Friesland Finale

This will be our third and final post (for now) about the wonderful province of Friesland in the Netherlands. Last time, we talked about our stay in Bolsward and our visit to the delightful fishing village of Hindeloopen. Now we will venture forth to the towns of Workum and Sneek. As with Bolsward and Hindeloopen, they too were filled with lovely historic architecture, waterways, drawbridges, and happy, fit, contented Dutch people.

St. Gertrudiskerk

The town of Workum is surrounded by water and meadows with traditional Dutch windmills dotting the landscape as they turn in the sea breeze. The newer, less pretty windmills are also sprouting up but I guess that’s progress. Workum’s a very pleasant place that was, until the early eighteenth century, a busy seaport. It has a nice little main street with a few shops that seem to cater to tourists and seafaring types. There is a quaint little square where St Gertrudiskerk, Friesland’s largest medieval church, stands with its prominent massive bell tower. It is quite a small town, although there is a lot worth seeing. We were able to walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes, and we were taking our time. We spent a little extra time strolling around the boat docks and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine before we hit the road for Sneek.

A typical waterfront scene

As opposed to Workum, Sneek (pronounced “snake,” like the reptile) is a bustling city filled with wonderful historic neighborhoods and plenty of places to shop or pop in for a bite and a tasty Dutch beer. When most people think of Dutch beer, their world-famous light lagers tend to spring to mind. But The Netherlands has a rich brewing tradition and produces many varieties that compare favorably with those of Belgium, their near neighbor. Sneek is generally considered to be the tourist capital of Friesland. They are extremely proud of their heritage and have a superb museum dedicated to the area’s nautical history. The Fries Scheepvaart Museum chronicles the maritime history of the area. There is something for everyone. Ship models, paintings, maps, navigational devices, weaponry, globes, and more can be seen. It’s well worth a visit even if you are strictly a landlubber.

Rush hour

You need to be patient when crossing streets while wandering in a city like Sneek, where the canals compete with the roads for transportation. We found ourselves quite often surrounded by pedestrians and bicyclists waiting at intersections because the oncoming traffic was from boats that required the raising of a drawbridge. Not exactly something you

The Water Gate

see in downtown Los Angeles. The heaviest water traffic stops took place near the double towered Rijksmonument Waterpoort (Water Gate). It looks like a castle with a bridge that goes across the canal. It’s also a great place to take photos and watch the local version of rush hour. We stood there amazed as we watched residents in little motorboats transporting their bags of groceries home in the back of their launches.

The tourist information office has come up with a slightly off-kilter and amusing video on their site to promote Friesland and Sneek. It’s worth

The long road home

watching. It feels a bit like a cross between Money Python and a Dutch version of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a quirky stream of consciousness, narrated by someone who sounds like he picked up a pack of smokes in Amsterdam before his recording session. Be sure to check it

out at Even if you never plan to visit Friesland, you should watch their tourism video. Just click on the ‘play’ icon that shows a winsome lass in a skimpy bikini leaning forward on a horse. Need I say more? Actually, it’s all rather clever and informative. These are people who know how to poke a little fun at themselves.

A street (?) scene in Sneek

The pace of life in that part of the country is worth trying to emulate. Everywhere we went, locals were just enjoying life. All the towns we visited were so clean, you could eat off the cobblestones. Whole families were out riding their bikes together and nary a helmet on anyone. Wherever we looked, there was no trash, no graffiti, no excessive piercings, and no visible tattoos on any of the very well-scrubbed young people. In the evening everyone would be out drinking coffee or having a meal in an outdoor café while a singer performed for the customers and anyone else within earshot. We both agreed that we wanted this life, if only we wouldn’t have to speak Dutch. The Dutch language is very closely related to English and as we pointed out previously, the Frisian variety is even closer. If you close your eyes and ignore the actual words, it even sounds a lot like English—that is if English were being spoken in a parallel universe, and backwards, using random words. But just about everyone we encountered spoke English nearly as well as we did, and they were invariably very friendly. We loved every moment of our visits to Friesland and we plan to spend even more time exploring this marvelous region.



