This city of 150,000 offers a mix of traditional and modern architecture in its downtown area. There are restaurants, bars and cafe’s galore, most of them busy this beautiful Sunday. Meanwhile, huge silos of a defunct factory have been painted by artists in celebration of graffiti art. A break dance competition judged by three people of African origin with a black dude as announcer continues on the other side of the silos. But then it turns weird in a friendly way.
A small boat the size and shape of a grand piano floats by. Live piano player and a live singer maneuver through the harbor. Meanwhile a float with a tower holds a half dozen or so people dressed as coal miners who are then attacked by people in white outfits. Back in the canal an eight armed octopus lifts its arms while moving along, preceded by what looks like mushroom caps, followed by contraptions and what not, some of which would take long descriptions that just won’t communicate the scene adequately, so here are some pictures.
Aside from the costumes, which allure to times ranging from the medieval to the industrial revolution, we were unable to fathom what it all meant, nor did anyone else we talked to other than one participant who said they were preparing for an event next week, suggesting this was all a dress rehearsal. We did indeed watch them towing various platforms with small outboards.
Two other items of interest are the bosche bol, a chocolate covered profiterole filled with real whipped cream, a local treat we are told are produced in the thousands by a local man, and sausage filled rolls. We shared onf of the the former in a dessert and finger food joint around the corner from the mooring. Quite the rich treat with a crunchy bit of chocolate, a thin layer of dough following by the richest cream this side of Ire;and.
This is a watercolor painting of a bridge in Edam. The narrow canal is protected from the Ijsselmeer by a lock. There are 7 bridges. A bridge tender takes you through, biking from one to the next. It’s a lovely place to visit, by boat or otherwise.
Passing through the remaining seven bridges of Edam is a bit of a challenge due to the narrowness of the canal and the ever present wind. At times our boat barely fit between the small bridges. The harbormaster of the day biked from bridge to bridge to open them as we arrived, which helped. Some of the bridges required him to pull down on a rope. The last one or two are machine operated, just requiring the push of a button.
Countryside followed the last bridge, with few boats and just one large barge that came around a curve on our side just past the ferry that was loading passengers. The barge glided past while the ferry waited as both Viking and the barge passed by. Along the way we saw several houses whose front doors were well below.
At Spijkerboor there is an intersection. We took the canal that takes you through or in the canal alongside Lake Alkmaardermeer. There’s an attractive marina with a restaurant in the canal. Dozens of boats were camped, passengers enjoying the sun.
We moored a few hours later in Alkmeer, our second visit by boat to this town. This time we moored for a day in the canal, made choppy with passing boats and frolicking teens spinning their small crafts to make the biggest waves they could manage. We were fortunate to get a spot as there is a medieval festival this weekend, attracting many locals and tourists from afar. The restaurants and bars were packed and the streets narrowed with by the people sitting at the sidewalk tables. Traditional sailing barges and other boats lined the downtown harbor, where we stayed last time.
The next day the crowds thickened. Dressed in medieval garb, with makeup mimicking injuries, burns and various diseases as well, men, women and teens marched through town. Many were in character, displaying mental disorders, and there were a few hunchbacks too. Along came the well to do in fine frocks and Sunday best. Vendors sold traditional foods along the route. I was taken by the apple-cherry pie, which did not last more than a few steps.
The harbormaster moved us off the main canal the next day. We stayed two nights right in front of a restaurant, along with a few other boats. The aromas and chatter lasted well into the night. Aboard it was sausage and sauerkraut for dinner, for lunch a lekkerbek, a deep fried super bland white fish, with a bit of salad and the ever present fries. A friendly Dutch woman explained the ‘beck’ is a word for mouth. I already knew what ‘leeker’ meant. So leekerbeck is ‘like mouth’ as in ‘tasty fish.’ I disagree.
From our lonely spot on the Eem River we cruised into first the Goolmeer, which then becomes the Ijmeer, then the Markemeer, which in turn is the Ijsselmeer, an inland sea that opens to the North Sea. This is all one body of water with sections given these various names. These labels allow you to locate yourself more precisely. Nonetheless when it comes to major floods, such as the one in the mid-1950’s, when the North Sea rose leading to death of many thousands, the sea is the sea and only dikes can keep it at bay.
