The Venice of the North

‘Lets hire a boat,’ suggests my husband one Saturday morning. Our nanny and her fiancé had done so the weekend before and then her fiance had spent the better part of the last week researching boats to buy.

I looked out the window at the grey sky, not sure if it will be too cold for a boat ride, but the girls are dancing around yelling about boats and pirates and my husband is already pressing buttons on his phone.

‘Sure,’ I say, beginning to fill a basket with jumpers, jackets, beanies, gloves, water and snacks.

The girls clamber into the bakfiets, my eldest slithering in under the handlebars, her body graceful as she slides into her seat.  Her sister, however, is a little less graceful, and somehow manages to wind her body around the handlebars and then land head first on the seat.

‘Stuck, Mama,’ she cries out, panic edging her voice as her jacket slips over her head, obscuring her view.  I lift her marshmallowy, down-jacket bundled body right way up, and snap on her seatbelt.  It’s still weird to be riding around on a bike with no helmets.  We follow the Google maps lady’s instructions along roads I still don’t recognise – although to be fair, I’m still trying to figure out how to get to the local supermarket.

With a rather perfunctory introduction to the world of boating (lifejackets are deemed unessential, but may be found under the seats should we feel anxious, the map we are to use looks more like a snakes and ladders board, and as long as we stay out of everyone else’s way, apparently, we should be fine) we are left to fend for ourselves.

My husband fits the girls life jackets and then putters the boat out into the canal.  With a top speed of about 5 km/hour or whatever that equates to in nautical terms, I figure there really isn’t much trouble we can get into.

The girls have a fantastic time spotting ‘pigeon holes’, holes in the concrete underside of bridges where pigeons are nesting, and take turns standing on the prow, re-enacting one of Titanic’s iconic scene.

We putter along the Amstel river, looking at the houseboats, deciding which ones to live on, my eldest opts for the one that looks like Captain Hook’s pirate ship, my youngest for the one that is more garden than boat.  Me, I imagine reading a book on the egg-shaped chair hanging in the conservatory overflowing with leafy greens, in the lovely modern boathouse that looks like it belongs in a magazine.  I note the rental web address and add it to my bucket list.

We marvel at the ‘dancing houses’ and their unique and jaunty angles.  These are the houses in Amsterdam whose stilts have sunk into the swampy mass on which they were built and now lean into their neighbours quite endearingly.  They remind me of my 19 year old self after a particularly great night out.

A big bossy tour boat hammers the horns and my husband scrabbles to get the boat to the edge of the canal without actually hitting the stonework.  He steers us towards the smallest arch in the next bridge, and we all have to lie down to ensure we are not decapitated.   My eldest yells at me for tearing her away from her post on the prow.

Such fun…

About half way into our 3 hour sojourn, of which we have managed to cover about 3 of Amsterdam’s 165 canals, the wind picks up.  There is nothing like being trapped in a small metal tinny with young children whose goosebumps have goosebumps.  Gone are the fantasies of being pirates and mermaids, and all squeals of delight are replaced by wails and whinging.

My eldest wants to steer the boat on her own, her father thinks they should do it together, given that she is only four.  She of course finds this a completely unreasonable limit on her freedom, and leaps up from her seat to stomp her foot.  Her seat cushion flaps helplessly in the breeze and lands several meters away from the boat.  I try not to laugh as my husband, the proficient boating captain that he is, proceeds to circle the seat cushion, never actually getting any closer to it.  Eventually, I grab the oar, with the arm that is not being used to comfort/defrost our toddler popsicle, to bring the cushion close enough for it to be fished out of the water.

As we putt back past the woman lolling about on the daybed, book in hand, glass of wine in the other, periodically looking up to see what is floating by her window, I decide there might just be something to this living on the water.  It feels dreamy, and wind (and children) aside, serene, very go with the flow.

Our house, is one of the slowly sinking dancing buildings, the street side of the house is lower than the back side, so that you generally feel as though you are walking up or down hill as you traverse the rooms.  My girls love it, they race their cars and trucks and balls from one side to the other.  Me, I would love to sit them on a couple of skateboards and see who wins.

It’s like a comical reminder, of the uselessness of imposing ones own wants over another, in this case, nature.

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