Thursday 30 November
Late this afternoon, Mate took a bus into town to take advantage of late night shopping for a warm winter coat. This before a rendezvous at Centraal Station with her mother, who had travelled from North Wales by train via London, Eurostar to Brussels and Thalys to Amsterdam. They made their way straight home for warm drinks and hot water bottles.
Sunday 26 – Wednesday 29 November
After a leisurely start to Sunday morning, the bikes were built and the crew set off through the local park to the Jumbo FoodMarkt, a very good local store that is so much more than a supermarket. They managed to dodge the showers and relaxed in my warm and dry saloon in the afternoon.
The next few days were spent pottering with a variety of jobs, preparing the guest cabin for the next visit, and a little more grocery shopping. The weather was less than inspiring.
Tuesday 21 -Saturday 25 November
While I enjoy my Winter rest, my crew are taking advantage of the European rail network to visit some landlocked capital cities. First on the list is Berlin, where they stayed with family friends who made them feel very welcome.
After a seven-hour train journey, they spent Wednesday and Thursday exploring some of the favourite tourist attractions and sites of historical importance, including remains of The Wall, the iconic Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. They enjoyed an Autumn stroll through the Tiergarten and a bracing stretch along the River Spree to view the government buildings of the Bundestag and the Reichstag.
On Friday their generous host drove them to historic Potsdam, formerly the home of Prussian royals, and the palaces and gardens of Sanssouci. Just across a lake on the former East/West border they could see the famous Bridge of Spies, and they enjoyed the views of scenic rural Germany.
The return journey was less straightforward and they arrived home two hours late. I was glad to see them, in spite of the cold and dark.
Wednesday 15 – Monday 20 November
The weather continued damp and miserable during Wednesday, so my crew followed the advice of the Harbour Master and snuggled in below in the warm, dry saloon.
After a slow start on Thursday, they made an initial sortie into Amsterdam city centre, first purchasing and charging travel cards (like Oyster in London) from a local newsagent. The bus runs about every ten minutes from early until late, the journey takes about 15 minutes and costs around a Euro to Centraal Station. The station is huge but well signposted, and they soon found the Tourist Information office for a selection of leaflets. The city was busy as it was late night shopping and the ceremony to turn on the Christmas lights; all a bit overwhelming for a still fragile Mate who was glad not to stay too long.
On Friday morning we awoke to sunshine and a clear blue sky, and in flat calm conditions Skipper decided it was the moment to move me into my ‘permanent’ berth. This required a very tight set of manoeuvres in very limited space, turning a series of corners around protruding tenders, bows and anchors of other vessels, before reversing me between two metal posts with only centimetres spare at my bow. As ever, he made it look easy, calmly guiding me into the slot as if he’s been boat handling all his life. Unfortunately, at the last moment we discovered a lack of water under my rudders (at my landward end), and I’m sitting gently on a muddy bottom. Ah well, at least from the water level up I’m providing novelty value for my new neighbours, obviously introducing a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ among the liveaboards.
My crew took the bikes out from their winter store in my granny bars for a brief potter to the local shopping centre, so they’re beginning to find their way around.
Saturday morning was windy and showery, but it didn’t stop my intrepid Skipper digging out the jetwasher to clean the wooden planking around my berth so it’s less slippery when they’re getting on and off. Mate pottered below decks with some household chores.
Sunday and Monday were spent relaxing, reading the guidebook for Berlin, and packing.
Tuesday 14 November
On Tuesday it was finally time to drag ourselves away from a city where we’d soon felt at home and welcome, and turn our sights once again to the next destination – actually the final one for this season’s cruising. We negotiated a couple more bridges, both road and rail, and a lock where we had to pay €3.50 for the lock keeper to let us out, even though the water level had not changed. We had to tie up for lunch to await our pre-booked timed lift of the motorway bridge, the final hurdle before entering the Nordzee Kanal towards Amsterdam. This could have been an alternative route for us, from IJmuiden on the North Sea coast, just 13.5 Miles into the capital city, but we’d have missed so much interesting typical Dutch scenery and some lovely stops along the way.
It was a dull, damp, misty day with very little breeze as we made our way carefully along the starboard bank, keeping a good lookout for frequent huge ships, cruise liners and barges carrying a variety of freight. Playing dodgems with the many (free) passenger ferries shooting to and from Centraal Station in the centre of the city was a heart-in-the-mouth moment for Mate on the helm, but she did glimpse a couple of interesting buildings, and a quick survey in passing City Marina confirmed her suspicions that it would not be attractive or comfortable for a winter berth.
Soon I crossed the channel to the North bank, and found the entrance to Nieuwendam, where I suddenly found myself in tranquil tree-lined waters again. Following the narrowing channel around two sharp bends, I slipped into an interesting alongside berth between a houseboat and the raised bowsprit of a huge traditional Dutch barge. This is Nauticadam Marina at Twellegea Yacht Club – my home for the next few months.
Friday 10 – Monday 13 November
The crew had found me a great spot in central Haarlem, on the River Spaarne, away from land noise like busy roads and railway bridges (which were just around the bend), with just enough passing traffic to stop me feeling lonely while they went off ‘touristing’ this beautiful city: an occasional barge carrying a variety of loads, the odd brave yacht unwilling to call an end to the sailing season, rowers, kayaks and paddleboarders, and a couple of trip boats carrying a few hardy passengers.
We had just about every kind of weather over those few days: windy gusts and flat calms, sunny spells and raging hailstorms. In between showers, my people strolled the city streets, dodging bicycles and soaking up the atmosphere. They visited the Grote Kerk of St Bavo, during a second-hand book sale, which didn’t enhance any sacred atmosphere the church may usually exude. They were able to marvel at the enormous organ that fills the West end of the interior with pipes soaring to the roof. It has known the hands of Mendelssohn, Handel and the ten-year-old Mozart, but was silent during their visit. They wandered through the bustling Saturday market in the main square, and found a selection of interesting shops and the organic street market around the Botermarkt on Friday.
