Thursday, January 20, 2022

Water over the land

Sound worrying? Fortunately, no, I don't mean flooding, although we have indeed had plenty of high water on the big rivers lately. In this case, I'm focusing on one of the aspects of living in this country that never ceases to intrigue me: the way the canals sit higher than the land around them; hence the water is always over or above it.

A few days ago, we had a rare afternoon of sunshine, so I donned my coat, hat and gloves, grabbed my camera and took off for a walk. My way took me along a local village dyke not far from the great Terneuzen to Gent sea canal and I was, as usual, on the lookout for ships on their way to or from the Gent docklands.

The thing is, because the canal is just that bit higher than the surrounding farmland and its protective dykes make it look even higher, the ships give the appearance of drifting across the fields. It's slightly surreal, especially when looking through gaps between the houses. There, in front of you is something akin to a castle tower proceeding at a snail's pace across your vision. A very arresting sight, I can assure you.

I spotted the ship in the two photos below several times as I walked along the village dyke. 

But by the time I reached the end, another one (see photo below) had caught up and overtaken me. I should mention that this canal is extremely busy and the bridge leading to the small town of Sas van Gent, the Hennie H's home port, opens at least twice an hour, and often more, during daylight hours. It continues throughout the night as well, although the openings are probably fewer, but we'd guess forty times a day wouldn't be an exaggeration. And that's just for those vessels that can't pass under the bridge; there's a constant stream of barges ploughing their way to and fro beneath its spans.

Whatever the numbers, we're not short of shippy eye candy, especially when you think that each time the bridge opens, it's possible for several ships to pass through in procession. Vehicles often have to wait 20 minutes and sometimes up to half an hour for all the canal traffic to get through. The photos below were all taken while I was waiting.

Changing the subject now, this last photo is of a small house along the dyke, which has recently been put on the market. It's very cute, but it needs a lot of work, and I mean a lot. Curious to know what it was going for, we were shocked to discover the asking price is €145k. A couple of years ago, they'd have been lucky to make €85k and indeed, I think it was even sold as a project for about that amount at the time.  It still has to be renovated, so is it worth it? I don't know, but given the way prices have shot up in the last two years, I am sure it will be snapped up. It will make someone a lovely cottage ... eventually!

 Have a good weekend allemaal

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Oudenbosch Basilica: St Peter's in the Netherlands

My second post of the year! It's is also a bit later than I intended, but hopefully I'll get back into the swing of things soon. In any event, the month hasn't had a very auspicious beginning. Apart from the leaks, which are not yet totally cured (a long story for later lamenting), it's been (yes, you've guessed already) largely wet, and cold and only fit for hibernating. Or maybe I'm not being totally fair.

On Sunday, one of Koos's sons came with his wife to visit us at the Vereeniging. As always, we enjoyed their company tremendously and did a walk around Oudenbosch to show them the new sights (or sites). For once the afternoon was sunny – for a while anyway.

Our first stop was the famous Basilica, which I think impressed us all. I'd been before, but this time, the pale sunlight was shining through the high windows and it all looked rather heavenly (sorry). For those who didn't read my previous post about this amazing church, it is heavily inspired by both St Peter's in Rome and the basilica of St John Lateran (which is also in Rome but outside the Vatican). 

The story goes that Oudenbosch's parish priest in the mid-19th century was one Pastor Willem Hellemons, who had studied in Rome. He'd spent his free time in the holy city walking through St Peter's and developed a great admiration for the church's architecture. His lodgings, however, were opposite the St John Lateran basilica, so when he returned to the Netherlands, his dream was to build a church that would honour both buildings as well as the Pope himself.

Enter the famous architect Pierre Cuypers (he of Amsterdam central station and the Rijksmuseum fame) and the Basilica was designed with the nave, dome and interior based on St Peter's while the facade was copied from St John Lateran's. Apparently, permission for this smaller St Peter's (in fact dedicated to Agatha of Sicily and Barbara of Nicomedia), was given by Pope Pius the 9th after the Dutch Papal Zouaves and other local Catholics went to Rome to defend the pope against Garibaldi's nationalist army in 1868. I'm not quite sure how this was possible, though, since construction had already started in 1865, so maybe it was more of a blessing than permission. 

