Just spent a few days in Amsterdam, city of tulips, canals, bicycles and wild weeing. With Suhith (obvs) and Jim (a mate).
Went primarily to see the Vermeer exhibition. But as with any city break, spent a fair time just wandering about the place. But why no shower you ask. Surely baths aren’t really a thing in the Netherlands? Agreed. But it wasn’t baths that were the alternative. More a three Fs wash with a flannel – kids ask your mum.
When Suhith and I turned up at our ‘hotel’ boat – botel? – (which was in one of the docks, not on one of the actual canals) there was no such refinement as a reception, just a table with keys to the rooms on. There were a couple of Brit tourists already there who informed us there weren’t any showers on the boat. WTF?? That certainly hadn’t been mentioned by booking.com.nl. But judging by the somewhat run-down nature of the boat it certainty seemed possible. What was even more disconcerting was there was only one toilet as well, which was on the main deck whilst the miniscule cabins were below deck down an actual ladder which Suhith and her dodgy hip was going to find hard to navigate at 3 am in the morning! Then a couple of Italian guests turned up. We told them the bad news re the no shower scenario, though they took the information with equanimity. Then some Polish lads arrived so we told them too and set off to the flower market and to meet Jim.
I told Suhith it was a bit of a bummer about the lack of showers but we did have a basin in our cabin and I had a cool blog title. We got back to the boat at about ten at night to find it did have showers after all. Four of them. And four toilets down on the sleeping deck as well! Result! On the being clean front that is. A bit of a disappointment on the blog title front mind.
So, what did we think of the Vermeer exhibition? Jim loved it which as just as well since he had spent literally hours on the computer to get the tickets which turned out to be like gold dust / entry to Glastonbury. Suhith liked it. I thought it was ok. Really liked the milkmaid and the matt grey walls of the galleries. But was a bit disappointed by the no-show of the big ticket number girl with a pearl earring. And the fact that some of his paintings seemed a bit unfinished!
Anyway, back to the showers. Getting clean the following morning in the newly discovered facilities I began to wonder about where the shower water was going. As the shower tray was below the water level it obviously wasn’t discharging directly into the dock. So the wastewater must be being stored in the boat’s bilges, along with the waste from the toilets which were also on the same level, ready to be pumped out somewhere. That wasn’t going to be where we were currently moored though which was a rudimentary jetty with no connection to any pump out facility. Though there was water.
Amsterdam has 165 different canals totalling 50 km in length and approx. 2,500 of the iconic houseboats. Prior to 2012 all wastewater from the houseboats went directly into the canals. Yep, even from the toilets. The canals are deeper than in London, – between 2-3 metres deep compared to 1-1.5 metres, but that set-up caused a lot of pollution. In an attempt to rescue the situation, the canals were flushed out twice a week into the River IJ using a series of pumps and sluice gates. In 2012 Amsterdam council passed a law requiring all houseboats to connect to the city’s sewer system and by 2018 97% met the criteria. But that’s the houseboats. The ‘botels’ aren’t.
On our first morning the boat changed its mooring place from nice and central Amsterdam to a place called Zaandam, eight miles away on the north shore. That was a shame but on the plus side we got a fabulous free 40 minute cruise along the IJ, the waterway connecting the North Sea to the IJmeer, full of massive tug boats and loads of industry (some heritage, some still working) and then turned into an offshoot which became quite rural with riverside houses.
There was no connection to the sewers on our mooring point at Zaandam either. Though we did fill up with water and connected to an electricity supply to recharge the ship’s batteries. And then I sussed it. That 40 minute trip along the IJ? The perfect opportunity to pump out the bilges and all its contents.
So, although we didn’t deliberately set out to do wild weeing in Amsterdam, you could argue that the end result was that we actually did!