A Day in Hindeloopen

Following on from last week’s post, we’re going to stay in Friesland in the tiny village of Hindeloopen. It almost sounds like the something the doctor would conclude after he looks inside your mouth and asks you to say, “Ahh!”

Main Street
Main Street

Hindeloopen is actually an often overlooked fishing village of about 800 residents on the IJsselmeer in the Netherlands. In former times, the IJsselmeer (pronounced approximately Ice-ul-mair) was the Zuiderzee, a shallow bay of the North Sea, teeming with fish and providing a nice living for this picturesque little village. Then in 1932, an 18-mile wide dam was built across the mouth of the bay, creating the largest freshwater lake in western Europe. In the warmer months the breezy lake is filled with parasailers and sailboats. Sheep appear to be the next largest group of inhabitants. They can be seen laying on the dykes watching all the water sports and happily munching on huge swaths of what looked like the

Sun and fun on the IJsselmeer

perfect shade of green grass. Wool seems to be a major industry here, along with black and white dairy cows that dot the landscape everywhere. In the winter, ice skating is a popular activity and the locals use the many canals that crisscross the village to skate on when it’s cold enough. This has been such way of life that there is a small museum dedicated to the town’s ice skating legacy and it’s well worth a visit.

There was a special art and culture day happening on one of the days we visited. Vendors were set up throughout the streets spinning and dying wool and demonstrating various traditional crafts. The merchants sold everything from hand-knitted sweaters and scarves to hand-carved wooden items and jewelry. Many locals were decked out in their traditional folk costumes. It was a rare treat for us.

The whole family out on the town

Speaking of traditional crafts, Hindeloopen is also known for its distinctive style of furniture painting. Its colorful and intricate designs are

The Zweeds

among my favorites. I was able to renew an old acquaintance with Harman Zweed, a local painter who has since retired. I have purchased several of Mr. Zweed’s painted items on past visits. He and his wife are lovely people and they posed for some photos in their shop dressed in their traditional finery.

Pannekoeken is a wonderful restaurant where you can grab a table outside and sit along the canal. They specialize in sweet and savory paper thin pancakes (crepes) served up in a large skillet. It makes for a delightful lunch. We were entertained by a few of the local sparrows that perched on our hands when tempted with a bit of pancake. The restaurant and ice skating museum are owned by the Bootsma family which includes Gauke and Gretha Bootsma along with their three grown children Pieter, Gretel, and Hendrika. Attached to the restaurant is a magnificent store filled with furniture painted by Gauke and Pieter in the workshop in the attic. I defy anyone to go through the store without purchasing some treasure to take home. This particular style of painting is unique to Hindeloopen. Many of the traditional local artists are gone or have retired, so it’s wonderful to see the next generation keep this cherished legacy going.

Whenever we’re in town, there’s one place we try not to miss. It’s an antique barn which is always filled to the rafters with tons of neat stuff. We LOVE this place and always make a stop. It has a little bit of everything and there’s no way to see it all. There’s a very steep staircase (these seem to be a specialty in the Netherlands) that you must climb to see all the other bits and pieces on the upper floor. This is done at your own risk but it’s worth it to see all the treasures. When it’s time to descend the stairs you have to walk down as if you are a ballerina in first position with each foot pointing as far out as possible on each narrow tread. We scored an 86” wide vintage hanging schoolhouse map of Europe in Dutch that was dangling from the attic beams (our bravery climbing those stairs paid off). We were able to buy it for a paltry 50 Euros. Now it hangs in our bedroom on the one wall in our house that’s tall and wide enough. We got an added bonus on one visit to the barn. When we asked the proprietor if he spoke English, he told us “of course!” Then he gave us a lesson on the close connection between English and Frisian, pointing out a number of words that are either very similar or exactly the same in the two tongues. A little research after the fact revealed that Frisian actually is the most closely related language to English and that linguists group the two together in the Anglo-Frisian language group. So the next time that comes up when you’re playing Trivial Pursuit, you can thank us.

