Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Home Again

Much to our relief we both were deemed "negative-no covid" on our rapid antigen tests last Thursday. That, and a seamless flight experience, finds us back in St. Petersburg. Aside from some travel fatigue it almost seems as though we were never gone. 

Our last glimpse of C.A.R.I.B. III as we were waiting for our ride
to the train station on September 8. When we get project cost estimates
we'll be able to make decisions about the work to be done over the winter.

Our trains on the 8th took us to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Because we were toting more luggage than just backpacks, and because we had to get covid tested before we could return to the United States, we decided to try to make things a little easier for ourselves and go straight to an airport hotel for our remaining four nights in the Netherlands. The hotel was a 5-minute walk from the airport terminal and about the same from our covid testing site. The citizenM Hotel (M is for the "mobile" citizens of the world) styles itself as a hip, good value hotel with imaginatively configured small rooms that are probably heaven for the techo-savvy who enjoy using an ipad as an all-purpose environment controller--lights, temperature, entertainment.

The citizenM had this head sculture on the grounds
of the hotel. We never did find out if it had any specific
significance vis-a-vis the hotel. To us it just seemed
 a little creepy.

We often spend the night before a flight at an airport hotel--it makes the travel day more stress-free when we don't have to worry about ground transportation issues--but it was a bit of a stretch to stay 4 days at a site where we couldn't just walk out the door of the hotel and wander around a town. But on the bright side, the restaurants and a grocery store at the terminal allowed us to escape the limited food offerings at the hotel, and the proximity of the Schiphol train station gave us the chance to easily get away to explore some of the surrounding towns. 

On Thursday, September 9, a 20-minute train ride to the south of the airport took us to the city of Leiden, home to the Netherlands' oldest university and the place where Rembrandt was born and started his artistic studies. In the early 17th century Leiden was also, for several years, the transitional home of America's Pilgrims between their departure from England and their ultimate arrival in the New World. Apart from Amsterdam, Leiden's inner city has the greatest number of waterways and bridges in the country. 

The Molen de Valk from 1743. Now it stands alone, but it
used to be one of many windmills on the Leiden city walls.

A reconstructed Molen De Put.

Liveaboard barges and "houses on the water" are common sights on the canals in Dutch towns.

The Netherlands in microcosm: bicycles and water.

Gravensteen, originally the prison of the Counts of Holland, later
the city prison of Leiden. The square tower, probably dating from the 13th century,
 is the oldest part of the building. Sheriffs and magistrates had a good
 view of the cobbled square, which was the former execution site of Leiden. 

We had lunch canalside, just beyond the bridge.

Leiden was lively and packed with people on a beautiful late summer/early fall day, no doubt due
in part to the large population of students.

On Friday morning, September 10th, we had our covid tests done at a test site that had been set up at the airport's Hilton Hotel. For whatever reason, the Dutch government was offering free covid testing in August and September to travelers who were departing the Netherlands, regardless of nationality and destination. Thirty minutes after providing samples we had our "no covid" results, and happily set off (by train, of course!) to Amsterdam to celebrate with lunch and a short walk through parts of the center city. Given that it was September and that covid is still impacting international tourism, we were surprised by how busy Amsterdam was. 

Amsterdam has always had boat liveaboards on its canals, but it seemed to us that there were more
boats this year than we'd noted in previous visits. In some places boats were rafted two
or three abreast.

There are lovely neighborhoods around the canals that ring Amsterdam.

On Friday evening we had the chance to visit all-too-briefly at the airport with Haarlem friends.

Yolanda (l) with daughters Rosa (c) and Suze (r). In the two
years since we've last seen them, Suze and Rosa have
developed amazing skills with English. The 4th member of
the family, Joost, was off on a sailing trip with his brother and dad. 
Yolanda is the daughter of Carla and Ebe, who spent time with us
on the boat when we were in Belgium.

For our last full day in the Netherlands, we traveled 20 minutes to the north to the town of Zaandam. In the Dutch "Golden Age", roughly the century from the late 1500's to the late 1600's, Zaandam was a large milling center, with thousands of windmills. One of Zaandam's current main tourist attractions, but one we didn't visit, is an open air museum in the Zaandam neighborhood of Zaanse Schans that provides a glimpse into Dutch life in the 18th and 19th centuries. We did, however, visit the "Czar Peter House", one of the oldest wooden houses in the Netherlands, and the site where Peter the Great of Russia stayed briefly in 1697 (for about a week) when he traveled to the Netherlands to learn about shipbuilding.

