Big Dutch Vacation – Part 1

As another update to this long-delayed post, now that it’s been well over a year since the vacation, it’s right damn time I post this thing.  So, here goes.

These are some terribly late entries for a vacation we took from the 3rd to the 16th of October in 2015.  Yep, I’m a delayed gratification blogger.  Oops.  Well, as the saying goes, better late than never!  I’m going to split this into three parts since there’s A LOT to go over and it’s just incredibly too long for one single post.  This is another one of those drive-your-own-boat holidays with a few days on each end to give us breathing space.  It was really an incredible vacation, and I can’t wait to get back to Holland.

Saturday, 3 October 2015:  Our flight was in the evening, so we had time to burn and visit with family while we dropped off the dogs with my husband’s parents.  Everything went as planned with the flight, but neither of us got much sleep since we had a fidgeter sitting between us.  Husband likes the aisle seat for his long legs, I prefer the comfort of the window, and while the flight had an empty space between us that morning, the gamble didn’t pay off and we ended up with this guy who would move/wiggle/fidget in his seat every 20 seconds for the whole flight.  *sigh*


Sunday, 4 October 2015: We landed in Amsterdam at 7:30am in super heavy fog, collected our bags and took a cab to our hotel instead of hopping the train with all of our bags.  Apparently there’s a huge fleet of Teslas in Amsterdam that do the runs from the airport, so it was pretty neat to get to sit inside one (well played, Tesla).  We were only able to drop our bags at the hotel (Fine Seasons Hotel), but we could return after about 10am to check into the room and get settled.  We went on a little walk around the corner to find a cafe for some coffee and hit upon almost the only thing open that early on a Sunday, ‘t Loosje.  Had a really nice breakfast and filled the caffeine requirement, and then took a slow meandering walk around the market that had set up while we were eating on the Nieuwmarkt square, then a slow walk back to the hotel to settle into the room by 11am.  The room was a basement room, pretty small, but enough to sleep in comfortably, so I really didn’t mind for the price.  We contemplated taking a nap, but decided to power through instead.  By then, the fog had started to lift and it was turning into a really nice day.  We set off for Het Scheepvaartmuseum which was just a short walk from the hotel.  Starting outdoors, we toured the Amsterdam, a replica ship from 1749 that served the Dutch East India Company.  Really beautiful, but rather small – husband couldn’t even stand up straight in the captain’s quarters!

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After taking a stroll around the indoor exhibits, we went off to an old favorite, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, having passed a sheep tied up on the street nearby.  Odd, but hey, Amsterdam!  We sat outside, filling ourselves on delicious beer, cheese, and sausage and chatting with the folks at our table.  Since our last visit, the inside had seen quite an upgrade, so it’s great to see them doing so well!  We stayed right up to closing when the light was fading and took a slow walk back, stopping briefly at another bar near the hotel, Moes.  They were featuring a tap takeover of a local beer called the 7 Virtues (7 Deugden).  The bartender was super friendly and talked a bunch of geek talk about beer.  Went back to the hotel and fell right asleep.