We picked our day based on the gentleness of the winds. The forecasters got it right. It was sunny, with gentle breezes only, nary a ripple on the surface. It was a beautiful journey at 5 knots (5.5 mph, about 9 km). The most interesting sight along the way was the lighthouse at Monnickendam.
We skipped Monnickendam and Volendam in the hopes of securing a mooring in downtown Edam. Edam is famous for its cheese, and like Alkmaar, for its cheese races during which teams of two carry scads of cheese.
The name comes from the dam on the River IJe where the area was first settled. It was called IJedam, which morphed into Edam. A small lock that helps keep the sea out leads to a small canal which leads to 7 small, low bridges, for which you pay 1.20 euros to pass through.
But what’s the hurry? This town of 8000 is packed with charm. There is a central square. On one side is a typical tall house, leaning a few degrees as happens here when the pilings can’t keep it upright. I imagine all the tables and chair legs are cut so that you can sit flat and not have things roll off the table during dinner. At the square there is a large bricked hump over which you climb to get to the other side of the street. It encapsulates the river Ej. I have seen this unusual feature elsewhere in Holland.
We moored just a short walk from the center, enjoyed some applegebak met slagroom, and took in the culinary and architectural charms.
We have been on Viking for almost a month, making necessary repairs, learning how things work, making it more comfortable for us, going through the previous owner’s tools, nuts, bolts screws, spare parts and so on. We also had some painting to do. Our Dutch friend painted the upper deck for us. His 50 years of experience of steel boat ownership has been really helpful, not just on the painting but a lot of other matters as well. His wife Ada knows a lot too, and helped us recover our mooring skills. In our first boat we traveled over 2000 kilometers between Holland, Belgium and France but that was 18 years ago. We went through hundreds of locks, docked a thousand times or more, but still, you get rusty.
We left Weesp and turned south to the Eem River. This is where we met Kees and Ada on our second night out in Caprice in 2000. That mooring is gone as Eemdijk has grown and looks more prosperous. There is another mooring a bit further upriver so we moored there. There are fields and a bike path on one side and a prosperous farm on the other. A friendly boater helped with the lines, but left later so we spent the night alone under the stars in the relentless Dutch wind.
There are numerous bikers and some walkers as well. If you go to Eemdijk you can take a small ferry across the river into town. That ferry was not here in 2000.
Today we leave for Edam, on the IJsselmeer. This inland sea is rather like Lake Pontchatrain. It can get rough, but you pick your weather. It should be flat today.
The Vecht is a small river that looks to originate near Utrecht, terminating in the IIjmeer. Where we are moored just outside Nederhorst den Berg, a one street town. We are practically in the shadow of an old windmill, probably restored as it appears to be in good condition. There are cows to our left, water birds and fish to our right, and a bike path leading to the town. We are not alone. Kees and Ada are still here and helping out at every opportunity. As we’ve run across several challenges in addition to painting sections of the boat, for which Kees’ 50+ years experience coming in might handy, I have found several leaks, a dead fresh water pump and a few non-working electrical connections plus a bank of nearly kaput batteries.
To get here from Haarlem we took the North Sea Canal past Amsterdam. This canal carries huge vessels and tug boats. Amsterdam is a very busy harbor. There are a dozen or so ferries that transport people across the canal so you have to be vigilant.
Kees and Ada in front of us:
Amsterdam train station:
One of Amsterdam’s more lively bridges:
Here is my first sketch from the boat (digital). Once we get everything working and organized I can return to artistic painting, which I prefer to boat painting, as you might imagine. For one, there are a lot fewer muscle aches from being in odd positions, and there is a lot less scrubbing.