The house was put under cover in the 19th century to protect it. Both the house and its covering
structure have been declared state monuments.

We just happened to be there on "Monuments Day", which
meant that we got in for free!

Through the years the house has had many famous visitors, including Russian tsars, Dutch monarchs,
and even Napoleon. Many of the visitors of the past--both the famous and not-so-famous--have carved
their names into the walls, window frames and window panes of the structure.

Zaandam also has a "Monet was here" site, a house on the river that served as his workshop for four months in 1871. Perhaps of more modern interest, and maybe useful for trivia fanatics, is that Zaandam is the place where the first McDonald's restaurant in Europe was opened (1971).

Zaandam has the feel of a vacation town: shopping, restaurants, water, and lots and lots of boats.

The eye-catching Inntel Hotel in Zaandam, inspired by the iconic green houses of the Zaan region.

Old lock keeper house and excise house bracket the Grote
Sluis, a historic lock from 1724.

The Grote Sluis was out of service from the early 1900's until it was refurbished and reopened to
pleasure boat traffic in 2016. It's a manual lock and its operation depends upon volunteers. Most
boats go through the much larger Juliana Lock just to the east (far right in the photo).

Decorating with shoes--wooden shoes, that is. Bonus points for spotting Lon in the photo.

All very interesting, but we had a more important reason for choosing to spend the day in Zaandam. In 1927, C.A.R.I.B. III began its existence as "Ali", a vegetable oil tanker built at the Czar Peter shipyard in Zaandam. The company is no longer in business, and we didn't quite get to the neighborhood where it formerly existed, but it was nevertheless fun to be in the general vicinity of our boat's "birthplace."

As much as we enjoyed our outings from Schiphol, we were glad to depart the citizenM on Sunday morning. It was starting to feel a little too much like the "Hotel California" the Eagles sang about in the 70's: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." 

While we wait on estimates from Tinneman's shipyard in Maasbracht, we will get back to some of the Florida activities we enjoy: dog walking for me, kitten fostering, trumpet lessons and hockey for Lon, walks, bike rides, restaurants (outdoors) and visits with friends. We will also spend some time thinking about various cruising options for next year. Because Florida is still in the grip of the covid Delta variant we are exercising caution, and the community music groups that we have enjoyed playing with in the past are still on hiatus until at least 2022. 

For now, the blog is on "pause", while more immediate concerns--like laundry!--await.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Lovely "Coda" to the Summer

This was our final full day on the boat in Maasbracht. We completed the appointments regarding possible boat projects, finished tucking things away and cleaning in preparation for departure, and packed. We have tickets for trains tomorrow, headed for a few days at a hotel near Amsterdam in preparation for our return to Florida on September 12.

We've been at Maasbracht for a week. Getting out of our now-engrained habit of 9 a.m. boat departures has taken some adjustment, but we have enjoyed the ability to spend some leisurely hours getting to know Maasbracht and a couple of the neighboring villages. 

The village of Maasbracht seems more rooted in the present than the past. One can see glimpses of the old around town, but they seem to be few and far between. The majority of the buildings are brick that appear to be of relatively recent vintage, i.e., post-WWII. 

Glimpse 1 of Maasbracht history: the tower of the Catholic
Church dates to the 13th or 14th century; the remainder of
the church was constructed in the late 1940's to 
replace the 19th century version of the church
that was damaged in WWII.

Glimpse 2 of Maasbracht history: the Leonardus Mill, originally
constructed in the 1860's and restored in the 1990's. Since
2000 it has been put into use as a flour mill. 

As was briefly mentioned in the last post, Maasbracht is the largest inland port in the Netherlands, so it's not surprising that its past, present, and economic activities are associated with both inland shipping and pleasure craft. This area was a center of sand and gravel extraction, which in turn created lakes that are host to a large number of marinas and watersports activity. 

Maasbracht experienced a great shipping disaster in September 1944. Approximately two hundred forty ships, both home and workplace for the families that owned them, were sheltered in the Maasbracht port. The German occupation force became concerned that the ships could fall into Allied hands, so on September 29, 1944, they ordered the ships masters to abandon their boats the following day. Two ships were scuttled at the entrance of the port to make sure no other ships could leave. On September 30 the Germans rigged the ships with explosives and sank them, creating a "ship graveyard" that lasted until July 1945, when the Allies were finally able to get the last of the ships out of the water.

This artist's depiction of the "ship graveyard"
stands in front of the Binnenvaartmuseum in Maasbracht.

