Here stood the gateway to the Netherlands; a monstrous lock (a sluis in Dutch) at the intersection of the Meuse River (now Maas River in Dutch) and the Albertkanaal. We looked ahead at the three locks sprawled across the river, one additionally under construction, and wondered where we had missed the stop where instruction manuals were provided. Fortunately, a VHF channel was posted. While Brian steered Detour towards a waiting wall where there was already a tugboat, I hailed the lock-keeper hoping for some guidance. The keeper actually answered! Well, my goodness, we are entering a new country! “Bonjour, Madame!” came a cheery reply over the VHF. “Bonjour, Monsieur!” I responded confidently, hoping this would be my final French VHF conversation, then proceeded to inquire in English about which lock we should approach. “Middle one, five minutes,” from the keeper. When the lock opened we entered, and approached the starboard side wall to secure to a floating bollard. I was nearly decapitated by an extremely long rake handle that was lying on the ground at the adjacent construction and overhanging the lock wall. I managed to yell out, “Hold-it, there’s a post,” to Brian before comprehending that the object was, indeed, just a rake handle then grabbed it and walked it along with me towards the stern so that I could see it safely over the boat’s stern arch. Meanwhile, I looked at Brian quizzingly, wondering why he had swerved and we’d missed our intended bollard. He shouted back, “POST! WHAT POST!” I hadn’t translated the information to him and very casually replied, “Oh never mind, it’s a just a rake.” Brian had no idea, of course, what I was talking about but proceeded to dock at the next bollard while I returned to the mid-line to be ready. Shortly after securing to the bollard I explained the post was actually a rake and pointed at the still overhanging handle lying over the edge of the lock. After weaving through several commercial ships awaiting the lock, and then dodging two pleasure boats that made a tight turn ’round the corner on their upstream approach to the lock, we breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Welcome to the Netherlands!” Brian cheered, “We’ve made it!” We continued along the Maas River; to starboard a large lake, and just ahead bustling pleasure boats moved about the river as we approached our first stop at Maastricht. We found available space and a very helpful harbormaster at Treech 42.
From Treech 42 we explored the city of Maastricht for two days in-between getting ourselves quickly acquainted in the Netherlands. A new country requires a new SIM card for a new data plan, new navigational charts to review, new grocery stores with which to familiarize oneself, new, new, new…and did I mention a new language too! The wonderful thing about the Netherlands is that although everyone speaks Dutch everyone also speaks English and very unlike France, most people seem to be friendly, interested, and helpful. From our arrival, we’ve been thrilled with the Netherlands’ hospitality!
Maastricht is the oldest city in the Netherlands and so it has much history and much to see. Helpoort, or Hell’s Gate, was constructed during the 1200’s and was the southeastern entry through the city walls to Maastricht. Over many years, in addition to being the city’s primary entrance until the second city wall was built during the 15th century, Helpoort had housed prisoners in its tower, served as storage space, served as workshop, and served as residence. Today there is a museum within the gate, dedicated to its history. As soon as we’d stepped into this 700-year-old Dominican church, it was evident that we’d not be late for mass. The church has been completely converted into a modern book store and cafe, Boekhandel Dominicanen. Sint Janskerk (St. Jon’s Church) hosts an active Protestant parish. This unique church towers above the center of Maastricht. Of course, as in all new places, there were less-known fun surprises at each turn. Amidst the bustling shopping streets we stumbled upon The Hoppy Brothers which was a fabulous beer shop. We browsed a large selection of craft brews from the Netherlands, UK, and even found familiar labels from the United States. The enthusiastic shop tender gave us solid recommendations per our beer preferences. He was astounded, however, that I had selected from the stout and porter section, “…this is a strong beer,” he stated repeatedly as I pulled an imperial stout from the shelf. We later learned that these strong beers are not a common choice among Dutch ladies. Walking away from The Hoppy Brothers with a full bag of brews (we enjoyed all of them in turn!), we next walked through De Bisschopsmolen. This fully operational flour mill operates with a water wheel. The shop sells freshly baked bread and lets guests freely observe the milling process. We could hardly get enough of Maastricht; each evening we’d return to the downtown to stroll the city streets on either side of the Maas River. But we were soon moving along northward, there was so much to explore!