Weesp is not far away as the crow flies. Boats do not fly unless you are in very serious trouble so between the meandering of the river and slowness of the travel, a 30 minute journey takes 90. We made the trip there to have the boat hauled in an effort to find the source of the leak. This turned out to be easier than we feared. A few taps on the keel showed it was not full of water, eliminating the possibility of a keel leak. A through hull fitting looked odd and it turned out to be the problem. Remove it, caulk it, replace the gaskets, and voila! I’d tested the batteries with my volt meter and found them to be well less than 12 volts. I had him test them and he found that all but the starting batteries were knackered. Time for new ones. These are deep cycle marine batteries so they are not cheap but you can not live aboard without them, so in they must go. They weigh 45 kilos so this is a job for more than one man and ones with younger backs than mine.
Haarlem is a small city to the west of Amsterdam, and home to some great friends who are long time boaters. The downtown area is full of so much old world charm you will need to hand on to the nearest bar stool to remain standing. Street food, huge cheese wheels, outdoor seating if the temperature is above freezing and the skies clear. And, of course, a windmill. Once there were many but now they are monuments to a past that to us is the emblem of the the Golden Age in the 17th century in a country that vibrantly into the future.
We did some of our provisioning in town center. One day we carried a small microwave back to the boat in a driving rain. The next time we went it was on our bikes and in the sunny, chilly day. It was a Saturday and the streets were packed! In the photo below note how the girl is standing on the back of the bicycle while her father threads his way pedaling through the crowd. The Dutch have amazing bicycle skills. On another occasion two girls riding next to me shared a bike, the passenger holding an open umbrella. They carry kids while talking on the phone and balancing a 2 x 4. I think I am moving along quite well on my 21 speed, but then comes a tall blond woman in a rickety old one speed who passes me like I am standing still.
We are on our way to more rural areas. More from there.
Palermo has many charms, starting with the friendly people, continuing with the superb church art and architecture, many lovely parks and piazzas, opera, and a ton of diverse history. To these charms add the Greek temples in Arigento and Selinunte, Erice, Siracusa, Noto and other destinations not far away, and you have a location of major interest to both short and long-term visitors.
Palermo would be a much lovelier city if they could do a better job in the non-tourist areas where they are dreadfully inept at trash removal and street cleaning. There are some buildings in need of demolition or renovation, and exterior cleaning, but given the size and age of the city I am less concerned with those big dollar projects than the daily need to clean up. There is chronic labor unrest, and substandard buildings from the 70’s and 80’s that accompanied the depopulation of rural Sicily. That Sicily largely disabled the Mafia is a vast credit, and it honors those heroes, but corruption of a less invasive type is still an issue. My sense is that with a big push on the clean up Palermo could be a mighty fine place to live given its location, climate, and rich heritage, and while that alone would not solve the other matters, it would cure a lingering source of discontent.
We are near Giardino Inglese. To get there we walk on a few less than well maintained streets, along which you pass some fabulous bakeries and pastry shops, and at least two good restaurants we’ve been to, one being Ristorante di Diego which we enjoyed last Saturday night. Once you get to the parks, you are in a different world – tranquil, clean, beautiful. You might think you crossed a vast ocean between one place and another given the sharp contrasts.
Palermo was heavily bombed in WW2. You can still see some of the effects around the port. However tere are many palaces in good to excellent condition that are hundreds of years old, and you can pay to see some. Baroque architecture is common, especially among the churches. The Arabo-Norman style is unique to Palermo. See my post on the Palazzon Normani
The main street, Via Liberta, is pedestrian only on weekends, from near us down to the center. This makes for tranquil strolling and leisure gazing at the buildings, shops and fast food places along the way. You smell the barbecue wafting from the Ballaro street market. Here, all roads and, as a result all paragraphs, lead to a place to eat.
Palermo is not a top tier city when it comes to art museums. Given its size, around 800,000 people, that is neither surprising nor unusual. There is a very good archaeology museum, the Regional Archeological Museum Antonio Salinas, and there is at least one dig you can visit, Necropoli Punica , taking you back a few thousand years. There are two modern art museums. Neither have the resources for major foreign expositions. You see some of the more well-known Sicilian artists from the 19th c and some of the contemporary artists as well.
From the Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Della Sicilia at the Palazzo Riso:
Check out my posts on several of the more famous churches.
