26 July 2013

To Heusden

Mid-afternoon on Wednesday the 24th of July we slipped from our pleasant moorings within the walled city of Gorinchem and continued downstream under Visbrug.

We continued under Peterbrug and paused on the bollards just short of the lock to wait for up-bound boats to be locked through. When the door opened and discharged two small pleasure craft, we had our first glimpse into the tall, narrow chamber. There was room for us to squeeze in with about 10 centimetres clearance each side of our leeboards. With wiggle room at little more than one percent of our length, it was somewhat like threading a needle at arm’s length.

We left the lock and entered the Waal, a major branch of the Rhine, which was full of large and very large barges plying their loads between the coast and Germany and further into Western Europe. The river is the boundary between Zuid Holland and Noord Brabant and just over three kilometres upstream it becomes the boundary between Gelderland and Noord Brabant. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go that far in the current and the wakes of the heavy traffic; after only two kilometres on the Waal, at Woudrichem we turned southeasterly into the Afgedamde Maas.

The Meuse rises in France and flows through Belgium into the Netherlands to become the Maas, which flows into the Noordzee south of Rotterdam. We passed through the lock and into the Afgedamde (Dammed) Maas. This is a fifteen kilometre canalised branch of an old bed of the river, which flows across to the Waal, a branch of the Rhine. Near its original split from the Maas, the old river bed became closed off from the river, and Heusdenskanaal was dug to rejoin the waters. At less then two kilometres long, Heusdenskanaal is likely the shortest heavy traffic canal in the Netherlands.

At its end, we passed through the large high-water gate and into the Bergsche Maas, the main stream of the river on its way seaward from France and Belgium. Also on their way seaward as well as heading inland, were very large barges.

Less than half a kilometre upstream, we turned into the Jachthaven of Heusden and at 1802 we secured to the first finger of the first pier in the harbour. It was late in the day and this was the only available space large enough to take Zonder Zorg. It was also the moorage furthest away from the Havenkantoor and access to land.

Late on Thursday morning, after a sleep-in and a leisurely breakfast, we threaded our way along the floats to the marina exit and the access to the city. We walked into the old city through Wijksepoort.

The city of Heusden dates from the 13th century. It started with the construction of a fortification to replace a castle that had been destroyed by the Duke of Brabant in 1202. The new fortification was quickly expanded with water works and a donjon. The castle of Heusden was the property of successive dukes of Brabant and the community received city rights in 1318. In 1357 control went to the counts of Holland. 

During the first years of the Eighty Years War, 1568-1648, Heusden was occupied by the Spanish. However, in 1577, after the Pacification of Ghent, the people of Heusden chose to ally with Prince William of Orange. William decided to consolidate the town's strategic position on the Maas, and ordered fortification works to be constructed. Work started in 1579 with the digging of moats and the construction of bastions, walls, and ravelins and it was completed in 1597. With the construction of ramparts and moats, the castle became located within the city's fortifications and lost its function as a stronghold. The donjon was converted to a munitions depot. 

The castle of Heusden ended in sudden disaster; on 24 July 1680 during an intense thunderstorm, lightning struck the donjon. Sixty-thousand pounds of gunpowder and other ammunition exploded, and destroyed the castle, causing the economic demise of the city. For seven weeks the citizens worked to remove the rubble, but the castle was never fully rebuilt. The original outlines of the main features were restored in 1987.

By early nineteenth century the defence works had fallen into disrepair and were dismantled. In 1968, however, extensive restoration works started, and fortifications were carefully rebuilt, based on a 1649 map of the city of Heusden by Johannes Blaeu, son of the famous Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu. In 1980, the city of Heusden received the European restoration prize.

We wandered out through Vismarkt to Stadshaven, the small port that had been built in the thirteenth century with its narrow entry under a lift bridge. The inner basin is small, about sixty metres across, but even with the moored boats, there appears to be sufficient space for Zonder Zorg to enter and turn around. We talked of nosing Zonder Zorg in for a look when we depart on Friday.

There are many wonderful views along the city walls and in the city itself. Many of the buildings are restorations or replicas of older structures, though we did see a few old date stones back to the beginning of the seventeenth century.

We explored along city streets that are mostly lined with tourist shops. In the bakery were loaves hanging around for the tourists to buy; there seemed to be no locals on the streets. The houses appear lifeless and we sensed no community vibrancy. The streets are filled with tourists and the shops are stocked with rather overpriced trinkets and snacks for visitors. In one small shop we looked at a thin selection of aggressively priced fruit and vegetables, a small cooler with a few pieces of meat and shelves with packaged food. The place was obviously set-up for the desperate boater, camper or cyclist caught with an empty larder.

We retraced our way through the marina to Zonder Zorg. By that time, with most of the other itinerant boats having left and she was in remote isolation. We relaxed onboard in the calmness of the hot afternoon.

