!
According to Katie Mellua in her song, “there are five million bicycles in Beijing”, but I think The Netherlands is not far behind. Everywhere is so flat so cycling is very easy and the red cycle paths are amazingly well marked and cover thousands of miles. The only problem is knowing who has the right of way and how to turn across oncoming bikes. I have been frozen in the middle of the cycle lane with bikes whizzing past on both sides with bells ringing and moped’s papping their horn, trying in vain to make a left hand turn. We have had some superb days whizzing along the canal cycle paths to the next town and clocked up 50km one afternoon. I am told that there is one simple rule of the road that I need to be aware of, ‘just don’t hit anything’. Thank goodness for electric batteries and gel seats!!!
World War One and Two.
I realised as we looked around Vlissingen that I knew nothing of Dutch history and certainly did not realise that they remained neutral in the First World War and attempted to remain neutral again in 1940. Despite being neutral they were invaded on 10 May 1940 and surrendered 5 days later after the bombing of Rotterdam. As the resistance movement increased, Hitler tried to starve the different islands around Zeeland. 70% of the country's Jewish population were killed during the conflict, a much higher percentage than comparable countries, and records revealed the Germans paid a bounty to Dutch police to locate and identify Jews, aiding in their capture. Jews who survived the camps came back to find their homes and possessions gone. They were often met with incomprehension and sometimes downright antagonism. Although many did receive support, the knowledge that so many had perished made liberation a very bitter one indeed. I found this quote from Sem Goudsmit’s diary who lived in Amsterdam, very moving: ‘The neighbours are celebrating. Yesterday and today, day and night. Music is playing, everyone’s singing loudly the merry and sentimental songs. 95,000 innocent dead in Auschwitz, 95,000 of their countrymen who would have wanted to see this, will not return to their city, their homes – the families have been destroyed, burned, with their heaped ashes in a foreign place’.
Swimming in the canal.
I thought up until now that swimming in ‘the cut’ (canal for those of you not from the Black Country) was something only done by the tough kids in Tipton. At the end of my first teaching year, (twenty five years ago) at Alexandra High School the Headteacher gave a talk about keeping safe during the holiday. He told the pupils to make sure if they swam in the canal, they did not do it alone. I thought it was a joke, but apparently the kids would take their towel to the lock, fill it up and spend the day swimming in the leech infected water. Up until now I thought no one else was that mad, but today we saw lots of Dutch kids picnicking beside the canal and swimming in the icy cold, greenish, weedy water.... rather them than me. Even Tinker refused a swim when we threw in a stick!!!
The Dutch will tell you that they are proud that they won Eurovision this year, they will also tell you that they are not competitive and that they are not really bothered about it. However, we met a lovely Dutch couple who came aboard for drinks. After a while, it was obvious that they knew far more about Eurovision than we did, and were delighted that they were now at a tie with England on numbers of victories. They could name all the Irish winners and even sing Johnny Logan songs. They were wrong however, in believing that ‘tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree’ was a Eurovision hit, although I do now know the symbolic meaning behind the yellow ribbon... a sign of love to someone returning from war, be it from the US civil war right up to Vietnam. ‘Nil point’ to the Dutch and full points to the Brit’s when Jules pointed out that it was ‘Save all your kisses for me’ that they were thinking of. At 1am in the morning our Dutch friends were playing ‘try a yellow ribbon’ from you tube whilst singing the words from ‘save all your kisses’, to prove it was an easy mistake to make. So much for not being into Eurovision.... but a top night was had by all and the Brits won again!!!!!
Canals, locks and bridges.
We can not believe how locks, canal and bridges can come in so many shapes or sizes. We have gone through canals and locks with giant container ships and fishing vessels. In these canals you catch ‘the blue wave’, where road bridges are opened by remote control at a set time and all boats, whatever their size go through in convoy. You are watched on camera, and if you are going too slow, they ring you up and ask you to speed up. We have also gone through other canals where we have had 10cm under the keel and the lifting bridges that are so narrow to pass through that we have held our breath and squeezed through with fenders popping. We have not encountered it yet, but we are informed that on some of the smaller bridges and locks that the lock keeper cycles from place to place and sends down a clog for you to put in a tip. Some locks take ages to operate as you travel from saltwater to freshwater and they filtrate the water, so the two do not mix, and it is so odd to leave a narrow lock into an inland sea, where you can sail once more. It is simply wonderful in the small canals to find yourself right in the heart of an ancient town. In the Golden Age, merchants needed to transport their goods and cities needed a way to expand. Canals were built to use for drainage, transport, defence and sewage. The ground that was dug up when creating the canals was often used to build up a raised town and the bordering streets were where the merchants’ houses were built.
The Netherlands is renowned their free travel on world Book Day. You can present the book you are reading instead of a ticket and get free travel. We have also found that they have Windmill Days and Bunker Days. We have been lucky enough to experience both. Once a year all the bunkers are open for one day only and it is free to look around. Whilst Jules and Tinker sat outside I had a great half an hour looking round the bunker In Vlissingen. The Dutch bunkers form part of the Atlantic wall, a series of fortifications stretching from the Franco-Spanish border to the tip of Holland. Hitler had 14,000 of them built after he failed to conquer the UK and feared an Allied invasion was on the horizon. Forced labour was often used, and some Dutch contractors got rich very quickly. Few were held to account, but the president of one tribunal was determined to fine and imprison, telling them, “ As soon as you take the road to hell, you are on a slippery slope greased with soft soap”.
There is also a National Windmill Day once a year, and we were very lucky to stumble upon it on a morning walk. Tinker could not manage the steps, but we both took it in turn to visit the mill with the giant sails turning. We were both shocked about the noise they made inside. Jules was interested in the mechanics of it all, and I was glad to see an old fashioned singer sewing machine to sew the bags and mend the sails. What I did not realise is that the position of the sails when not turning can indicate local messages, such as a local celebration or mourning. We have been so excited each time we see a windmill and sadly burst into song, ‘ I saw a mouse, where? There on the stairs, right there, a little mouse with clogs on, there on the stairs right there. A windmill with mice in is hardly surprising, she sang every morning how lucky I am, living in a windmill in old Amsterdam”. ( and they really do sell clogs at the old flea markets).
A few years ago when we took a campervan trip to Switzerland, everything was VERBOTEN= forbidden. However The Netherlands is a close rival. To start with it is Veboten to carry red diesel and carries a huge fine. They know that we only get red diesel in the Uk and so we are sitting targets for customs to come and interrogate. We had a rough few hours with customs on Leslie Frank, threatening a £5000 fine, but they finally left us in peace when we rang the British Embassy and they accepted our Guernsey receipt for red diesel. We were instructed to get rid of it as quickly as possible or to dump 400 litres of fuel!!! Then there is the motoring cone. We bought ours 15 years ago and have never used it, you display a black plastic cone to show other vessels that you are motoring with your sails up. In 30,000 miles of sailing for well over a decade we have never put it up, but the Dutch are hot on it, and not using it carries a €35 fine. Anchoring is also forbidden everywhere, and there are big signs forbidding such activity. They claim it is to protect the sea beds, but the size of their fishing vessels raping the sea does not really bare that out!!!
We are going to have to hurry through The Netherlands if we want to make it through to the Baltic, but we will spend longer on the way back in September. After all, when I went through Chemotherapy I promised myself new experiences, and a certain little Dutch cake has my name on it!!!!!