On our third day we spent 6 hours on two tip based walking tours of Lyon, an excellent way to get a detailed view of the city’s major monuments and features. Vieux Lyon, the World Heritage Renaissance old town, is the subject of these tours. Vieux Lyon is divided into three neighborhoods, Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges. The Gothic Cathedral, on the site of the first church built in 549 CE, is in the Saint Jean quarter, it’s facade bearing the injuries delivered by the Protestant iconoclasts who removed the heads of most of the sculptures. The current structure dates to the 12th century. Attached to it is the Manécanterie, originally built for the monks’ dining.
In the middle ages Lyon was the main producer and processor of silk in France. There’s a small silk museum that shows the process from silk worm to final product. The workers were called Canuts. The Canuts transported materials up and down the steep hill ascending from the city’s rivers through alleys called traboul. These alleys and steep staircases snake through heavily populated areas. The twists and turns we walked through proved useful to the Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
Lyon is known for its murals, two of which are famous. The Fresque des Lyonnais depicts the city’s most reknown residents. It is painted on the six-story building located at the corner of 49 quai Saint-Vincent and 2 rue de la Martinière near the Saône River.
After a short visit to Paris to see some old friends we took a crowded ride on Metro 6, switching to the 14 after just a short walk. In the Gare de Lyon we found throngs in front of the trains, especially ours, once a track was assigned. It was smooth sailing after that though, from the Gare de Lyon to Lyon itself on a high speed train. We are in the third largest city in France and the gastronomic capital of the world thanks to Paul Bocuse.
Our roomy flat is just around the corner from the Metro. The owner’s friendly friend was waiting for us. The former is somewhere in the Caribbean for a couple of months. It was after 9 pm by the time we went to the local Carrefour City, the small version of the huge grocery train. There are two very close by and somehow we walked right by the closest one, but provisions we found.
The next morning we went looking for a street market along the Rhone. Maybe they changed the day of the week for the market as it was not on. We walked to another in about 15 minutes. We found olives, ripe figs, green beans and, lo and behold, some brocoletti aka brocoli rab aka rapini. These may differ but they are in the same family, judging by their flavor. We must be getting closer to the Italy. You don’t find these easily in Paris, say, but the Italians consume them by the ton. Sauteed with garlic (add sausage if you will), they are one of my favorite veg.
As we walked around I gained the impression that Lyon is well managed and well served by public transport. At rush hour there are attendants at all the train’s doors, inviting people on or holding them back. I have never encountered this before. The cars are roomy, with the seats set parallel so there’s plenty of standing room. They use tires to reduce the noise, versus metal wheels, just as they do in Paris. Another good idea- the tickets work on all the forms of public transport, metro, bus, electric wire buses (wire overhead) and trams.
It turned rainy that afternoon so we skipped the walking tour at 16h and went to the Musee des Confluences. It is not only a neat modernity of a structure but a very good science museum. Some of it is presented for a younger audience, going though the basics of things like evolution, with some realistic full size presentations of three species of humans dating back 50,000 years. There’s an excellent video that even adults enjoy, showing how the earth developed out of the chaos of debris, then the collision that produced the moon, actually going farther back to how stars are born, one of which turned out to be our very own. I’ve got the sequence out of order here, but you get the idea and you’ll love the graphics. See Musee des Confluence
There is a room full of life sized stuffed animals. You can’t fit that polar bear onto your bed for a warm snuggle and you would not want a chance encounter in the wild. There’s a whale skeleton with an enormous jaw open to allow filtering of plankton, and a dangerous looking dinosaur. The African art collection has a bunch of neat wood carvings. I wonder why they do such pointy and too high on the chest representations of breasts. A lively video records village dancers in costume to the rhythm of the drums.
The tram stops right in front of the museum so we didn’t have to walk long in the rain to obtain the stop’s shelter. A few minutes we transferred to the metro and then walked the 50 meters to our door. The broccoletti awaits.
