We arrived in the boat yard in Sneek (Snits) in Friesland (Frysland), northern Netherlands, to winterize the boat and get ready to leave – a logistic challenge if ever there was one. We spent most of September in the Netherlands travelling the Lakeland areas of the northern provinces. We were back in the water colour paintings dotted with small picturesque towns that look like Disney invented them – in fact it was probably the other way round. Weather-wise we knew we are back in Holland – towering clouds, rain, cool temperatures and some wind. Not the best cruising weather for this part of our trip, and such a contrast to earlier in the month when the weather was lovely.
Art Installation outside the Gallery in Groningen
My mum and Joan arrived at the bus stop in Amsterdam where the bus from the North Sea Ferry dropped them, and I was able to meet them despite the crowds, and we return to Delfzijl by train. The weather was very nice so we headed out on Skookum to the city of Groningen. This is a major centre in the Netherlands – home to lots of students (25% of the city’s population) and a healthy night life which offers a great variety of cultural culinary and other activities (the people watching is lots of fun) that go on until the wee small hours.
Groningen was founded in 1040 and it oldest university became a religious centre in 1614. The city flourished a centre of learning, and was involved in a number of wars of Dutch independence. The city walls and the central square were mostly destroyed (along with many other parts of the city) during WWII. We spent a couple of evenings in the central square where different local brass bands played and the crowds enjoyed the warm September evening.
Mum and Joan stayed long enough for the weather to turn as we returned to England together. We had calm seas and a friendly face to meet us when we arrived in Hull. My mum is a marvel – I know that – but I also see her becoming smaller and more tired. At 86 she needs more rest and complains bitterly about her lack of energy. But her mind is still sharp and she is still very sociable. Young Joan (82) is also full of beans for a woman of her age. We did some visiting with friends and family while I was in England, as I said my farewells for this year.
I returned to Groningen to find that Martin had been super busy – building cabinets, doing engine maintenance and painting bits of Skookum in readiness for winter storage. We had a week of cruising left – but the weather was not great so we set off one afternoon into the Dutch ‘wilderness’: the lakes and rivers of Friesland. We stayed in the little town of Grou on our way to the port of Sneek. These northern Dutch towns reminded us of toy town – small one or two storey houses in perfect rows. The lovely town centres still used for shopping and old churches and houses reminded me of the contrast to North American Mall style shopping that now exists everywhere. Yes the shopping in these small places was a bit more expensive, less choice but often better quality; I guess that is the cost of local ownership, local products and local manufacture (Rant over).
After a couple of very relaxed days in Grou we headed out on our final 20kms to the port of Sneek and the Aquanaut shipyard where we left the boat.
We rented a car for three days to get us to Schipol airport (Amsterdam) – it was the only way to move all of our luggage and the dog box. We drove from Frysland – the northerly province of the Netherlands where they speak another language – Frys. This is a mixture of Dutch, English German, Scandinavian, and something else. The northerly province was once a coastal plain, an inland sea with some outer island protecting it from the North Sea storms. In 1927 the Afsliutdijk dike was built across the Zuiderzee and blocked it off from the North Sea creating a large freshwater lake now called the Ijsselmeer. The dike was completed in 1933, connecting Friesland with Noord Holland (and Amsterdam), and is approximately 32 kms long.
We took the long way round to the airport we spent a lovely evening with friends Heather and Erwin and family in Dordrecht (our Canadian home away from home as they even put the Maple Leaf flag out!). Kerry was really apprehensive – she knew that something was happening – and got a little nervous when we were packing especially when she saw her stuff being packed. The night before we left we were taken out for a smashing dinner by Tom, a friend from Victoria, and his lovely daughter Alison, who were traveling in Europe. They and our friends in Dordrecht were like a bridge from the Netherlands and our summer in Europe back to our home in Canada. We now had more Canadians in our lives.
The next day we left early for the airport and had an uneventful Air Transat flight. I was disappointed when arriving at Lester B Pearson Airport in Toronto as it has one of the most drab arrivals areas I have ever been in (compared to Vancouver which is very exciting). The ‘Welcome to Canada’ sign seemed very hollow as we walked through this uninviting gloomy space to meet the black shirted, black flak jacketed, black gloved customs and immigration officers. I did not feel welcome at all – the customs agents were obviously meant to be intimidating rather than welcoming. It even cost us $4 (non-refundable) to rent two small luggage buggies for 10 mins (thus making people really pay for the privilege of using this boring airport). We then had to pay $33 for an inspection of the dog (Kerry was inside the box and the officer looked in on her) and fill out some paper work in order to allow her back into Canada. This did not feel like my Canada and I think Lester B Pearson (founder of the UN Peacekeepers) would feel very sad to see the change from Canada being the world’s Boy Scout country to Fortress Canada.
We have a two stage re-entry into the Canada – Martin had his 50th School Reunion for Upper Canada College in Toronto. Jerry and Laurie (our hosts) met us and we drove from the Toronto airport through a sea of housing, huge malls, industrial areas and long straight busy roads. I must admit to feeling quite depressed at the lack of beauty in this landscape.
I was relieved when we reached their lovely home in the rolling countryside north of Toronto, where the farmland, trees and fields were in their autumn transition. Back to the ‘Group of 7’ country and I started to feel more at home in this vast land. The next day we drove over to Creemore – a delightful Ontario town that epitomizes “Canadiana” and where Martin lived in a previous lifetime. This style of small town can be found dotted all over this country. ‘Canadiana’ I discovered is a definite genre – simple, plain and functional using the colours and patterns of Canadian nature. This nostalgia trip was very therapeutic for Martin who spent the weekend with his peers from 50 years ago.
