Our last blog about Haarlem was the day that we boarded the River Empress for our 8 day cruise of the Netherlands. We dropped our luggage off in the morning and spent most of the day in Haarlem.
Back on board, we met up with Bobbie and Dave, friends from Tennessee. We met them on a cruise in 2013. We entertained them in Sydney in 2016 and have always kept in touch. When they heard we were taking this cruise, they decided to join us. Good fun Democrats who desperately change the topic if the "T" name is mentioned.
Overnight we cruised across a vast "lake" to the far north. Friesland is fiercely independent. There may only be around 650,00 of them, however their schools teach, Frisian, Dutch and English and they live with the reality that the majority of their children will leave for Amsterdam or elsewhere for a University education and rarely return to live.
Frisian is not a dialect of Dutch, as is the case with most of the provinces. It's a 1,500+ year old language, similar to old English. The Angles and Saxons possibly introduced it to Friesland and then took it on to Britain.
So what about this connection with Old English? It goes back at least 1,400 years. The English king Ethelbert oversaw the establishment of the so-called Kentish laws, the first laws that we know of written in any Germanic language. The Kentish Laws are the oldest surviving documents in Old English.
Medievalist scholar Han Nijdam of the Frisian Academy in the Netherlands has studied both these, and a similar set of laws written in Old Frisian. There are sections that deal with compensation for acts of violence — eye-gouging, nose-piercing ("one nostril or two") and beard-burning. "The list goes on and on," says Nijdam. The offenses and the punishments are remarkably similar in the two sets of documents. The language too. The words for "hairpulling" for example are almost identical in Old English and Old Frisian.
Our port was Lemmer, however we hardly spent any time there as our ultimate destination was Giethoorn.
The guide says "Giethoorn, is a typically Dutch village in Overijssel. You can see how the Dutch love to live with and on the water. In an environment full of lakes, reed beds and forests lies this picturesque village with its many handsome farms with thatched roofs and characteristic wooden bridges."
Giethoorn was established as a settlement of peat harvesters. Peat cutting created ponds and lakes, and people built houses on the islands between them. As a result, access was only possible by bridge or using traditional Giethoorn boats, so-called punters - narrow boats pushed along using a long pole by a punteraar.
Basically, each house sits on its own island with bridges connecting them. Originally they grazed cattle on each of their own islands and had a boat that cruised the canals collecting the traditional "milk cans"; no different to ours in Australia.
Now they are worth millions and are residences only. How they put up with summer with tens of thousands of tourists cruising the canals past their front doors I have no idea.
Known in the Netherlands as the "Venice of the North," the picturesque Giethoorn is a town with nary a road to be found. Instead, more than four miles of canals run through this rural village.
First settled by Franciscan monks in the 13th century, Giethoorn initially served as part of a large nature reserve. The canals, which the monks had dug for transporting peat, are only about one meter deep.
The peat developed after the last ice age. When the temperature rose and the ice melted, large wetlands arose where water was and shore plants grew. In the acid and oxygen-depleted water the plants died and over the centuries they formed a thick layer of peat. In the Middle Ages they knew that dredged and dried peat could serve as fuel: this was called "Turf". For centuries peat extraction was their main livelihood. The peat was dredged in long strokes, parallel to a narrow strip where the peat mud dried. The mud strips were called "ribs" or "legakkers'. In the early days of peat extraction, they were so narrow that in a violent storm they were washed away. This created large puddles, found in "De Wieden", part of the National Park .
Peat extraction until 1920 continued to be of great significance for the region. Then the usable peat ran out and peat extraction was unprofitable. The local population gradually switched to reed and hay management.
Currently, Giethoorn is home to less than 3,000 people, most of whom reside in private islands. The loudest sound, according to the village's tourism site, is typically a quacking duck.
The main means of transportation through the canals are via a canoe, kayak, or whisper boat (aptly named for its silent motor that doesn't disrupt the peace). Even the postman uses a boat to deliver the mail.
All of the canals are quite narrow, and there are also many wooden foot bridges to cross them. There are also numerous cycling and walking paths — and the easily-frozen water routes make for prime skating in the winter.
The best thing to do in Giethoorn "is to chill and admire the canals," the tourism site notes. You can also rent a giant inflatable ball that you can climb inside and "walk" around the water paths.