For Mate especially, one of the highlights was a tour of Corrie ten Boom House, now a small and very evocative museum. During the Nazi occupation of Holland during the Second World War, the devout Christian ten Boom family sheltered Jews and worked with the Dutch Resistance to transfer them to places of safety. Corrie’s story is a powerful witness to her faith. The only member of her family to survive a German concentration camp, she wrote a number of books about her life and work, living to celebrate her 91st birthday in 1983.
Thursday 9 November
The Pilot recommends a pleasant bike ride through the National Parks sand dunes West of Haarlem to the beautiful long, clean, sandy beaches of the North Sea coast, and as Mate needs a regular fix of the sea, and the weather forecast threatened wet and windy weather for the coming weekend, today was the day to wiggle Daisy and her brother out from their hidey-hole behind Trevver’s cabin and brush off the cobwebs. The nice lady in the tourist information office had provided a helpful map, and agreed that it was a great route, of around 20km, or so Mate thought she’d said.
Well insulated in particularly fetching winter cycling tights (well padded, I’m told) and multiple layers, and that was just Mate, they set off to find the right road out of town, and were soon enjoying the attractive outskirts of Haarlem and its very smart neighbour, Overveen. Holland is amazingly bike-friendly, with dedicated cycle lanes on every road, and often tracks are completely separated from road traffic, and from pedestrian paths. Drivers are also more tolerant of bikes than is often the case in the UK, and maybe cyclists here are less reckless.
It was a lovely morning, fresh air fragrant with Autumn, and the route sheltered from the Westerly headwind coming off the sea as they approached Bloemendaal aan Zee. It’s easy to see why so many Amsterdamers escape summer weekends here, with many campsites tucked into the dunes.
They treated themselves to coffee on a sunny (glass walled) terrace right on the beach, before continuing South along the shore to the less attractive town of Zandvoort aan Zee, where they chose a dubious ‘street food’ lunch of deep-fried mixed fish with skinny fries and three shades of mayo for Skipper. Mate selected North Sea brown shrimp with a side of cucumber salad, also heavy on the dressing, split with coleslaw…and all for 18€…not the best bargain so far.
Eventually they tracked down the homeward route beside the railway line, which led back through the South side of the Dunes National Park, was completely traffic-free and most enjoyable, at least until the now grey sky started leaking, first a soft mizzle and by the time they were nearly home it was pretty wet. However, it was worth it for a great day’s cycling to the beach – in November!
Wednesday 8 November
A slow start today, as Skipper is now going down with a version of the ‘lurgy’ as well, so Mate relaxed with a magazine – in order to add it to the recycling, and reduce my internal load – all very virtuous. She cooked a peculiar cheese pie-type dish for lunch, with a big pile of salad to compensate for the calories in the melted Camembert with red onion chutney baked in gluten free puff pastry…a bit of overkill on a fragile appetite, methinks.
To ward off the inevitable slump, they wrapped up warm again and headed over the bridge into town to make good on some more of Mate’s research. They found an incredibly well-stocked mini supermarket, Mabrouk on the Botermarkt, and passed a happy hour browsing a huge range of ingredients and products. Then they followed the map around the block to the supermarket: albert heijn (a distinctive ‘ah’ white on turquoise), already familiar from Rotterdam and pretty good for the essentials on their list. By now it was dark and the interesting shops had closed, so for interest they found a different route home.
Tuesday 7 November
Another stunning sunrise, with a soft mist rising this morning from the water surface, and the first frost on my decks. Hundreds of cute coots live hereabouts, feeding on grassy fields by day and sleeping on the water in the yacht haven once it’s dark.
Peaceful and relaxing as it’s been, it was time to move on to the bright lights of a new old city, just a few miles upriver, but still with another four bridges to negotiate. Mate was back on helm duty, confidently (or so it felt to me) reversing me from our berth of the last few nights to rejoin the main waterway and continue North. We landed right in the heart of Haarlem, amid yet more church tower carillons and bicycles, and the crew soon left me to snooze while they took a first look around the city.
First they followed the river to the Harbour Office, where they were delighted to be offered a ‘buy two, get one free’ deal for each three nights of our stay. Mate had been able to do some internet research beforehand, so they then headed for the Grote Markt, the main square that surrounds the Grote Kerk, where the tourist information office is located (VVV). Haarlem is only 15 minutes from Amsterdam by ‘normal’ transport, and is popular for short visits. Formerly one of the main North Sea trading ports, it has many historical buildings, beautiful architecture and a maze of cobbled streets lined with interesting boutiques, cafés and restaurants. My crew enjoyed the ‘vibe’, the atmosphere, and soon had a list of places to visit in the following days.
Monday 6 November
This morning dawned bright and sunny, motivating Mate to wrap up warm and ‘take the air’ on a gentle stroll with Skipper into Heemstede. She observed that the Dutch towns visited so far, like those she knows in France, are clean, attractive and appealing, offering an interesting selection of local shops and services, and of course smell good near restaurants, cafés and bakeries. Butchers’ displays (not her favourite shop) include tempting salads and home-cooked ready meals alongside charcuterie and deli items, and there are some well-dressed fashion windows to browse at the moment, with seasonal touches like colourful leaves and cosy blankets.
Anxious to replenish her energy levels, Skipper suggested lunch in a very smart and busy café, where he enjoyed a towering rye club sandwich while Mate managed most of a bowl of veggie French onion soup. They found a much shorter route back home, where they relaxed over reading.