Sunday, January 31, 2021

And so it gets colder

As often happens in this country, real winter only begins late in January and sometimes not until February. Well today, I can confirm we have real winter. Actually, it started yesterday when I walked around the harbour here and I became suddenly, horrifyingly aware it was snowing...yuk! The wind was biting, so I scurried home as fast as I could get there. It carried on snowing for a while, but then turned to rain. Phew, I thought. What a relief! I'm sure you all know how I feel about snow by now. My distaste is so great I won't even 'like' photos people post on Facebook with snow on them unless there's blue sky there too. Yes, sorry, but I am that petty. 

Anyway, this morning, the sky had cleared and there was even some sunshine for a while, but by the time I wanted to go for a walk again, everything had turned grey and wow was it bitter?! Koos and I agreed it was the coldest day of the year so far. We differed in our reactions, though. He likes snow and welcomes it. I don't. Of course. Even so, we had a nice wander along one of the side branches of the canal nearby but I have to admit it was a bit bleak and bone rattling.

It was good to take a walk, however. I have to tell myself so because I know staying inside doesn't suit me at all. I have a tendency to suffer from winter blues (SAD) and struggled with it throughout my youth although I didn't know what it was at the time. When it miraculously disappeared during my South Africa years, the penny dropped. So now I'm back in northern Europe, I have to get as much daylight into my system as possible to avoid the glooms. Having the incentive to get out and about was much easier when we had a dog I have to say. These days I need to encourage myself with promises of rewards when I get home. Next thing I'll be buying myself balls to chase...

Before I get carried away, though, I thought I'd post a photo of this abandoned farmhouse. It is all that's left after the area was taken over for industry and glass houses. Such a shame, really. Below it, I've posted a couple of photos of similar houses in a village quite close to this where the houses have been renovated and are now lived in. They are gorgeous and I wonder what the future of this dilapidated old place might be. It would be lovely if someone could rescue it before it collapses, but I doubt if it will happen. I always feel a sense of loss when I see the homes and farm buildings that have been vacated in areas taken over by 'development.' It's as if the dignity has been stripped from them; homeless homes, so to speak.

Abandoned farmhouse and barn

I love the garden of this house. It's a lovely place

This one used to look very sad, but it's quite pristine now 
and look at the beautifully rebuilt barns behind it. Someone's
saved it and made a huge investment here

Back to reality, tomorrow I'm starting two big online courses and then another one next week, so I'll be very busy again for a couple of months. I hope I'll be able to keep up my daily walks and my blog, and with a bit of luck there'll be more canals, boats and rural scenes on this page in the coming weeks. I'll do my best anyway but if you see an empty space for a while, I hope you'll be patient until I can get going again.

Have a good one allemaal.  Here's one final photo that I took on my Friday walk, which I rather like. Keep well and keep warm!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The daily walk show

One of the few upsides of the current lockdown we're undergoing here in the Netherlands is the amount of walking I seem to be doing. While I don't make New Year's resolutions as a rule – mainly because I'd never keep them for more than about a month – I did decide to try and make time for a daily walk, at least all the while we can't go anywhere else. A sort of resolution, then.

The reason for my more determined than normal efforts is because I have trouble enough with enduring winter, and since we haven't been able to go to Portugal this January as we'd planned, I'm missing my winter dose of Vitamin D in the Algarve sunshine. Okay, I know I'm not going to get much of that here, but at least by going out for a walk every day, I'm getting something of what's going, aren't I? And actually, we've had a few lovely days recently.

My aim has been to walk 4kms every day and so far, I'm managing to do it. I like walking although I confess I haven't done as much as I used to since Sindy (beloved pooch) died, so now I'm feeling quite proud of my efforts. Some days my distance calculator has said I've been a bit under the 4kms, so the next day I've walked a bit further to make up for it. The only snag is the mud that's everywhere at the moment. We've had so much rain all the country paths are like wading through a quagmire and as I don't have boots made for that kind of walking, I'm sticking mostly to the roads. Still, now and then I've taken the plunge – quite literally once – and hopscotched my way through the puddles or skirted round the knee-deep tractor tracks. The plunge part was when I miscalculated the depth of one of these muddy pools and ended up ankle deep in slush. That was fun – not.

The best motivation for getting up and out there has been the opportunity to take photos of our surroundings. I've got a new camera, thanks (very much) to Koos, which is a delight to use and I can just slip it into my coat pocket when I go out. It's a little Panasonic compact but it has a whopping 30 x optical zoom, which is fantastic for those long distance shots of barges disappearing into the haze. I've been after this particular model for ages; it isn't the latest one, but I read all the reviews and it has everything I personally want, especially a really excellent lens. With my camera as inspiration, I started posting my daily snaps on Twitter, which a few people seem to like. However, because my blog is my favourite place on the net and since I can't possibly let Twitter have it all, I thought I'd add some of them here too. 