During a short trip to Paris to see friends we attended the excellent Mucha Exhibit at the Grand Palais Immersif, a video presentation on a huge screen. Mucha was a principle in the Art Nouveau movement. See a bit of the show in the video below:
The Moravian born Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is famous for his poster designs, especially those he did for the actress Sara Bernhardt. Perhaps his most famous poster is of Bernhardt, larger than life size at two meters in height. He also produced advertisements and decorative panels. His output was enormous, so enormous that he must have had a sizable number of assistants. He lived in Paris for these productive years.
He became famous after a 6-year contract with Sarah Bernhardt, who loved his work. He did her costumes, sets and advertising. He then did the Austria pavilion for one of the International Exhibitions in Paris. After becoming famous, he returned home, dedicating his work to the service of his homeland. He created the Slav Epic, shown in the last part of the presentation. For more see Mucha Foundation
We also went to the excellent Notre Dame reconstruction exhibit at the TrocaderoWithin a short time following the April 15, 2018 fire, donors from 150 countries contributed an amazing €850 million, enough to finance the entire project. Artisans and skilled workers were recruited from all around France to first stabilize then restore the Cathedral. The many panels in the exhibit are excellent and expertly translated into English, yielding a detailed account of this immense and complicated project, with its many task groups: Acoustics, Wood and Framework, Monumental Decorations, Emotions and Mobilizations, Metal, Digital Data, Stone, Structures, and Glass. At the height of the restoration nearly 1000 people were working on the project. Cite Architecture et Patromonie.
The project uses original methods and materials. For example, in 2021 workers felled 800 trees using period axes to rebuild the roof and other structures. Workers used traditional methods to work the stone. Likewise with the 800 pipes of the organ, removed for restoration. It will take six months to reassemble it and six more to tune it. Tuning requires working at night as it is quieter. Sixteen spire statues and over 3,000 square meters of stained glass have already been cleaned and restored.
The restoration as a whole is based on the mid 19th century restoration when the original spire, near collapse, was removed and the most recent and now destroyed spire was built. As restoration works began there was some controversy over this spire as it is decorated complex while the original was plain. However the Voillet-le-Duc version has become so associated with Notre Dame that his design was retained, making its ultimate appearance consistent with the 19th century restoration which serves as the basis for the entire effort.
Mepple: From Franneker we made our way to Meppel, a town of some 35,000. Meppel got its start in the 16th century, arising out of the peat trade. Its tiny central harbor is minutes to the main parts of the old town, sitting behind a small lock operated by friendly and helpful young guys. It is one of the most picturesque harbors in the country, especially at night. Walking around town treats the visitor to pleasant facades and quaint worker housing.
Groningen houses some 235,000, making it the country’s sixth largest cities. It has a small art museum whose main claim to fame is the permanent ceramics collection. When we visited there was a photo exhibit featuring the Rolling Stones, interesting enough if you care about this rock group. Fortunately the town itself is worth a visit. Aside from the all the wonderful traditional brick architecture there’s the super modern library. It’s a glass structure with a 10 story atrium crisscrossed by escalators. Near the stacks are coffee bars, and there is a cinema as well. From the top there’s a great view of the city.
Groningen was established more than 950 years ago. It was part of the Hanseatic trading league and an autonomous city-state until the French era cirrca 1700’s. Today it is home to the University of Groningen, the Netherlands’s second oldest university, and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. One out of four residents is a student, so there’s a lively street scene. The bars are full day and night, bikes and scooters flying left and right in the central zone.
Grou: We came to Grou several times this year due to its crossroads of canals and the abundant moorings in town and outside. Grou sits on a large body of water called the Pikmar, with the Princess Margriet Canal (a section called the Nije Wjittering, Frisian for New Wittering) on one side. Coming into the port you are amazed by the number of boats that live in this itty bitty town, and, at this time of year, by the number of visiting boats. You can fill up with water and charge your batteries without charge, which helps draw visiting boaters.
