Friday, July 23, 2021

The tale of two weeks

Oh dear. It's nearly two weeks since I last wrote my blog and once again the time has flown by. One of the difficulties I face now is that there's been so much going on I hardly know where to begin. I think I'll have to start keeping a diary soon. That'll be a first. Mind you, I'll probably forget to write that as well, knowing me.

I know I can't even begin to talk about the past two weeks without mentioning the horrendous floods in the south-east of the Netherlands and across the borders in Germany and Belgium. Back in March, Koos and I spent a weekend in the affected area. We were at Valkenburg, near Maastricht. I was amazed at how beautiful and hilly it was in the region, as you can read here. While there, we went to the Drielandenpunt where the borders of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium come together at the top of the Netherlands' highest hill.

Limburg is a long, narrow province, sandwiched between equally undulating parts of Germany and Belgium and Drielandenpunt is the end tip of this sliver of the Netherlands. Added to this, Limburg is the province through which the Meuse / Maas river runs on its way to its mouth in Rotterdam. It is also where Germany's Roer river merges with the Maas. Then there is the river Geul that threads its way through Valkenburg, which lies in its valley. So, a large river valley with at least two confluences, and high hills to the east and south are just the beginning. Add to that days of torrential rainfall in the region and you have all the ingredients for a flood disaster. I was in Valkenburg again at the end of May (see blog) with my daughter and we had glorious weather then, but with all the hills running down into town, I could easily see how it might be at risk.

As things stand now, the waters have receded and the rains have stopped, but the destruction has been too terrible. Luckily, there has been no loss of life in the Netherlands; that is not true of Germany and Belgium, both of which have serious death tolls and even worse damage. It's heartbreaking and tragic, and my thoughts remain with all those who have lost everything they own in the deluge.

Gloomy skies over Zeeland

Over on our side of the country, we were spared all but a couple of weeks of miserable weather; however, nothing out of the ordinary unless you consider that it's supposed to be summer, although this last week has been lovely. I was half expecting the high waters to reach Rotterdam at some point, but it seems to have been dispersed through the country's impressive water management systems before it reached us. We feel almost unfairly lucky. 

The weather might have been miserable but
the flowers still bloom

In other news, we are still working on the Hennie H and the Vereeniging in the hopes of getting away at some point this summer. An inspection by an expert yesterday revealed we still have some jobs to do for the HH's new engine to be deemed properly installed for insurance and warranty purposes. We shall prevail, though. As things stand, travel is difficult at the moment anyway. We can't go to France without fulfilling all sorts of conditions and maybe Belgium will follow suit. Who knows? The Netherlands is officially Code Red, so we may have to settle for pottering around locally. On the upside, the Vereeniging's engine ran well in its first test this year, as did the new boiler (have I mentioned that before?). I can hardly believe it's not leaking and that the fitting went so smoothly!

There is more to say and more to tell, but I think it will have to wait until next time. The witching hour is approaching and I am ready to hit the hay. Enjoy your weekend, allemaal, and I'll catch up with the news very soon. In the meantime, here's a photo or two for you all.

Our little Hennie H still fretting to fare

I might have posted this already, but who can spot
the new window I've installed?

The peace of a local creek lake

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Rotterdam's forgotten corner

When I drive up to Rotterdam each week, I have to leave my little car some distance from the Oude Haven because I have no parking permit to put it in any of the adjoining streets. The place I usually leave it is in a neighbourhood called De Esch (pronounced 'Ess') near the university, which is something of a forgotten corner of Rotterdam, although I don't suppose the residents would agree. However, it's one of those places at the end of a tram line and it struck me the other day that at De Esch, everything is a little different. 

What makes it special is the mixture of an old harbour, waterside beaches, a wealth of green space, a nature reserve and last but possibly most, a beautiful old water tower. I've been going to De Esch ever since I first moved to Rotterdam. I used to walk there regularly with Sindy (my dog). We loved strolling through the untamed wilderness of the nature reserve where I was aware small creatures lived from the rustling in the undergrowth and hedgerows. It felt as if we were far from the city. We also enjoyed going to the little riverside beach, where I'd throw sticks for her into the water. In those days, few people went to De Esch; we were usually alone and it was, you might say, an undiscovered treasure. I could sit on the sand and watch the huge container barges ploughing up and downstream while Sindy splashed happily in the water. For me, it was a place of peace.

From a historical perspective, De Esch is also interesting. It has the oldest existing water tower in the Netherlands, which is also one of the largest. Built between 1871 and 1873 next to a small harbour, its reservoir held a million litres of water – which is substantial by anyone's standards – and the pipeline ran from the tower to the city.

Designed by one CB van der Tak, it is a meld of different styles, including Romanesque Revival and Neo-Renaissance, if that means anything to you. Whatever the labels, it's a magnificent building and a real landmark. When it was in use as a water tower, the water company workers used to live below the reservoir, but in 1986, the building was renovated and the accommodation was replaced by workshops while the reservoir itself was converted to offices. A very nice restaurant now occupies the ground floor section. 

