Almost four years ago, after sadly waving goodbye to good friends we had met sailing, I wrote in my Salty Tales blog:
“That’s the thing about cruising, there are always too many goodbyes but then, when, and often where, you would least expect it you have delightful and unexpected reunions.”
Well never a word more truly spoken! Two of the friends we had waved goodbye to on that occasion, Annemieke and Gerrit from Fruits de Mer, have recently returned to the Netherlands after completing their circumnavigation. By coincidence we are also in the Netherlands staying with our daughter who is now a resident there, having met the love of her life, Pieter, in Bulgaria (that’s another story!)
Our reunion was as delightful as predicted- we met at Annemieke and Gerrit’s home town of Dronten just a couple of hours train ride from where we had been staying with our daughter and partner.
None of us could have guessed when we said goodbye in Langkawi, Malaysia in 2016 that we would next meet in the Netherlands and our daughter would be engaged to a Dutchman!
Annemieke and Gerrit made us so welcome in their lovely home and gave us a genuine “Dutch experience” from start to finish.
We had always had plenty to talk about with Annemieke and Gerrit on the 2015 Sail to Indonesia Rally – sailing of course, but also about politics, books, social issues, family matters, the arts and just life in general. Nothing had changed in the intervening years – we hardly stopped talking for four days (despite the last vestiges of colds for the others and a scratchy throat signalling the start of one for me!)
Annemieke had been highly organised (as only the Dutch can be, believe me, as a nation they are so systematic and super efficient) and precooked two typical Dutch dinners so she could produce a meal within minutes of coming home from our adventures in the northern part of the Netherlands.
On the day of our arrival we went for a walk around the quiet golf course estate they live on after a very Dutch lunch of bread and a large variety of cold meats and cheese and buttermilk (yogurty tasting milk – literally the liquid left after butter has been churned) to drink.
The following day we headed for Lelystad, about 20 kms from Dronten. Lelystad, founded in 1967, lies on reclaimed land (as does Dronten) and is named after Cornelis Lely who engineered the Afsluitdijk (enclosure dam), making the reclamation possible. The dam serves as a sea barrier to protect the inland against flooding.
The highlight of the visit to Lelystad was the opportunity to wander through the fantastic reproduction of the doomed vessel Batavia, flagship of the Dutch East India Company which was wrecked off the coast of West Australia in 1629.
The replica was the brainchild of master shipwright Willem Vos who guided the project, using original materials and traditional methods, from its inception in 1985 until its launch in 1995.
Clambering over this authentic restoration we could imagine how hard life on board would have been in the 17th century and how tough you would have to have been to survive on board.
We were also given a tour of the shipyard which was instructive and interesting – especially the sail loft where the very chatty sailmaker was making repairs to the Batavia’s largest sail and told us all about the traditional materials, how they were grown and processed, and lots of other things besides.
We also enjoyed watching the blacksmith at work in his forge making all sorts of essential items used in traditional boat building.
After a great visit we drove to Enkhuizen, a picturesque village about a half an hour’s drive away from Lelystad. The route took us over the Houtribdijk dam which separates the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer (meer in Dutch means lake). The Markermeer was intended to become reclaimed land like the Flevopolder on which Dronten is situated but this didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.
For lunch we had something totally new to us – soused herrings – fresh raw herring ripened in brine in oak barrels (Maatjes in Dutch), eaten with raw onions. It was almost like eating sashimi and was absolutely delicious! We also had some fish in breadcrumbs and some delicious smoked eel. A lunch to remember.
Another highlight of our reunion was a visit the next day to the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Hope Veluwe National Park in Otterlo about an hour south of Annemieke and Gerrit’s home.
The beautifully designed gallery is set in the most glorious surroundings and houses the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world.
The museum also has a huge display of fascinating works by Picasso, Mondrian, Renoir, Seurat, Gaugin, Leger, Henry Moore and many others. There is also a sculpture garden that we didn’t get to see as we had a booking to look round the St. Hubertus Hunting Lodge that the Kröller-Müller’s had built only for occasional visits but where fate dictated that they ended up living.
Helene Kröller-Müller, an avid art collector, donated her entire collection to the Netherlands State when her and her husband’s business was in trouble as a result of the Great Depression. The museum opened in 1938.
The tour of the lodge, which was designed by the prominent architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage, was interesting but limited to just a few rooms on the ground floor.
On our final day we visited Schokland a fascinating spot which used to be a peat island surrounded by the Zuiderzee (South Sea). Life on the island was extremely tough and by the 19th century it was under continuous threat of flooding due to the rise in sea levels.
In 1859 the government decided to end permanent settlement on Schokland and the population was moved off. Then in 1942 it ceased to be an island when the Noordoostpolder was reclaimed from the sea.
The reclamation left many fascinating artefacts that are now displayed in the very well laid out museum on what was the island.
Our last stop before leaving our friends was at the fabulous orchid farm in Luttelgeest. It was like going into another world – not only one with beautiful blooms but also fish, animals such as marmosets, birds and butterflies, waterfalls, caves and bridges.
Sadly we had to leave to catch our train back to our temporary home in Pijnacker. It had been a wonderful reunion and a splendid reminder that there is much to see and do outside of that tired tourist magnet of Amsterdam and it’s nearby tulip fields.
It was also a timely reminder that although cruising on a sailboat can mean many sad goodbyes, “when, and often where, you would least expect it you have delightful and unexpected reunions.”