Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, Everyone!

From John in Amsterdam with ice all the way across the canal and amazing private fireworks displays.

And from Shirlee enjoying visiting with family in Portland where the snow is almost gone.

We'll be together again in Amsterdam in a couple of weeks, planning for the next year's adventures.

Hope this finds you all healthy and optimistic about the year to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter wonderland





Photo credits go to the Stocks family: Sydney for the house and Mike for the cars. It's their house and cars. Doesn't the house look pretty?

Portland is tired of the snow. I'm pretty sure I can speak for everyone on this subject. It's beautiful, but we have shopping to do! Yesterday Sydney and I walked to the grocery store, mostly because she wanted to go for a walk. Today we're supposed to have a 24-hour break in the snow (but not the freezing temperatures), and Mom wants to drive to the mall. We'll see. She doesn't have chains because no one was expecting this, and the people who sell chains are all sold out.

Meanwhile, I feel very lucky to have arrived when I did. More than a hundred flight in and out of Portland International Airport were cancelled yesterday, and people have been stranded there for days. Kevin Stocks (Mike and Sydney's nephew) has been trying to get here from Minneapolis since Saturday. He's trying again tomorrow.

John had a great time at the Solstice party in Amsterdam on Sunday. He said he met lots of interesting people. And the weather there is much better than it is here.

-Shirlee

Friday, December 19, 2008

All weather news all the time

My trip to Portland to spend the holidays with family here got off to a great start when Northwest Airlines upgraded me to business class for no apparent reason. If I knew how that happened, maybe I could repeat it for the return trip in mid-January. The plane arrived early, and I cleared customs without additional fees despite the slightly more than allowance quantity of alcoholic beverages in my luggage, and yes, I did put it all on the form. My sister and her husband (Sydney and Mike) met me at the gate. They had arrived via bus and MAX light rail due to the snow that has clogged the streets here. Then we reversed the process to get back to SW 45th and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, where Mom met us at JoPa's and treated us to lunch.

John (and Märzen) remained behind in Amsterdam. He says it's really OK with him, and I know that he has some social activities planned: a Solstice party on Sunday at someone's house, Christmas with Dandelion in a house that they're taking care of over the holidays, Democrats Abroad fun gathering on 3 January, Anouk's open house at her new apartment on the 11th, and a boys' night out for his birthday on the 12th. I'll be back on the 17th (leaving here on the 16th).

Schools have been closed here (Portland's west side and Beaverton) all week due to snow, and more is expected over the weekend. It's really amazing: all day long the only thing on the TV is the weather news. Now it's affecting the whole country, and flights are being delayed and cancelled further east. I'm really glad that NWA had that non-stop flight from Amsterdam. The weather is delaying my long-awaited Mexican food outing, but we're having American pizza at the Stocks this evening, and it's all good (as John would say).

-Shirlee

Monday, December 15, 2008

Brrr…. It’s really cold in Portland!

Here I am looking forward to flying to Portland on Thursday to spend the holidays with family, and then I checked the weather. Holy expletive! Schools are closed today, and the forecast for the rest of the week is for lows in the teens. That makes Amsterdam seem warm.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December in Amsterdam


No, of course this isn’t what it looks like here now. I’m just looking forward to spring and thought I’d share this lovely picture that John took at Keukenhof in April 2004.

The weather isn’t awful here – at least, not yet. It has been cold, but we haven’t had a hard freeze. And at the moment the sun is out, so it’s actually quite pretty. With the sun as low on the horizon as it is this far north, the light is awesome.

The Sinterklaas festivities should be over now. Last night was the night when the children were supposed to set out their shoes. I actually saw a Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet yesterday evening when I took Märzen out. They were hurrying down the street – on to the next party, no doubt.

Lately we’ve been entertaining ourselves by catching up with old friends on Facebook. I’ve found people I haven’t seen since the late 60s, as well as the Silicon Valley crowd. I also found my dad there, which was a big surprise.

In other excitement, Kent and Heather Sisk (from Portland) are transiting the Panama Canal on their boat, Hiatus. We kept the webcam on all yesterday afternoon and evening in order to try to capture a picture of them. We got several, but this is the best. (Hiatus is the boat on the left, the last in the line of boats leaving the lock.) Heather posted on her Facebook page that they had to spend the night in the lake, so they’ll finish their transit today.

Otherwise, we’re just living a normal life here. Cruising isn’t always fun and excitement, you know. We are trying to figure out our plans for the summer, though, and that’s fun to look forward to.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

We’re having a quiet Thanksgiving with just the two of us, plus Märzen, of course. John is making potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, dressing, Brussels sprouts, and chicken. It is possible to get turkey here, but it’s expensive, and with just the two of us and our small oven, a big chicken will do nicely. With all the dishes, we’re having the standard problems with refrigerator space, so John is stashing some dishes – and the bubbly – in the cockpit.

The temperature here is about the same as Portland, but as Mom pointed out when she called on Skype this morning, it rains a little more here – more like Seattle. If you still don’t know about Skype, you should check it out – at least, if you have any friends or family that are a long distance phone call away. It’s free computer-to-computer calling and very inexpensive computer to landline.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's snowing!


Yesterday it was just hail and sleet. Now the temperature has dropped, the wind has changed, and it’s snowing. So far it isn’t sticking much, and the forecast calls for a little warming, so we hope this won’t last long.

Yesterday we braved the elements to do some provisioning for Thanksgiving at the big market at Noordermarkt. We won’t be having turkey, but John will roast a chicken, and we’ll have most of the traditional accompaniments including cranberry sauce. Our first time through the market we couldn’t find the cranberries, but we spotted them on the way back. We’ve invited Dandelion to join us, but Kerry and Zelma seem to have met a lot of expat moms and babies here, so they may have other plans.

While exploring the Seven Seas Cruising Association website today, I discovered that there’s a third U.S. sailboat wintering in The Netherlands. Guardian, whose home port is Boston, is in Rotterdam. I’ve contacted them, and maybe we’ll arrange to meet sometime.

In big news from the States, our nephew Joel Stocks has just been promoted to sous chef at 50Plates in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t been there yet because it just opened in July, but I’ve read some of the online reviews, and it sounds great. I’m looking forward to checking it out when I’m in Portland for the holidays. We’re very proud of Joel and feel we contributed a little to his career by taking him to the French Laundry when he was still in high school. Of course, that was the only thing he asked to do when he visited us in San Francisco. Even then he wanted to be a chef.

