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.