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

The Final Boating Weeks of 2020

sloten windmill sm
Windmill in Sloten

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.

Sloten, drawing from 1664
sloten flowers
Flowers on bridges is a thing in Friesland.
sloten bar
Restaurant along the canal in town center

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.

sloten church
Once a church, now it is for sale

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.

island near Heeg
Near Heeg and Workum, this small island has room for about 10 boats.

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.

lock near makkum
On the way to Harlingen, at the lock near Maakum. There were about 15 boats in there with us. Room for more!

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.

The movement of the planets is displayed on his living room ceiling.
Franeker- here like everywhere everyone sat outdoors

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.

There was a Douey Egbert store here for many years. The factory is just outside town.

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!