So, dear readers, here's a collection of my most recent daily walk photos. I have to admit they're in no particular order because Blogger just seems to ignore the sequence in which I post them, but never mind. It actually doesn't matter, although the snowy one was the first photo I took with my camera (It was snowing at the time, hence the haze!).

The day it snowed

I love docks and cranes

Quaint village street

This lake is an old creek from the days when the land was
submerged when the tide came in

Practicing my zoom. Those houses were about 1.8kms from
where I was standing. I'm impressed.

This was testing the zoom as well

On our great sea canal

A nearby nature reserve after the rains, much as the
land would have looked before drainage
Another zooming effort

Typically Dutch

And, of course, there have to be boats

This one was one I took with my phone, but
I just happen to like it. on Blogger, I can't really
see the difference, but I can on my photo program.

Well, that's it for this week, allemaal. We're coping, surviving the restrictions and hoping all these efforts will result in freedom to move around more when the spring comes. Let's hope it does. Meanwhile, I'll just focus on my three Ws: working, walking and writing!

Keep well and look after yourselves!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The beauty (and the paradox) of life with boats in the Netherlands

Last week, I wrote about the downsides of living on board, and came to the conclusion that there really aren't any. Not that I can think of, anyway. The only problem, it turned out, was winter.

Winter on the Vereeniging

But, as one of my friends and commenters mentioned, it's not even winter itself that's the downside, it's where we live in winter that's the problem: the Netherlands. And this got me thinking. Where else could I live on a barge all year round and not have to experience the winter chills? After wracking my brains, I couldn't honestly think of anywhere other than western Europe where living aboard is the norm unless you're in the commercial transport business. And of all European countries, the Netherlands is where liveaboard barges and boats proliferate the most.

Lying abreast a liveaboard barge in Cambrai
northern France

This, of course, means it's much easier to live on a boat here than it is elsewhere. I hasten to add that I don't include the UK in this comparison; they have their own canal boat system, which is totally different from ours. However, more even than in Belgium, France and Germany (where there are also many liveaboards), the Dutch are used to accommodating those of us who like life afloat, so much so there are even floating homes that are not actually barges. They're called woonarken and look more like mobile homes on the water, but they're hugely popular and fetch very high prices if you ever want to buy one with a mooring. Many of the cities, Amsterdam included, have miles of canals lined with these static, floating houses and that's quite apart from the harbours and marinas that house barges like mine.

Houseboats and woonarken in Amsterdam
(The woonark is beyond the second barge)

I would also imagine there are more marinas here in the Netherlands than there are in the rest of Europe too, and definitely more historic harbours for traditional barges and classic boats like ours. What this means is that almost everywhere we go, we can wander along quaysides, walk around marinas and visit harbours knowing there are likely to be boats on which people live. I don't think this is anything like as widespread in our neighbouring countries, do you? 

So, there's the paradox of the whole situation. If we want the (perceived) freedom of having a home we can take with us when we want to move, then we're limited as to where we can actually go and live. Taking that a step further, we're only really free to live this life in countries that have winters with a capital W. And even then, the choices are pretty limited unless you live in the Netherlands. 

Liveaboard boats everywhere we go

That brings me to another point. I love a good paradox and the restrictions on the freedom to live aboard are a perfect example. For instance, despite it being an accepted way of life in Holland, you can't just park your barge anywhere you like; you have to have an authorised mooring, and these are hard to come by. Added to that, there are all sorts of rules to be complied with that you don't have in a house. 

We have to have annual fire extinguisher inspections, and those who have gas on board have to have their installations checked regularly as well. Then there's the lift-outs for insurance inspections which are obligatory every six years (you don't have those for a house either!), while barges longer than 20 metres need to undergo quite extensive modifications for their cruising certificates (all compulsory). They're also obliged to have onboard electronic positioning systems so they can be seen and tracked wherever they go. And yet, ironically, it still feels like freedom, a feeling intensified when we cast off the ropes and say goodbye to the land.

Barges over 20 metres have to have extensive modifications

Koos and I are already busy preparing to do just that, hopefully this coming summer. I've been sanding and varnishing skylights and name boards, as well as planning a refurbishment of the interior of our Hennie H. We're also hoping to do a trip on the Vereeniging and the thought of that magical feeling when we reverse out of our mooring is what keeps the sense of freedom alive. That's real liberation. Normal life as we live it in the winter months is just enduring winter under different circumstances from land-based folk, and I love the circumstances, if not the winter. But the real thrill is when we throw off the ropes and go – armed with a stack of paperwork, certificates and permits, of course.