In any event, the connection with Rome was confirmed, and Willem Hellemons' dream was realised. There is even a piece of the cloak worn by Pope John Paul II during the assassination attempt on his life in 1981 held as a relic in the Basilica. What is remarkable is its size. It is a massive church for such a small town and stands out as a somewhat incongruous but proud landmark. 

So there you have it: a bit of quirky Dutch history that is visible for literally miles around. I particularly like the saintly statues on the top of the facade. They look quite a crowd scene, don't they?

Oudenbosch basilica (photo: Wikiedia)

The photos of the interior below are, I admit, not the best. I took them with my phone, which has a fairly dreadful camera, especially when it comes to lower light levels. I hope they give you an idea of the rich decorations in the church.

Floor detail

The nave from front to back

Looking up to the dome

Nave ceiling

After leaving the Basilica, the weather changed and it became cloudy, windy and rather cold. Undaunted, and with our hands shoved in our pockets and our noses tucked into our scarves, we all walked across the main road to see if we could find the Chapel of Saint Louis, the Basilica's smaller scale mirror image and an even quirkier feature of Oudenbosch history. 

Koos's photo below is of the chapel, which is set in a courtyard surrounded by what used to be a famous boys' school. 

The baby sister: Chapel of Saint Louis inside
the former school courtyard

As you might already have guessed, our Pastor Willem Hellemons was the brain behind the school project and the mini basilica; the architects were different though. The setting is lovely, but unfortunately for us they are restoring the chapel, so it was closed and we couldn't see inside – a shame because I believe that too is beautifully decorated. The old school buildings are now rather elegant apartments.

If you'd like to read more about it, this website is in English. Oddly, it's all written in the present tense, but that's a Dutch convention and is often how the past is presented. Here too is a link to a book (in Dutch) about the school; it gives a few photos of the chapel's interior, which I found interesting; I hope you do too.

Lastly, I've pinched another picture from the Chapel's website, which shows clearly how similar it is to the Basilica. 

In other news we are at last having a few dry days this week, and this morning the sunrise was quite beautiful. We've also managed a few good walks, so my last few photos here are of strolls with my grandpup-next-door. I am blessed, aren't I? What with the Vereeniging in Oudenbosch and the crumbly cottage in Zeeland, life could be a lot worse despite our current restrictions and wintry conditions.

Have a good week, allemaal! Keep well, keep positive and keep smiling.

Monday, January 03, 2022

A new year but the usual walk

HAPPY NEW YEAR, allemaal! I hope you had a good Christmas and festive season. 

Here in the flatlands, all was generally quiet. We had a Christmas lunch with my girls on the Vereeniging followed by a walk around Oudenbosch looking for somewhere to let the dogs run. Unfortunately, we didn't succeed in that mission, so the search for good dog walks in the area will be resumed the next time the grandpups visit.

That said, 'daughter one' and I did a New Year's beach walk on the 31st and, as often in the past, we headed for the estuary where the mix of sand, pebbles and tidal scrubland is always appealing. Luckily, the weather dried up for our stroll although it remained mostly wet and windy here (and still is). There were very few others around, so other than the weather, it was perfect. Just a couple of dog owners, who like ourselves were escaping the bangs. We could listen to the wind, the keening of the gulls and the cries of the terns without interference. There was a brief episode with some quad bikers, who shouldn't have been there at all, but they didn't stay long.

However, my ambitions of a place in the sun are currently limited to poring over estate agents' images of homes in Portugal and Spain. I can but dream, can't I? The only bright skies I've seen recently have been those lit by fireworks. They were banned this year, but you'd never have thought so. Belgium and Germany (where most of the fireworks come from) are far too close for the ban to have had any chance of succeeding.

