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Abbaye d’Aulne sits on the Sambre River. On the way aboard Viking you pass through an old industrial area outside Charleroi. The Abbaye is a ruin now, but 500 plus years after its founding it had grown large and powerful, before being largely destroyed during the French revolution. Its presence adds to what is otherwise largely landscape charm as the river winds its way through the hills of the Ardennes. The Abbaye was part of the Cisterncian order that today gives its name to some 11 brands of Trappist beer. The Trappist order originated in the Cisterncian monastery in La Trappe, France.
We took the boat to the small settlement that hosts the Abbaye, mooring just outside the lock. Already there was a music, sounding like a concert in progress, although it turned out to be live bands at one of the bars across the street from the ruins. A few women were dancing. I ached to join them. Instead we took a look at the Auberge in the ancient building complete with a road passing through it, then the restaurant at the Abbaye itself, in the cellar of a ruin, and along the quiet street. Next we came to the entrance to the Abbye. You get a good look at the remains of the immense structure. You can walk around and even take a tour. The next day we skipped the tour and just enjoyed walking through the architectural skeletons.
There’s a well recommended restaurant at the lock. We’d made reservations. We ordered an Irish steak with a Roquefort sauce. I assume they imported it from Ireland. It was not a pretty piece but the sauce was out of this world – Belgian sauces are outstanding. The vol au vent, which features a pastry shell normally in the shape of a volcano with the top blown off. This one had grilled chicken breast and a cream sauce, all excellent. The third dish was a rack of lamb with another great sauce, this a brown gravy. The wine prices were out of this world so it was beer or a glass of wine. My beer was the Abbaye d’Aulne label. This is not a Trappist beer so no monk had approached the production but it’s just as good. I got the blonde en fut (on tap). We were there two and half hours, munching on the superb bread while we waiting the first hour for our entree- in French an ‘entree’ is the starter course, not the main course as it is in the US, which uses the French word but not the meaning for some reason.
There are few rivers more charming than this section of the Sambre. The hills through which it passes are heavily forested with multiple shades of green (see next photo). The river’s edge flows with a pleasant irregularity, unlike a canal’s sharper edges. Trees occasionally push their way a few meters from the shore. There are a half dozen or so old locks, manually operated with cranks. They allow boats climb the hills. The river remains in its natural path at the junction with the lock. On the way back I was able to close one side of the lock, saving the lock keeper a walk around to the other gate and us a few minutes of engine time.
There’s an excellent cheese shop, Temp du Fromage. We bought some goat cheese, Morbier, as well as fresh, rich and creamy ricotta, just like I remember from my childhood when you could get raw milk ricotta. Some mighty fine stuff. Around the corner there’s a boulongerie (bakery) selling boules (large round rolls, the shape of a ball- boules is the word for ball). From “boules” you get the word “boulangerie,” or so it seems. Just makes sense that it would.
Thuin also has a rail museum containing street cars starting from late in the 19th century. They have all been restored and are now indoors. There is one in use for the tourists. We took the 40 minute round trip ride. The other passengers came well equipped with cameras. There were two stops for photos along the way, and click away they did, with real cameras.
The morning after our lovely dinner at the lock near the Abbaye we left, with the cliff lined Meuse our goal. It hosts the Citadels of Namur and Dinant. Between the two cities there is more dramatic scenery and fabulous chateaux.
April 16, 2021
From Zwartsluice we navigated to Genmuiden for a short visit and a trip to the supermarkets, then we made our way to Grafhorst. This is a tiny town, so tiny it does not even have a grocer. Instead a large van drives into town, beeps the horn, and waits for people to climb in to shop for fruit, veg, meat, cheese and the like. This is now predominantly a bedroom community. Each house has a car.
There is a plaque in the park next to the river. It commemorates the deaths of Australian airmen whose plane crashed into the river during WWII. Viking is moored nearby. We stayed the night alone at the dock other than the unoccupied work boat qft. It was a quiet night under a few stars, the long cold sunset lasting well past 8 P.M.
In the morning, again with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, we set off for Kampen. Kampen sits on the Ijssel River, which flows into the Ijsselmeer, the inland sea that is closed off from the North Sea by locks and dikes. Kampen was a member of the former Hanseatic League, population of 37,000.
Kampen has a well preserved old town center. There are three lovely gates and many chaurches. Three modern bridges cross the IJssel. There is a local variation of the Sallands dialect, termed Kampers.
The friendly and Bible quoting harbor master makes coffee for visitors. It’s a lonely job in the winter but the boating season is quite busy, especially on weekends. There is a fries shop across from it so we ordered two small fries which somehow turned into a humongous order. It’d been a good while since we had crispy fries like this.
