Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waterways of Holland and Belgium - Day 7

This morning we woke up in Lelystad. The view out our window was of a harbor with many 3-masted ships, most of which had the most forward mast square-rigged. The ships also had large paddles on their sides, which we found out take the place of keels. Our stop here was strictly as a starting point for an all day journey into the northern part of the country. The day did not start out well, because there was a mix-up with the buses, and they didn't show up until 2 hours late. We had a full day planned, which included a long drive. But everybody stayed positive and we were very happy to board our buses.

Our drive took us into Friesland, in the northeast of Holland. Our first stop was in the town of Franeker, which has the usual cobblestone streets, a big, beautiful church, and a magnificent town hall. We were headed to the Eis Eisinga Planetarium, a very small planetarium built in a small Dutch house (the one he lived in). It is a scale model of the solar system, which still works today, even though it was built between 1774 and 1781. We climbed the stairs to the second level, where we could see the cogwheels that make the model function; there was also a small display of artifacts.

The town of Franek
er had a small outdoor market going, which as always, was interesting to see, since it's so different from our way of life at home. It was a cold, drizzling day, so our first stop was at a nearby pub, where we had the local specialty, berenburger, which is a schnapps-like beverage made from herbs. We had it with some excellent hot chocolate. We enjoyed both beverages.

Then it was on to Harlingen, where we had lunch at the Hotel Centraal. We were split up, 2 buses at that hotel, and the other two buses at another one. The lunch was very tasty: vegetable/noodle soup, chicken with cream gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables; and dessert, which was strawberry ice cream & strawberry mousse. We could also have beer or wine or soda or coffee or tea. The service was excellent. The town looked like a pretty typical Dutch town, neat and well kept.

From Harlinge
n we drove to and then along, the Afsluitdijk, the huge dyke that separated the Zuiderzee from the North Sea and turned it into the Ijsselmeer, a freshwater lake, a process that took about 25 years (if I recall correctly). Polders (land reclaimed from the sea) were also created during this process. While driving along the dyke we had to stop for a swinging bridge which opened to let several small boats through. The dyke took us over to the province of North Holland, where each of the four buses paid a visit to a different bulb grower. Our bus went to Veul Growers, where they specialize in breeding daffodils. They also grow tulips, Dutch iris, crocus and sparaxis. The last is related to freesias, a fragrant flower much used by florists. They were very hospitable and it was fun to learn about what they do. The most important thing we learned is that it takes 15 years to get a new hybrid into production. Wherever we went we saw lots of mute swans.

When we left the bulb grower, we continued on to Enkhuizen, where our ship was docked. We arrived only about 10 minutes later than originally planned, and no time was taken from any of our planned stops. That proves that trusting that everything will work out right, does pay. I'm sure extra time was originally built into the day, plus our program managers were on top of the issue from the start, so truly there was nothing to worry about.

Once back on board, we had a cheese demonstration by the Henri Willig Cheese Shop. They had samples, and their goat gouda was the best I've ever had (and to me, the best of their cheese).
Our evening entertainment was a local group called the 'Hoogwouder Dancers'. This group, which includes both dancers and musicians, has been
working together for 40 years! The musicians weren't very good, and I found the dances boring.

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