Anyway, to kick off the year, the photos below are of our walk at Paulinahaven on the Western Scheldt coast near Biervliet (see map).

 In other news, I'm up to my ears in 'project shower' at the moment. As many of you know, I have a horror of leaks wherever they may occur. To my dismay, the shower developed a leak that no amount of silicone kit has cured, so there was nothing for it but to rip the whole thing out and investigate the darkness below. I have to say that, barring a few bashed knuckles and choice expletives, the dismantling was much easier than finding the culprit, which has so far evaded me. Koos and I tested the drain, the water pipes and the taps today, but none of them has given up any surprises, or comfort. The only thing left it can be is the outlet from the shower tray itself. I'll let you know! 

A bit fuzzy, but this was the dark and dingy 
place below

I also have a leak to solve on the Vereeniging...again. I check under the floor every week and for months it's been dry. This week, however, I found a puddle, the source of which is also proving hard to detect. Ah well, what would life be without a few leaks? Hmm, I shall ponder that appealing notion for a while.

Have a good week, one and all, and I'll be back with more watery wonderings in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ending the year in subdued style

I've just realised this is likely to be my last real blog post this year, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle because I don't have any news to impart.

December has been conspicuous by its paucity of noteworthy events in our personal lives. Everything's been somewhat subdued here in the Flatlands. Other than having the pleasure of my eldest moving next door to us at the Crumbly Cottage, we haven't been anywhere, done anything or explored further in our new surroundings, the main reason being – sorry for being a stuck record about this – the 'orrible weather.

Added to that, we are now in lockdown again – I won't go down that road – so access to anything even remotely festive isn't possible.

So, if you put these two together, you'll appreciate that opportunities for celebrating life, either on water or land, have been limited. Most of my time on the Vereeniging has been spent clearing leaves from the willow tree, only to have one puff of wind (seemingly timed for maximum annoyance) add a fresh layer of them to the hatches and the deck (see, I told you I had no new news!)

And when not chasing leaves, I've been ducking inside out of the rain and cold. We've been nice and cosy in the Vereeniging, though; the old diesel stove has been doing a sterling job of pumping out the warmth just as we like it. It's something of a luxury, I'll admit, because the way energy prices are escalating means our warmth is coming at a massively increased cost. We have a slight respite, however. The diesel we're using at the moment for the stove comes from the Hennie H, whose tank we had to largely drain because it was showing signs of diesel bug. Luckily, it doesn't last long enough as heating fuel to get any worse. Since we bought it when diesel was a lot cheaper, we're counting those particular blessings. Sometimes, there's gold at the end of the rainbow; in the case of the photo below, two of them! 

I took this picture in November before all the leaves had fallen. What fascinated me was that I could even see where the rainbow ended in front of the trees. Did I go and look for the pot? No, because I'm a great believer in 'let the mystery be'.

On Friday, I shall get my little tree out and our neighbour-daughter is coming to help me decorate it, as per our Christmas Eve tradition. Christmas itself will be celebrated on the Vereeniging, so I hope the rain gods will also take a festive break and allow us to go for an afternoon walk with the family. It's about as much as current circumstances permit, but at least we can be together for a while.

Have a good one yourselves, allemaal, and I'll leave you with these photos of the wild horses I snapped the other day in our nearby nature reserve. I always love to see them and for once, it was a (rare), sunshiny afternoon.

Happy Christmas and New Year, my friends


Monday, December 13, 2021

Maintenance the Dutch way

Not that long ago, a friend of mine on Facebook was complaining about the lack of maintenance in his home state of Illinois. By maintenance, he meant things like roads, mains-water systems, electricity cables etc. At the time, I said I'd never complain about the Dutch obsession with maintenance again, but I have to say I'm backtracking on that idea.

