Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France - Part 3

Read about this trip from the start - here.
Westfriese kanaal
From our wild stop we journeyed along straight canals, through the polders, heading inland and south in the North Holland province. Not sure how the Netherlands came to be called Holland. Holland is actually a province. It's a bit like calling the USA - Texas or the UK - Yorkshire.

And that's not the only thing I don't understand. The system of  building a dyk or bank to close off the Zuiderzee creating their polders still confuses me. The Dutch aren't sure themselves when the process of holding back the sea started. The pretty windmills we associate the countryside - along with Friesland cows, cheese, clogs, funny white hats and brightly coloured tulips - served to pump out water. Today they have modern pumps doing that job. But consider what would happen if the pumps stopped working? There are still rivers flowing into the Netherlands. And it rains. And there is a coastline. What about global warming and the possibility of a rising ocean?
Approaching Alkmaar
So while the Dutch people sought to protect themselves from the ravages of the North Sea and create land from the bed of the Zuiderzee, they face an ongoing issue to keep water at bay. No doubt the innovative Dutch people have considered all this but it does add an extra dimension to national security. No wonder there are so many floating homes in Holland. The polders, which are essentially the old sea bed, are a much as 6 metres below sea level. I find it humid when we're in the low lying areas. Particularly on a hot day. The weather can fluctuate quickly.

Our next stop was Alkmaar. (prounounced Alekmaar) Another Dutch medieval town and well worth visiting. Many towns in the Netherlands were built with a moat around to encases the old city. Plenty old towns and cities survived the bombings of the Second World War so their buildings are still in tact. It's worth remembering that Holland was occupied during the war and certain areas were heavily bombed. Alkmaar doesn't appear to be one of those places. What to do? Head to the VVV (tourist info) and get a map. And then just get lost. Wander around the streets. Alkmaar, as do all the other medieval towns, has festivals, markets and museums. A Beatles museum and a beer museum were the two that piqued our interest.
The Beer Museum was a modest €4 and had video presentations, mostly in Dutch but one was in English. Three floors of information - luckily also in English - and a pub at the bottom next to a canal where you can try one of over 50 beers at a discount. Our attempt to try the local beers failed as they didn't have them in stock. We ended up having a Grimbergen donker ale (dark ale) which is one of our favourites anyway. The canal was bonkers busy with people in slopen (dinghys) barelling past each other with more or less boating skill causing the odd bump. You can hire a dinghy and take yourself on a trip through the maze of waterways.
Beer museum Alkmaar
On the subject of drinks to try, beer is top of our list. The Netherlands have a vast selection of regional and national beers. Our best Dutch beers are Texels and Brand. We often discover a divine beer in a local pub and never find it again. Heinken and Amstel are famous local beers but they are lagers. Most pubs also have plenty Belgian beers. Often made by Trappist monks. We love their malty dark ales such Leffe, Grimbergen and Westmalle. You can get pils, cherry beers, weiss - more types of beers than you can ever imagine. Some of them pack an alcoholic punch - up to 11% alcohol - so drink with care. They're usually served in a matching glass freshly rinsed with water. Why do they do that? I really don't know. Might have something to do with the foam. We finished our day with a walkabout and a shop-up before heading back to our boat for a jog (one way to explore and get some exercise) and an early night.
Our next trip was via the Noord Hollandsch Kanaal via Zaanstad into the Noordzee Kanaal which becomes the Ij River and runs through Amsterdam. We've been to Amsterdam on our boat before and headed straight for Sixhaven. It's not the only marina, but we knew what to expect. The Ij River in Amsterdam is wide and the banks are home to factories so the route is industrial. Which means you get to share the waterways with big working barges. Who always have right of way. They come from way behind you and push right past you into the locks. Never mind how long you've been waiting. You hope there is enough space for you. Or hope another barge doesn't come while you're waiting to enter the lock. Because they will get right of way. One very good reason to avoid commercial routes.
Inner canals of Alkmaar
However we like barges when there are bridges as they make sure they get opened and we don't have to call the bridge operators on the VHF radio. We come from South Africa and speak Afrikaans. Which is an old version of Dutch from the settlers way back when. Somehow Afrikaans has developed it's own words and pronunciations of words. We sort of understand Dutch if they speak slowley or if we read it. Highbrow newspapers excluded. But we prefer not to have to figure out what the operator said. Or ask again and again until we understand.
Approaching Amsterdam by boat
Sixhaven has a sharp entrance and the moorings are tightly packed. Sixhaven can get very, very full. I'm happy to do deck duty but I'm way too scared to park our boat. I would hate to manoeuvre a boat in Sixhaven. It's a bit like a Rubik's cube situation. The havenmeester toggles boats and the ingoing or outgoing boats glide past other boats in tight proximity. We also had to cross the channels in the River Ij. Which meant dodging the ferries and barges. Scary stuff. Sixhaven has had a bit of a renovation. They have a lovely brand new ablution block.
Sixhaven marina
The story continues - here.

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