We have now arrived on the Maas, which will lead us through Belgium into France and we reflected on our travels in the Netherlands to this point. The map shows the 298 kilometres of our 2012 track in red. The yellow line is our 2013 track, which thus far has taken us 459 kilometres through an extremely varied cross-section of this wonderful country. We look forward to seeing what is offered in our remaining 140 kilometres in the Netherlands before we reach the Belgique border.

24 July 2013

Enjoying Gorinchem

During dinner on Sunday evening, the temperature finally dropped below 30. Except for a few hours of overcast and drizzle on Saturday, we have been in two-week-long heatwave, with daily temperatures in the high 20s to mid 30s. Monday was again clear and by midmorning it was already hot.

Gorinchem is one of the few cities in the Netherlands with its fortified walls preserved in their original state. Though obscured in history, it is thought that the community was established about a thousand years ago. Around 1250 Gorinchem became property of the Lords of Arkel and at the end of the thirteenth century earthen mounts reinforced with palisades were built around the settlement to protect it from domination by the neighboring counties of Holland and Gelre. In the mid-fourteenth century city walls were built, with seven gates and twenty-three watchtowers. Otto van Arkel granted it city rights in 1322.

The ancient walled city is a compact oblong shape, measuring about 900 by 600 metres, much of it surrounded by rivers and the remainder with moats. The Linge flows through its centre and we are moored along it. 

We walked along the side of the canal past Visbrug to Peterbrug, which we crossed into the centre of the medieval walled city. The city had been built on delta land between two rivers, the Linge and the Merwede at their junctions with the Waal, a major distributary of the Rhine that flows to sea on the southern edge of Rotterdam. With its water transportation corridors, Gorinchem became an important trading centre for fish, corn and grain.

We headed into the city centre and the large squares there, Grotemarkt and Groenmarkt. Flanking the western side of Grotemarkt is the former city hall, now a museum and art gallery.

Beyond the museum is Grote Kerk with its leaning Grote Toren, which shifted to about 3º out of plumb while still under construction in the 1840s as a replacement to the previous one badly damaged decades earlier during the Napoleonic Wars.

There are many old buildings in the central area, and we saw many from the fifteenth century and even back into the fourteenth. Thus portal dating to 1391 once led to a hospice offering care to poor travellers.

We headed out toward the walls, where we found a walking trail that leads for about seven kilometres along the top of the walls, so we followed it around.

The south side of the city has the natural moat of the broad Waal and the bars along its banks. This area now serves as the local beach, while offshore the large commercial barges ply back and forth between the coast and the heart of Europe.

Further around, moats were dug and walls were built directly out of them to make it difficult for unwanted visitors.

Alongside the moat stand two old windmills. This one, Nooit Volmaakt stands next to the Linge as it enters the city from the north through Korenbrug. The second windmill, De Hoop is on the west side, just along from Dalempoort.

Dalempoort, dating from 1597 was the last city gate built. It is ornate, with a watchtower and a clock, and it led into the city from the tiny, but at the time, increasingly important salmon fishing port in the marshland just outside the walls.

We ended our circuit of the walls at Jachtensluis, the lock which takes pleasure boats out of the city and into the Waal. From there it was an easy stroll back along the banks of the Linge to Zonder Zorg.

Earlier on Tuesday we had cycled to the collection of big-box stores a kilometre or so up the Linge from our mooring. There we had put together bicycle panniers full of small hardware, paints, brushes, carving chisels, masking tape, sandpaper, wire brushes and, we hope, everything else that we need to finish decorating Zonder Zorg. 

In the evening we relaxed with sautéed talapia filets served with butter-fried potatoes and green beans almandine. With it we enjoyed a bottle of Cava Portell Brut Nature.

As we were dining, teams of dragon boats passed by and under Korenbrug. It reminded us of evenings along False Creek, near our Vancouver loft. In 1986 Vancouver had spawned the huge popularity of dragon boat racing, which has spread around the world. Although we love Vancouver dearly, we much prefer being here now.

22 July 2013

To Gorinchem

After a relaxing overnight pause in Montfoort, we slipped our lines at 1150 on Sunday the 21st of July and continued along Hollandsche IJssel. We had a couple of waits for low bridges to be lifted for us as we slowly wound our way along the narrow canal.

Many of the bridges have sufficient clearance under them, so they did not delay us, nor disturb the flow of cycle and pedestrian traffic. The day was clear and hot, without a breath of wind when just before 1400, we paused for lunch on a fine new mooring facility in the centre of Nieuwegein.

After lunch we resumed our route, quickly coming to the end of Hollandsche IJssel and turning sharp right into Schalkwijkse Wetering, which we followed south easterly for a kilometre or so before turning right again to follow Meerwedekanaal southward. 

We joined the rear of a long line of pleasure craft that was just beginning to enter the lock. We paraded with them through the first set of lock gates and then through the second set.