The next morning, after another cup of coffee and some comments about the Gospel of Mathew having everything you could possibly want to know, we were off to Almere, where we will meet some old friends and a representative from Gebo, the manufacturer of the windows on our boat. The factory is in the town and the rep lives one minute from the town’s free moorings, and the friends just two minutes more. It’s another gorgeous day with very cold mornings. You emerge from the mouth of the river into some fairly open water before entering the Ketelhaven locks. Here you drop about 6.5 meters onto the polder. We did not have to wait long for the red-green light to come on, indicating they were preparing to open the gates. The first lock drops 5.5 meters so they have ropes that descend along the walls. You just loop a line around it and down you go. It is quite easy. The second lock is not manned. You have to push a button to get things going. We saw it on the right side after we had docked on the port side.
The 52 kilometer voyage from Kampen to Almere took about 7 hours in lovely sunshine. Slowly on.
Kalenburg is a tiny village that is split by the canal. It is perhaps the most lovely navigable canal section in the country. Geithoorn is overall more charming but its canals are too small for boats in the size range of our 12 meter boat Viking. I write about it here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/wandering-about-the-netherland-east-part-2/
Sloten has just 750 inhabitants yet it is categorized as one of 11 cities in Friesland. It’s at the end of a very narrow canal. Like the other cities, towns and villages we’ve visited out of choice, it’s charm far outweighs its size and relative importance. It has a working windmill in town, pedestrian bridges over canals, bars and restaurants often charming and cosy inside while breezy and picturesque out. The town retains almost all of its defensive structures, designed and built by Memmo Van Coehoorn. It’s original onion-like shape gave rise to the Sipelsneon (Onion Saturday), a fair held every last Saturday of June except this year of course.
When we were walking past a church a very tall woman walking her huge dog stopped to tell us that the church is for sale. It is rarely used, she said, and when it is just 6 or 7 people show up. Many of the areas we have been in are part of the country’s Bible belt. Apparently we have left that zone.
After the overnight in Sloten came Workum. We could not stay in town as there was no space left. There is a small island nearby, where last year we stayed with our Dutch friends. It was beautiful the next day. Unlike in past years, there is very little socializing due to the risk of infection, although in the rural areas there is practically no risk at all.
As the weather was still excellent and the winds low, we next passed through Makkum and thence into the Ijsselmeer, a body of water about the size of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. We followed our route with our navigation app, but just for fun, as the channels are very clearly marked. The sea was flat as a board, just the way we like it. Even sailboats were happy as there was enough wind. One boat was full of people partying, dancing and probably drinking. A German boat was populated with the naked.
We stayed in the Noorderhaven harbor. To account for the 2 meter tide you have to attach your lines well behind the boat, as we were not on the floating docks, already occupied. It’d been 20 years since we had to deal with a tide, and in Florida on the Gulf side the drop was much less than here. The other boaters and the harbor master made sure we’d done it correctly.
The streets of Harlingen:
Franeker is next on our journey towards the boat’s winter home in Heerenveen. It dates from Carolingian times, around 800 CE. It is notable for the Eise Eisinga Planetarium. The world’s oldest working planetarium was built from 1774 to 1781 by Eise Eisnga, an amateur astronomer. It is an elaborate mechanism that shows the movement of the solar system, taking up a significant portion of his house. The museum was expanded and upgraded since our visit in 2000. It now has an excellent collection of telescopes and related instruments. It is harder to see the mechanism than it was then, it seems to me. The works are what I went back to see, actually, so I was disappointed.
We had an overnight stop in Leuwarden. I just had to go to the terrific Thai restaurant named Thai by Jai. I ordered a shrimp dish. They served an imported Thai chile laden version. I have never seen so many chiles! It was as spicy as anything I have ever had, forcing me to eat white rice, which I would never do otherwise. Aside from the beer it was the only thing I could do to cut the spice.
The next day we made our way to Joure. On our first night we stayed outside town We stayed just outside town. The people moored in front of us stopped by. “Haven’t we met before?” he asked Peggy. In fact we had, in Haren just across the border in Germany. We talked about our journeys. This has been a lonely year, with just one couple staying aboard and few gatherings beyond our time with Ada and Kees, the canals laden with visitors’ boats out for one last journey in the late September sun. This visit from a neighbor was one of very few.
Joure is home to the coffee company Douwe Egberts, founded in 1753. Douwe’s father, Egbert started an import business, serving other businesses but with an over the counter retail business as well. When Douwe came along he changed the focus to coffee importing and roasting as well as tobacco. Today there is a large modern coffee plant just outside town, the aroma of roasted coffee wafting across the plazas and alleys. This is a major improvement over the aromas of cow chips that we found so often in this rural paradise.
Joure was also born out of the peat trade. In the 15th century traders dug canals to transport and store goods in the town as it was only reachable by water and thus less likely to be found by marauders. It developed an active ship building industry. Today it is home to about 13,000.