It's true that this country is maintenance mad. I lived in Rotterdam for twenty years and it seemed as if every road, pavement or subway in the city was dug up at least once a year, sometimes twice or even thrice for maintenance of some kind. I never knew what it was, but each time it was something different. Why couldn't they coordinate these activities? I asked. Why was it that the same road had to be dug up three times in the same year for different purposes?

Buildings too. Maintenance is almost a disease here, it really is. Every few years, whole blocks are shrouded in protective netting while renovation companies revamp the facades of buildings that still look brand new to me. I often used to wonder how it was that 16th-century townhouses in the older cities all managed to look fake — like Gdansk*, only more so! But it didn't take me long to find out. It was all down to regular and (almost) obsessive smooshing.

*For those who haven't seen it, Gdansk was rebuilt after the war in its own likeness. Much of the centre that looks old is actually new.

However, the Netherlands' slightly OTT attitude to keeping things under control and in good order has tested my patience more than somewhat this year. As many of you know, we spend part of our time at what we affectionately call 'the crumbly cottage' in Zeeland. The little house sits on a traditional Dutch dyke and is part of a five-kilometre-long village with houses on each side of a narrow, mostly cobbled road. Every kilometre or so, a small parallel side road veers off the main dyke, giving access to other houses and farms below it, and then rejoins the dyke a few hundred metres further along.

Now earlier this year, the local authorities announced they would be embarking on the replacement of the water, electricity and gas lines along our part of the dyke, a major undertaking that would take several months. Done in phases, they began the project at the beginning of May and have only just finished a section of less than a kilometre. During these seven months, we have had to take a long and circuitous route around the country to even reach our local shops by car. But that's not been the main issue. Think of having the road dug up in front of your house for three of those seven months and the car access to your house closed for the whole period, especially in these pandemic times when we've relied so much on deliveries, and you begin to get the picture. The photo below is of our section of dyke.

The bizarre thing about the entire exercise is that they haven't dug the road up just once; they've done it three times for each section. And not actually for different purposes. Why? Yes, you may well ask. The first time was to lay the new pipes and cables; the second was to make the connections to each house and the third was to remove the old pipes and cables. And each time, they've filled in the road and replaced the surface cobbles before digging it all up again. I know. Incomprehensible, isn't it? 

We've toyed with all the possible reasons why, but I've come to the conclusion it's just the Dutch way. This is a country built on shifting sand, so maybe it's important to keep the dykes as cohesive as possible and if that means doing one job three times, then so be it. 

Oh and by the way, they haven't finished yet. Although they've now confirmed they've completed our section, they've still got the rest of the dyke to do. It'll take more than a year for sure.

What's more, we've now been told the phone company is going to be putting in fibre optic cables for internet and TV in the coming months, which will mean digging it all up again. And after that, guess what? The council will come and redo the whole surface of the road because the cable layers can't do a proper job.  Perish the thought that it might be uneven or, worse, have potholes! Hey ho, away we go. 

So to go back to what I was saying about our US friend's complaints, I think I'm thoroughly over maintenance now and would be quite happy with a few imperfections in our roads and houses for a while. 

Hmm, a post with only one pic? That will never do. Here’s a photo of a short spuddle we took on Saturday to turn the Vereeniging around for ease of departure (see, we live in hope!)

Enjoy your week, allemaal!

Friday, December 03, 2021

Winterising...sort of

I've been a bit quiet here lately owing to a number of interruptions to my blogging life; in other words, I've had other writing to do that's taken priority during November. 

Suffice to say, I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo to finish a book I started four years ago, and I'm over the moon to be able to confirm that the first draft is finished. Whether it will be good enough to publish later when I've been back and revised it a few times, I don't yet know, but I'm very chuffed to have met the target of fifty thousand words in one month (the purpose of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National November Writing Month).

Now I'll get back to the usual routines, I hope, one of which is keeping up with my blog, which is still my favourite corner of the Internet. I love writing and reading blog posts and I've missed my usual rounds during November. Normal service will shortly be resumed :)

Anyway, what is there actually to report at the end of this exceptionally wet, cold and gloomy month?