Photo credit: I found the photo on the blog of Marc van der Chijs. Except for taking Märzen out and a trip to the store, we aren’t going outside.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam

Sinterklaas is pronounced almost exactly like Santa Claus and the two are very closely related. Sinterklaas is a shortening of Sint Nicolaas — you know, jolly old Saint Nicolas. You can read more about him in this Wikipedia article. Anyway, he’s arriving in Amsterdam by boat this morning, and there will be a parade this afternoon. It’s a very big deal here, and boats have been going by us all morning with children on their way to meet him.

This is also Zelma’s first birthday (she's the baby on Dandelion), so happy birthday, Z!

John and Zelma’s dad, Andrew, have been doing their part this past week to help with the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration. One of the canal boats at the marina needed to have some work done to get it running for today. With Sjoerd acting as their agent, the guys took care of everything. And our big outing of the week was a trip to the chandlery for parts and supplies.

At the end of last week, I also got to spend a few hours with my friend Marike. She was coming to the city to visit a Chinese store and get some CDs for her Qigong exercises and invited me to join her. We had a wonderful time. One of the stores we visited looks like a great source for kitchen implements and spices. I’m planning to take John there sometime since he’s in charge of the galley.

We also visited the farmers’ market at Nieuwmarkt. It was much less crowded than the one by us, which was nice, but what made it really special was that Marike knows a couple of the vendors and introduced me. I was especially impressed to meet a real Dutch farmer and get a close look at some of his produce. There were several root vegetables I’d never heard of like parsley root and black salsify. After looking it up on Google, I think salsify sounds tasty, and maybe we’ll try it one of these days. It certainly didn’t look very appetizing, but it seemed quite popular.

De Waag

To top off the outing, Marike treated me to lunch at a nice restaurant called Café in de Waag. We might meet Marike’s sister Gemma there one of these days. I hope so because I’d like to see her again too. One other thing is that we spoke Dutch the whole time, except for a couple of times when I lapsed briefly into English.

Photo credits: Sinterklaas came from Intelligent Travel from National Geographic Traveler, a pretty cool looking blog, but the photo credit belongs to the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Marketing. De Waag came from a Picassa photo album owned by BH. I left a note of thanks for BH, who seems to have traveled to many of the places we've also visited.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It’s good to be American


In the week after we elected Barak Obama to be our next president, it’s good again to be American. On the tram home from the election night party I carried one of the paper U.S. flags that had decorated the tables. People noticed. Many said, “Obama,” and smiled. We said “Yes!” and grinned broadly.

While waiting for the tram we got our first text message of congratulations from Maria, who was getting ready for work. We heard from all of the rest of our Dutch friends before the end of the day, either by e-mail or in person.

The Dutch were always friendly to Americans, but now when they hear our accents, they ask if we’re happy about Obama. Of course we are, and they let us know that they are too.

(Can you find us in the photo? We're towards the back and against the wall. The woman next to me is from Kentucky, but we know she voted the right way.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Too busy celebrating to blog

As the countdown to west coast poll closing started on CNN, it was echoed here in Amsterdam. When we got to zero and CNN announced that Obama is the president elect, the room went wild. Champagne was passed, toasts were made, cheering and chanting went on until McCain's concession speech. It was received with respect except for occasional outbursts of applause.

It was great to get a comment on the blog from Mom's family room. I'm sure you're all as happy as we are. A telling comment here was, "Now we can be proud again to be Americans." Everyone here is thrilled, and I was getting text messages from Dutch friends all afternoon wishing us the best, so I know the rest of the world heaved a huge sigh of relief as well.

We'll be hanging out here to see if the California voters do the right thing on Prop 8. We only get to vote the federal ballot, so we couldn't help with that. Congratulations to Colorado for their good sense in defeating Prop 48.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Valerie from Colorado spotted the computer and asked if she could see the Denver Post site to check on Amendment 48 The Definition of a Person (aka anti-choice). It is going down in flames with the No Vote leading with 73%. Valerie was a very happy women. Now if Prop 8 in California looses it will be a great night.

The Pheasant Pluckers


Early in the evening the Pheasant Pluckers provided a great mix of comedy and music in a cabaret style. When MSNBC called PA for Obama the band was performing and looked a little puzzled about all the applause.

PA Called for Obama!


With PA called for Obama the path for McCain has narrowed considerably. Shirlee and I are very happy.

Big Turnout


There is standing room only here at Boom Chicago. The crowd is happy and energetic. Here in the Netherlands the Dutch people are for Obama by 80%.

Lots of Happy Democrats


The party is in full swing. Just had a great performance of the national anthem. CNN just reported first results for Indiana. It looks to be a great night.

Election Party Live Blogging From Amsterdam



Tonight we are attending the Democrats Abroad campaign watch party in Amsterdam. It's an all night event at the club Boom Chicago. Shirlee and I will be online posting comments and pictures as Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States. Go Vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Great weekend in Den Bosch


Thanks to our friends Lex and Maria, who we met here at Marina Westerdok in September (see our blog post from that time), we just spent a wonderful weekend in 's Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch as it is commonly called). They invited us to join them for one of the winter regattas that their yacht club has.

We, including Märzen, took the train from Amsterdam to Den Bosch, where Maria met us at the station. The train trip only took an hour, and Märzen behaved very well. She spent part of the trip in her Sherpa bag sleeping, but mostly she sat on my lap on top of the bag.

After we had coffee with Lex and Maria at their house, the four of us went downtown to see the sights and try a Bossche bol, a famous dessert that, by definition, is only available in Den Bosch. It’s a huge creampuff sort of thing filled with whipped cream and covered in dark chocolate. We had ours with coffee sitting across the street from the St. John’s Cathedral, which we visited next. (To get a better idea about what a Bossche bol is, you can enter it in Google. When I tried it, I got several articles and pictures.)

In the evening Maria prepared a feast of different kinds of stompot, which is potatoes mashed together with various vegetables. When the potatoes are mashed with carrots and onions, it’s a unique variety of stompot called hutspot. Besides the hutspot, Maria served a stompot with boerenkool (curly kale) and one with sauerkraut and pineapple. In my previous experience, stompot was served with smoked sausage called rookworst, and Maria had that, but she also served some other sausages and fried Dutch bacon. The Dutch bacon really doesn’t translate. John says it’s sliced pork belly; it isn’t cured at all. Anyway, it was delicious!

Sunday was the regatta. After a nice breakfast we went to the yacht club. Every member helps with the work of maintaining the club, as well as paying dues, and it’s a very nice facility. We sailed on 32-foot boat whose owner, Goos, lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years when he was a boy. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but it didn’t rain (except for a few sprinkles) and it wasn’t too cold, so the race was just right as far as we were concerned. After three times around the course on the lake, we finished sixth, not last, and enjoyed some wonderful soup and a salad at the clubhouse after.

