Where: Various waterways of The Netherlands. We were lucky enough to go on a 2 day boat trip with friends. Our route started in Den Haag to Kagerplassen (a network of lakes), then went through Leiden and south to Rotterdam, ending just north of the city centre.
Plate of Food: We were no fools. We traveled with friends who enjoy the finer things in life: good food, great wine, leisurely boat trips in the sunshine…This worked out very well for us indeed.
My friend is a great hostess; she endlessly and effortlessly provides food and drinks to her guests. On this trip, she conjured up delightful snacks and meals from thin air. I am not sure where she stored this treasure trove of delicacies, but periodically she would open a hatch in the boat and come out with creamy cheeses, olive tapenade, fresh baguettes, and juicy watermelon. With each platter of tasty nibbles, I became more and more sure of our undying friendship.
It appears as though boating in Holland has a lot to do with rosé wine. Not in your experience? Well, my friend, then you didn’t do it right. It was perfect rosé weather: sunny, warm, languid, and jolly. Yes, that is a minor miracle in The Netherlands in June. So we celebrated.
One simple, indulgent snack that my friend pulled out of her bag of tricks was sweetened condensed milk with fresh strawberries. Don’t judge hastily. Allow me to explain. Take the lid off of the condensed milk. Grab a big, red strawberry. Dip into tin of creamy sweetness. Eat it. Pay no attention to the sweetened condensed milk dripping off your chin or the strawberry juice on your fingers. Repeat and be happy.
It had never occurred to me to eat sweetened condensed milk with strawberries (I was still buying ripple chips and dipping them into french onion dip – huh). That was the brilliance of this trip – none of it had ever occurred to me: to go on a boat trip, to use the waterways as grand avenues between so many beautiful places, to bring CAVIAR on said boat trip (oh, yes, she did), to sit back and talk and laugh as you discover a country from a new perspective. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? But thank goodness for friends who do think of these things, invite us along, and then bring along great food.
The Best: I lived in The Netherlands for 4 years and saw a lot of the country in that time, but this was by far the best way to see a nation that has a love/hate relationship with water. The threat of water breaking through dikes is real and is (very rightly) taken very seriously. But the people also embrace water sports, and boating in particular. I loved this entire trip for its slow pace, its silence, and its new perspective on a country I called home.
We travelled on huge waterways with larger vessels alongside us and highways crossing over top, but we also cruised down narrow canals so shallow we would have been able to stand in the water. We gazed out and saw green grassy paddocks with fat cows grazing, but we also went through villages where we gazed in at cafes and houses as we passed by. We passed tiny churches and huge windmills. We didn’t travel far, but the variety of what we saw and experienced was extraordinary.
We went under innumerable bridges: some opened like a drawbridge (hinged on one side), some lifted straight up on four posts, some were hinged on both sides and opened in the middle, some spun out of the way, and some didn’t open at all so we all ducked down while we squeezed underneath. Wait, don’t stop reading! The bridges were really interesting, I promise!
Let me draw you back in by talking about…locks. No, really. We went through many locks which were astounding to me. They have opening times, did you know? And traffic lights. And you queue up to take your turn going through them. The massive doors open and you guide your boat in, tethering your rope to a hook on the side of the lock. The walls are concrete and tower above you. You wait. Then water starts rushing in, swirling around. You feel the boat start to rise and soon you come up from the dark depths into the sunshine. The doors creak open on the other side and out you go. But not before placing a tip in the wooden clog that hangs down the side of the lock. What’s not to love about that?
Story that needs to be told: The boat we used was our friend’s father’s boat. It was immaculately maintained and cared for. The wood glowed from polishing, the metal fixings shone and had not a speck of rust on them, and everything had its place. It was obvious that this was a craft from which he took much pleasure and pride. Five young adults borrowing it for a weekend probably did not fill him with confidence.
He needn’t have worried though because his son was very careful and responsible. Our friend navigated many tricky locks and bridges without any problem.
He should have, on the other hand, worried about me.
We were leisurely puttering along near the end of our trip on a small canal in a very rural spot. Large lily pads with spiky white flowers crowded the banks. It was quiet except for the happy shouts of some kids cooling off in the water near a bridge. I was lounging in my usual spot on the cushioned bench of the boat. I swung my arm up onto the edge of the boat as you would along the back of a couch and knocked something with my elbow. It was a pole for the sun canopy. And it silently dropped into the dark water and disappeared.
My mouth went dry.
I looked around. No one had noticed anything, they were too busy enjoying the trip…on the immaculate boat…that we BORROWED…from a man who would now hate me. Should I say something? (C’mon, it would cross your mind, too.)
I piped up and confessed that I had caused a pole to drop over the side. We stopped and circled around. We stared expectantly at the water as if the pole might eventually surface, gasping for air, and spluttering “SHE pushed me in!!”
It did not surface.
We asked those boys who were swimming to come and comb the canal bed with their feet in the hopes they would feel it. I wanted to help, too, but to be perfectly honest there was no amount of guilt that would get me to drag my feet along the murky, muddy bottom of a canal. Let the keen 12 year old boys do it! They searched, but found nothing so we were forced to admit that it was gone forever. We paid the boys for having risked their lives (seriously, have you ever seen what they dredge out of canals??) and we went on our way.
Our friend’s Dad never said anything to me about the lost pole. It may have been because he didn’t think my Dutch was good enough, but I like to think that it was because he was kind and gracious enough to recognize that one pole is worth sacrificing for a weekend of stellar memories.
“Better lose the anchor than the whole ship” Dutch Proverb