Well, at our new mooring, things are still great and we are enjoying the tranquillity of life away from the city. I have, however, discovered the downside of this beautifully green, tree-lined section: leaves. Lots of them. Our spot is right next to a beautiful willow tree, which is busily shedding and has been doing so for several weeks. Each time we come here from Zeeland, my first job is to try and wash them all off, but within an hour, there's a new layer of them covering the decks and tarpaulin.


You've guessed! After :)

Another consequence of the 'orrible weather is the unlikelihood that we'll be faring again any time soon. I won't say it's impossible, but neither of us enjoys standing out in the cold, wind and rain, and believe me, it's finger-freezing cold now! With this in mind, I've semi-winterised certain bits of the barge to protect them and also to stop one or two leaks that keep coming back to nag at me.

The first is in the teak entrance hatch to the back cabin (roef) of the barge. Being wood, it expands and contracts and tends to drip when we have heavy rain. I've sorted out a cover for it, which I hope will prevent this leakage during the winter at least. It's not very professional, but at least it works. I'd love to have a good one made one of these days, though.

As you can also see here, I've made a cover for the steering wheel as well, which helps to prevent rusting and also protects the mechanism from direct rainfall, some of which follows the shaft down and into the engine room. I have a series of buckets to receive it. Both these covers are, as you can see, a vision of cheap brown tarpaulin and duct tape. Smart? Not really, but they work. At least I hope they do. The photo above was taken before my leaf eradicating session, but I expect there are just as many on the decks again now. After all, that was at least half an hour ago.

Anyway, so that's really all the news. Or is it? Not completely. A quick dash over to the Hennie H and I can proudly say I've finally finished cupboard number 2 and am ready to embark on the next one. Here's a photo, a bit fuzzy, but you get the idea. I'm pretty happy with the way it's turned out.

So that's it allemaal. Enjoy your weekend and next time I'll be writing about something totally different. In fact, it's a bit of a gripe, but a good humoured one (I hope). I can tell you in advance it concerns maintenance of a different kind!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Brabant's unexpected bounty

I've been a bit quiet here and didn't manage to post a blog last week. There've been various reasons for that, one of which is that I've been trying to finish writing the novel I started four years ago. I've taken up a challenge I've done before, which is to write 50k words during November. There's an official name for this challenge (NaNoWriMo), which you can also do officially. I'm not, but I am unofficially sharing the experience with a small group of Facebook friends, one of whom is my author friend Alyson Sheldrake, who is just so inspiring. She's published four books this year alone and she's way ahead of the rest of us in this endeavour already, but I don't think I'd have reached today's total of 30k words without her standard bearing. Thank you so much, Alyson! Since I was already over 40k when I dragged it out of my files and blew the proverbial dust off it, I'm well on the way to a completed novel. Whether it will be worth reading or not is another matter entirely, but we'll see. I can but hope!

Anyway, apart from that, we've been spending quite a bit of time on the Vereeniging, and on Tuesday, we went exploring again. In truth, we'd planned to take the old girl for a quick spuddle up to the end of the arm to be able to turn her around and work on the starboard side, but it was real brass-monkey weather, so we went out in the car instead.

Our venture took us along some pretty back lanes to the small town of Zevenbergen, which happens to be the local authority centre for the council district of Moerdijk. I wasn't expecting much at all but was very pleasantly surprised by what we found. I have to confess that my photos don't really do it justice and the town is prettier than it looks, but what fascinated us was the canal running up the centre of the main shopping street.

Until last year, it wasn't there. Well, that's not strictly true. Many years ago, it was a through connection from the Hollands Diep to the Dintel-Mark river, which is the commercial waterway that runs east and west from Oudenbosch. The connection was, and still is, the Roode Vaart, except that at some point, the section that crossed through Zevenbergen was filled in, closing off access to the Mark as well as the northern section to Moerdijk.

