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.
Next: Grou and more