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Mid August saw us moored near Uithoorn on the river Amstel surrounded by acres of glasshouses and the roar of jet engines from planes landing and taking off from Schiphol. The name literally means "ships hell" as it used to be a lake notorious for its dangerous waters which was drained to form the polder on which is built the airport. It should perhaps be renamed Geluidhol (noise hell) now!
We cycled over to Aalsmeer and visited an historic market garden which grew everything from fruit and flowers to vegetables including real runner beans. These vegetables are virtually unobtainable in shops on the continent and they were not being picked so we secreted a few handfuls in Sue's shopping bag enough for a couple of meals! This historic market garden was the forerunner of the huge industry that exists today. Aalsmeer is the centre of the Dutch flower growing industry and millions are auctioned here every day. Apparently Holland has 95% of the world flower market!
Moored for the night between Ouderkerk and Amsterdam a little old tug from Katwijk breasted on to us which was on its way to Sail Amsterdam. They informed us that if we wanted to transit Amsterdam before the weekend we should do it the next day as after then only vessels flying the Sail Amsterdam flag could navigate.
So the next day saw us completing a circuit and passing the barge we had laughed at with the Hockeys a couple of weeks ago displaying a recruiting banner for the Amsterdam Rugby Club saying "Give Blood, play Rugby"!
We emerged briefly onto the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal and rocked our way down to Nigtevecht where we went through the lock onto the calm waters of the river Vecht. This is quite the prettiest Dutch river yet as we cruise through the picture postcard villages of Vreeland and Loenen, avoiding the squadrons of whalers or sloops as the Dutch call them, boring their way downstream to Sail Amsterdam, a nominal 6km/hr speed limit on this river is being totally ignored. Rich Amsterdammers built huge mansions here which add to the interest around every turn.
We found a mooring at Breukelen which gave its name to Brooklyn in New York, originally settled by people from here. Our mooring was free, unusual for Holland, close to the attractive old village which had all amenities including a railway station with fast trains into Amsterdam so we decided to take the train the next day to see the arrival of the tall ships at Sail Amsterdam 2010.
This event occurs every five years and should not be missed if you are around in 2015. We arrived at central station and walked along the Het IJ to IJhaven with thousands of others. The ships started from IJmuiden at 10am and began to arrive, some under sail, at 2pm, surrounded by hundreds of small boats of every description.
The first to arrive was the Stad Amsterdam pictured at the top of this page followed by the huge Russian Sedov. A polish ship that had it's sailors spread out across the yardarms, came behind the huge modern bulk of the Hr. Ms. Tromp, looking somewhat out of place amongst all these elegant old ships although I did notice that Stad Amsterdam was equipped with a bow thruster so modern propulsion systems were not entirely ignored. Thirty Eight ships of various types were on display including a landing craft and a modern submarine but it was the tall ships that stole the show.
The ships stay in port for the weekend and visitors can go on board most of them but there are also five sound stages with jazz soul and tango, sea shanty sing-alongs, air/sea rescue demonstrations, fireworks, dancing, boat tours, in fact you could spend a weekend there and still not see it all and despite the crowds it is so spread out that there seemed to be little congestion. All in all the best days free entertainment we have found since Meppeldag Donderdag! Later, we wandered around the red light district, sitting out in the sunshine drinking cold beer and watching the idiot mostly drunken sloop owners trying not to crash into each other, before treating ourselves to an early dinner of an Argentine sirloin steak and catching the Sprinter back to Bruekelen.
One good day out deserves another so the next day we cycled over to visit the Kasteel de Haar. In 1895, Baron Von Zuilen, a wealthy Dutch aristocrat having become even more wealthy by marriage to a French Rothschild, decided to rebuild his stately pile.
No expense was spared and he employed Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers who first demolished the village of Haarzeulens and rebuilt it further away to create space for 45 hectares of English style parkland, complete with deer herd, importing mature trees for the purpose which took several years. The castle he had built was a masterpiece of medieval architecture but latterly needed large scale renovation which over the last five years is now nearing completion. Cuypers designed everything in the castle including furniture, cutlery and crockery much like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The family descendants continue to spend every September here and entertain socialites from around Europe when the castle is closed to the general public.