While we were there a sailing competition filled the ‘passenten haven’ (passersby moorings) spaces up to three deep. Some dozen traditional wooden sailboats zoomed around the islands- we watched from one of them. Heavy weather put an end to the competition. The boats with their dramatic black and white sails repeat the competition in several villages in the area annually.
Leeuwarden is another bustling university town, with a total of 150,000 inhabitants (as of 2020). After an opening bridge, on the right there is a harbor for traditional boats and barges, to the left the visitors’ moorings. From the visitors’ moorings you are just minutes away from the busy central pedestrian zone, shops and restaurants galore.
It was around in Roman times and is built on a terp, a mound of earth built up to protect the inhabitants from flood waters. Medieval Leeuwarden had a moat and ramparts all around, later demolished or converted to gardens. The many canals have been reduced significantly in number. There was a small Jewish population starting in the 18th century.
The weather system that produced the high winds and rains of July finally broke in early August. With visitors aboard we passed through some of the most beautiful towns of Friesland.
Sneek (pro Snake), with its ancient gate called ‘Waterpoort,’ is one such. It was founded in the 10th century on sandy high ground- as were many of the old towns as the poulders had not yet been created. It was also sited on a dike, whose presence is reflected in several street names: Hemdijk, Oude Dijk, and Oosterdijk. The canal winds through it, barely room for boats to pass one another. As in all these old towns history is everywhere, from the finest public buildings to the residences both opulent and plain.
Makkum, like many other early settled areas, rests on a ‘terp,’ an artificial mound created to provide high ground. It is a port town, resting on the Ijsselmeer which is fed by the Ijssel River, one of the extensions of the Rhine. The Ijsselmeer is controlled by a huge dike on its northern edge holding back the North Sea. The Ijsselmeer can get quire rough, so we only venture out on calm days when the wind is not from of the westerly direction over Force 3 or 4.
This is a tiny town despite its port, with a mere 3400 inhabitants. Historic merchant houses line the lock area, itself once owned by a monastery. There is a 17th c weigh house. In the 1600’s, the Dutch Golden Age there were windmill powered industries including lime kilns. The lime was used in Amsterdam’s construction. Today the main activities include water sports due to the excellent sailing on the Ijsselmeer.
Harlingen is also a port town, larger than both Makkum and Grou (see below). We moored in the inner harbor, which is tidal as it sits open to the Waddenzee, essentially the North Sea but named otherwise to delineate the waters behind the West Freisan Islands. You secure your boat differently in tidal areas. To allow the boat to rise and fall you can not tie it tightly. Instead you attach long lines fore and aft. Tied normally the lines will either break or the cleats will as your boat starts hanging sideways to the dock.
Terscheling is a town on one of the islands and is served by a ferry that makes the 26 kilometer journey many times daily. We hopped on. It rumbles its way through a narrow channel. Since it was low tide we saw exposed sand bars not far off. As the weather was good we were able to sit on the top deck, enjoying the approach of the island and the many boats making their way to and from. We also visited the cafeteria. They serve many typical Dutch snacks such as frickadel (meatball) and other snacks usually served as a borrel (an after work drink with colleagues) and tosti – grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Then there is ubiquitous appelgebak mit slagroom, the national desert. That’s apple pie with whipped cream, thick and delicious whipped cream. The pie is identical to that served in the US and Canada. There is a crumble top version.
Harlingen is jampacked with traditional wooden sailing vessels, many of them “tjalks,” a flat-bottomed leeboard (side-keeled) vessel with a gaff rigged mast. A gaff rig is a four corned sail attached fore, aft and at its peak. There is a long pole called a spar. Some tjalks are used to transport day passengers on pleasure cruises but most are for pleasure boating. They were originally used for fishing and cargo transport. As the keels can be raised they can navigate in shallow areas. In deeper water they can lower a keel in order to use its broad flat surface for resistance to sideways motion, thus making it easier to maintain course.
The 12th century village is thick with old brick buildings dating back hundreds of years sitting on cobbled streets. These house many of its 15,000 residents. You walk along the canals starting into beautifully appointed living areas through the un-curtained sparkling large windows, all seemingly cleaned thoroughly each day by invisible workers. We have yet to see anyone ever doing the chore!