When we arrived in the second lock chamber, its sides were completely lined with boats, and they were rafted on each other three and four deep. We were the last boat in before the doors astern of us closed, so we simply sat in the middle of the chamber.

Gradually, the slowly swirling flow of the water entering the lock caused us to drift forward and to port, and we eventually were received alongside as the fifth in a raft.

Because of our position in the lock, we were among the first dozen of the thirty or so boats to untangle and thread out through the upstream doors and along the short arm from the lock to the Lek. The Lek is one of the major branches of the Rijn and it flows to sea through Rotterdam. 

At the river the parade split, with some boats turning right down the river toward Rotterdam. Others turned left and headed up toward Arnhem or Nijmegen and about a dozen jogged slightly upstream, crossed the river and entered the continuation of Meerwedekanaal southward. We were in that group. After less than a kilometre we entered another lock where there was plenty of room for us to secure alongside for the short drop. Once we had reached canal level, the doors opened and the parade resumed.

The Meerwedekanaal is rather dull and boring compared to the other waterways we have been on thus far in the Netherlands. Though there are many pretty sights along the way, the canal runs mainly through comparatively bland landscape and a few decidedly industrial areas.

It is a rather broad canal, compared to those on which we have usually travelled this trip and along its banks in many places were large barges. Some of these were really huge, like this one, which must be 100 metres in length. Fortunately, it was Sunday, and all the commercial traffic seems to be taking a day of rest.

In the early evening we arrived in the centre of the old city of Gorinchem, where just through Korenbrugsluis we found an eighteen metre gap among the moored boats. At 1848 we secured to a wooden pontoon alongside the old brick wall.

Once we had settled in, I put on my chef's toque and prepared chicken breasts in a crimini and oyster mushroom sauce served with basmati rice and butter-steamed carrots. With it we enjoyed a bottle of Farnese Primitivo and the wonderfully long and warm twilight.

21 July 2013

Onward From Gouda

We had spent a wonderfully relaxing six days in Gouda and it was time to move on. We couldn’t leave; however, without stocking-up with Boerenkaas, the hand-crafted, unpasteurised produce of the local farmers in the region around Gouda.

In the heart of the old city, just off the Markt, we found a shop, 't Kaaswinkeltje that specialises in Gouda. There are hundreds of cheeses on display, and next to several dozen of these were small dishes of samples. We sampled and tasted and nibbled and enjoyed. The samples did their magic and prompted us to select four cheeses to have slabs and wedges cut for us. We were amazed with the low prices, generally in the range of €7 to €15 per kilo. With the Quebec dairy subsidy in Canada, we can barely find bulk factory plastic cheese at those prices.

On Saturday morning as I was filling our water tanks from the canalside hose bib, I watched a duck placidly sitting on the top of Zonder Zorg’s rudder, which just breaks the surface of the water.

At 1105 we slipped from our mooring and continued along Turfsingel to Guldenbrug, which was soon opened for us. As we passed into the basin leading to Mallegatsluis, we passed three barges of fellow Barge Association members: Chouette, Esme and La Tulipe and tooted and greeted them as we went by.

The lock ahead of us had no room for us, so we had to wait for it to cycle again. While we waited, we reflected on the splendid time we had spent in Gouda. It is such a delightful city, so richly steeped in history and culture. It is not a place to be missed.

Mallegatsluis is a tidal lock, and once through it, we were out onto the tidal Hollands IJssel, which we followed eastward a couple of kilometres eastward to Stolwijkersluis. This complex lock is only 20 metres long, but it has five pairs of doors. It divides the tidal waters from the canalized Hollandsche IJssel. During the few minutes of each rise and fall of the tides, the doors can all be opened to allow barges longer than 20 metres to pass directly through.

For the first day in nearly two weeks, it was overcast and there were occasional sprinkles of rain. We passed through placid rural settings and relaxed. 

Most of the bridges were high enough for us to slide under, but a few required lifting. At one of these near the town of Oudewater, a clog was swung out on a line to accept the posted €4.50 bruggeld.

Along the way, the water and banks were filled with waterfowl. At one point, we passed a marvelous little parade, mama duck and her ten fresh hatchlings, moving along in unison as if attached by lines.

In the mid-afternoon we arrived on the edge of Montfoort and decided to pause for the day. The free moorage at the approach to the town is in front of tidy homes, unlike the busier hustle and bustle we could see further along in the town centre.

We walked the 200 metres to the bridge, which is at the central gate to the small town, and from there found the local Albert Hein, where we bought some fresh cod for our evening's dinner.

A glimpse back across to Zonder Zorg on her placid mooring convinced us we had chosen the better place to moor.

In the late evening light we enjoyed a splendid dinner in the cockpit with breaded kabeljauw, sautéed potatoes and green beans almandine with a wonderful bottle of Sauvignon from Domaine de la Tour Ambroise, Touraine.

As we were dining, hot air balloons came over the trees and settled toward land. All is well.