The photo shows Lex at the helm during the race with Goos running the main sheet and starboard jib sheet. I had the port jib sheet. Maria is on the foredeck where she helped the jib across in the light air.

In between eating and sailing, we had several interesting conversations with Lex and Maria about the differences in the way things are in the Netherlands and the U.S., and of course, we also talked about politics. It was all enormously gezellig, a Dutch word I may have used before. There really isn’t a direct translation. It’s something like warm and friendly and cozy. We feel really lucky to have been welcomed into the home of this very kind Dutch couple and to have experienced a real Dutch weekend.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Summer time officially ended


It’s been fall here for weeks now, and it has definitely felt like it. Yet, summer time officially ended over the weekend. Summer time is what the Dutch and others in Europe call the time shift that the U.S. calls daylight savings time. So for a week, or however long the U.S. remains on daylight savings time now, we are one hour closer to you.

Last week I rode my bike to my Dutch conversation class. It was my first time using it for real transportation, and I have to admit that it was a little scary. The Dutch all ride so fast and there are so many people on bikes! So even though I was on a bike path most of the way, there was lots of traffic. I’m not sure the class is all that helpful. There’s usually only one native speaker to work with the various small groups, and since I used to be fluent in Dutch, my Dutch is stronger than that of most of the other participants. Still, it’s fun to get out, so I’m going to keep it up.

I’m making an effort, too, to speak Dutch with Dutch people. Most are patient. Some even seem a little relieved not to have to speak English. The Moroccan corner butcher is an example. When I went in to get some lamb shanks the other day, I asked him for recommendations on preparation. He quickly said his English wasn’t very good and asked about speaking French. We wisely continued in Dutch. The lamb shanks turned out great, and we had a lamb ragout with penne pasta for dinner last night. Yum.

The photo above is one I borrowed off of the Internet. It shows the store where we do our normal shopping on the left. The initials "AH" stand for Albert Heijn. The gray weather in the photo looks like what we're having lately, but it must be really early in the morning because the street and sidewalks are so empty. Normally they're jammed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A bike and a haircut


After checking at several bike shops in the neighborhood, we finally found a good deal on a used bike for me to replace my stolen one. My new bike is a Batavus, a Dutch brand. It has a little rust and a few dings, but I hope that will just make it less attractive to thieves. It’s a three-speed, which is nice for getting up those big hills (dikes and bridges) and for speeding down the street. I haven’t been far on it yet, but the forecast is for a nice day tomorrow, and I hope John will join me for a bike ride. We’ve already had a neighbor ask for first chance at buying it when we leave in the spring.

In other news, John just got his annual haircut for 18€ at a place down the street. He looks like a new man. Andrew walked right past him without recognizing him. John’s last haircut was in San Diego before the start of the Baja Ha-Ha. We sure have been a lot of places since then.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The hunt for everyday food

We’ve been trying Dutch food regularly. Cheese is a staple, and we’ve sampled various kinds from the grocery stores, cheese stores, and cheese booths at different markets. Lately we’re favoring one of the cheese booths at the nearest market, which is only held on Wednesdays. The woman who runs it is very nice (she always gives us a taste before we buy), and she understands my Dutch. We’ve been experimenting with the various degrees of aging that is offered for Gouda-style boerenkaas to find our favorite. If you want to know more about boerenkaas, you can check out this brochure in English.

I’ve been introducing John to typically Dutch things to put the cheese (and other sandwich fillers) on. So far, he isn’t crazy about the Friesian roggebrood (a kind of pumpernickel), but he does like the cracker bread, especially when we can find it with sesame seeds. We’ve also been trying various kinds of bread, but we aren’t finding the bread from the stores as good as I remembered.

Of course, there’s also Dutch licorice in myriad varieties. I like the typical salty licorice. (It’s an acquired taste.) When I could find it in the States, I always bought the double-salted kind. Saturday at the market I bought my first DZ here (DZ stands for dubbel zout, which means double salt). Wow! When it’s this fresh, I think single salt will be enough for me. John has been trying varieties of sweet licorice, and Sjoerd has contributed a couple of standard types to John’s experience.

Some things that we haven’t found here, which were staples at home, are ham hocks, regular mozzarella (fresh is available), canned stock, and plain pizza crusts. John makes pizza dough, but not often since we haven’t found the right pizza cheese. He’s also been making homemade stock, but that's time consuming and adds a lot of humidity to the boat, something we really don't need here. For a long time we couldn’t find popcorn, but I spotted it in the market yesterday when we were looking for something else, so we have plenty of that now.

There are so many good things to eat here. It really isn’t a problem if we can’t find what we’re looking for. We just eat something else.

The photo is from somewhere on the Internet. It's of a cheese stand at the organic farmers' market that's held near here on Saturdays. John didn't have a photo of a kaasboer (cheese vendor).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cruiser reunion


Yesterday David and Gunilla from Ventura stopped by to see us. David, single-handing on Ventura, was the informal coordinator of our mini-rally from Fort Lauderdale to the Azores and on to England/France. Gunilla flew to Horta to see David, and we met her there. They’ve put Ventura on the hard in Falmouth, England, and were driving home to Sweden. Next summer they’ll be sailing Ventura to Sweden. It was so much fun to see them and talk about places we’ve been and places we should visit while we’re still in northern Europe. We’ll be taking a serious look at going to Germany, Denmark, and Sweden before we stop in Norway and continue on to Scotland next summer. It sounds like a nice voyage.

In other news, Carrie and baby Zelma from Dandelion are visiting family in the States, so we took Andrew with us to the Democrats Abroad gathering on Saturday. It was fun to take him to a part of the city where he hadn’t been before (in the center near the main shopping and tourist area). There was a good turnout, so we couldn’t talk with everyone, but we did happen to meet a young woman who is a CIA-trained chef from Portland. She still has a house in Southeast and knows the Noble Rot people. So standing around chatting in the heart of Amsterdam were four Oregonians.

My Dutch is improving. I’ve started attending a weekly conversation class (free), and that’s pretty fun. I’ve also translated a recipe that John wanted from a Dutch cooking magazine that Marike brought us. And I finished the book (in Dutch) that I picked up in Costa Rica. Now on to the big bag of Dutch books that Anouk brought me.

The photo is from our 2004 trip. It's Museum Square. When we were there with David and Gunilla yesterday to visit the Van Gogh Museum, it was pouring down rain.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boat ride and rijsttafel

Anouk on De Walrus
Anouk on the boat

Saturday was a beautiful day here — the sun was shining and it was actually warm — a perfect day for a boat ride. Lucky for us, Anouk and her parents (Jan and Ria) invited us to join them on their boat for the afternoon to be followed by rijsttafel in the city afterwards. In between we got to visit their home in Amstelveen.

