Actually, I rather miss not having a barge to look for. None of my offspring is currently in the market for a barge and no one I know is aiming to buy right now. Rather the opposite; they are all trying to sell. But it takes me back to the time I first started looking at barges as an alternative to a house. It was when Bill the erstwhile and I decided this was a viable option for us as we couldn't afford to buy a house in Holland when we first came here. What funds I'd brought from South Africa disappeared into the big money pit scam titled Exchange Rate Disaster and the only affordable possibility was something the size of a lock-up garage (single, not even double) or a potting shed.
However, the world of barges opened up a whole new scenario for me. I'd never before looked at a floating home. After seeing the size of the accommodation on the huge commercials, I realised that the living space was easily as big as a large apartment. But we weren't planning on plying the trade, so we had to downscale and look at the smaller, older barges in which the holds were, and still are, often converted to houseboats. We then had to decide how big (or small) we wanted it to be, or how old, and even whether we wanted an authentic, original barge or one that had been modernised.
|What type barge would we want. There were so many to |
These were all considerations. Of course, there were even more important concerns such as how thick the bottom was, whether it had any unintended holes, threat of holes, hint of holes or otherwise. What was important, though, was that whatever we chose had to be liveable on immediately. Yes, immediately. The fact that back in 2000, we were paying the equivalent of €1200 a month rent for a flat with stairs so dangerous I'd fallen down them twice and broken my ribs was quite compelling. We had to get a mortgage to buy our first floating home, but even at the higher interest rates for barges, this would still be a lot cheaper than our astronomical rent for an apparently life-threatening environment. Okay, so maybe I was just clumsy, but even so.
|Some typically steep Dutch stairs|
And so we began the search. It was actually amazing. It took us to parts of the country we might not otherwise have visited for years, and in some cases, never. For instance, we went to see a barge moored on a tiny canal in the depths of Friesland. It was virtually hidden among the reeds and accessible only by crossing a field of waist high grass in front of the owner's remote country house. It wasn't what we were looking for, fortunately, as I had to wonder how on earth anyone was going to extract it from where it seemed to be firmly lodged - in the mud.
|Reed lined banks deep in Holland's heart|
That said, we'd never have wandered so far off the main routes in Friesland otherwise. We went to all sorts of other interesting places too: to Leeuwaarden to see a huge 38 metre Kast and also a Stevenaak, one of a very rare breed of beautiful barges. Sadly, this one was in such a mess, we knew it would never meet the criteria for the mortgage we needed. Other places we went to were Urk and Harlingen, both lovely towns that might have taken us several years to reach had we not been barge hunting. Eventually, we found 'the one' in Purmerend, a town north of Amsterdam and curiously, the place were Koos spent much of his youth (not that I knew that, or even him, at the time).
|We went to places we might never have visited|
but for barge hunting.
It wasn't the height of luxury or anything like that. It was just really homely and well fitted out, and I could imagine living on it without changing a thing. There was a neat 'man's den' type workshop in the bows, then behind that the bedroom (I only later found out the hatches leaked - right over my pillow). Next came the toilet, a rather throne-like room because you had to climb a couple of steps up to the loo (something to do with the gravity needed for pumping out, but it certainly made going to the loo feel like an act of some import). Then the main hold contained the lounge and kitchen, a light, airy space due to the many windows and skylights. The kitchen was at the stern end of the hold, and then behind that, up a couple of steps, was the shower and then the wheelhouse, which was a lovely place to sit once you were inside.
As soon as we'd been through the barge and discovered how good it was technically, we knew our search was over. I must admit I was a little sad but also relieved. As far as I was concerned, the barge didn't need a thing doing to it, except perhaps revising the wheelhouse from hell. I loved it. But to get a place in the Oude Haven, we needed to have a restoration plan. And that's how it went wrong in the end. But that's another story and, unless I can inject some humour into it, not one for my blog. But we'll see. You never know.
The thing is, and coming back to the beginning again, the fun we had looking for barges is what I really remember and so I still love doing it. After all, there is always that tiny, teeny hint of a possible life change, isn't there? And that's what keeps it exciting!
|Dreamy stuff or the stuff of dreams|