So we’re also here for a few days, visiting some of Martin’s old pals and see Niagara Falls (Even though I emigrated 38 years ago, I have never been there). I have never spent any time in this part of Canada and am really impressed by it natural beauty. It is pity the road system and commercial areas are so ugly and do not compliment the landscape. We have been made so welcome on our visits to old friends who have not seen Martin for a couple of decades as we drove around the southerly corner of Ontario between the lakes. Our hosts were very generous as they loaned us a car (the roads, distances and lack of public transit means that this is a totally car oriented culture) so we were able to get to Niagara Falls.
Niagara did not disappoint – yes it was very touristy but the power and force of the water flowing over this quintessential Canadian attraction was awesome. Yes it was expensive (as was the local restaurant) but for a once in a life time visit it was worth the money and effort. Niagara on the Lake was also a beautiful small town that that reinvented itself as a major theatre centre (with the Shaw Festival) and the centre of Canada’s premier wine producing region. The government of Canada and the Provinces may be a bit archaic with their rules about the distribution of alcohol, but it did my heart good the see the acres of vineyards growing the stuff.
I have had mixed feelings about our return to Canada – but the warm welcome we have received from friends has shooed away any concerns I had about being able to adjust to life back here. We have one more, long journey as we fly from Toronto to Victoria (an 8 hour ordeal) and we finally touch down on Vancouver Island. I am itching to go home, back to my house and see everyone. I have a long list of ‘to dos’ for me, and my home, and am looking forward to being in the same place for a while. We have missed family events so Thanksgiving, Christmas and a few birthdays will be on Canadian turf. I am looking forward to having my mum here for the winter – for at least four months I can keep an eye on her and love her to bits. We are also happy that her pal Joan is coming for Christmas with us. So we will have quite the family event I am sure.
On the other hand I will miss the freedom and newness of the open European waterways, the adventure in learning that we had, when we lived in another country (or several other countries as is our case) for a while. I have really enjoyed this time – which has been adventurous, dangerous, exasperating and ‘a living in the moment’ experience. We felt safe and secure at all times and treated mostly with honesty and fairness. We were surprized at how little free-time we actually have had as there is always something do on the boat – it usually involves cleaning or organizing as well as the usual washing and cooking. For Martin there was always something to fix as he set his mind to dealing with engineering challenges of the electrical system, the heating system, the water systems, the engine, the exhaust system, the propane, the communications/connectivity systems, the TV satellite and the boat itself. In addition to the systems and domestic life, we were often driving Skookum into unknown territory, huge locks, bridges, canals lakes and rivers. This required attention to maps and charts as well as coordinating locations for shopping, sightseeing or to pick people up.
A sample of our SIM cards (and the hundreds of Euros we spent on connectivity)
Sometimes our trip was stressful (like going down the Rhine and across the big estuaries in less than perfect weather). Sometime it was dreamlike cruising through the Werder/Potsdam/Mecklenburg Lakes. Sometimes it was exciting and lots of fun like visiting cities like Hamburg and Heidelberg, sometimes it was sobering and reflective like the stories we heard and saw around Berlin and Hanover. It was always interesting and full of stories. Since May 2012 we have travelled around 18000kms by boat, train, bus, ferry and our famous little car Pew.
I really like Europe – it’s intelligence, creativity, and sensibleness. I like the openness and friendliness of people to adventurers like us. This summer we found Germany and the Netherlands very welcoming; people were impressed by our flag (and everyone seem to know the Maple Leaf) and our ambitious journey. We met other boaters/retirees spending their summers cruising and other who were out on the water for the first time.
I want to thank all of our visitors (brave souls) who came with us along our unknown path and spent time on the boat. No-one drowned and no-one got seasick, and everyone said they had a fantastic time and affirmed that we were not crazy.
I also want to thank the blog readers who have put up with my verbosity, the odd rant and some of the finer details of our life on the water. I hope you enjoyed reading my missives and dealing with my dyslexia as much as I enjoyed writing for you. Quite a few people have asked whether I will to turn this blog into a book about European cruising. I am thinking about it – let me know what you think!
Would I do anything different? I did want to go to Denmark, Poland and Lithuania this year but we had not enough time. In fact, there were many places we would have stayed much longer but we were cruising to some loose timetable therefore had to keep moving. My only real complaints were about the weather. If it had been a little sunnier, warmer, less cloudy and a bit drier I would be happier – but weather is weather and really beyond our control.
Kerry was a delight to have along with us – in fact we met many people through her. She has been both entertaining and helpful. Hopefully she will forgive us for dragging her half way across the globe but I do believe she would rather be with us than anywhere else in the whole world.
We appreciated our continued good health and safety while on our tour, and would never take it for granted. Personally I am grateful for such a wonderful husband whose skills, love, humour and good naturedness saw me through the odd moments of fear, homesickness and burn out. Although I had to remind him, now and again, that I am just a girl and there are limits to what I am willing to experience! But my Martin is a keeper and I love him with all my heart and soul, and without him I could not have had such a marvelous adventure.
We are planning to return in May next year for one more summer on the boat, after that we may sell Skookum, and buy a RV to visit other parts of Europe not accessible by boat. I am already looking forward to that! I hope we can continue our European Sojourn in 2014 – this time to the Mediterranean. Join us …..