Jan and Ria keep their boat, De Walrus, at Leimuiden on the Westeinderplas. For those who aren’t familiar with the country or area, the Westeinderplas is a large shallow lake south of Schiphol airport. De Walrus is a British-built motor boat that is mostly enclosed with a nice deck on the back. It’s very comfortable, and with the nice weather we were mostly on the rear deck except for Jan, who manned the helm inside, sometimes with company from John.

Jan at the helm
Jan at the helm

Shirlee and Ria on the deck
Shirlee and Ria on the deck

Nursery barge
Nursery barge

Recreation islands
Recreation islands

Jan took us out of the lake to the Ringvaart, a canal that is part of the staande mast route (standing mast route) linking Amsterdam and Rotterdam. There was quite a bit of traffic on the canal including some commercial barges like the one in the photo, which was moving containers of shrubs from a nursery. The town of Aalsmeer, which borders the lake and is bisected by the canal, is home to many nurseries and greenhouses. It hosts huge flower auctions of tulips and other flowers that are shipped all over the world from Schiphol, both as cut flowers and as bulbs.

Between the canal and the lake Jan and Ria pointed out little islands with docks. These are recreation islands. People from the city buy (or sometimes rent) them as a place to take their boats for a picnic or a weekend get-away. They aren’t allowed to sleep on the islands, but they can sleep on a boat moored at the island. Some were quite developed with picnic tables and playgrounds in addition to the docks, but others were left in their natural state, except that the weeds were cut.

As comfortable as it was on the boat, it also looked like it would be fun to ride a bike along the canal. The bike paths are very nice, and there are plenty of places to stop along the way. Unfortunately, my folding bike was stolen soon after we unloaded it from the boat. I didn’t even get to ride it. Yes, it was locked, but bicycle theft is rampant here. When I mentioned it to Anouk and her family, they said, “Welcome to Amsterdam.” On the website for Boom Chicago, an English-language theater here, the directions by bike read, “Bike to the Leidseplein. Lock bike nearby. See show. Replace stolen bike.”

After the boat ride, we drove to Anouk’s family home in Amstelveen where John got to see a Dutch house from the inside for the first time, and we met Anouk’s brother, Patrick, and their dog, Kai. Then it was back to Amsterdam and the Indonesian restaurant Tempo Doeloe for a wonderful rijsttafel. A rijsttafel is a dinner of many small dishes of varying spiciness. The idea is to start mild and work your way up. (I have to record the name of the restaurant because we couldn’t remember the last one we went to in 2004 with Jeffrey, Karan, and Esmeralda. It turns out that it was just next door, but I still don’t know its name.) The food and service and wonderful, but we couldn’t finish it all — except that I think we did manage to eat all of the dessert.

In all it was a wonderful afternoon and evening that we are sure to remember as one of the highlights of our stay here. Thank you so much, Jan, Ria and Anouk!

Monday, September 22, 2008

End of a sunny week

Mark your calendars: we just had a whole week without rain here! In fact, it may have been a few days more than a full week, but we have a 70% chance of rain tomorrow. We’ve enjoyed it while it lasted, going for walks and boat rides.

On our way home from our second dinghy tour last week, we spotted the sailboat Dandelion tied up along the canal where the boats who taking the “standing mast route” through Holland go. Dandelion is the boat that crossed the Atlantic as we were crossing from the Azores to France and that stopped in Cherbourg while we were there. The skipper, Andrew, grew up in Eugene. He’s now been joined by his wife and baby daughter. They were headed for Finland, but it’s late in the year to finish that voyage, so they’re going to spend the winter here at Marina Westerdok too.

We spent the first few days rafted up, which is always gezellig (an untranslatable Dutch word that means something like cozy, but now Dandelion has its own slip. In a few days we hope to move too to a slip that isn’t on the outside. The Dutch are very good boat handlers, but there’s lots of traffic in the canal, especially when the weather is nice, and it feels safer to be in an inside slip.


From a walk in Vondel Park

One of the canal boats

Another canal boat

At the farmers' market

Apparently there are no freight elevators here

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our dog is Dutch

Märzen got her Dutch pet passport today. Although her rabies vaccination was good for three years, we thought the EU required yearly vaccinations because they require a vaccination within a year of entering the EU. So we made an appointment with the closest vet we could find in the Dutch online yellow pages, just two stops away on the bus and within easy walking distance, except that Märzen doesn’t really like to walk.

The vet is a nice woman named Annette, who has two dachshunds of her own. That was an unexpected bonus. It turns out that, although the EU recognizes rabies vaccinations as good for three years if that’s the kind you get, they don’t actually recognize the Fort Dodge vaccine that Märzen got in San Francisco. The ID chip scanner also didn’t recognize her chip, and they vaccinate here against some diseases that aren’t a problem in the western U.S. As a result, Märzen got a new chip and two shots along with her passport, and her mom spent all her cash.

The vet was amazed at the amount of paper in Märzen’s medical record because they computerize everything here and record the essentials in the passport. That’s very handy. Now if only they took Visa.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Canal tour in our own dinghy

We had one day of nice weather last week (before today) and celebrated by visiting the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s Central Park. We really enjoyed wandering the paths in the sunshine. When we arrived in early afternoon, it wasn’t crowded, but before we left, school had let out and it was quite the happening place. It reminded me of Golden Gate Park on a sunny weekend afternoon.

Later that day another sailboat came to the marina. They didn’t fit in the slip that the harbor master had planned on, so we had them raft up with us. It was fun to have neighbors for a few days. Maria and Lex are about our age and live in 's Hertogenbosch, in the south of the Netherlands. They were on their way home from a five-month summer voyage in the Baltic. We all got along very well, and we enjoyed getting together every evening they were here to have a few drinks and visit. They’ve invited us to visit them in 's Hertogenbosch for a regatta later this winter and for Carnaval in late February. Carnaval is the Dutch version of mardi gras, and it’s really celebrated in the south, which is predominately Catholic. 's Hertogenbosch is supposed to be one of the best places for Carnaval, and we’re looking forward to the adventure.

Despite the rain that has fallen almost every day we've been here, the canal has been busy with canal boats filled with Dutch people having fun. Today after John reset a stanchion, we finally put the dinghy in the water and went for our own tour on the canals. We had a canal map with the routes (truly a map, not a chart), but at one point we got lost anyway. It’s difficult to see the names of the canals from the water because they’re posted on the sides of buildings. Often on the water the view is blocked. Then when I could see a name, it wasn’t on the map. I figured we would run into a canal off of the one we were on eventually, but it dead-ended due to bridge construction before that happened. We ended up retracing our route back to where we had turned off. Finally we found recognizable territory and made our way home.