The weather was fine so the main streets were alive with locals and visitors, the former going to work or doing errands, the latter walking the streets, waiting for the ferry or train, and every sort populating the bars and restaurants, sitting in the sun which they do not see much of in the long winters. We stopped for poffertijes. These are essentially small pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat. Most are served with sprinkled powdered sugar but there is a savory variant made with Gouda cheese. The sweet version goes well with the strong coffees the Dutch prefer.
Franeker is a bit inland. You pass through a large lock to get inland. Today there was no change in water level so the lock opened to allow us to enter and moments later the other gates opened to allow us to exit. We enjoyed the fine weather passing through the tranquil countryside.
In addition to Franeker’s beautiful architecture, a main draw is the Royal Eise Eisinga Planetarium. The planetarium was built by Eise Eisinga between 1774 and 1781. A pendulum clock powers the movement of the planets, the whole apparatus handing from the ceiling. It is the oldest working planetarium in the world.
Franeker has been around since about the 9th century, playing a role in many major historical events too numerous to go through here. The name may have originally been “Froon-acker”, Friese for “land of the lord/king.” The town’s oldest street in the city is called Froonacker.
After a day of travel canceled by high winds, we departed Stadskanaal at 9 am in the company of another boat and the bridge keepers who would be opening the bridges and operating the locks. There were some 35 opening bridges ahead. By the time we’d moved 50 meters I knew there was something wrong with the steering. We got through the bridge there and pulled over. We had no rudder control at all.
After attempting to add hydraulic oil failed, we knew we would be staying here for days- the steering pump had failed. Fortunately there was electricity and water on the dock. Had we been in the middle of nowhere we would be a more vulnerable position. Although we have solar panels and 450 liters of water, we can last as much as 10 days without access to electricity and water.
To get close enough to the electrical outlet we had to move the boat. We pulled it by hand after maneuvering it to the nearby dock with the bow thruster and engine. Moving the boat in a straight line this way is easy enough to do, but we had to get around two boats, which is not so easy. Our 13 year old visitor climbed on the boats to fend us off. It was a bit nerve wracking as the ropes tended to hang up on the boats we passed, as we had to loop the lines over the low sailboats. It took about 20 minutes.
While awaiting a solution to our steering problem we took a trip on the old and mighty steam locomotive to Vaandam, about 20 kilometers along the canal. It’s cars are all from the same era and in great condition as well, judging by appearances. A single engineer operates the locomotive, with little need for assistance in stoking the fire. Their tracks are exclusive to the steam locomotive. There are no traffic barriers so they have two employees standing guard at the crossings. Other employees check tickets or serve in the restaurant car, where we sat eating an appelgebak (apple pie, the national dessert) and drinking coffee or lemonade made from a syrup.
Eventually we founds a new steering pump, then moved on through all 20 plus bridges and the three ancient hand operated locks, accompanied by bridge keepers operating in teams to facilitate the movement, arriving at last in Groningen. We had already been there by bus, visiting the famous Groninger Museum. There is a good albeit small collection of women artists from the city, dating from the mid 19th century and an extensive permanent ceramics collection. The building sits in water with a brightly colored exterior. In the evening we climbed the 10 story super modern Forum, with multiple floors dedicated to the public library but including a Disney exhibition and a cinema.
The next day we made our way through the bridges of downtown Groningen, a charming way to see the old town. Soon we found ourselves in the countryside, with the occasional bridge and a few locks. Then we crossed the Lauwersmeer (meer is sea, like ‘mar’ in Spanish, coming from the Latin) to the mighty dike and flood gates at Lauwersoog, part of the Zuiderzee Works keeping the seas from flooding the entire country, as it did in the early 1950’s. The dike and its huge flood gates were completed in 1969.