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"I think what is British about me is my feelings and awareness of others and their situations. English people are always known to be well mannered and cold but we are not cold - we don't interfere in your situation. If we are heartbroken, we don't scream in your face with tears - we go home and cry on our own."
Michael Caine 1933 -
Past guests included Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and Michael Caine. (Not a lot of people know that). The highest tower became detached from the main building and was in danger of collapse so the whole structure was jacked up and under pinned. The statue of a knight, long lost from the top of the tower, was replaced with a new one with a face resembling the present Baron van Zuilen. (Nice touch that).
A few miles further upstream we moored at Oud-Zuilen and cycled the six kilometres into Utrecht. On the way we came across a line of almost identical houseboats and I noticed a nice lady in a brief bikini outside one, then Sue told me to keep my eyes on the road as these were floating brothels so I looked again and so they were. Very handy for passing boaters to nip in for a quickie! The road alongside even had a turning circle at each end of the line so drivers could inspect what was on offer before choosing!
Utrecht itself is a truly delightful city and dates from a Roman settlement in the 1st century. The centre is dominated by the Dom Toren, the cathedral tower, which stands separately from the cathedral itself, the original nave having been destroyed by a hurricane in 1674. We parked our bikes and strolled along the Oudegracht which follows a winding canal through the heart of the city. The road is elevated above the canal while at a lower level close to the water there are numerous restaurants. Sue quickly spotted one offering mussels and frites for €12.50 which turned out to be luscious and almost too much to eat but we managed. We were entertained by passing paddle bike boats and canoes plus the odd cruiser but Harmonie is not allowed to navigate this section as we are too long so we have to venture out onto the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal to get around Utrecht on the next leg of our journey.
The long range forecasters warned us that August was going to be wet and for once they were right. It started raining the day before we left Oud-Zuilen and continued more or less continuously for the next eight days.
Out on the big ship canal we rocked and rolled our way past the Scenic Emerald, a big Rhine cruiser that will set you back from £3,200 a week per person for a cabin. No wonder owners of barges like ours go into the Barge & Breakfast business if people are prepared to pay that sort of money for a river cruise.
We stopped for a couple of nights at Vianen so Sue could catch up with her washing then on down the Merwedekanaal to Arkel and turned on to the river Linge where the WV de Gors harbour made us very welcome for another two days. On up the Linge where at Heukelem we liked the look of an empty mooring beside a flood meadow so after cruising up past Leerdam a few miles we decided to turn around and moor up back at Heukelen. In between rain showers we cycled into Leerdam for supplies and a visit to the local glass factory but the rain became so heavy that we stayed here for three days. We had electricity and a really nice mooring here for the princely sum of €13.50 a night provided by the Linge recreation authority. Sad there are not more such organisations in Holland that do the same.
We left Heukelem when it stopped raining and sailed down to Gorinchem, out onto the mighty Merwede river and down the lock into the Biesbosch. The Dutch rave on about the beauties of the Biesbosch but we can't see anything at all attractive in the place so sailed straight through, across the river Maas and up to the Wilhelmina kanaal. At the second lock we found ourselves stuck behind a very slow laden commercial which continued through all the Tilburg locks, one of which is a double staircase so it was nearly dark when we found ouselves a dodgy mooring for the night. We were up and away before anyone could collect any money from us and moored at Oirschot, a favourite town of ours and a free mooring where we indulged in dinner out.
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"In matters of commerce the fault of the Dutch is offering too little and asking too much. The French are with equal advantage content, so we clap on Dutch bottoms just twenty per cent."
George Canning 1770 - 1827
The next night found us in Helmond which also used to be free but a man from the local council appeared and sheepishly reduced the charge from €12 to €8 for which he apologised. We cycled into Helmond which is largely composed of modern buildings but the old castle has survived.
The locks from Helmond up to Weert are now all automatic and fast so we sped up this section in about three hours. We had planned to bunker at the Belgian border fuel station but it had shut down so we continued on up to Bree where a very nice young lady at the tourist information called a fuel supplier who duly turned up the next day with white and red diesel. Finally we arrived in Kerkhoven as planned on the 5th September to find Desmond Diahatsu with a flat battery and a flat tyre!
We cleaned all the paint work and windows on board before it started to rain again and I started to service the Kabola central heating boiler. Our UK mailing address will change later this month and much time was taken up sorting who needed to be told of the change and figuring out how to set up a mail merge letter in our word processor, something we have not done in many years, before setting off in Desmond back to the UK.