In 1956 the Sicilian Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote a novel called Il Gattopardo, The Leopard. It was published in 1958, after his death. The book won the 1959 Strega Prize, Italy’s highest award for fiction. In 2012 the Observor named the book one of the best 10 historical novels. It’s the story of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, the author’s great-grandfather and his response to the Risorgamiento, the effort that unified Italy. Garibaldi and his 1000 soldiers in landed in Sicily in 1860 to bring the island into the fold. Corbera, the last in a line of minor princes, finds that he has to choose between upper class values and the changing times. To go along with the latter ironically meant more influence for the family. His nephew Tancredi, who joined Garibaldi, put it thus: “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” In the end Sicily’s ruling class joined the new Italy, setting aside centuries of Spanish rule.
In 2000 we met Gigi, Tomasi’s great-nephew. He was then in the process of writing a novel. He needed someone to help him write it in English. This was more than normal editing, as although he spoke English quite well, writing is another matter and often not easy to do even for native speakers. Peg took on the task. This led to stay in Sicily for 3 weeks.
We lodged in his family’s turn of the century residence outside Modica, a charming town whose houses line a steep gorge. His house was out in the flatter area however. His wife Marina was there with us as well. Marina was friendly and a very good cook as well. We had dinner with them most nights. I learned to make onions in bread crumbs with garlic, oregano and basil. She made pasta Palermitana, which here in Palermo they are calling pasta sarde, pasta with sardines, and which are very popular. She sauteed fresh sardines, then she added bread crumbs before mixing in the cooked pasta. Marina had a German Shepherd she’d rescued off the street. He had a wild-eyed look to him, like he was deciding if he would let you pass or attack, though he never even growled. She called him simply ‘Cane, ‘ ‘Dog.’ We had a whole apartment to ourselves, on the second floor, with its own kitchen, to give you an idea of the size of the place.
It was in the month of July. When Peg was not working we drove around in Gigi’s Renault 8. They have a dashboard mounted 4 speed manual transmission. It was old and the shifter clunky, but always ran. It was fun to drive such a French car. With it we went to a burial site dating to something like 4000 BCE, a Roman theater, stopped when we saw fig trees by the side of the road ripe with fruit, appearing to belong to no one. We ate fresh tuna in out-of-the-way places and well-known ones such as Noto. Tuna is plentiful that time of year when they run the straits between Sicily and Malta on their way to the cooler waters of the Atlantic. Siracusa is an ancient Greek city in an island with many, with churches built using Roman era marble columns. There is both a theater and an oracle, the oracle now just a cave, not far from town. I took the ferry to Malta, imaging the voyages of Ulysses and the Carthaginians along the way, just an hour and a half on the sea.
In one double take moment I saw a boy and a girl walking ahead of us. They looked just like my brother and the older of my sisters at that age. Unlike me, they are 100% Sicilian, not that all Sicilians look alike. Even in my own family there are vast differences. Zio Matteo, my mother’s half-brother, was blond and blue-eyed, although his hair was gray by the time of my earliest memories. He taught me to use a knife and fork, European style, right hand for the knife, left for the fork. In those days I think they did not allow for lefties. In fact the teachers, nuns I believe, forced her to write with her right hand. Lefties were somehow devils.
Gigi and Marina took us often to a bar in the mornings, one known for their coffee granitas topped with thick whipped cream. We went to a friend’s house one evening. They grilled veggies for the bruscheta (‘ch’ in Italian is a hard ‘k’ sound, so it is pronounced ‘brusKeta’) on great Italian bread. There was pasta and wine, and a secondi, either meat or fish. The food was endless, the conversation in Italian mostly, some of which we could follow with our combination of Spanish, French and a book called “Italian Made Simple.”
As far as we know, Gigi never published his book. Peg said he was rewriting her edits, which she then had to edit. She concluded he could finish it in English. Maybe he wrote it Italian. I read a short story he wrote. It was quite good. A yacht owner took his large boat into the Med with a group of friends. He let his regular captain take the day off. They all dove off the boat to enjoy the lovely waters. However they forgot to lower the ladder beforehand and found they could not get back on the boat. Everyone drowned.
We flew back to Rome from Catania, flying over the isle of Stromboli. It’s a volcano, cone is long gone, with signs of life rising from its depths.