Our Barge, Odysseus

Sunday, September 30, 2007

On The Way Home

So no pictures in this part, unless you want pics of the inside of a Boeing 767.
We're in the air somewhere over the Atlantic between Amsterdam and Philadelphia, on our way back to Southern California. I originally wrote "back home," but I guess we have two homes now. "Look at me ma. I'm bi-continental!"
It was very strange to walk away from Odysseus in the early morning half-light knowing it would be 8 months before we would see the boat again. The Dutch all thought we were crazy when they saw us working on the boat over the summer. That's their recreation time; winter is for boat maintenance...that and planning gardens. But after we explained we were crazy Americans, they understood completely. They'll be working on their boats and we'll be wishing we were.
Other than the weather, we did have a great time this summer and we think we're pretty well set up for the future. There will always be projects on the "to do" list but it is a boat after all. The Dutch have a saying that translates loosely to "Buy a boat, work to death" and that's the same everywhere.
So we've begun planning for next years adventure, which involves heading south to, hopefully, better weather and better food.

So this will probably be the last post for this year.

I want to thank everybody who emailed or called over the summer. Thanks for your good wishes and encouragement. I hope you enjoyed following our travels and maybe in the years to come you can pay a visit. We'd love that!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back to the Lake

By Thursday afternoon we were back in Holland at the marina, planning some maintenance chores if the weather held. Luckily it did and on Saturday, Cathy Jo was able to get some serious painting accomplished while I did laundry, cleanup, and a little varnish and repairs. After some more chores on Sunday morning we took off on our bikes for another "only in Holland" experience: a Shanty festival at a canal-side bar. Needless to say, much beer was consumed. The groups would arrive by barge, perform for about 45 minutes and then it was off to the the center of the nearby village of Leimuiden for more drinks and singing. One of our Dutch friends described something very country-Dutch as "cloggy", as in the wooden shoes. You couldn't get more "cloggy" than this.

Monday was our last full day for this year. We filled up the diesel tank, drained the water tank to prevent freezing water from bursting pipes and gave the inside a good cleaning. It's hard to imagine we won't be seeing it for another 8 months.

I have also been remiss in earlier posts not to mention the office manager at the marina in Kuddlestaart. Marion was the only one in the office the first time we saw the boat and it was one of her first days on the job. She answered our questions and translated some of the dutch terms we didn't understand on the listing sheet. She kept all the "high finance" straight and cheerfully put up with our constant questions and requests. Everything went much easier with her help.

By Monday night it was raining cats and dogs. We had returned the car Monday afternoon so it was busses to the airport for us. Luckily, it was only sprinkling when we said goodbye to Odysseus about 6:30 Tuesday morning and headed for Schiphol.

Alsace ... We'll Be Back.

On the border between France and Germany is a region they've both been fighting over for hundreds of years, the Alsace. We can see why.

The Maison Katz on Saverne's main street.

We spent the night in Saverne on our way into Switzerland and a little time on the aptly named "Route du Vin" but a little was not enough; we had to go back.
Saverne featured the least expensive and nicest hotel we stayed in while in Europe, and the cheapest parking, always a plus in small European towns not auto-centric. There are probably a thousand (it seems) small wineries scattered about the countryside along with a generous helping of old castles and grand chateaus. It's glorious!
What could be better that a good E4 cremant, pinot blanc or reisling?
One of the most picturesque canals in France goes right through the middle of town. The Canal Marne du Rhine is a major route between Paris and Strasbourg.

and has a great port du plaisance (marina, for you anglophiles.)

The canal picture was taken from the top of the Haute Barr, a ruined castle on the hill overlooking Saverne. It's just a couple hours walk round trip from the center of town. Some portions are left over from Roman times. History was all around us.
Unfortunately, the clock was ticking on this year's European adventure so it was back to Holland to prepare the boat, and ourselves, for winter.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

They Speak Italian, Don't They?

It was on to the Ticino region of southern Switzerland, where we stayed in the town of Locarno, on the Lago Maggiore. Again, as you can see, we had great weather, quite a change from the north!

