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!


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