As with so many of the Dutch small towns we've seen in trips through the years, we're struck by how clean and neat Maasbracht is. The houses are mostly beautifully landscaped and litter is nearly non-existent.

For a moment we thought we were already back in Florida. Palm
trees in the Netherlands wasn't something we weren't quite prepared for.

Last Friday we turned our bikes a little south and a little west and went for a quick spin and lunch in the village of Stevensweert. Stevensweert is a historic fortified settlement located on an island between two streams of the Maas. It was founded by the Spanish in 1633 during the Eighty Years' War. The streets are laid out as they were in the times of the fortifications-the streets run towards the village center like the spokes of a wheel.

A modern depiction of the site where a former entrance
through the town fortifications stood.

If Belgium-which is just across the river-decides to
invade, the people of Stevensweert are ready.

Parts of the rammed-earth wall and its wide moat have been
reconstructed to show how the fortifications would have looked 
in the past.

A little carnival was being set up in one of the town squares. With
all the European wars to choose from, it was slightly amusing
that they were going to have an arcade game relating to the U.S. Civil War.

On Sunday we turned our attention to the "white town of Thorn", a few kilometers to the north and west of Maasbracht. The bicycle paths were full of Dutch enjoying their weekend on a beautiful day. The town of Thorn was also full of sightseers. Thorn dates back to the end of the 10th century. In the ensuing years, a miniature principality developed under the leadership of an abbess and noble ladies of the monastery. Thorn even had its own legal jurisdiction and minted its own currency. In 1794 this came to an end with the arrival of the French and their post-revolutionary, anti-clerical fervor.

The "white town" aspect came into being after the town came under the control of the French, who calculated taxes based upon the dimensions of the windows of houses. Because the poor couldn't pay the taxes, they made their windows smaller by bricking them up. The houses were then painted white to hide the difference between the old bricks and the new bricks.

From a distance, Thorn has the appearance of a French town,
with the Abbey church rising above everything else.

Hotels and restaurants along the Hoogstraat.

A memorial to the Belgian brigade in WWII that
helped to liberate Thorn.

A view toward the oldest part of the Abbey's 
church, which dates from the end of the 10th century.

Assassination vacation: throughout the years we've been to an 
amazing number of assassination sites. This year, we re-start the tradition.
In 1799, the French sympathizer and district commissioner Jan-Mattjis
Dode was shot dead at this house, but the murder was never solved.
Not particularly famous, but hey, the tradition has to re-start somehow.

What is now the "back yard" of the houses used to be the
front. At that time, bridges crossed the stream and led to
sets of steps that allowed access to the houses. The bridge
in the foreground dates to 1727.

A portion of the "immunity wall" and an "immunity gate", which
led to the area where the princess abbess wielded an exclusive
power of rights.

The "Monument van de Muziek", a representation of the relationship
between music and life in Thorn. As a flutist, I must admit that I've
never encountered practice or performance quite like this, nor an
audience quite as engaged as the young boy in the sculpture.

The country estate "De Grote Hegge", references to which date back
as far as 1451.

We've spent the last couple of days doing our final cleaning, etc. Our 80-meter "dock" got back to work at 5 p.m. this evening, so we had a final, very short end-of-season cruise to let them leave their mooring and allow us to get situated on the work platform that our boat neighbor was formerly moored to. We had a lovely dinner at a local Greek restaurant on the waterfront and are about as ready to leave as we can be. 

It's up to these folks now. We feel very good about leaving
CARIB III here. Awesome people!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Journey's End

Well, our cruising "quest" for the season has been reached--we moored in Maasbracht on Tuesday, August 31. The shipyard that was our destination in Maasbracht--Tinneman's Floating Solutions--has us moored to a very secure floating "dock", an 80 m x 8.2 m 1205-ton commercial barge whose owners are currently on vacation.

We're moored just downstream from the last lock
we passed through on the Juliana Canal, rafting on a barge
4 times our length. It's really good exercise just
making the trek to go ashore. 

As we are now in the Netherlands, the Meuse River has become the Maas River, and has lent its name to the two Dutch towns we have stopped in.

While we feel very secure here, and we are even able to plug into power onshore, we are exposed to all manner of boats passing us by on the canal. After all, Maasbracht is the largest inland port in the Netherlands. The wake created by the passing boats sometimes has us bobbing up and down a little more than we would like. It's not usually the 110-meter or 135-meter behemoths that give us the most problems, it's the small pleasure cruisers that plow the most water and create the biggest waves.