If the weather is still good tomorrow (and it’s supposed to be), we’ll go out again. This time we’ll bring the map I use to get us around town. It has all of the streets on it. We’ll also bring a leash for Märzen, and a blanket. Today she needed to stop, and I didn’t have her leash, so I had to follow her closely lest she escape. Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to get ashore, and we were somewhere without a lot of street activity.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Developing a routine

Cruising can’t be exciting all the time. Even when you’re someplace exotic, if you stay put, life develops a routine. And that’s what’s happening with us. We’ve found a chandlery in addition to grocery stores and markets, and we’re figuring out the most efficient combinations of buses and trams to take to get where we need to go if we don’t walk. Day-to-day life consists of small trips to the store, checking the Internet for election news, and working on boat projects.

Our shower space is now a shower all the time as we’ve moved all the things that we were storing there to other locations. We definitely had more provisions than we needed for the Atlantic crossing, but now we don’t have to buy as much at the store. John has found a place in the lazarette for the transformer where it is safely out of the rain, and we’ve gotten the bike out but haven’t used it because of the rain. (Did I mention that it rains here?) Sjoerd, the harbor master, has loaned John a bike, so we can go riding together when we get a dry day.

A major project for John has been fixing the furnace. (That’s why we’ve already found a chandlery.) It’s working now, though, and should be fine for the rest of the winter. Now we’re tracking down the leaks. Found one right over the table in the salon, but now there’s another in the galley.

We haven’t seen our old friends this week, but we did go to a DemsFun gathering of Democrats Abroad NL, met some new people, and said hello again to those we met on Obama night. The elections are really capturing most of our attention these days. There are links to some of the blogs we follow on the Links page of our website if you’re interested. That’s part of the reason that we haven’t added new photos to the website. It takes time to read all that stuff! Also, the weather hasn’t been very conducive to picture-taking.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

First week in review

Our first week in our new marina has been full of exploring and visiting with old friends. We’ve had a wonderful time and have been too busy doing things to have time for updating the blog.

Wednesday Marike took us to the Museum Jan van der Togt in Amstelveen to see the Anton Heyboer exhibit there. Heyboer, who died in 2005, was a famous Dutch artist and personality and Marike’s husband. It was really special to have Marike to show us Anton’s work, and the museum director, Jan Verschoor, made us feel very welcome. Jan is a sculptor himself, and we were invited into his personal apartment with some other people, where we got to see art that isn’t on display in the museum proper. The photo is of Marike and me in front of a Heyboer painting that the museum purchased.

Thursday night we went to the Democrats Abroad Netherlands all-night gathering to watch Barak Obama’s acceptance speech. It was fun to meet some other Americans, and we found out, among other things, where we can buy corn tortillas. The guys who gave us the tip had actually been pressing their own tortillas from polenta before they located the mother lode to supply both corn tortillas and masa. Also, our gathering was covered by Dutch television, and we were shown on the news the next day. Although we were interviewed, that portion was cut, and we only show up clearly at the end. Here’s a link to a clip from the show called EénVandaag, but it’s in Dutch.

Friday afternoon Marike came by and spent the afternoon. It’s so good to get acquainted with her again. She gave me a carnelian necklace and bracelet for my birthday and brought lots of books about Anton Heyboer so that I can learn more about her life these past 30+ years.

Saturday the sun came out, and it was a beautiful summer day. Esmeralda and her boyfriend, Mark, came to see us, and we had wine and hapjes (snacks or nibbles) in the cockpit. She looks great (as you can see), and Mark is very nice. We’re looking forward to seeing more of them. Esmeralda brought me the latest Kathy Reichs paperback, Bones to Ashes, which is much appreciated especially since Reichs is one of my favorite authors.

Saturday evening Anouk came to visit and we went out for a yummy Chinese dinner. It turns out that the best Indonesian restaurants are closer to where Anouk lives in Amstelveen, so one of these days we’ll join Anouk and her family for rijstafel in her neighborhood. As you can see in the photo, Anouk looks great too. She's still tan from her summer in Spain.

Unfortunately, birthday greetings from my sister also brought the news that my dad is in the hospital. Reports are that he’s doing well, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Getting settled

All the staff at Marina Westerdok and the owner, Nauticadam, are great. They’re all making us feel very welcome here as we pester them with questions while we settle in.

The harbor master, Sjoerd, is a very nice, and very busy, young man. We had a chance to get better acquainted with him yesterday afternoon. It turned out that the boat that was in our slip was his, but someone else had put it there, and he didn’t know. And it wasn’t scrap lumber (that was just my impression), but rather nice teak boards. In his spare time, Sjoerd and a friend are restoring the boat, which is pre-WWI vintage. Anyway, it’s all sorted out now. No worries.

The general manager of Nauticadam, Jorrit (or Troy for rolled-r-challenged Americans), is another nice young man. Troy lived in San Francisco for a number of years at 15th and Guerrero, and we’ve hit it off quite well. (In fact, we left the old neighborhood before Troy did.) I didn’t quite catch the name of the third member of the management team, but I think it was Shara. Anyway, she has been helpful in identifying markets for shopping for various things. Everyone has been wonderful, and I’m really liking it here.

The photo of the Brouwersgracht street sign is in honor of our friends from Indigo, Greg and Kathy, who used to live on the Brouwersgracht (assuming that I’m remembering correctly). This is only a few blocks from Marina Westerdok.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Marina Westerdok


This morning we joined the queue of boats leaving Sixhaven Marina, and then crossed the river IJ, called to have two bridges opened for us, and finally arrived at Marina Westerdok to find a black scow with scrap lumber in it tied up at our spot. What’s more, the harbor master is off sailing in the IJsselmeer. We had already used all of our prepaid phone minutes talking with Anouk yesterday evening, so we couldn’t call the harbor master ourselves, but the skipper of a tour boat helped us out and called him. She told us that we were just supposed to tie up somewhere for now. Not pleased with that answer, we rafted up with the boat in front of our slip so I could hop off and get more minutes to call the harbor master myself. He told me the same thing, but he sounded very calm. I told him what we’d done, and he said it was fine and he’ll be back this evening.


The really good news is that there’s an open wi-fi hotspot in the area, so we’re temporarily connecting to it. It’s kind of nice to have a quiet day to catch up with things. We can’t really leave the boat the way it is. Already we’ve moved from the boat that we were rafted with in order to let some neighbors leave the dock. We were blocking the channel for them. (And they too called the harbor master.) Now we’re tied to the dock outside of the boat that’s in our spot, so if the owner comes to move the boat, we’ll have to let him out. The neighbors were very nice and friendly, so already we’re getting acquainted, and I think we’ll like it here very much.