When we left Rotterdam, we stayed overnight below the lock into the Rode Vaart after crossing the Hollands Diep, and we talked then about how much time it would save us to be able to carry on through Zevenbergen if we could get to Oudenbosch that way.

Here's the map that shows you what a short cut it would have been:

And here's the route we had to take, although it's not completely accurate because it doesn't show the Moerdijk mooring which is just beneath the word 'Diep' of Hollands Diep:

Anyway, imagine our surprise when we arrived in Zevenbergen and found they have dug out the canal through the town to make it look more as it did in former times. Apparently, it's only been open for about a year. Sadly, though, the crucial parts at each end are still blocked off, but a very friendly local told us it might be opened up in the future, "although that might take a year or ten," he said with a smile. Still, we live in hope!

Below are the snaps I took with my phone. Bearing in mind the steely grey of a very cold November day, you can see they're trying to make it a real waterside town with fake masts as lampposts and bridges across at regular intervals. I was charmed by it all and felt we'd made quite a discovery.

A view into the very attractive main square, which is lined 
with cafés

Above is the marina at the end of the northern section. They will have to dig under a large main road to break through into the town section.

 And above is what you see looking in from the marina. At the far end, there would be a longer stretch to be dug out, and since this would involve demolishing some relatively new buildings, I can imagine that might take some time.

As my title says, this really was some unexpected bounty, and I'm pretty sure we'll be back again for a visit on a sunnier warmer day next year.

Enjoy your weekend, allemaal and I'll try and post more news again next week. Wish me luck with my word count!

Monday, November 08, 2021

Revising my Reflections on My Watery Life

Back in November 2015, I wrote a post about my feelings about my barge, my watery life and how I saw the future. It became one of my most popular posts ever, so I decided to read it again and see how much of it still held true. After all, it was six years ago now, so what's changed? I'm posting it here and making comments in italics. 

I've been doing some reflecting this week as I've sat in my barge. Reflecting as in pondering on life as opposed to watching double-sided ducks on the water, that is. And the result of my pondering reflections is this:

It was fourteen years ago this month that I bought the Vereeniging as an empty shell complete with several not so optional extras, these being rust holes, a rotten axle and rather too obvious ventilation in all the wrong places. I had to forgive her though. She was a hundred and three years old and had survived serious abuse and neglect, somehow managing to stay afloat while the weeds grew out of the rust in her hull. It was a match made for the tenacious; for both her and me. In 2021, this is now twenty years, rather than fourteen and my determination to keep her afloat remains strong. I can be obsessive about these things as I think most of my blog pals know by now.

Vereeniging when she was new

The former owner had done much to try and renovate her, but he was also elderly and in truth, he was more enamoured of the engine than any other part of the barge. I wonder if he has yet forgiven me for changing it from the 1921 hot bulb Industrie engine that he so adored to the 1955 Samofa engine that I still adore. Sadly, age and his wife's ill health forced him to sell the Vereeniging as a project he was only three years into in 2001, but apart from my disgraceful insensitivity over the engine, I think it wasn't a bad idea to sell it to me as I am seriously attached to this old lady. I'm afraid the former owner has probably now passed on to the great engineering workshop in the sky. As the Samofa has now more than proved itself on our recent trip to Oudensbosch, I remain content that I gave up on the Industrie, but I still have a photo of it on my bookcase.

After dealing with the worst of the rusted, riveted hull, it took me two years to create a home from the empty shell of the hold. It's taken me several more years to add other improvements (plus further steel plates) and even today, I never stop working on the maintenance. There's always something that needs doing quite apart from the regular two yearly bottom inspections. The last of these was actually after just one year owing to my sleepless nights over the state of the vlak (interior hull surface) in my little back cabin (see previous post). Since this post, I have had  three more lift outs and have another scheduled for next year. Compulsive obsessive behaviour is not something you get over at my age!

