Cruising Friesland I

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: HemdijkOude 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.

viking at waterpoort
Viking passes through the bridge in Sneek and in front of the Waterpoort

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.

Sluis in Makkum
The lock in Makkum

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.

One of the harbors in Harlingen

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.

Franeker’s Town Hall

Next: Grou and more

To the huge dikes on the Baltic Sea

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.

Inside the Forum tower. Escalators climb each floor, with wide views above and below.

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.

flood gates

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.

Bier drinken in Nederland

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

Texel, one of the Netherland’s craft beers

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

Eten en drinken in Nederland: Dutch cooking

Dutch cuisine is more home cooking than, say, the haute cuisine of the French. Nonetheless it is highly enjoyable, and that’s the point, isn’t it? Here’s a brief overview.


The Dutch eat a ton of dairy products. Gouda and Edam are its most well known cheeses, named after the towns from whence they originated. However the list of cheeses is long, most falling within the same family as these famous names. Most are dipped in a wax or plastic coating. There are various ages at which they are released for sale, the terms being “jong,” (young) “belegen” (aged up to 48 weeks and oude (old) (48 months or more, a hard cheese). More on cheeses here, and here and here

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?

Restaurant selections


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.

Zalm (salmon) broodjes – this one also has tuna

Loaded fries (they use the English words in the menus)

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 plank

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.

Next: beer, the national beverage.

Sunshine on the lakes

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.
Lake near Zwolle, NL

Other boaters occupied similar moorings, picnicking, swimming and playing traditional Dutch music, polkas that sound a lot like German polkas.

zwolle summer scene 2

Rechteren Castle in Dalsen

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.

Rechteren Castle, Dalfsen NL

    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.


    Rhenen, like Wijk bij Duurstede, is located on a branch of the Rhine called the Nederrhine (Lower Rhine). The town’s mooring is on the river just about a leisurely ten minute walk from the center. From the river you can not miss the large church tower.

    rhe3nen kerk
    Cuneraerk, Rhenen Netherlands, as seen from our mooring

    Cunerakerk is a Late Gothic, stone-roofed hall church with a transept and single choir. The first church on this site, circa 11th century, was dedicated to Peter. The current church is dedicated to Cunera who, according to legend, survived a massacre of virgins by the Huns, then brought by King Radboud to his seat in Rhenen. She was beloved by the locals and then murdered by the jealous Queen. The church served as a center of pilgrimages for centuries, with Cunera’s relics as a major draw.

    With the proceeds from the pilgrimages they built the current structure with its large tower from 1492 to 1531. Fires in 1897 and 1934 and then the bombardment 1945 severely damaged the church and tower, since restored.

    Between 1630 and 1631 the Koningshuis palace was constructed at Rhenen for Frederick V. It was demolished in 1812. Part of the center of town was damaged by the Nazis in the 1940 invasion.

    There’s a neat old windmill in town

    Wijk Bij Duursten

    In a country loaded with charming towns, Wijk Bij Duursten’s fairyland castleputs it in the top ten. It also has an old windmill. ‘Wijk bij Duurstede’ means ‘Neighbourhood by Duurstede’. The castle is named Duurstede, where the bishop of Utrecht once lived. Dating from circa 1300, the town sits on the Nederrine, a branch of the Rhine.

    The brdige across the moat

    The interior has been set up for dining. There are 4 dining rooms, reached by the original winding staircase or the modern fire escape, without which you’d be trapped by the narrow and steep stairs. A great setting for a wedding!

    The weather continues to be chilly, but with a fair amount of sun. We hear cuckoos most days. The namesake clocks mimic the sound exactly. Their call adds charm to an already beguiling scene, if you ignore their cheating ways. They deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds, who become unwitting foster parents. Nature has many strange ways, doesn’t it.

    Sleepboot (tug boat) Festival 2023

    On our last night on the Linge we were helped by a British man living aboard a well-worn boat, traveling with a friend who was towning him as needed. He told us about an event coming up in Vianen, a few hours up the canal and in the direction we were heading. As it turned out it was quite the festival. There were some 150 of these boats, called ‘sleepboot’ in Dutch, who came to Vianen to show off their boats. Almost all the boats have been beautifully restored. They date from the early 1900’s. The ones that old were originally equipped with steam engines. All have been converted to diesel. One we visited had a min-1940’s GM diesel. The owner said there were a lot of GM engines available at that time. (Note: ‘boot’ in Dutch is pronounced as ‘boat’ in English)

    These boats are equipped with large engines designed for towing much larger vessels. The earliest ones towed deep water cargo sailing ships. At the beginning they were not equipped with engines so had to be manuevered to dock. These tug boats made that chore much easier in comparison to rowing.

    sleepboat 1

    Here’s a short video I compiled so you can see the boats in motion, and hear their old engines running. One of them idles at a mere 19 RPM!