The photo is the view off our stern. The bridge is for the trains, but they’re quiet, electric trains, so it isn’t like Tacoma except for the weather. On the map, look under the B on the grid and you’ll see the “We are here” label. (You clicked on the map to get the big picture, right?) We’re definitely within easy walking distance of the sights and activities.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Amsterdam, yes, Internet, not so much

We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday and found a spot at Sixhaven Marina. The marina deserves a story of its own, and that will follow, but I wanted to be sure that those of you who were awaiting notice that we'd landed would get it sooner rather than later.

Critical things to do have been finding our permanent marina for the winter and getting a phone. We accomplished those yesterday and also talked with Esmeralda. Since we haven't been able to get Internet on the boat, I didn't have any way to contact Marike, and we don't have Anouk's phone number. Marike was resourceful and saw our position report, so she showed up at the marina this morning as we were leaving to find an Internet cafe and contact her. It was so great to see her, and it definitely made my day.

We're moving to our new marina tomorrow but may not have Internet right away. It is promised one way or another, though, so please be patient, and we'll be back online with blog entries, individual emails, and photo pages on the website. Meanwhile, the best way to be sure to hear from us is to email us or post a comment.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Up is down

Having made incredibly good time from Ostend to IJmuiden, we decided not to stop there but to continue on to Amsterdam. First we waited about an hour for the sun to rise behind the clouds so that we could see what we were doing. Then we headed straight for the lock on the North Sea Canal. After only a very short wait, the bridge opened to let us into the lock, and we tied off like pros. Suddenly John noticed that we were going down. After the Panama Canal and the lock at Ostend and based on our intuition, we expected to go up to go inland. But, no, we're in the Netherlands (which means low country) and they call it that for a reason.

So as I write this, we're motoring toward Amsterdam, below sea level, and we've finally arrived in Holland.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Continuing on

It looks like today is the day we finally start the last leg to the Netherlands. Whoopee!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VMMK, an awesome museum



Ostend has a museum of modern art that is known by its initials, VMMK (Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst). It’s a good thing that the weather kept us here longer or we would have missed it, and that would have been too bad. We went yesterday and were amazed at how good it is and how large. All of the artists seem to be Belgian, and most are from West Flanders, the province we’re in. It was really awesome. If you like modern art and are going to be in Belgium, we recommend this as a side trip. You can get some idea of it from their website.

The gale warnings are gone from the British shipping forecast for our area, but significant gusts are still predicted, so we’re staying one more day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Extending our Ostend stay

This is the day we had thought we would leave Belgium for the Netherlands. The North Sea weather forecasts, however, indicate that we should stay where we are for a couple more days. We’re comfortable here, and you can’t beat the convenience of the location, so we’re fine with that.

Having enjoyed the waterzooi so much, we used Google to find more Flemish recipes. There’s an interesting site called Recipes from Belgium. (It's plain HTML, so it loads quickly, which is good for us.) John has been admiring the veal at the grocery store, so he picked a Flemish veal stew for his encore. Tomorrow night I’m going to make meatloaf.

It’s good to use the stove and oven because then we don’t need the furnace as much. Our family tells us it’s been hot in Oregon, but it certainly hasn’t been here. I think we only had one day in the past week that didn’t have some rain. We’re hoping for an Indian summer (I wonder what the Dutch call that) because if the rain starts in August and continues until spring, it’s going to be a very long winter.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Waterzooi

John has been instant messaging with our friend Jeffrey in the SF Bay area. We traveled to Brussels in 2004 with Jeffrey and his partner, Karan, and one of the highlights of that trip was dinner at a Flemish-style restaurant. Three of the four of us had waterzooi with chicken. (I had something else equally yummy.) Anyway, Jeffrey reminded John about that dinner, so John looked up some recipes on Google, and tonight we had a wonderful Belgian dinner served with a Pinot Gris from Alsace.

John used a combination of Rachel Ray’s waterzooi recipe on Foodnetwork and the Homebrew Chef’s recipe. Since Flemish cooking traditionally uses beer, we figure the Homebrew Chef’s recipe is a bit more authentic, and John definitely used good Belgian beer in his version. We had broth left over, so tomorrow John is going to add some potatoes and fish, and we’ll have another wonderful dinner.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bruges and Ostend

As promised, today we returned to Bruges. First on the agenda was climbing the bell tower to view the city. This was a serious bit of exercise, but the view was worth it. They charge you to do this, so we used our second-to-the-last prepaid stamp on it. The last one we used on the Arentshuis, a small museum showing the works of the artist Frank Brangwyn. We’d never heard of him either, but he died in 1956, so we figured the works would be more secular than those in the church museums. We weren’t disappointed.

The train stations in both Ostend and Bruges were oddly quiet at 9 a.m. on a Friday, and our train tickets were at the reduced weekend rate. When we tried to go grocery shopping upon our return to Ostend, we learned that it was a national holiday. We had to look it up on the Internet, though, to find out what holiday. Any Catholics or lapsed Catholics reading this probably know, it’s Assumption Day. Not being Catholic, I had to look up what Assumption Day was after I found out that was the holiday. Except for the grocery store closing early and everyone sleeping in this morning, it seemed to be a pretty normal start of a long weekend. For a change the weather has been gorgeous. That’s supposed to change tomorrow.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bruges, Brussels, and back to Bruges

Brugge market square
Buildings along market square in Brugge

We’ve been very busy the past two days. Yesterday we went to Bruges on the bus and did the first part of a walking tour. When we got there, we bought a pass to five museums. It only took one to discover that we weren’t going to be able to do all five in one day. The pass doesn’t let us skip ahead in line, and the lines are long for the most popular places. It’s summer and Bruges is a famous medieval city. So we’re going back tomorrow. This time we’re taking the train. Our bus ride took more than an hour, and it was interesting to go through the little towns along the way, but the train only takes 13 minutes, and we’ve already seen those little towns.

Today we went to Brussels. In 2004 when we visited there with Jeffrey and Karan, we really liked the fine arts museum, especially the modern art part, and wanted to return. We found an excursion through the Belgian railway for round-trip train fare plus the Royal Museum of Fine Art and the Musical Instrument Museum for €20 each. Since normal round-trip train fare mid-week is almost €30, it was a good deal.

