What a beautiful start to the day! We took off fo Giethoorn, a small town which consists of more water than land. In fact, they call it “The Venice of the North” – a nickname I’ve also heard applied to Bruges, but we’ll let them fight that out between them.

The bridges and waterways of Giethoorn. The bridges are high so punters – the gondolas of Giethoorn – can pass underneath. Photo taken just before a tourist banged into the boats, starting one motor and loosing another from its mooring entirely.

Piet-Jan, our host here, warned us against going there – he said it was terribly touristic, and a lady we met at breakfast told us Chinese tourists come in by the bus loads.

The “streets” of Giethoorn.

This is true, on both counts. Never mind Venice – this was more like Disneyland of the north!

Say cheese! You can have any cheese you like – as long as it’s Gouda!

But it was still beautiful. And entertaining! Although we chose to walk, there were plenty of boats for rent, with or without guides and tours. And it was those boats without guides that were the entertainment, weaving and wobbling like drunken sailors through the canals, bumper-car style. The Navigator was not impressed!

Ready to rent!

Next stop was the village of Staphorst, where about 1500 people of the 15,000 population – all women – still wear traditional clothing. The men stopped wearing their traditional gear in the 1950’s. We saw two of the women speeding by on bicycles. For more information, we stopped at the local museum. We learned of the local tradition of building a stone with a hole in it into their homes. They believed only lightning striking a stone could create the hole in the first place, and since lightning never strikes twice in the same place, this would protect them from that peril.

Some homes have racks on the outside to hold the shoes; these are conveniently lined up at the door. Wooden shoes are still the best way to garden.

Me and a couple of the ladies in “modern” Staphorst dress.
Staphorst headdresses, all painted with a stippled design.
Typical farmhouse of Staphorst. And a bicycle. Always a bicycle.

Last stop of the day was Zwolle, a stately old fortified city, where I bought some “Zwolse balletjes” – handmade boiled candy made in the basement of a historic house. We took a self-guided walking tour, and stopped for a pub break when it started to rain.

Window of the sweet shop, where they make their traditional candies in the basement. And the symbol of the hand with blue fingers.

The sweet shop.
Optometrist’s shop in Zwolle, with icon-like portraits of soccer players in honour of the World Cup.

The symbol of Zwolle is a blue hand, how that came about is an insight to how Dutch people think. Apparently the tower of the church of Saint Michael fell down, or burnt down, or was struck by lightning, and whatever happened, the town didn’t have enough money to repair it. So the city council decided to sell the church bells – for a good price, of course, because we are talking about Dutchmen – to the nearby city of Kampen and raise a tidy amount of cash in the process. Well, who knows exactly what happened, as accusations later flew on all sides, but the long and the short of it is that when the bells arrived in Kampen, they were damaged and wouldn’t ring. Zwolle insisted Kampen had to pay their bill nevertheless, because a deal’s a deal, especially when you’re Dutch and it involves money, and grudgingly, the people of Kampen did – but they decided to pay them back (get it? Pay them back!!) in copper pennies and half-pennies.

The people of Zwolle, now suspicious that this was a trick and they weren’t getting full value, counted every single last coin – and hence, the blue fingers!