The lake crosses the border between Switzerland and Italy and it's less than an hour by boat to the village of Cannobio, where they hold a great Sunday market. Off we went. Italy (6).

The whole waterfront was covered with tented stalls selling everything: clothes, leather goods, shoes, handbags, flowers, the works. It being Italy, there's also a huge food section so here's your food porn:

After the market, we wandered around the town, like so many others in the area, perched on the side of the hill above the lake and very picturesque.

Returning to Locarno, we hiked up the side of the hill to a great view of the town with the Church of the Madonna del Sasso in the foreground.

The next day it was a little further south to Lugano, also on a lake, and a visit to the American School in Switzerland, Cathy Jo's high school. Much had changed in 35 years. The enrollment has greatly increased with the addition of an elementary and junior high program and, with that, the need for more facilities that eliminated much of the open space on the campus.
Also, the area, known as the Colina d'Oro (Hill of Gold) had become a very popular residential area, with villas now filling up what was open. We did find a nice place to have our picnic lunch, however.

But remember Alsace, that famous French wine region?
Saverne was calling our name and we had to return.

Six Countries in Six Days!

(Well, five countries and one Grand Duchy but the other way sounds better)

One of the great features of Europe is that, with so many different countries packed so closely together, it's possible visit several in a short period of time. Maybe it won't be an in-depth culture study but still a chance to experience something a little different.
Because her family was living in Libya at the time, Cathy Jo attended high school at a boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland. She hasn't been back since and our spending time in Europe this year gave her a chance to visit, and us both a chance to see some more of the continent. We had hoped to do a few maintenance days on the boat when we returned to the lake but after a couple of frustrating days battling the weather, we gave up and headed southeast. We traveled through Netherlands (1) and Belgium (2), crossed Luxembourg (3, or the Grand Duchy, if you prefer) and then crossed the Alsace region of France (4) to the town of Saverne. We like it so much we came back for a couple of days on our return trip. I'll write about that in detail a little later.
After the night in Saverne, it was on to Switzerland and the Alps.

Our first stop was the city of Bern, where Cathy Jo decided lunch cart brats were one of her favorite foods.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the city, which is located on the Aar River. This was my first experience with Switzerland and it was a big change from the flatness of Holland!

The weather had improved greatly and we had a couple of beautiful days hiking though the mountains near the town of Lauterbrunen.
The area is the birthplace of downhill skiing, being popularized by the British in the late 1800's. There are several cable cars and small railways giving access to the mountains surrounding the valley and also an extensive set of well-signed footpaths that wind though the area. The valley reminded me of Yosemite Valley although, at this time of year, at least, without the hordes of people.

We stayed in the Stechelberg Hotel, which is right at the end of the road.

This was the view out our window.

No, we're not in Holland!

After giving our legs a good workout on some of the Swiss mountain paths, it was on to the lake district in southern Switzerland. But as we leave the area, one more shot back up the valley, this time early in the morning.

In between the Sustern and Gottard Passes we came upon this parade in a little village. Apparently it was time to move the cows from the upper pasture down lower for the winter and they make an event out of it.
All of the traffic was blocked as the procession headed down the road, huge cowbells clanging so loud it was impossible to talk and be heard (herd?). You just never know what you'll see when you travel on the back roads.

Switzerland has one very important distinction: it really doesn't have it's own language. In the western sections, some French but mostly German is spoken and in the south, Italian predominates. That makes life a little difficult for someone not used to the polyglot culture. A waiter would put down a plate on the table and often I couldn't remember whether to day "danke", "merci" or "grazzi"!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Circle Is Complete

After a goodbye from John and Patti and a quick trip to the grocery store, we were on our way south from Haarlem. Just a couple of hours later we arrived at the Kager Plassen and the little island we had stayed at about a month ago. Since the summer school holidays are about over (most of the schools close in late June or early July and reopen around the first of September), it was quieter than before; mostly retirees on their boats, several doing what we planned; a little painting. Unfortunately, the weather refused to cooperate. It would be mostly sunny in the morning but as the day progressed the clouds would build and Cathy Jo ended up painting in the rain; guaranteed to ruin that fine glossy finish. After a couple of days of that we decided to give up and head for the barn.