We bought a five-day pass for Flemish buses and trams before we went to Bruges, so we’re going to do more exploring around here over the weekend. There’s a world music festival going on in a neighboring town on Saturday, so we’ll go see what that’s about, and there’s also a modern art museum right here in Ostend that we haven’t seen.

A note about spelling: Everything here has at least two spellings (Dutch and French), and most have three (something different for English). For example, the English spelling where we are is Ostend, Dutch is Oostende, and French is Ostende. Then there’s Brussels/Brussel/Bruxelles (English/Dutch/French). So if it looks like I’m misspelling something, maybe I’m just being multilingual.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mercator Marina, Oostend, Belgium


Neighboring local boat showing Dutch spelling of the town's name

In order to get to this marina we motor-sailed about 10 miles northeast of Nieuwpoort and waited outside the entrance to the harbor for the green lights. The harbors here use International Port Traffic Signals. When we arrived, it was red for a ferry coming out plus a flotilla of really little sailboats for a children’s regatta. Then it switched to green-white-green, which means you need permission to enter. We waited awhile green-green, meaning we could go, but I wasn’t sure they were going to show that, so I called for permission. They said to wait. We had to wait through another red before we finally got our greens.



From our stern looking back at the entrance to the marina

Then once we were in, we called Mercator Marina. It’s inside a lock, so we needed to let them know we were coming and get instructions. The fact that we would have to go through a lock to get here was one reason I’d picked Nieuwpoort instead to start out with, but we’re going to have to do locks eventually, so we might as well get used to it. This was a good place to learn, except for the crowds lining the lock walls watching us. The short story is that we had some problems and got turned sideways in the lock, but we got straightened out again, didn't break anything, and learned from our mistakes. The major thing was that we didn’t have our lines set up right, and the bowline got fouled, so we didn’t get tied off quickly enough. When we left the lock and tied up to wait for the bridge to open, we did better.



Tall ship Mercator, for which the marina is named, securely anchored off our bow

Once we got settled, we went exploring. There’s a huge grocery store just across the drawbridge from us, so we picked up a few things and dropped them off at the boat and then walked along the Kappellestraat, the major pedestrian-only shopping street, which is on our side of the bridge. We walked all the way to the beach, not that far really, and on the way back finally found our frites and beer in a little café (more a Belgian fast-food place) that appeared to be on the edge of the respectable part of the shopping district. A bar called Bada Bing was across the way and a tattoo parlor just down the street. One medium order of frites between us satisfied our craving, so now we can see what else Belgian cuisine has to offer. It looks like it’s mostly chocolate, waffles, and pancakes. Whether the pancakes are Dutch style or French crepes, we’ve yet to discover.



Treats we have been resisting, but it isn't easy

Sunday, August 10, 2008

40 hour passage + rain in Belgium = new photos

We've had time to add photos to the website. There are five new photo pages. Go to our home page and use the links under "Recent Additions." The same links also appear under "Latest Additions" on the main photo page.

Raining in Belgium

What are the odds? Well, actually in August, I guess they aren’t that great. The locals say this weather definitely isn’t normal. Summer weather is usually nice.

Yesterday we walked to town to find a baker and get more baguette. Also on the agenda was Belgian beer and frites (French fries but better). Alas, they don’t seem to sell just an order of frites where they also sell beer. We saw a couple of walk-away frites places, but when we gave up and went back, they were closed. We did have a local beer, though.

Not on the agenda but a real bonus was an outdoor art show that was going on around the town hall and market plaza. We liked several of the artists, enough so that if we were still buying art, we would have been tempted. And even though we weren’t buying, it was fun to look.

I’m using my Dutch more and more. It’s really helpful in the stores where the signs are in Dutch, but I’m also trying to speak more. Clearly my accent is terrible, and I’m sometimes misunderstood or not understood at all, but I’m trying not to switch back to English. John noticed in the marina office that the staff bore with me and didn’t switch to English until they noticed John and I speaking English with each other. So there’s hope. For his part, John really likes Normandy and is thinking of taking French lessons this winter. Pretty cool, I think.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

At the dock in Nieuwpoort

We arrived and tied up at the reception dock here at 7:30 a.m. after an exciting night of threading our way through well-marked and lighted channels from Calais in the dark. We aren't sure if we'll stay here more than one night. A local has already advised us to go on to Oostend, so if they have room for us, that's what we'll probably do. Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's farther than I thought

We're making good progress on our way to Nieuwpoort, going faster for six hours and slow for six as the currents change. But I revisited the mileage tables and discovered that Nieuwpoort is about two full days from Cherbourg, not the day and a half I thought. It doesn't really matter; it's just two nights out instead of one. But in case anyone is counting the hours until our arrival, I wanted to let you know.


-Shirlee

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Moving on

Later this morning we’re leaving Cherbourg and heading on to Nieuwpoort, Belgium. We’ve had a wonderful time here, thanks in no small part the last few days to Sue and Laurie Stoll of Princess Sue.

Originally from the Brighton area, Sue and Laurie have been living here on their motor yacht for the past 18 months. Shirlee met Sue in the laundry room where Sue was helping the newcomers figure out how to use the machines. When we discovered we were on the same pontoon, a book exchange ensued. Then they invited us on a store run in their car, and when they learned we were thinking of renting a car to visit some of the D-Day landing sites, they offered to take us.

Getting to ride in a car to the store and cart back provisions was a much-appreciated treat, but the trip yesterday to the Normandy American Cemetery and the town of Bayeux was really wonderful. Sue and Laurie had been before and could tell us things we wouldn’t have known otherwise. For example, French servicemen from WWII visit and tend assigned graves several times a year. Sue and Laurie went with a French friend on one of his visits earlier this year. We are so lucky that we met this very generous couple and hope that we’ll see them again. In fact, we’re talking about meeting up in Amsterdam while we’re there.

Another thing I forgot to mention falls in the small world category. Between the Azores and here, we heard an American boat Dandelion on Southbound II. A few days after we arrived, I saw Dandelion come into Cherbourg, so I went over to say hello. Somehow it came out that the owner, Andrew, was originally from Eugene, Oregon. Not only that, he played in the Eugene Junior Symphony under Dick Long. Obviously, he’s quite a few years younger than we are since we played in the Junior Symphony with Dick Long. Dandelion appears to be the only other American boat here.

Andrew also brought word of the other boats we’d been traveling with: Ventura, Aphrodite, and Orinoco. He passed within VHF range of them at the entrance to the Channel, where they were hove to awaiting lighter winds. We heard a couple of days later from them that they had safely reached Falmouth.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Still in Cherbourg

When we arrived here, we paid for a week in advance. At the time, we thought that we’d go from here to Le Havre and take a train to Paris. Since then we’ve learned a lot about the prices of things here and have changed our plans. Next we’ll go on to Nieuwpoort, Belgium, and save our trip to Paris for the off-season.