Have a good week allemaal. Keep healthy and keep busy and look after yourselves.

Our own harbour in Rotterdam

Friday, January 08, 2021

The downsides of onboard life?

I've posed the title to this post as a kind of question because it's something I'm thinking about at the moment while writing a piece about living in the Netherlands and what the challenges and charms of living here have been. And when I say I'm thinking about it, that's not quite true, because my mind's gone blank. I can come up with, and have written about, all the upsides of life on board, but for me it's hard to contemplate negatives when I have embraced the lifestyle so wholeheartedly.

Oude Haven, Rotterdam

Admittedly, I don't live on board all the time these days. I've never been a city person, so as soon as I could, I found a weekend getaway. At first, that was the barge in Brussels, but since 2007, it's been the crumbly cottage in Zeeland, and for the past ten months, I've been there more than in Rotterdam, so the balance has changed somewhat. Being rural and quite remote, Zeeland has given us space to breathe during Corona time. I also have a better internet connection there, which has been important for conducting online lessons. But I'm still in Rotterdam for some part of every week, and hope that will increase in the coming months as things settle (fingers crossed!)

Space to breathe in Zeeland

In a sense, then, living in an inner-city harbour is a downside, but it's not a negative of life on a boat as such. So what are the real drawbacks?

I think part of it depends on the kind of boat you have. Mine is classified as a monument and so I can't change its outer profile. This means I can't have windows in the sides as it wouldn't comply with the authenticity requirements. It also means it can be rather dark in winter when I have to keep the hatch closed. With the ceiling being low and little light coming in through the roof window, it can be a bit gloomy inside. But that's just my Vereeniging. On our holiday boat, the Hennie H, there are windows all round; it remains light and airy and I'd happily stay on board all year round if it were big enough.

The Hennie H has windows all around it

Okay, so cancel that one. What else is a downside? Well, maybe filling the water tanks and diesel tank during the winter? That can be a mission if it's raining and cold. I normally try and time it for a dry day at least, if not a sunny one. The routine itself is something I enjoy and is part of what makes onboard existence special, but it's definitely less fun when the wind is howling, the temperature is below zero or the rain is lashing down. Do you sense just a slight hint of understatement here?

A gloomy, wet day in the harbour

There's also the issue of the floor being cold in winter. Because I don't have insulation or underfloor heating (which many more luxurious barges have), I can walk around in a tee-shirt inside when the heater is on; my upper half is toasty warm, but I always need thick socks and furry boots on my feet. The floor never warms up. Ever.

My winter foot warmers

So what else is a minpunt? (as the Dutch would say). Well, living on a tidal river certainly has its plus sides for sure; I like the rhythms of the tides and the life they bring to the water. However, it can be tricky when you want to transport heavy stuff onto the boat. If the water is very high, it means carrying things up a steep ramp from the quay and then having to get down onto the deck from an angle – not handy if you're clutching a big box and can't see where you're going. 

High water on the terraces
(Photo borrowed from

Many's the time I've had to put my load down on the gangplank, climb over or shuffle round it, step back onto the deck (hoping my feet will land and not slide out from under me) and then haul said box up over the edge and down again, trusting that we, the box and me, won't end up in an awkward, slightly embarassing horizontal embrace; after all, it's where the verb 'to deck' someone came from, I'm sure. If you bear in mind the gangplank is only about 50cm wide and I wear boots with dinner plate souls, it's the boaty version of a tightrope. By the way, it's even more fun when the tide is out and the water is very low, but I've written about that challenge before. Mount Eiger comes to mind when climbing up to the quay. Generally speaking, though, these extremes only happen in winter.

Extreme low water in the Oude Haven

The only other downside I can think of is when it rains heavily. The noise on the hatches can be deafening. I don't like it much then because not only am I shut into the gloom with everything closed, the drumming of the raindrops can make me feel quite claustrophobic. However, this is mostly a winter problem too, as (of course) is snow and ice on the deck, which can be very unnerving. Skating down to my entrance hatch is not my idea of fun, especially if it's on my rear end.

So, when it comes down to it, it's not the boat that's the problem, is it? It's winter. Everyone one of my downsides is related to that most unfavourable of seasons, which brings me back to my question: what are the downsides of living on board? Well, none, actually ... However, if we could only banish winter...

Happy new year, allemaal, keep healthy, keep busy and above all, keep visiting my blog. I enjoy your company and am ever grateful for the interest, comments and kindness I've received here over the years.