The wind had been blowing for days as we made our way from our two nights here to our winter berth in Herrenveen (1551). It was established to exploit the peat bogs. The current population is about 33,000.
We’d made arrangements to stay the winter several weeks before. However the havenmesiter (harbor master) who was manning the diesel pump when we arrived did not know anything about the deal. We’d spoken with Siiko, the other harbormeister. However the former found us a spot after a few minutes, a relief since he’d told us the marina had filled up in the two weeks since we were last there. The Dutch had been buying every boat in sight and sometimes some that weren’t, as they could not or would not travel abroad.
“Put your boat next to the white boat,” he said. So we did that, rearranging the lines that someone had left on the dock. The electrical chord the harbor master said he’d leave for us was there so we plugged in.
At around 1900 a knock came on the door. It was the Belgian couple we’d spoken to earlier telling us that the slip we were in belonged to the small barge that had just arrived and was waiting to dock. The rain held off and the wind pushed us to the next space and we settled in for the night.
Before long came another knock, one of our other neighbors it was, saying we were using his electricity. We explained that we did not know it was his and were told to use it by the harbormaster. He was good-natured about it, jokingly asking which harbor master it was so he could go kick his ass. We unplugged from his connection and managed to string our two sets of electrical wires together to connect to another slot. We have plenty of battery power, 4 house batteries totaling 330 amp hours and two starting batteries, but plugging in reduces our usage of the batteries.
The next morning I came across Siiko. He said he we had to move yet again, as he had a slip with metered electricity as opposed to one where you have to put in coins. It was an easy move too, despite the strong winds, although I had to turn around twice to get us facing the right way. It seems I’d temporarily confused right with left not once but twice.
We spent the next two days readying the boat for the winter, which involves getting rid of the water in the pipes and pouring in environmentally friendly antifreeze. The Belgian couple took us to the train station, too far to walk with luggage, saving us a cab fare and a wait for someone to show up.
The next three days we spent in Amsterdam. The highlight was another visit to the Rijks (State) Museum. They have a fabulous phone app that takes you on various tours. I took the Rembrandt tour. It’s 60 minutes long although I took 90 as I spent time sketching some of the paintings. What a privilege to do this in front of originals painted by one of the world’s master painters!
Our hotel was in an area of Amsterdam where apparently many Turks live, as the restaurants were practically all Turkish. We went to one, that specialized in grilling, although I ordered a Turkish pizza. The food was very good. However not even the waiters were wearing masks so we were a bit nervous.
The next night we took the tram to an Italian place for dinner. Peggy forgot to wear a mask so we got off. The next one stopped so I asked the ticket seller if she had any masks. In fact she did and gave one to Peggy, refusing any money even. Three teens also boarded on the tram. One did not have his mask on fully. The driver came to his side, put his arm around him, and told him he had to pull his mask up. The teen refused. The driver did not argue, but returned to his seat, and announced that we could not go anywhere as someone was not properly masked. All three boys disembarked.
Public transport, airports and flights are the only circumstances where a mask is required. Restaurants collect your contact information, and must keep it for two weeks. Some offer you a qr code where you can record your information in the event you might have been exposed. Supermarkets still require shopping carts and have one way arrows in the aisles, and provide disinfectant for the handles. Smaller shops still were requiring baskets and disinfectant. As we were departing cases were on the rise as people headed indoors for the winter and the flu season was starting up. There will be another peak season, how serious remains to be seen. The Dutch are generally compliant with health regulations so I would bet on it being reasonably well contained.
On our last night we had dinner with our friends in Haarlem. The Dutch are quite good cooks and lay out a beautiful table. Our hosts are no exception. It was a lovely afternoon and we talked endlessly about our summer and more.
By noon the next day we were in a corona hot spot – Madrid. It was reporting several neighborhoods with high rates of infection, with a limited movement order in place. We were not passing through those areas, amazingly given we took the train to Valencia which leaves from Atocha station, the main one in the city. You’d think even with reduced traffic it would be a hot spot, but it was not.
We had lunch on the street behind the station while waiting for the 1715 high speed train, which cruises at up to 300 kph/185mph. We enjoyed one of the day’s Menu del Dia for about 10 euros ($11.50) while seated outdoors on the sidewalk. First plate, second plate, wine, dessert. Ah, it’s good to be back in Spain!
