Our family situation sometimes has me feeling like a sailor from centuries ago who was forced to leave his family every so often to lead another life on the sea. Maybe that’s a little too dramatic. I live in Siena, and take airplanes. I also don’t know a whole lot about boats. I know that good ones tend to float and that wind is fundamental to sailing. I grew up in Denver and if you look at a map of the Denver area, you’ll see that the water available for boating is limited to say the least. Once with Scouts, we spent 5 days on a sailboat south of Florida. Unfortunately, I have completely forgotten anything that I ever learned about sailing. Maybe that knowledge is still down there, somewhere in my subconscious, waiting to be reawakened.
Amsterdam is quite the opposite of Denver and the Netherlands much different from Colorado. The city of Amsterdam is mostly below sea level, and is on a swamp, while Denver sits atop a bone-dry plateau, thousands of kilometers from the ocean. If you dig a hole in the ground in Amsterdam, you won’t find dirt. You’ll get sand, and depending on where you’re digging, you may get a few weird looks. Amsterdam has always been an important port city. Using what might as well be magic to me, the Dutch figured out a way to lock out the ocean with drainage systems and massive dams so that now the water in the canals and the surrounding areas is no longer seawater, but freshwater coming from the Amstel river. What used to be the sea, is now a lake named the Ijsselmeer (very interesting, and mind-blowing wikipedia page for the Ijsselmeer).
Before the Dutch banished the ocean from their city, Amsterdam was subject to regular flooding because of the water-going-downhill problem. Since it’s very beginning the city has always been at odds with the sea. When it wasn’t flooding, Amsterdam was reaping the benefits of it’s strategic location as a port. The Dutch were good, and still are good, at making boats and going all over the world with them and against all odds, they are currently winning their age-old battle with the sea.
I was able to spend the last two weeks of a five-week run of uninterrupted family time in Amsterdam. Sean’s very first trip on a boat was on a trip to the island of Texel, which is on the northern tip of the country. The boat ride only took about 15 minutes and Sean, unimpressed, slept though it. Later in the week he would be exposed to many, many more boats.
Texel is a popular vacation spot for many Dutch people. We had decent weather and rode our bikes all over the island. Marianna was shocked to discover that the experience of beachgoing at the North Sea was tragically less pleasing than what she’s used to on the Mediterranean Sea. The Dutch like to camp along the wind-blown dunes and Marianna looked at their tents in horror. I can relate. Her feelings are similar to those which I feel when people tell me about skiing on Tuscany’s 4,000 foot Monte Amiata. Yes, it’s technically skiing, but it just doesn’t feel right at all. There on the beaches of Texel, I wasn’t as surprised as Marianna because I already have experience with extremely windy beaches that are constantly slammed by a violent, cold ocean having gone to university in Oregon. Whether or not we end up spending more time in Amsterdam, I have a feeling that future trips to the beach will be exclusively reserved for trips back to Italy.
While I was in Amsterdam I was lucky enough to be there during the “Sail” https://www.sail.nl/EN-2015 festival. For one full week it looked like Amsterdam had been invaded by a massive armada of pirate ships. I was totally impressed. Every 5 years, the world’s largest sailboats make their way into the city of Amsterdam and park there for a week. The atmosphere was like what I would expect to find in a city that is hosting the Olympics. There were fireworks every night and thousands of people clambering aboard the ships and along the docks where they were parked. There even is a bridge in Amsterdam that was built specifically to accommodate the boats during the festival.
On the days when the boats sail in and when they sail out there were countless amounts of boats in a space that was miraculously able to contain them all. The scene was total mayhem as everyone in Amsterdam who had something that floats took to the water to watch the towering ships that were once kings of the sea, march proudly through the crowds. Marianna’s colleague invited us onto her husband’s boat to experience the sail-out event on the last day of the festival. We were like an ant among giants, only in the water to make things more dramatic. Here’s a little video of what it looked like. Sean had a great time and at this point he knows just as much as I do about boats. There’s another bonus video here as well that shows the first day sail-in (Thanks to Christopher Webb for the use of his post on youtube). Watch it all the way through to get a feel for just how many people were out on the water.