Odysseus will spend the long cold winter months in the same marina where we saw it, The Kempers Jachthaven in Kudlestaart. It only took us two hours to reach it from Kaag and by 12:30 we were tied up in a slip, looking at each other asking, "Is that it?" Maybe because we'd just been wandering about Holland with no real goal in mind, we both felt the end of this years cruise to be anticlimactic. We did sit at the table last night surrounded by charts planning next years adventure, however.

We had pulled in on a Saturday and seen some posters for a festival in Aalsmeer, the biggest nearby town (nearby as in about 2km) and on Sunday we stumbled upon the Holland equivalent to the Rose Parade. This is a huge flower growing area, Google Earth shots of Aalsmeer will show acres and acres of greenhouses. The town is also the home of the world biggest flower auction. It turns out that the first weekend in September these "floats" are created, driven up to Amsterdams Olympic Stadium on Saturday, and then back to Aalsmeer for a viewing, similar to what they do for the Rose Parade floats on Jan. 2. These are not nearly as elaborate as the Pasadena floats; a lot more down-home (and dammit, we didn't have the camera) but you might try Googling "Bloemencorso Aalsmeer" and see what comes up.

We were hoping the weather would improve so we could get some of that painting done but no luck so we've rented a car and we're off tomorrow to Cathy Jo's high school stomping grounds in Switzerland. We've just got to see some mountains! Holland is sooooo flat! We'll be on the road for the next 10 days or so, then back here to winterize the boat before heading back to California on the 18th.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Our First Visitors

Saturday morning Cathy Jo went off to the market and I stayed behind to clean up the boat. John and Patti had called from Brussels Friday night to say they would arrive sometime Saturday. We assumed that meant in the afternoon but I got a call about 11 am that they were in Amsterdam and wanted to know where we were. After a couple of phone calls for directions, I met them at the ferry and we had our first visitors. It was great to see them again; after all, they were the ones who got us into this barge thing in the first place! And they pronounced the guest cabin bunks very comfortable, for those of you interested.

For those of you unfamiliar with the back story, we first met the Hardmans way back in the 80's when we lived aboard our sailboat Arrow and they owned a wooden sailboat, Freya. After several years, they moved back to Texas but we kept in touch. Four years ago they bought Capri (see the link to the right) and last spring we spent 10 days with them in the Burgundy region of France. We were hooked! We came back from France, sold the house and now own Odysseus.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Amsterdam, Patti's favorite city.

You just never know what you'll see on the streets of the city. This guy was just sitting in his Cadillac Eldorado on a bridge over a canal with an Italian opera aria blasting out of his radio.

The following day it was more wandering about the city and then over to Uitmarkt (pronounced "outmarkt") which is the kickoff to Amsterdam's winter cultural season. There are booths with information on all of the museums, concert schedules, theater and music events, art exhibitions; just about anything happening anywhere in the country for the next 9 months. There were also several stages with live music and several art exhibits. As we crossed the river from Java Island, just one of the venues scattered throughout Amsterdam, this was the view back.

We couldn't let the Hardmans leave without a boat ride so Monday morning it was off down the Noordzeekanal for a trip back to Haarlem.

We've already been here a couple of times, once by train and later by boat so we were able to give them the grand tour.

I think we've seen about twenty paintings of this Haarlem bridge but none of them have Odysseus in them!

The highlight of this visit, however, was a full concert on the Muller organ in the Grote Kerk. You may remember when we last visited we missed the concert by a day but attended an Evensong Service to hear the organ. This time we got a 90 minute Bach organ mass. What an instrument!

Wednesday morning, John and Patti had to hit the road; they had some stops to make along the way back to France and their return to the states was just days away. We decided to try to get some painting done before we returned to the marina where the boat will lie for the winter so we headed back to Kaagiland and the island where we spent a couple of days about a month ago.

The calendar may still say August but fall is definitely in the air. The temperature really drops at night and when the sun goes behind a cloud (which it does often) the long sleeves come out. Sometimes we forget we're at the same latitude as Newfoundland. We'll try to get some work done anyway. We can see the end of this years adventure approaching.