There's treaure buried in here
There’s treasure buried in here

Hindeloopen may have an odd sounding name but you will not be sorry to visit this charming fishing village. Enjoy the scenery, the people, the history, and you just might get invited to have lunch with some of the local birds.

A Different Bit of The Netherlands

Many people tend to use Holland and The Netherlands interchangeably, even some people who live there. But North Holland and South Holland are just two of the twelve provinces that make up The Netherlands. We have traveled pretty widely from one end of the country to the other but the province that keeps drawing us back doesn’t seem to be on most peoples’ itineraries. When we point the car north, it seems like more often than not, we wind up in Friesland (or Fryslân in the local West Frisian dialect). I think it’s because more than any other province, Friesland seems to capture for us the essence of Dutch life. It’s a little more relaxed than its southerly neighbors and it really allows us to leave the outside world behind, in a way that very few places do.

Evening in Bolsward

Friesland really lends itself to touring by car, provided you are not in a rush. The roads are very well maintained and it’s easy to get nearly anywhere quickly. But the entire region is crisscrossed with canals, and they aren’t just for decoration. It’s not at all unusual to wait for several minutes as a drawbridge is raised to allow a boat (or two, or three) to pass. But the scenery is uniformly pleasant and if you’re in a hurry, you would probably be more inclined to a weekend in Amsterdam anyway.

For our last couple of visits, we have chosen the charming town of Bolsward as our base of operations. It’s central and very accommodating to visitors. We stay at Het Weeshuis (, a very

The town hall at dusk

pleasant hotel located in the Kerkstraat in a historic orphanage dating back to 1553. The rooms are large and comfortable, and it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the beautiful, friendly town center. The proprietors, Mylan and Manon Lin, are a young couple and he is a talented chef, always taking advantage of local produce at the peak of freshness. It is worth your while to book a table for dinner for at least one evening of your stay. The menu is fixed for each evening and it’s a very nice dining experience indeed.

A five-minute stroll will take you to the heart of the old town, where the impressive city hall (completed 1617) stands at one end of the town square with the Hotel/Restaurant De Wijnberg at the other. A canal bisects the square, with shops and restaurants lining either side. The railings next to the canal were festooned with flower boxes overflowing with colorful cascades of blooms. The emphasis here is on relaxed. Local families looking like they just stepped out of a tourism brochure, can be seen enjoying the evening air. Norman Rockwell would be hard pressed to portray a more idealized looking family group. Several times we noticed that shopkeepers would sometimes step out for a quick bite without bothering to lock up or even move their wares in from the sidewalk. It was a very nice change.

A stroll into town

One experience really underlined the relaxing, low-pressure nature of the place. We set out early one morning in our Honda Odyssey to explore some of the nearby sights. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn and found myself driving the wrong way down a one-way street. But this wasn’t just any one-way street. To my left was a canal, with tiny little parking spaces for local residents. To my right, pretty gabled brick houses left no room at all. Of course, someone turned into the street coming in the other direction. I was clearly in the wrong here. I couldn’t go forward and I wasn’t sure I could back up without smashing something. I had visions of the other driver jumping out of his car and yelling at me for being the goof-up that I very clearly was. Instead, without missing a beat, he whipped into one of the impossibly small parking spaces that I had assumed was not big enough to accommodate a Smart Car. Then he smiled broadly and signaled me to proceed, waving as I went by as if he was expecting us to stop by for a beer later. What had looked like a very stressful start to the day turned out to be one more exercise in slowing down and relaxing. It set just the right tone for a pleasant day in this least stressful part of The Netherlands.