I guess the owners of the island houses own many of the tourist activities, so they put up with the disruption.
Our cruise was early in the morning before any other tourists had arrived, so it was fairly quiet. We travelled on narrow boats crewed by locals. We just had the one skipper and as almost all of the people on this cruise are American, he had a field day. Not only paid by Uniworld to take us, they received tips from them. The Italians apparently call it a "stupidity tax". I calculated he must have collected around 40euro for a 1 ½ hour cruise on top of his fee from Uniworld.
Thirty minutes into the cruise, the heavens opened up and we were forced to put down the side windows and try to photograph through the raindrops.
We were the last to surrender and close the window, so I ended up sharing my photographs with others. Our guide claimed that it was the worst downpour he'd experienced in a long while and we had to wait in the canal before venturing onto the lake to work our way around to another canal to return to base.
We passed boatloads of people who had hired them for access to holiday houses on island in the lake. They were pulled up alongside island banks and were bailing water out of them and wringing out their sodden clothing.
If you think you've seen impressive Hydrangeas, think again. Everywhere we travel in the Netherlands but particularly here in Giethoorn, the colours and depth of colours are astounding. The name kinda gives it away; Hydra …. Water. These plants thrive on water and the Netherlands isn't short of water. As a garden plant, they soak up the water and keep the lawns relatively firm.
The towns own website has the best description so even though it repeats ome of what I have written, it's worth reading. Get this in the first paragraph … they have I,000,000 million visitors a year. I'm guessing most of these are in just three or four months. I also like the last paragraph. Why do they need to advise us that the closest coffee shop is 10 minutes' drive away? I mean, there are cafes there that serve coffee ….. however they don't sell cannabis. Cannabis is sold legally in "coffee shops", but they don't sell coffee.
Giethoorn village, the most beautiful and fairytale village in the Netherlands. The Dutch village where the inhabitants can only sail around, walk or cycle to transport themselves. Every year, 1 million people visit Giethoorn. Partly for this reason, we as a group of residents created this website. So, you can visit our village well prepared.
We would like to introduce our village to you as locals. Our small village, is located in the Northeastern part of the Netherlands, approx. 85 mins drive from Amsterdam, our capital city. Yearly around 1 million people from all over the world come to visit our town of ''no roads'', this puts Giethoorn in the top 10 attractions in the Netherlands. Our village is of course well known in the Netherlands but also far beyond. This means it would be difficult to name a country, where nobody from that country, has not visited the Dutch ''Venice of the Netherlands''. Giethoorn has many nicknames. For example:
The part of our village that most (foreign) tourists will see when they visit us is called: ''Giethoorn village''. This part of our village contains hand-dug canals and all small islands which are inter connected by 176 bridges to the mainland. In fact, on all these islands, there are houses (farmhouses) which are built in the 18th and 19th centuries. A walking/cycling path named: 'Binnenpad' runs right trough this area. Tourist shops and restaurants (which are well represented) are interspersed with typical Dutch houses with thatched roofs.
Dutch village without roads
Giethoorn village has no roads in the center. So of course, no roads means also no cars. Visitors and residents of Giethoorn village need to park their car outside the village at special car parks. This car-free area is the commercial heart of our village. You can rent whisper boats, board a guided cruise or visit a museum here, along with lots of choices of restaurants and cafes. This cycling/foot path known as the 'Binnenpad' is like walking on to a film set.
We live in the social media era. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to wait for your turn to get that perfect picture of that roof thatched house. As everyone knows, it is vitally important to impress all your social media friends your holiday photos. For this reason, the village of Giethoorn is the our favorite of all the picturesque Dutch villages. Get inspired by our instagram account.
Venice of the North
All these roof thatched houses in the Venice of the North are often surrounded by deep green well-kept lawns with beautiful flowering hydrangeas. So, in combination with the many waterways with rows of weeping willows along the canals and the 176 bridges you easily imagine yourself in a romantic fairy tale. However, it is important to remember this town without streets, is one of the top-10 tourist locations in Netherlands. In other words, you are never alone when you visit the Venice of Netherlands.
There is no coffeshop in Giethoorn. This nearest coffeeshop is located in Steenwijk. Steekwijk is 10 minutes by car from our village.