A mighty wind often batters the mighty barrier. We were treated to a strong wind as we walked along the dike. On our ferry ride to the nearby barrier island the transport vessel was unbothered neither by the wind nor the chop that would have made our boat bounce around quite a bit, though posing no danger.
The tide was out, perhaps exacerbated by the wind. At one point past mid-journey there was a sandbar exposed to view. Any captain new to this voyage would be especially sure to remain in the winding channel through the shallow sea.
The Dutch are a beer drinking society, much like the rest of Northern Europe. Heineken is the most famous of its native brews and its sister beer Amstel, named after the river from which Amsterdam (Dam on the Amstel) derives. Grolsch is another brand, its main offering a very good pilsner, notable for its hinged cap that remains with the bottle. These days all bottles and cans are returnable but these Grolsch bottles have long come with a deposit.
Other beers include La Trappe Trappist Brewery, Brouwerij’t IJ, Brouweri De Molen and Arcense Bierbrouwerij (a term meaning ‘beer brewery.’) And there’s a brand called Brand.
A bit of terminology will help you understand what you are about to drink. A Double is 6-7.5% dark beer. A Triple is a 6-8% strong pale ale. A single, a term that I have never seen in use, is a 4-5% every day beer like a Heineken and the less expensive house brand beers. A ‘witbier’ is what we call a white beer in English, made from wheat versus the usual barley. Indian Pale Ales have become popular in recent years. For a good review of the topic see https://www.expatica.com/nl/lifestyle/food-drink/dutch-beer-100786/
The Dutch drink a lot of Belgian beers, but little from elsewhere, even the ubiquitous Guinness, one of the most widely distributed beers in the EU. Affligem is a widely available Belgian brew coming in the form of a Double or a Triple. I have seen Duvel and Chifou and a variety of Trappist Beers. To use the term ‘Trappist’ they must be brewed at a Trappist monastery and there must be at least one monk around. There are 13 Trappist brewers, however the International Trappist Association only recognizes 10. In one case the recognition was withdrawn after the last Trappist monk died. That’s picky. The beer is what counts, no?
Since 2010 the craft beer scene has developed extensively as drinkers look for more character in their beverage and seek to support local products. From what I see online there are about 500 of them. Catching up to the Belgians, are we? We like Texel, brewed on the barrier island of that name. It seems to be the most widely available of the craft beers. See Texel’s website
Cheeses are generally consumed on their own and used to make cheese sauces. While the French pair it with wine, the Dutch are much less likely to do so, being more into beer drinking than wine. They often serve it with mustard, which seems to make it go better with beer than one might assume. It is served cubed with a ‘borrel,’ a late afternoon bar snack.
Fish forms a significant part of the diet, mostly served deep fried other than salmon and tuna, which are served as filets with a sauce in the case of the former and canned with salads and sandwiches. There are fish trucks in almost every main plaza with deep fried offerings, especially ‘lekkerbek‘ (cod) in filets or in bits called kibling. Some also offer fries and drinks. Haring (herring) is always available from these trucks. It is served filleted after having been cured. You can have it with chopped onions and pickles.
With this background, what will you find in restaurants?
Sandwiches. The restaurants are very creative with these offerings. There is a salmon brood on just about every menu and you feel you are in the lap of luxury with hearty brown or white bread together with sauces and veggies.
Fries Nary a meal goes by without them. Often they are served in attractive baskets either to the individual or the table. They are consistently the equal of the best fries anywhere, crispy and hot. They serve them with mayonnaise, mustard, or sate sauce (peanut sauce), and a few others. There are fries shops in many towns. Just fries and sauces sold there.
Kip sate is one of my favorite main courses. The Dutch controlled Indonesia through the Dutch East India Company. As a result Indonesian items are on Dutch menus. Kip is Dutch for chicken. A sate is a peanut sauce. Chunks of chicken are skewered then grilled before being served with a peanut sauce. The sauce is fairly sweet and sometimes a bit spicy. It is served with fries and vegetables. A rice tafel (rice table) is a large selection of Indonesian specialties served on a lazy Susan. Look for an Indonesian restaurant rather than an Indo-Chinese restaurant as the former provide a more genuine experience.