During the time I've had the Vereeniging, my daughters have both had spells of living on her, and at these times, I've moved off and lived with Koos. The girls have been free to make her their home and as a result things inside have been taken apart, moved or reconstructed - not always to my taste, I will admit. For the last eighteen months, though, I've had her back and I stay on her during the week when I am alone in Rotterdam for work. I am slowly making her my own again and some of you will have seen the progress of the renovation here on this blog. She is still my home although I still don't live on her full time. I love the three or four days a week I spend on her, though, and always try and do something to maintain or improve her. This weekend has been particularly productive with the new steering wheel cover I've made to protect the wheel over the winter.

Daughter helping with maintenance before
moving on board

If I'm honest, a different owner would probably rip out everything I've built in and start again because the interior is entirely of my rather amateur construction and so it is all rather obviously home made, but I don't care. I love every inch of my barge and spend hours inspecting details that I could revise and do better. In fact, last night I lay in bed below the foredeck gazing at the panelling and planning how to tidy it up and re-paint it all. The last time it was done was about seven years ago, and since then, the panels in front of my water tanks have been moved to different positions at least three times, leaving rather obvious scars in the process. Then this morning, I was up early giving my new storage unit / kist a second coat of paint and cutting some shelving to repair one that had got broken when last daughter moved out. Reading this shows me it's time I did some interior decorating again. The trouble with small spaces is that they get lived in more thoroughly than large houses where most rooms remain empty much of the time. In my barge, everything is used all the time. It's time to do some repainting!

One of her interior looks. It's changed a bit since then but
the basics are the same

Of course, there is also the never ending challenge of the tides. When combined with a gangplank that wants to start its own life on the quay or dive into the harbour for a swim, this requires a weekly engagement with ropes, spanners and hammers to make sure it all stays in place. The next storm or extreme high or low tide will naturally reverse all my efforts and I'll start all over again. What bliss it is not to have to worry about this anymore. The last weeks since our move to Oudenbosch have been marked by lack of anxiety about what damage I will find when I return. It's just a pleasure to return every week. The only downside is having to cross the harbour to fill up with water, but we can turn that into a small adventure, especially for Koos, who enjoys the manoeuvring.

Getting water is an adventure in itself

That aside, I wouldn't have it any other way, and when we played host this week to two great cyber buddies from a Facebook group I belong to, Women on Barges, I was very happy to have them on board despite my still long list of to-be-improvedments. We had never met before but it was click at first sight, as it was with all our respective men folk. It was a special and lovely evening of laughter and talk and I know we all count each other as real friends now. I feel quite nostalgic when I read this. I haven't seen those friends for several years now, although we keep in touch via Facebook. The whole Covid situation has also widened the physical divides all of us have experienced. I do so hope we'll be able to meet again before too long and look forward to raising my glass with them and my other lovely WOB friends.

Two dear friends meeting for the first time on board

The funny thing is I'd never have come across them if it hadn't been for the Vereeniging, so I have that to thank my lovely old lady for too. She has brought me many friends in the harbour, but also cyber friends via blogging and Facebook; she has also given me the material for two books and fourteen years of something I can only describe as a feeling of warm, embracing security…the Dutch might call it gezelligheid, but it's more than that. I won't go soppy and sentimental on you now, but many people see their boats as a symbol of freedom, and the Vereeniging, now 117 years old, represents that for me too; the freedom, independence and self-reliance I gained when I decided to make my life in the Netherlands. That's quite a symbol isn't it? Is it any wonder then when I say I will never sell her... Although I still tear up when I read this and think of all she has meant to me in the last twenty years, I realise that one day, I will have to part company with her. Six years on, I am beginning to realise my limitations, but I pray I can remain fit and healthy for another few years at least. I no longer say I'll never sell her, but I'm holding off the day as long as possible. After all, now we've moved, we have a whole new world of waterways to explore. 

Vereeniging remains a huge part of my life and my love for everything she is endures despite the costs, which are more than just financial. I only hope that in another six years I'll still be able to say the same, but for now, I'll continue to enjoy every moment Koos and I can spend on and with her.

Seeing this helps me dream of adventures to come