What a picturesque old city, just beautiful, Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland and has a rich history and culture as well as many, many, many old monuments to visit in the city – we certainly ticked off quite a few of them.
We stayed in the small basin attached to the local Yacht Club (entrance via a small lifting bridge – video at the end of post) and again being early in the season without other boats around were given a prime berth. The friendly locals at the yacht club (via hand signals and mixed english/dutch from both them and us) invited us to the club house for a meal and band later that night and it was a great night with a great club (and a great price too). They served up home made dutch fare (a few different types of casseroles mainly with worst (sausages) in them as well as our share of drinks for under €20 all up – bargain. We were put on the table with the band, yes they had a 8 piece band playing music and although we didn’t know all the songs the music was great and we did get to sing along to a few sea shanty songs that were in english.
We got the bikes out and off we set to explore Kinderdijk. This is a group of 19 windmills and was built around 1740 to drain the polder (paddocks and low lying ground). This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and is listed as one of the top tourist sites in the country. The story behind the name is sweet and one you may of heard of; the name Kinderdijk is Dutch for “Children dike”. During the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed unflooded. It is said that when the terrible storm had subsided, someone went to the dike between these two areas to see what could be saved. In the distance he saw a wooden cradle floating on the water. As it came nearer, some movement was detected. A cat was seen in the cradle trying to keep it balanced by jumping back and forth so that no water could get into it. As the cradle eventually came close enough to the dike for a bystander to pick up the cradle, he saw that a baby was quietly sleeping inside it, nice and dry. The cat had kept the cradle balanced and afloat. This folktale and legend has been published as “The Cat and the Cradle” in English.
As we began to plan our next passage north to Gouda we became aware of the Alblasserdam bridge wasn’t functioning. This delayed us by a day, so we headed out for a day on the bikes to visit the national park. As previously mentioned Holland is very flat and bicycles are everywhere, and I mean everywhere and ridden by everyone. Infact it can be a little daunting and quite dangerous walking the streets as the bikes are thick and fast, any way the highlight of this day was the look on Phil’s face not once but twice when he was overtaken on his bike by grannies! The first was a tiny little old lady who overtook him peddling along a flat piece of road, his face was priceless and my giggling didn’t help his pride either. The second old lady later in the day did have the help of an engine or battery as she was on a motorised scooter (you know the ones the old people get around in the buggies with their walking sticks etc) well she overtook us on the bike path going really quite fast but we got her back as her battery started to drain and slow we passed her and kept going leaving her a long way behind.
That night we phoned to check on the bridge status to be told all was ok, great, we got organised to depart the next day. Depart we did, however only to make it to the bridge to discover it actually wasn’t repaired (or had broken again – not quite sure which) and they couldn’t tell us when it would be fixed, we found a nearby little side stream off the main river and rafted on an old “fix-er-upper” fishing boat that looked like it hadn’t moved in years for the day ringing every hour for an update with the words “bridge big problem and we have meetings about fixing it” being communicated back to us. We stayed the night against the old boat and with the bridge still out of action the next morning we made the decision to yet again take the long way around, adding an additional 35 miles (about 8 hours and 4 extra lifting bridges) via Rotterdam and the main shipping channels to get to the other side of the bridge which should have only been 8 miles from Dordrecht.
Back to the big lifting highway and train bridges at Dordrecht we went knowing we needed to get through in the 9:30 am lifting to enable us to get past Rotterdam that day (the bridge only opening 3 times a day) and that’s the start of what could have been a very devastating incident for us. We arrived at the bridge at 09:00 plenty of time knowing it didn’t open until half past. We did the right thing and phoned the bridge master to advise him we wanted to pass (as there is also a lot of commercial traffic and large ships that pass through also). The bridge keeper said “no problem, there are two other ships going through also, please get as close to the bridge as possible as you will go through first” We had been told this a lot, to get close to the bridges and be ready as this minimises the time it needs to be open and less disruption to the trains and cars waiting. So get close to the bridge we did. The bridge began to open and the lights on our side of the bridge remained red, which was concerning but we followed the instructions we were given and remained close thinking they would change soon . . . they didn’t change and next thing there was a large container ship bearing down on us in a very small opening leaving us no where to go, we threw her into reverse and fighting a bit of a current pushed back as hard as we could (without a lot of control) and thankfully into a small gap between two large barges tied to the side of the river. With a large ship honking us as he passed by. Close call it was, by far the closest we have come to an accident. To say Phil was mad was an understatement he was really upset and he got straight on the VHF radio and was answered in Dutch, so he phoned back the bridge who told us we were going first and to get close to the bridge only for them to say, “you must follow the traffic lights”, yes, yes, yes we know the rules and we follow the rules, we were not is a rush, we didn’t mind if we were last BUT we were told to go as close to the bridge as possible because we were going first – which we did, and that meant when the light stayed red and the ship came gave us no where to go!! It took us the whole day to calm down and there was a lot of head shaking.
Below is our exit out of the Dordrecht Marina through the lifting bridge.