The “Kerk” in Kerkstraat

I had intended to cover more ground in this post but I’m afraid I got pleasantly lost in Bolsward. In a future post (or posts), we’ll look at a few other places, such as Sneek and Hindeloopen.

Die Wasp, Die!

Well, it finally happened. After all these years—59 to be exact—I was stung by a wasp. Not just any wasp, but a house guest. Air conditioning is just about nonexistent here in Europe and another rarity is the window screen. In the summertime we find ourselves, swatters in hand, doing our best to escort flying insects across the “rainbow bridge.” This is clearly also a problem for the Germans, who have come up with a very handy little gadget to address the issue. It looks kind of like a badminton racket, only the strings have been replaced with a metal mesh. Pop in a couple of AA batteries, and presto! You become a human bug zapper. The brief flash followed by a faint whiff of smoke gives me a certain feeling of vengeance that I never knew I was capable of. Trust me, I’m bringing a couple of these babies back to the States with me.

They rolled out the yellow carpet for us

We noticed several weeks back that along with the hot summer weather, we seemed to have a lot of wasps in the house. Not just flying around, but actual carcasses on the floor. We were even more perplexed when we returned from four days away in France recently. We had closed up all the windows before we left but as we walked up the stairs, it looked like the remnants of a terrible wasp battle that both sides had lost. There in front of us were 50 or so dead wasps. We found out from our landlord that there might have been a slight problem a while back with wasps entering in the house through a small access point on the top floor. Well, the cooler temperatures are now arriving, and this pesky little problem is more or less behind us. But it did not happen soon enough for me and one of the little buggers hid inside a nightgown. OUCH! I found out rather quickly that yes, wasp stings really do hurt. Luckily, I don’t need an Epi-Pen fix since I’m not allergic. But the whole affair certainly made me happy to see Fall arrive. Nevertheless, I have my handy-dandy zapper at the ready if I need it.

A sampling of the local wildlife

We celebrated the arrival of autumn by going downtown to shop on a Sunday. Traditionally, you can only do this twice a year, as the stores are all closed. However, with the arrival of Spring and once again at the

Shells and spices to bring in the Fall
Shells and spices to bring in the Fall

beginning of Fall, the doors are flung open on Sunday so that people can better prepare for the coming cold (or warm) weather. Not to waste a wonderful opportunity, they also used that weekend for a city fest and craft market. Everywhere were artisans selling their handmade wares such as squirrels and hedgehogs made of straw, dried floral arrangements, honey and beeswax candles, and all manner of baked goods. Street performers were out in droves and the crowds were large. Normally, the downtown area is quite empty on Sunday, so this was rare opportunity to see everyone enjoying the extra day of retail therapy.


Now Honey, that’s good coffee…

The city laid out yellow carpeted runners in many of the smaller pedestrian streets and alleys downtown to direct crowds to some of the less frequented areas. The smaller shops get a little extra attention as locals meander down streets they might normally miss. One such path took us down into a small courtyard where we found the Hepa Kaffee Café. Their logo always reminds me of the old Lucky Strike cigarettes but the similarity ends there, because Hepa Coffee is really wonderful. The local radio classical music station was remotely broadcasting their afternoon

Enjoying some java and some Puccini

show in the courtyard in front of the café. We found ourselves a small bistro table in the sunshine. We enjoyed a lovely (and very large) cappuccino while the lilting strains of Italian opera floated through the courtyard. I only vaguely remembered the sting from the morning as I rubbed the affected spot. But it faded as I realized that life just doesn’t get much better than this. Sitting in the European sunshine with a great cup of coffee while being serenaded by Madame Butterfly takes a lot of sting out of life.


Somebody else heading for the fest

Wiesbaden is a lovely city that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the travel press. Because we live here, we often tend to overlook it ourselves. But since we started writing about our travels, I think we’ve gained a greater appreciation of our current adopted hometown. While our blog posts will be mostly about places farther afield, we will occasionally drop in a quick note about some of our favorite local events and attractions. Stay tuned.