Pork is a favorite, grilled and then served with a sauce, some veggies and fries. Chicken as well, but more as a sate served with fries and some veg. Beef is less common and quite expensive in restaurants. Steaks of various cuts are offered in restaurants, although the Dutch eat more pork than beef. They like it with pepper sauce or perhaps a Hollandaise.
White asparagus is wildly popular. It is in season in late spring to early summer. While still in the ground it is covered to keep it from turning the normal green. I have had it with a cheese sauce, but is also severed with slices of ham with a hard boiled egg. Belgian endive, called ‘witlof,’ is also very popular, topped with a cream sauce. We had it first at a friend’s house. It is steamed, cut in half and allowed to drain before wrapping it in a slice of ham, topped with a cream sauce and bread crumbs, then put in the oven for a bit.
Mussels are usually served fried. At home they are more likely to steam them. These days most people do not deep fry at home. A friend does some really fine ones with onions, garlic, carot, celery and creme fraiche.
‘Poffertjes‘ are small, cylindrical snacks made with pancake batter poured into a mold and served with powdered sugar. Pannenkoeken are pancakes but as lunch or dinner offerings with various savory toppings and served as a dessert as well . They are not a breakfast item! They also have waffles, served as sweet snacks, small and thin with powdered sugar. At a fund raiser for a windmill’s petting farm I told the volunteer that I had them for breakfast with sausage or bacon and she nearly fell over with a mixure of surprise and I tkink I detected a bit of disgust at the mere thought of it. Stroop (syrup) waffles are cookies made with sugar or corn syrup. Waffles in the Belgian style are unknown.
Uitsmijters are fried egg dishes with two or three eggs, ham and cheese on toast, sometimes served with potatoes on the side. They are served for breakfast and lunch. The Dutch love soup. Mustard soup is a specialty of the town of Doesburg, home of a mustard factory. It is a cream based soup and is quite tasty. Burgers have become popular, an American import that is in vogue is much of Europe.
Borrel are pre dinner drinks often served with snacks around 4-5 pm with dinner coming at 6 – 8 pm. Croquettes are common borrels, with a crunchy exterior covering a creamy filling. Frikandel are a kind of sausage. Bitterballen are deep fried meatballs. Kaassoufflé is a deep fried cheese delight served with a sate sauce. Loempias are fried rolls, like Chinese egg rolls, coming from the Indonesian tradition. Blocks of cheese are served with mustard, as mentioned above. I have never seen red peppers stuffed with sweetened cheese in a restaurant but they are common in grocery stores. At friends’ houses we’ve had rolls of salmon with something like cream cheese, and jamon serrano called rauwe ham also stuffed with the same or similar kinds of cheese. Hard sausages are sliced and offered up. There are lots of others, but these are the ones I have run across the most.
Special thanks to Marcella and Yoost for corrections and suggestions.
Just north of Zwolle there are several small lakes. We spent several days there before painting the hull in Hasselt just up the river and again after a cruise up the Ijsselvecht River. Moored on the lake just a few meters from the river we were treated to a stream of water craft of all types, from canoes to river cruise ships. Families came by water and land to swim, picnic and sun bathe.
Other boaters occupied similar moorings, picnicking, swimming and playing traditional Dutch music, polkas that sound a lot like German polkas.
The privately owned and occupied Rechteren Castle was built circa 1190 as a fortification. In 1315, it became the property of the van Voorst family. The counts of Rechteren inherited the castle, and it is still in the family.
In 1591 they removed the moat and outer wall to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish. In the 18th century, two wings were added to the main building. No visits are allowed. Photos reveal family portraits and scenes from Greek mythologuy, a rococo salon. There is an arms collection.
There are a number of farms in the vicinity of Rechteren Castle shutters in the colors red and yellow. These are still tenant farms. A plaque on the property says there is an underground passage leading to the church in Dalsen, although that would require several kilometers of tunnels.