The public market in front of the theater

Umbrellas of Cherbourg for sale here

This statue of Napoleon survived the WWII bombing

But first, we have to have a repair completed. Last week the wind in the harbor kicked up, and we needed to adjust our dock lines, so we tried to start the engine to back off the dock a little. But it wouldn’t start. It had been difficult to start since somewhere between Florida and the Azores, and we thought it was the battery. This time John checked the battery and it was good, so it must be the starter. We’ve been carrying a spare starter, so it wasn’t that big a deal when the mechanic told us the astronomical price to replace the one that died. We said use the spare. Pleased that the labor costs for the mechanic were very reasonable, John turned on the engine yesterday to warm the oil prior to changing it, and smoke started coming out of the engine instrument panel. Nothing burned, but some wires melted, so we got a mechanic back to the boat to fix it. It was their error that caused the problem, so there was no charge to us. However, as they were running the engine to be sure that everything was OK this time, they noticed a small fuel leak. The high-pressure fuel hose had chafed through in a spot. So now we’re going to replace that, but the shop is closed Sunday and Monday, so we’re here until Wednesday. (John still has to change the oil after the repair is complete.)


Since our last post we’ve been to the public market, had dinner in a nice restaurant, and visited the museum of the liberation. We’re walking a lot to make up for all the baguettes and Camembert we’ve been eating. The weather has turned a little rainy, so we’re hanging out on the boat at the moment. Nothing very exciting to report, but maybe John will get another photo page or two put together soon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Exploring Cherbourg

Since our last post at the end of the crossing, we’ve been quite busy. Much of our time has been spent exploring the old town around the marina, looking for an inexpensive café the first day where we could have café au lait and croissants. (We struck out on that but brought pastries back to the boat to have with our tea and coffee.)

Next we went in search of customs and immigration to find out if we needed to clear in. When we arrived at their building, they were closed for lunch, but it was near the La Cité de la Mer, a huge maritime museum, so we went there. Afterwards we found some people in the customs office who were totally confused by our question but arranged for officers to come to our boat the next day.

Our next quest was for a French-English-French dictionary and phrase book for me (Shirlee). My high school French has been amazingly useful, and I’ve confirmed that I still know more French than I’ve managed to learn of Spanish or Portuguese, but it’s nice to have a dictionary.

There’s a huge supermarket that’s quite popular with the Brits within walking distance of the marina, but it’s a hike and we haven’t been there yet. We thought it would be more fun to find little butcher shops, bakeries, and green grocers in the old town. And there’s a farmers’ market every other day. Yesterday we found the farmers’ market and tried a second bakery, not being thrilled with the baguette from the first. I think we’ve got it figured out now where we’ll shop, and it is fun to do it this way. There’s a supermarket near the farmers’ market that look big enough for our purposes. We still have canned food from the Costco run that Mom and I did in Fort Lauderdale, so what we mostly need is fresh stuff. Oh yes, and there’s a big discount wine store right at the marina.

Eating in restaurants here is relatively expensive. Even the blue plate special that most offer (plat du jour) runs at least 6€. With shopping being fun and John being such a good cook, we’ve decided to pick a restaurant for just one dinner out. We have a little restaurant guide, and we’ve been reading the menus posted in the restaurant windows as we explore. When the customs guys came to inspect us, we also asked for their recommendations. We think we’ve found the one, and we’ll read its menu when we go to the tourist office to find out how to get to the D-Day memorials; it’s on the way.

About clearing in, we learned from the customs officers that we don’t have to do it here in France. We cleared into the EU in the Azores, and that’s good enough for them. The procedure is to check in with the marina, and customs and immigration will look us up if they want to talk with us. Another cruiser on a discussion board said that’s what they did in Belgium and the Netherlands too. But since we contacted customs, they were happy to do the most thorough inspection yet of the boat.

Finally, John got lots of photo pages together, and I got them posted on the website. (Look under Recent Updates.) Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Atlantic Crossing 2nd Leg Day 14 - We Made It!

We are on the dock in France. Time to break out the bubbly and relax.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Atlantic Crossing 2nd Leg Day 13 - Crossing Traffic Lanes

This afternoon we started getting close to the outbound big ship traffic lane. As we approached within two miles of the traffic lane, we decided to cross the traffic lanes to get to the small vessel side. As we crossed we had to divert course for three freighters. They were heading out in a steady stream. At times we had six ships tracking on radar. After five hours we had crossed all lanes and resumed our course to the NE.

Today has been a warm and sunny day with no wind. We have been motoring all day until 8:00 p.m. The wind has come up and with the favorable current, we are now sailing at 4.6 knots. This is our last night of the Atlantic crossing and we are feeling pretty good about it.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Atlantic Crossing 2nd Leg Day 12 - I see England, I see France

Since it's dark out, we really can see the light at Lizard Point in England. Boy, there sure are a lot of boats here! Many of them are commercial fishing boats, but there's freighter traffic too. A few hours ago, we had five freighters in sight at once. Just an hour ago, there were too many fishing boats to count, maybe a dozen, all around us. In the afternoon we saw two sailboats crossing toward France, but they didn't answer our hail. We're motor-sailing up the middle of the channel now to minimize the effects of the current. There's very little wind, we're tired of going so slowly, and we have enough fuel to reach Cherbourg, even if we have to motor the whole rest of the way.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Atlantic Crossing 2nd Leg Day 11 - Good wind arrived

Today the wind is back in our favor. It clocked to the south, and we are on a close reach to our final waypoint before entering the English Channel. The current weather forecasts should have us in Cherbourg in three days. However, we received a conflicting forecast from Herb this evening which calls for east winds in the channel in two days due to high pressure over Ireland. At any rate, we are getting close and making good time now.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Atlantic Crossing 2nd Leg Day 10 -Crossed the Continental Shelf

Today we crossed the line the marks the continental shelf. On EU charts it is the 200-meter depth line; on US charts it is the 100-fathom line. When we approached the line there were two large fishing boats working the line. In stormy weather the seas can build up rather large breaking waves at and inside the 100-fathom line. However, today was easy with 15 knots from the SE driving us toward Europe.

Today has been a tacking drill. Our desired course is ESE and the wind has been SE most of the day. So we have been tacking back and forth over our rhumb line to get east. Our northerly tack had us pointing at Ireland early in the day. Later in the afternoon the northerly tack had us headed to Wales. The wind is now backing to the NE so our southerly tack has become our favored tack. Eventually the wind is to back to westerlies.

All is well aboard Solstice.

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