One of the handy accessories a long-distance cruiser shouldn’t leave without is a dinghy. Our own has already been around the world once and has seen better days, but although she has been renamed “Onja” – she was formerly known as “Sonja”, but in her old ages, the S is disappearing, and before long, she will be “Nja”! – she can still bring us to places we wouldn’t have seen without her. We wouldn’t have been able to go from Amsterdam Marina to Dekker Watersport in Zaandam some 30 mins away to buy nautical charts (in Amsterdam, the baseline for distances seems to be how far something is by boat, which basically makes sense, given that the city is surrounded by water), be driven by one of their staff to the nearby Hornbach DIY hardware store where the water hose was cheaper than in their own shop (this is what I would call self-awareness: prices in marine shops are indeed multi-fold higher than everywhere else…) and finish off with an after-work beer with the staff at Dekker because they “had too many of them”. We wouldn’t have been able to cruise the lovely canals of Amsterdam by night, stepping by the Pancake Bakery and fleeing from the unworthy Red Light District (even though this according to the tourist hordes seems to be the place to be…). Thanks to B’s mum and dad who couch surfed on Ella for a few days while in Amsterdam and made the repair of the motor of “Onja” possible (yes – sometimes a car is more useful than a boat ;-), besides being great company!
Later on in Zeebrugge in Belgium, we considered whether it would be worthwhile using Onja to get to charming Brugge, but the train won, transporting us to tasty “Moules Frites” (according to H, this is a highly peculiar combination, and maybe it is, but that doesn’t make it less tasty :-)), great Belgian beer (Brugse Zot Blonde goes very well with steamed mussels in white wine, garlic and cream!), chocolate and beer stores all over the place – and oh! I almost forgot the cute medieval city centre surrounded by even cuter canals, making Brugge a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While waiting for the wind to calm down, we unpacked the second handy accessory a long-distance cruiser shouldn’t leave without: a folding bike or two. Thanks to H’s parents for donating those! Not only are they practical when stocking up food and diesel, if the store is just a little further from the marina than walking distance, they can also bring you to the neighbouring city of Zeebrugge (meaning “Brugge On Sea” and literally being just one gigantic port), Blankenberge, the existence of which we discovered thanks to the Danish family sailing their newly bought “Liberty” home to Denmark from Southern England. Blankenberge is the complete opposite of Zeebrugge, featuring a long seafront promenade, piers into the water and tourists as far as the eye can see. Although we were a little impatient to get out of Zeebrugge (admittedly not the most exciting place we’ve visited), it wasn’t that bad after all, and we biked out of Blankenberge and into Zeebrugge again.