Back in the UK our first port of call was to Les and Sally down in Worthing where we celebrated the 69th birthday of Les in great style and were taken on a tour around the area. We toured the South Downs and visited an old working windmill plus the Saxon church at Sompting which dates from 960AD and is famous throughout the world as the oldest example of a Saxon tower with a spire known as a "Rhenish Helm", the name deriving from the German "Rhineland Helmet". Only the tower is Saxon and the rest of the church is Norman.
Sue fell completely in love with Chichester and it has to be on our short list of places to live when we eventually go ashore for good. Desmond passed his MOT and the flat tyre was due to a brass screw which was removed and plugged. We dined in Worthings best restaurant, walked for miles at Sallys insistence to Worthing pier to admire the art deco and sampled some excellent local fish and chips.
From Worthing we went up to Salisbury where we met up with our old friends Andy & Gilly, over from Melbourne. We sank a few cleansing ales and enjoyed dinner together in the old pub we stayed in before heading on to Somerset where the Hockeys were in the middle of house modifications so we were banished to the loft or the "crows nest" as Chris prefers to call it.
During our stay here, together with another Petherton mate, Courtney Salway, we drove up to London to see the Somerset cricket team get beaten in the final of the 40 over competition at Lords to add to our defeat in the 20/20 final and the County Championship. What with Bath Rugby getting hammered by Northampton it was not a good weekend for us cider men!
We then travelled down to Fareham to help daughter and son-in law move in to their new house where we worked hard unpacking boxes and erecting bookshelves for two days.
Finally we set of for a couple of days rest in Canterbury to celebrate Sues birthday and began with a fine Chinese meal at the Royal Inn. The next night we attended evensong at the cathedral where the music made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end followed by a fine dinner at Deesons which specialises in local produce washed down with a bottle of a Chapel Down Tenterden sparkler and a glass of their Nectar pudding wine to finish.
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Archbishop - A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ."
H. L. Mencken 1880 - 1956
We visited the local museum which provided a very good history of Canterbury from Roman times, not forgetting it's most famous Archbishop, Saint Thomas à Becket, murdered in the Cathedral.
Canterbury was very enjoyable but we had to get back to Belgium to collect some spares for the Kabola boiler. All went well until we approached Antwerp when the dreaded ring road unleashed its fury and we failed to make the agent before closing time necessitating another trip from Kerkhoven.
On 1st October we set off again to the UK. What with security scares delaying us at Dover and congestion on the M25, it took us over six hours to get to Shepton Mallet for a fish supper with our friends the Palmers. I then rushed up to the Hunters with my electric piano for a rehearsal of a pantomime, a skit on Oliver, being performed by members of the Bristol Exploration Club for their dinner the following night. The dinner was attended by 260 people at the Webbington Hotel. The food was crap, the entertainment went on too long but it was nice seeing caving mates I had not seen for donkeys years and we managed a good old fashioned sing song. At the Hunters on Sunday lunchtime I declined the offer of a Cuthberts trip from Martin Grass but agreed to meet up with Stuart McManus for a walk on Mendip the following weekend.
After the very comfortable accomodation at the Palmers we found ourselves in the Hockey "crows nest" again in South Petherton. On Saturday we drove up to Charterhouse on Mendip and met Mac and a few others, including James Cobbett over from Panama, walking about five miles across and down the hills to the Crown Inn at Churchill, a great little pub serving several different ales and the best roast beef sandwiches in the world! After the regulation half gallon, Mac and I were the only ones in the party to walk back, the others being ferried back up the hill by car.
Bath Rugby tickets were unavailable on the web site for the Heinekin Cup game against Biaritz although they seem to have a problem as there were plenty available later in the week. Too late for us as other arrangements had been made so I spent Sunday afternoon in the Brewers. No hardship except Bath lost 11-12!
We stopped overnight at Becs in Fareham on the way back where number two grandson was attending his first day at his new school. Number one grandson is doing a course in Exeter and number one granddaughter is spending some of her gap year in Malta. A quick and uneventful journey back to Gent followed where we will spend the next few weeks before returning to the UK at the end of November for a multi birthday celebration including my 70th!