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Monday, 5 October 2015: Got up and went to have breakfast (espresso and something to eat) and found a little place down the street open.  Nothing spectacular, but they had wake-up fuel (ESPRESSO) and this crazy thing that we’ve dubbed the pizza hot dog – it’s pizza toppings on top of a hot dog.  The place doesn’t even have a listing on Google Maps, it’s that small, but it served its purpose.  Gathered our bags and set off on a train to Almere Muziekwijk to meet Peter, a man I had been corresponding with via email about all sorts of genealogy and Dutch related stuff.  He offered to meet us at Almere and then drop us at Lelystad so that we could meet, and because the train was passing so close to his home anyway.  Peter collected us and took us to his home to meet his wife.  We chatted for a little while and had some tea and cookies before heading off across the Zuiderzee Works.  The highway serves as a dike that keeps the sea water out of the land below.  There’s a saying that gets tossed around a lot, “God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”  The engineering involved in keeping water out of lands well below sea level is really phenomenal – the pumps, dikes, and locks that all work together to keep the land below dry is truly amazing.  They use the land closest to the dike here as a natural preserve so that in case of flooding, there’s a natural place for the water to go before destroying the towns.  Smart, these people.  Peter dropped us at Lelystad (a city that didn’t exist until 1967 when the land was reclaimed from the Zuiderzee) at about 1:30 and we were off to Akkrum.  We arrived at Akkrum around 3, but ended up waiting about 40 minutes for a taxi since it’s not exactly a bustling hub of activity.  The taxi driver was nice though and took us straight to the marina for Yachtcharter Wetterwille, costing only €15.  We met Alex there who told us we could’ve just called them for a pickup at the train station.  Oops!  He went into the basics about the boat, the Mistral, rules, etc, and we were handed the keys, a set of maps, and sent on our way!  Fortunately, we’d had some experience with this sort of vacation and the husband is a sea captain, so this is all old hat for us.  The maps did take a little getting used to, but I’ll get into that later on.  Sailing ends for the day pretty much at dusk, so our first stop was at the Watersportbedrijf ANJA in Grou.  Each marina has its own fees that aren’t included in our boat rental fee, so the cost for the night was 9.45, paid to the harbor master who visited us once we were tied up, just as the sun was setting over the harbor.  The yachtcharter had done a shopping trip for us to get us prepared for the first day or so of food, but we found a grocery store (Poiesz) a short walk from the marina to fill in the gaps and keep us supplied for a few more days.  We made pasta for dinner and then the husband taught me how to play cribbage.  I didn’t win, but at least I didn’t get skunked!  We turned in earlyish, around 10:30pm.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015: Got up, made breakfast on the boat, and got underway around 9:30am.  Took what the husband thought was the right way, but after navigating a bit, we found the next fixed, non-opening bridge was MUCH too low for us to go under and had to turn around, knocking us an hour back.  However, that small mistake gained us a bunch of map reading skills.  You see, the main canal map comes with an almanac.  Every bridge/lock/etc comes with a number that corresponds to a number in the almanac that’s only written in Dutch.  Neither of us are fluent in Dutch, but I spent some time with Duolingo before our vacation and had a decent enough comprehension of basic words, plus our cellphone plan includes international roaming for free, so we had Google Translate to help when there was an unknown word.  We had assumed the bridge heights on the map (major bridges have clearance heights listed next to the almanac reference number) were in meters, but they were in decimeters, so what we thought was a bridge with a 2.6 meter clearance was actually a bridge with a .26 meter clearance.  Our boat had a clearance of 2.4 meters, so that wasn’t going to work at all.  However, we were now getting the hang of going between the canal map and almanac and felt pretty secure in the route we planned from there on, carefully checking the bridges the whole way to our final destination that day of Leeuwarden.  We made it to Leeuwarden by 1:30pm and the weather was still drizzly, foggy, and a bit chilly as it had been all morning.  We’re not bothered much by rain, so it really wasn’t a problem since it wasn’t coming down in buckets.  To make it into Leeuwarden, there are a series of drawbridges that cost a total of €7, paid all together at one bridge.  The bridge tender hangs a wooden shoe attached to a fishing pole out of his office window and somehow manages to land the shoe right in your hands every time.  You stuff exact payment inside, wave a thank you, and the bridge tender pulls up the shoe.  We didn’t have to wait terribly long at any of the bridges, but we were also part of a line of a few boats advancing through each one.  After we tied up next to a pretty spot off the Prinsentuin (a lovely public park/garden), we paid €12.27 to moor for the night.  Our first stop in Leeuwarden was the Boomsma distillery and museum.  The popular drink is a bitter liquor called Beerenburg, and Boomsma has been in the Beerenburg business for 125 years.  They also make gin, aged gin, blackberry and elderberry liquor, and a few other spirits.  We watched a short video on the history and production of Beerenburg and got to have a few samples.  We walked around Leeuwarden a bit, making a stop at an amazing cheese shop, Zuivelhoeve, and eventually ending up at the Oldehove.


Oldehove is the tower of an unfinished church began in 1529.  Unfortunately the tower began to sag and construction was stopped, the church eventually demolished, but the tower remains, leaning at an odd angle at the end of the square.  Never put off by a couple of steps, we went in and grabbed tickets for our ascent to the top, a climb of only 183 steps.  At the top of the first floor of the tower, the steps flip to the other side of the tower (an attempt to help straighten the tower by adding weight to the other side) and climb up to the top in a narrow spiral staircase.  Much like the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the tower felt weird to climb – even though you know you’re going up the stairs, at times the angle is enough to feel as though you’re not going upwards at all.  At the very top of the tower there’s a glass platform that hangs over the outside wall of the tower letting you stare down past your feet to the ground a few stories below.

We made our way back down the tower finally and headed back to the boat for dinner at 5pm.  Part of the benefit of having the boat is that we try to make our own breakfast and dinner most days so that the vacation is a little more affordable (and healthy).  We went back out after dinner to have a few beers around town, but things were pretty quiet and closed up around town.  We turned in early, heading back to the boat and made it just as the skies opened up and it started raining buckets.

(Part 2 is on its way, standby!  I’ll add a link here to Part 2 once it’s published.)

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