I had the good fortune to spend this weekend in Amsterdam with my sister, her partner, their baby and a few friends. It was King’s Day weekend.
Starting on Thursday, the buzz around this quaint city filled the streets as people got ready for the evening’s shenanigans to come – marking out with tape the areas on the pavements where people were not allowed to park, hanging orange bunting and balloons from every available corner and ceiling, and of course the Dutch flag flying proudly wherever one looked.
That night, bands were on stages dotted along the canals and streets to serenade us throughout the night, while we wandered the food stalls for a tasty bite, and all we could find were chips and fat-dripping sausages on a rotisserie machine. And beer. Lots of beer.
And of course marijuana. The beautiful scent of ganja filling your nasal passages – and hopefully entering your system somewhat passively, whilst you sway to the music and slug back the beer, laughing out loud at all that you hear.
The next day I met a friend who lives on a boat in one of the Amsterdam marinas.
I’ve been on boats before – I stayed on a hotel boat in Stockholm, have been on speed and traditional boats in Bali, kayaked and canoed both on river and sea in various places in Europe, travelled on ferries with a car from the UK, taken a boat across Lake Geneva, man-handled a small power boat around the canals of Amsterdam, and fished from a steel dinghy not far from Nyköpping. I’ve never been on an old patrol boat before though – fully equipped with kitchen, living space, toilet and shag pad, or that was how I referred to the area in the bow of the ship which had been fitted out into a snug double bed area, with a proector overhead for night time movie viewing. My friend definitely has style, to say the least! The mirrored ball and flashing disco lights were the only things missing.
We took the boat out – Birljnn was her name.
I’ve never cast off before, and don’t know how to tie any knots – except in my shoelaces. I stayed clear till I was asked to do something – best way in my experience, especially as I learn by watching and assisting where I can. We manouevered our way out of the dock, my friend guiding at the helm, and I, with a boat hook at the stern, prepared at any point to push us away from other more fragile boats at dock.
We chugged out of the marina, towards the main shipping and cruising lanes of Amstedam’s waterways. Dance, reggae, hip hop, Dutch balads – all sorts of music reached us from the shoreline, and other boats crossing the busy waters. People danced, and sang, waved, drank, shouted, and laughed – some even peed off the back of the boats on which they were celebrating, though for the ladies they weren’t afforded such notions…
We travelled across to where the main thoroughfare of the river funneled into the famous Amsterdam canals (grachts), giving the city it’s semi circle shape. The narrow cobbled streets lined the canals up above, wonky and tilted houses running either side, and intermittent thoroughfares where bridges and dinky streets crossed, cycles, people, cars, mopeds and boats seemingly collided, before righting their paths again. People, the colour orange and music were everywhere.
And there was no way either my friend or I fancied entering that carnage!
It’s the second time my friend has taken his boat out – he had purchased her only that week, so he was still getting the feel of her. Did I mention the boat weighs about 10 tonnes? Hardly something easy to handle in tight winding canals filled to the brim with merry Dutch, as well as the immense stream of tourists which had flocked to the city for the occasion.
We made our way back to the marina where we docked again – all was calm. The sun was already setting. It was quiet in the marina, the noise of the party in the distance. The still water lapped against the boat, which gently rolled on the waves as we moved around inside. The skies opened and it began to rain.
What a pleasant day on the water.
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