It's boat-watcher heaven. This bad boy is 135 meters long and
15 meters wide, yet his wake is negligible. These commercial barges
are often a family affair. The living quarters in the rear look quite nice
(at least from the outside) and it's usual to see a car on deck that can
be hoisted ashore.

Today is finally sunny and warm, but the days we spent in Maastricht were not quite so summery. Still, we found Maastricht to be a lovely small city. It's a university town at the southern tip of the Netherlands whose history as a settlement goes back at least to the Roman era and possibly earlier. It was an important trade, manufacturing, and cultural center in the Middle Ages; a fortified city in the 16th to 18th centuries; and an industrial center in the 19th century. It has, at various times, been under the control of the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, and finally, the Dutch again (since the 1830's).

Our mooring (at left) in the old port on the fringe of the
historic center. As in Huy, an interesting pivot was needed 
to position ourselves for the exit.

The port was full of panhandlers who had no shame in
approaching us for a handout.

It was very busy in the historic center of the city on Saturday, August 28, and Sunday showed every indication that it would get busy in the afternoon. Between open air markets, shopping (lots of stores), and cafes, the pedestrians were out in force.

The outdoor eating area of this café was packed on Saturday. When we walked
by on Sunday (late morning), it was getting prepped for crowds.

What was interesting for us to note was that--unlike in France and Belgium--the use of face masks as a covid preventive measure was not much in evidence. In the Netherlands face masks are not required to be used in public buildings indoors. Honestly, this did--and still does--make us a bit uncomfortable because of what we have been reading about the spread of the Delta variant. We have to take a covid test before we can board our plane back to the U.S. on September 12 and, vaccination status notwithstanding, we are trying to minimize our risk of infection as much as possible. So we cut our sightseeing short on Saturday and resumed it on Sunday morning when it was less crowded in town.

It looks like a fortress, but it's one of the oldest
churches in the Netherlands. The Basilica of Our 
Lady was built before 1000 AD, with several
parts (nave and Romanesque choir) dating
to the 12th century.

The Gothic Church of St John, dating
back to the 14th century. 

There are still quite a few remnants of the old city fortifications.

Wall built in 1229 as part of the first medieval 
city wall.

Lon at the Helpoort gate, the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.

Lunch on Sunday was at this small cafe in the shadow of
the Pater Vincktoren and portions of the first and second
city walls.

We crossed the historic 13th century Sint Servaasbrug.

On the side of the Maas opposite the historic center, a portion
of the Sint Servaasbrug has been removed to install a lift bridge
to accommodate commercial boat traffic.

A great-looking combination of buildings. The building with the red
 lighting is a 1786 guardhouse repurposed for commercial uses, 
and behind it, the eastern aspect of the Basilica of Our Lady. 

Proof that you sometimes have to look down, not just
up. This was a commemorative metal plaque in the sidewalk
in front of the house pictured below:
"Here lived Marcelle Antoinette Devries, born 1906,
Murdered 8/31/1942 Auschwitz".

When we left Maastricht on August 31, we passed into the Juliana Canal. Named after Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, it provides a bypass for an unnavigable section of the Meuse/Maas River.

Soon after leaving Maastricht, we passed into the Juliana Canal.
We passed under this floodgate, which can be dropped in times of
flooding to mitigate high water from the Maas.

Since our arrival in  Maasbracht on August 31 we've met from time to time with various reps from the shipyard--the owner gave us a tour the evening of the 31st, and we met with an electrician on Sept. 1 and with the interior carpentry expert today. Other than some evening walks and a trip to the supermarket, we haven't done a whole lot of exploration of the town or the surrounding area. Hopefully, that will change over the next few days. We have to wait until Tuesday, September 7, to speak with someone about installing a bimini on the boat, so we will be in Maasbracht until at least Wednesday the 8th. We're already prepping the boat for potential work to be done, but will not have made any firm decisions about scope of work (exterior painting, galley reconfiguration, etc.) by the time we leave. We will use the next few days to continue our end-of-season cleaning, but we're also going to break out the bicycles and make our way to some of the neighboring villages.

And what could be more appropriate for the end-of-cruising-season than to give a few statistics.

This shows, in red, the route we covered this summer. Auxonne
is the red flag at the bottom, Maasbracht the green flag at the top.
The yellow flags are waypoints to make sure the route is correct.

And here we are, at the topographical low point of the season.
From an emotional standpoint we are riding high and thrilled to be here.

961 kilometers (577 miles), 297 locks, 215 engine hours. Whew!!!!