Considering its geography and topography, it’s no surprise that the Netherlands is a country of mariners. During the 17th century, it had the largest navy in the world, as well as an economy built around the commerce of its major port cities. And although a series of Anglo-French alliances eventually put an end to Dutch military dominance of the sea, Rotterdam is still the biggest port in Europe. Today Amsterdam has a beautiful (and very much used) network of historic canals. There’s one that runs right near our house, in fact, and it’s a lovely place for picnics. And I never go out there without this charming quote from The Wind in the Willows running through my head:
“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
You’ll recall (or if you don’t, please do yourself a favor and read one of the most delightful books ever written) that the water Rat tells this to Mole on a magical summer afternoon as they are floating down the river on their way to a picnic. As you can imagine, although I may never own an automobile again, I really would like to get a boat sometime. Boating as a pastime is uncommonly popular here. Every canal in the city is lined with small boats to be used on weekend outings, except the ones that are lined with houseboats. There’s even a floating cat shelter in Amsterdam.
Every five years, the Dutch celebrate their love of all things maritime with an event called SAIL. It’s basically an excuse to get all those boats, big and little, together and sail them around in a giant convoy. And of course, to have yet another city-wide party in Amsterdam. This year it happened the weekend of August 23. We went, of course.
I kept asking people beforehand what there was to actually DO at SAIL, and the answer was to look at all the big boats. So we did. You can see that the flotilla includes not only large commercial vessels, but also small, privately-owned crafts. We cycled up past the city centre to the harbour. One of my favorite things we saw was this musician in a tiny boat. He was quite good. I don’t know how he did all that spinning around (while simultaneously playing various musical instruments) without getting dizzy.
Not only could we look at boats, there was even one to tour (actually, it was probably a ship. I am fuzzy on the distinction, and even my Dutch friends called them boats). It was an Ecuadorian ship. I’m not sure it they sailed all the way up here to participate in SAIL, or just happened to be in the neighborhood at the right time, but either way they seized the opportunity to promote tourism to Ecuador by letting the general public aboard and feeding them Ecuadorian chocolate. We arrived with friends, and randomly met up with other friends once we got there as well (Amsterdam can be a surprisingly small town).
There was a pirate outside, guarding the ship.
I’d never been on a working boat that size before. It was fun to explore, and very dramatic.
After we’d had enough of the boats and masses of crowds, we headed over to the park for some relaxing time in the sun. Aaron Zipp, our friend who is so cool that he and his family are on an upcoming episode of House Hunters International, graciously offered to transport all the children in his massive custom-built cargo bicycle. Yes, it’s entirely powered by manly manpower.
The kids ran wild in the woods, the moms chatted in the shade, while the dads took care of the BBQ. I know it doesn’t exactly look like a BBQ, but the two objects that look like disposable aluminium pans are actually disposable aluminium BBQ’s. They’re cheap, easy to transport by bicycle, and ubiquitous in grocery stores (and then in parks) here during the summertime.