Friesland

September 18.  I decided to finish the editing of Roel’s presentation of his months-long pilgrimage from Eibergen to Santiago de Compostella before heading north.  I bid my friends goodbye around 11am and headed first to Zutphen.  I was only there for an hour, and had parked in a legal spot (and had displayed a handicap placard to boot, in case it wasn’t legal), only to come back to a 90 Euro fine.  Yikes!  An expensive trip, to be sure.  Zutphen, like Deventer, is located on the River Ijssel, and grew in importance due to its strategic location along a trade routes.  From there I headed to north toward Sneek, which Roel had recommended.  On the way, I enjoyed the picturesque scenery along the Ijssel.  I stopped in an environmental education center, and enjoyed the presentation on local traditions and flora and fauna.  There was an adjoining museum with interesting films from days of yore, town parades and other extremely local affairs.  I liked the examples of regional costume as well as dioramas of old farmhouses and other structures typical of the region.

I arrived in Sneek around 3pm, and parked near a canal.  It’s a really interesting town, with plenty of historical structures next to very modern and renovated ones.  I liked the mix of old and new.  It is famous for its canals, as well as the Waterpoort, or Watergate, the symbol of the city (not to be confused with the scandal surrounding former American President Richard Nixon).  I admired the layout of the town, and would have stayed, but had a packed itinerary.  I headed to Dokkum, arriving after dusk.  It has one the best preserved bulwarks or fortifications of all fortified towns in Friesland.  It’s a lovely town.  I especially liked the town hall and buildings along the main canal.  I walked the narrow streets and canals in search of a good cup of cocoa and a place to write. As it was late, I decided to camp nearby, and found a place with difficulty some miles outside of town.  Even as I drove, heavy fog or mist had blanketed the surroundings, rendering it almost impossible to see.  I ended up sleeping in the car, as the night air was so damp I would have been soaked through.  I found camping in Holland extremely damp due to the plethora of water.

September 19. I returned to Dokkum, and found a small cafe where I had the best latte I’ve tasted during my trip thus far.  They served it Amaretto and whipped cream, a lovely addition which made it incredibly appetizing. I didn’t want to leave, but had to continue on.  Franeker was my next destination. Like Dokkum, Franeker was one of the eleven historical cities of Friesland, which was historically extremely wealthy.  On my walkabout, I came upon the scales house along one of the canals where grain entering the city would be measured.  It was critical to a municipality that produce by measured by verified measurements (for example, scoops or containers whose volumes were known), as merchants were known to “cut corners”.  The expression is a reference to coin clipping, which was a common practice (and strongly penalized).  There was a fair in town, and I was struck at seeing rides plastered with images of Hollywood so far from home.  Walking on, I came upon the towering 15th century church of St. Martinus.  Its interior pillars feature frescoes of various saints.  The fresco depicting St. Apollonia having her teeth extracted was particularly apt, as I’d had four dental surgeries a few months previously.  Apparently it is the only medieval church in Friesland with a choir walk.

On the way back to my car, a person recommended that I see the Eisinga planetarium, home to the world’s oldest still-functioning orrery.  An orrery, named after the inventor Orrery, is a mechanical model of the solar system that illustrates or predicts the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the center. In the case of Eisinga’s model, the face looks down from the ceiling of what used to be his living room, with most of the mechanical works in the space above the ceiling. It is driven by a pendulum clock, which has 9 weights or ponds. The planets move around the model in real time, automatically. (A slight “re-setting” must be done by hand every four years to compensate for the February 29th of a leap year.) The planetarium includes a display for the current time and date. The plank that has the year numbers written on it has to be replaced every 22 years. To create the gears for the model, 10,000 handmade nails were used. In addition to the basic orrery, there are displays of the phase of the moon and other astronomical phenomenan.  It was constructed on a scale of 1:1,000,000,000,000 (1 millimeter: 1 million kilometers).  This was a highlight for me.  Learning of Eisinga’s work and his diligence was extremely inspiring.

Across the street from Eisinga’s planetarium stands the elegant city hall, whose first stone was laid in 1591. I marveled at the elegant appointments inside, including the excellently-preserved gildt leather wallpaper.  It is one of the top 100 Dutch heritage sites, one of three in Friesland.  I was running out of time, so headed on to Harlingen, a lovely town in Friesland on the Wadden Sea.  The town has a long history of fishing and shipping.  It is a lovely city, and I particularly liked the marinas full of tall ships and fishing boats lined by centuries old buildings.  It was late in the afternoon, and the shadows fell long over the city.  I particularly liked the old warehouse marked with the names of the origins of important spices, including Ceylon, Sumatra, and Java.  The Dutch held a monopoly on the spice trade for centuries.

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