    The weather was near perfect. The locals and the visitors joined parties and danced to some mighty loud music. Alcohol flowed. I did not smell any marijuana, which is legal if you are a Dutch resident. So many people were coming to the country in large measure for the pot that the legislature was motivated to restrict its availability.

    The Low Lands and the bossche bollen

    It’s called by many names. In Spanish it’s Paises Bajos, the Low Countries. It is most commonly referred to by a name that is part of the name of just two of its provinces. In English we refer to their language using an unrelated term.

    Welcome to Holland (a word that originates with the provinces of North Holland and South Holland). In the country they spell it “Nederlands,” with a ‘d,’ a word unrelated to the country’s name. In English it’s “the Netherlands,” with a ‘t,’

    We are here again.

    The Dutch don’t complain about calling their country Holland nor their language Dutch instead of ‘Nederlands’ or ‘Hollandish.’ It’s more about the weather than any other topic. It’s May and they have good cause yet again. It’s been cold. In late April it was just below freezing on several mornings. It’s been rainy, and when not raining, it’s been very cloudy, with just a few nice days sprinkled in.

    The dock at 'T leuken, watercolor
    Dock at ‘t Leuken, watercolor

    We made our way northwesterly on the Maas from this year’s winter harbor in t’Leuken. On our first night we moored just outside Lock Lith, arranged by Chris, whom we met last year in France. He arranged our overnight with the lock keeper, as overnights are not normally allowed. Chris was working just a ten minute walk downstream. We went there, staying with him as he piloted the ferry back and forth across the Maas. This privately run ferry is on a hydraulic cable powered by a small diesel engine. The operator has to raise and lower the ramp in addition to starting and stopping the cable. For Chris it’s a part time job as he’s retired, but likes doing. He takes the summers off to spend it on the boat with his wife, although this year they will be camping.

    The next day we landed in s’ Hertogenbosch at Lock 0. We’re very close to the center of town. The center is lively, with lots of restaurants and bars, as well as fish trucks and cheese stands in the central square. We had a lekkerbek, a breaded and deep fried cod, and some great fries. At a restaurant we ordered the mighty bossche bollen, a cream filled chocolate covered pastry that is knockdown heavenly. One is enough for two unless you have just it for dinner, which I was tempted to do. These are made by just one company, delivered to eateries around town. I have never seen one elsewhere and I’ve been all over this country. You can find recipes on the internet.

    A bossche bollen, chocolate covered thin pastry filled with whipped cream

    s’ Hertogenbosch is also known for being the birthplace and lifetime residence of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450 – August 9, 1516), whose family produced the kinds of paintings for which he is famous. His often bizarre religious themed paintings are well known, held in collections around the world. For him heaven is a place of free love, where nudity and sex is everywhere to be seen and enjoyed. He is also known for his disturbing representations of life in hell,

    Hieronymus Bosch, a heavenly scene

    The museum is in a converted church, a common arrangement in the country as church attendance often does not justify the expense of building maintenance. There are no original paintings, just excellent reproductions. Each is described in a lovely booklet with well written and translated commentary, Dutch and English, which includes the painting’s current location. There are also some 30 of his drawings, showing his portrait, figure and fantasy drawing skills absent any distracting context.

    In the Conjurer, below, we have a secular scene. A conman distracts with the cups while a co-conspirator picks the pocket of a unsuspecting woman. As in the first painting, this one clearly demonstrates his figure drawing and painting skills. His paintings show us his intellect and imagination, albeit at times bizarre, all complex, with multiple figures robed and otherwise.

    Hieronymus Bosch, Conjurer

    The town also is home to an impressive church, now a Catholic cathedral, having passed back and forth with the Protestants in centuries past. This Gothic structure was started circa 1240, and finished about a century later. The third restoration began in 1998, in 2010 completed at a cost of more than 48 million euros. I can not imagine the Roman Catholic Church affording this amount so I did a bit of research on the matter. Indeed there was some funding from the government of the Netherlands.

    ceiling of St John Cathedral in s’ Herzenobosch
    The painted ceiling St John Cathedral in s’ Herzenobosch

    Walking about town is a pleasure, with its large central plaza, narrow side streets, bike lanes and many small shops as well as the usual chains. I can never figure out how these small shops, especially clothes shops, manage to stay in business. They do come and go to some extent, I believe, but here they still are, displaying more upscale choices, and in something new there is now the occasional vintage clothing shop.

    There’s a marijuana shop near our mooring. It’s called the Grass Company. I figure its pot as there is no need to help the Dutch grow lawns. We have read that purchasers must be Dutch residents. Amsterdam in particular is getting so many visitors just coming for the pot, staying on to party to excess, disturbing the peace and presumably crowding the jails. We saw none of that in this small town. People go to the bars and drink at home, and if they toke a joint it does not lead to raucous street parties. What they do in private it’s hard to tell, given the absence of noise coming from their houses. I often wonder if everyone in a town has died as I walk around at night in the residential areas.