It was odd to have Schipol Airport in Amsterdam as our flying end point. I had become accustomed to wearily dragging my pancake-filled body on to another six-movie-long flight to Africa. Seven hours was a mere blip, fuelled by the electric feeling that the anticipation of travel ignites.
My dear friend Lynne had decided that she wanted to make her 50th a memorable one and bidding on a silent auction yacht vacation through the canals of Holland seemed to be the guarantee. And the crew? Lynne’s husband Al made the cut, her sister Kim and me. Our Captain, Ken, provided perfect man chat with Al. They spoke of engines and acreages, cattle and finances. It was a true bromance. The girls? We quickly earned the “laughing hyenas” designation from the men, but we did have a few Oprah a-ha moments when they weren’t listening.
We were spoiled rotten with sunshine, idyllic days, storybook landscapes and restorative nights with whiskey creams in hand. Most of the days were spent bikini-clad on the front of the boat, gliding past fields of poppies, lavender, sheep in need of a shear and tail-whisking painted horses. We each found dream homes along the Vecht, hidden behind tall monkey puzzle trees, manicured (and pedicured) lawns. Every home had an inviting space by the water with chairs and lounges begging for reclined bodies and chilled chardonnay.
Travelling by boat offered an intimate, almost voyeuristic glimpse of Holland. It was like following the veins and lifeblood of a place, with monstrous windmills dwarfing life below. Ancient willows leaned across the canals, and ever-present swans made the week seem like the most fantastic amusement park ride.
Certainly, life on a boat requires some adaptations, especially if you are over five feet tall. We took turns experiencing a daily concussion when climbing the stairs to the upper deck. And the bedrooms? Kim described it best when she said the bedroom in the bow was like sleeping in a Trivial Pursuit pie wedge. The 45-foot yacht had three bedrooms, a bathroom with a shower for supermodel-sized bathers, an Alice in Wonderland-sized kitchen and a living space large enough to do three somersaults across. If you feel confined in a zipped-up sleeping bag or a Smart car, you might have issues with yacht travel. And if you don’t pick the right crew? It’s closer quarters than the family station wagon trip to Disneyland in a heat wave. Luckily we all genuinely liked each other (still) and were well-versed with the boating lifestyle from travelling together on Lynne and Al’s posh houseboat in Buckhorn.
Our dynamic captain, Ken, was also our menu interpreter when needed, humble Discovery Channel guide and the person who introduced us to several Dutch must-haves. Jet-lagged and puffy from the Toronto red-eye, he had frothy Dutch coffee in our hands within minutes and slices of apple cake with a texture similar to a cloud. Who wouldn’t be seduced by such a welcome? Ken had me under his spell instantly, but the Advocaat (egg, sugar & brandy liqueur) totally won me over. Eaten with a spoon, it was like egg nog pudding.
A few of the crew lost their faith in Ken after the introduction to raw herring, which seemed like an enticing idea after a few Grolsch in the searing sun. We ate it as dictated, which was Amazing Race- style. Grab a slippery end and lower it into your mouth and bite and swallow until it’s gone, before you regurgitate.
The croquettes earned a more favourable review, and for those who love deep-fried anything, these would be your pre-execution meal selection. The croquettes were filled with a veal mousse, cheese and spicy chow mein noodles. The veal mousse was too much like eating a cat’s fur ball for me, but, as was for the rest of the trip, anything with Dutch cheese won out.
And speaking of winning, we were in Holland for two of the FIFA World Cup matches. The soccer fever and nationalistic pride was as contagious as H1N1. Finding a bar stool in the pub was like trying to find a Cabbage Patch Doll on Christmas Eve in 1982. The pub soon reached sauna-level temperatures with all eyes trained on the game. When Holland upset Brazil, police on horseback filtered their way through a crowd that was on fire with patriotism. The streets during game time seemed apocalyptic until the win when the crowds emerged like orange floodwaters. It was a magical time to be in Amsterdam.
The week escaped us in no time, the days that were at once long and rejuvenating, gained momentum as we moored in another marina or canal. The still of the night waters and another moonrise brought a certain sadness, as it indicated our trip edging towards the end.
From Weesp to Montfort to Gouda, we watched the world glide by at a very digestible pace. We embraced the simplicity that often escapes us in a world that vibrates with the distraction of technology. In this fleeting and precious life, we should step away from all that hums and find the peace and fulfillment that exists in laughter, engaging conversation, reflective silence and the comfort found in close friends.
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive. ~Anäis Nin
Thank you Lynne for the best 50th I’ve ever been to (Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves World Tour)! To Ken for his precision boating, inspiring chats and immersion in all things Dutch. To Kim for bartending with me & manning the mid-ship line and to Al for not sending us to bed even though we were closer to dawn than dusk and had moved from beer to wine to gin to whiskey and back to beer again!
Hup Holland Hup on Sunday!!