The photo below is from the 19th century when it was still relatively new and the next one is a recent image. I pinched them both from Wikipedia, so credit goes to their website. I know I have my own photos, but I can't seem to find them anywhere, which is frustrating. Incidentally, the harbour is home to a couple of liveaboard barges, the university rowing club and a floating water taxi pontoon. It's another place I like to go and sit to watch the river traffic go by.

The water tower as it used to look
(Thanks to Wikipedia)

And this is how it looks now
(Thanks again to Wikipedia)

Some years ago, Koos and I walked all round the tower and behind it there are a number of rectangular reservoirs, each with its own small pump-house. I don't actually know whether they are contemporary with the tower; they certainly look the same age. I also don't know if they stored the water to be pumped up to the water tower, or whether it was a treatment works. Maybe someone reading this blog will know because I've been unable to find out so far. All the same, they are very charming and it's a fascinating place to wander around. The photo below is also courtesy of an open site on the internet. Unfortunately, the photographer's name was not given.

One of the reservoirs and pump houses. 

The other thing I like about De Esch is that the last stretch of the tram line escapes from the built-up city environs and dives into a lovely green belt that leads to its terminus. This broad expanse of grass, a veritable sward, is lined by apartment buildings, but the amount of space between the tracks and the flats gives an almost rural impression. I once forgot to get off the tram at my stop and had to stay on until almost the end of the line, but I was glad I did it. I'd never have known what a pleasant walk it was back to the university otherwise.

The tram disappears off into the green belt.
This is a screen capture from street view

So that's De Esch, an unusual but special place. In fact, I was standing where the van in this last photo is parked when I decided to write a blog about it. Is it really forgotten, though? Maybe not. You'll probably find the nature reserve, the water tower and the beach on a few 'things to do in Rotterdam' sites, but it's so far off the beaten track, mostly only locals know to go there. Being someone who avoids the 'madding crowd', I suppose that's why I like it.

 In case you're wondering, I'll be posting about the latest boat works next week. For now, here's the Vereeniging with a new coat of paint on her starboard side. Wednesday was a good day. It didn't rain for once!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend allemaal.

Friday, July 02, 2021


Most readers here know that I commute regularly between Rotterdam and the crumbly cottage in the far south of the Netherlands. Now, while I try and vary my route as much as possible, I rarely take sidesteps to explore places off the beaten track, mostly because I'm in a hurry to get from A to B.

It does happen now and then, though, when Koos is with me. Since it's usually him I am hurrying to get home to, the occasions when he travels with me make for a more relaxing ride, and a bit of diversion gives the journey the feeling of a day trip rather than a commute.

Last week was one such occasion, so on the way back from Rotterdam, I mentioned to Koos that I'd never been to Yerseke before. "Well, there's no time like the present," he said, amazing me once again with his knowledge of English expressions.

According to Wikipedia, Yerseke is a "small village on the southern shore of the Oosterschelde estuary" and has a population of 6,695 inhabitants. That doesn't seem very small, but then the Dutch interpretation of cities, towns and villages has always puzzled me.

Essentially, Yerseke is a fishing town and has, predictably, several fish restaurants around its busy harbour area. It also has a row of oyster breeding ponds behind the sea dyke, so these delicacies are a great attraction for those who enjoy eating them. It was grey blustery day, though, so two things prevented us from sampling any of their offerings. The first was the smell of fish, which I can't bear, and the second was the need to sit outside. That said, others were braver and it was good to see the restaurants open again. Koos did go into one restaurant to see if he could buy some kibbeling (small portions of fish in batter) to take away, but they totally ignored him, so he left without ordering. An odd attitude given that they must be desperate to make up for lost custom during the lockdowns.

We had a pleasant walk around the harbour as I hope the photos below will show. However, our general assessment was that the most appealing parts of Yerseke are its old dock area and its wonderful, long and unspoilt beach. 

The marina dominates the main tourist spots

But this old dock area with its tidal mudflats is what I
really liked.

Low tide reveals where water exits from (I presume) the oyster
breeding ponds, but I'm not sure of that.

A closer view of the outlet.

Notice the height of the poles on which the pontoons are fixed.
High tides can be very high here, it seems.

This is real

The wide, unspoilt beach

I love the fact there are no huts, kiosks or attractions here.
The only points of colour are the bins!

 Although not a very picturesque place, we found Yerseke attractive and could understand why it's a popular holiday spot. Koos did eventually find his kibbeling at a fishy takeaway further off the main track. He pronounced it to be the best he'd ever eaten, so that's a great compliment to Yerseke.

Enjoy your weekend allemaal and hopefully the summer will return before my next blog. It seems to have given up trying for the moment.