It’s been more than a six weeks since we returned to the Netherlands. Since then we have been to one charming, prosperous looking village and lovely quiet countryside mooring after another. I have come to see why so many Dutch boaters have little need to take their boats to other countries. You walk or bike past rows of Golden Age (17thc) houses, their tall peaks and false fronts sometimes leaning forward. Each town has a church with a tall tower and a town hall with brightly colored wooden shutters contrasting with the brick construction. Water scenes from the thousands of kilometers of canals,lakes and seas. Boats, barges and ships push through the waters and moor in towns, canals and lakes. And much much more. Then there is the friendly bi-lingual often tall and blond people, who switch to answer you in English, often seamlessly. And it’s a hearty cuisine with lots of fried fish and fried potatoes, sate (peanut sauses), white asparagus, mustard soup, meat balls, hearty seedy breads and crackers, appelgebak mit slagroom (apple pie with thick whipped cream) and other excellent sweets. (Photos mostly by Peg)
We came first to Doesburg, which I mentioned in a previous post. Doesburg has been an important fortified city for a long time due to its position near the intersection of the Ijyssel and the Oude (Old) Ijssel. Martin Kerk (church) has a tower that measures 94 meters tall. Doesburg was a fortified city until 1923.
Near the Old City Hall we ordered mustard soup, a regional favorite. There are many versions of mustard soup. Mustard, cream, stock, maybe bits of ham. Our favorite had bits of serrano ham. You gotta like mustard though! The town is home to the Vinegar and Mustard Factory, which has a small exhibit. It was founded in the early part of the 19th century and looks it in a well preserved way of course.
Deventer came next, also on the Ijssel River, a town dating from around 750 CE. It was looted and set afire by the Vikings in 882, after which they added a defensive earthen wall where now you find Stenen Wal street. You can seem the remains of the wall. Deventer was home to the Bretheren of the Common Life, a religious philosophy that had some lasting influence. It was among the first to house a printing presses. A Latin School became internationally renowned, and remained in service in changing forms until 1971. Erasmus attended the school.
We stayed a night in Hasselt, after one on Lake Streng, a lovely rural spot just outside of Zwolle, which we stopped in twice last year. Zwolle has much more to offer but we’d not seen Hasselt, and besides Zwolle’s finger piers are risky plus you have to climb a ladder to get to the street. We stayed in the marina in Hasselt, there being no alternative. Like the other towns, Hasselt has been around for 1000 years or so, getting city rights in the 13th c.
Meppel is the newest town in the area, coming into being in the 16th century as a result of the peat trade, the norm here.
We met up with Kees and Ada in De Alde Feanen National Park , after spending a night in Lauwersmeer at a nice spot near the dike at the northernmost part of the country. Just us and two other boats were way out here.
Kees and Ada were waiting for us a bit off the Queen Wilhamena Canal, on a side shoot of a side shoot. We enjoyed great conversations and always get boating tips from them. Ada is excellent at spotting flaws with our lines and fenders. Kees knows these boats well, having owned one for about 60 years. We enjoyed wonderful meals and snacks with them for the next 12 days. Ada is a very good cook. One night we had whitlof (Belgian endive) wrapped in ham, topped with a cream sauce. Another time we had white asperagus.
After two days on this lovely rural spot we took the Queen Wilhamena Canal to Goredijk. I’ll start there with the next post. I wrote about Arnheim here https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/arnhem/. It came just after Doesburg.
Burg Vischering is home to the Museum of the same name. It is a castle dating from the 13th century. It is one of the most interesting castles we have visited in part due to the excellent written narrative, as well the views afforded by the attractive moat and the good condition of the structure. My remarks mostly come from the information provided on the museum’s plaques.
The first written reference is 1271, when the Bishop of Münster entrusted it to Knight Albert von Wulfheim, who was to defend the castle to assure its availability for the bishop. The primary concern was the ambition of the Hermann and Bernhard von Lüdinghausen, who resided in the nearby castles Lüdinghausen and wanted the bishop’s castle; we visited the latter, exterior only, no entry.
The castle is built on an island in the River Stever. There is a circular wall containing a courtyard with a diameter of 35 meters. The Vischering family occupied the castle starting in the 14th century. There was a major fire in the castle 1521. The subsequent rebuilding of the castle increased the living space. A staircase turret was completed in 1620, a bay window in 1622.
The Münster region is known for its many moated castles. Nordkirchen Castle is the most famous castle in the area, but is much younger, built between 1703 and 1734. There are three castles in tiny Lüdinghausen, including this one.
Napoleon’s conquest completely transformed Germany. The prince-bishoprics, secular ruler combined with religious leader, were abolished. The Holy Roman Empire and the feudal system went by the wayside as well. You might think that the end of feudalism in Germany was rather late. However In Europe generally the feudal system lived on until 1861 when Russia finally gave it up.
During the WWII the mill was destroyed, while the castle sustained considerable damaged. The castle was restored shortly after the war’s end. The castle was occupied by a family until 1968.
The museum’s official website has a 3D presentation that gives you a good sense of what the exterior is like. https://burg-vischering.de/en/the-castle/