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Although the British have known it for years, it has rarely occurred to the American traveler shuttling the usual water-logged tourist circuit in Holland that he could do it all on his own sweet time by boat and at a fraction of the cost. With one-fifth of Holland under water, a man afloat can sift through its meadows, skirt the pasture lands of its cattle, float under its trees, gaze at its water-bordered antiquities, shop at its canalside stores, pull up at its riverside restaurants; indeed, sail down the main drag of its capital, a city of nearly one million, and disembark at his hotel.
His pleasure will have cost him under $100 for a cabin cruiser which sleeps six, not counting gas and the services of a skipper (about $4 a day) should one be required, or as low as $60 a week for a two-place cruiser. After Sept. 8, the charter rates drop about $25.
There are, to be sure, almost any number of sailboats to be rented in Holland and plenty of lakes in which to sail them. But I have specified cabin cruiser because anyone wanting to tour the canals of old Holland in a sailboat would be better advised to take a course in calisthenics. There are 400 low bridges in Amsterdam alone, and getting through that city in a sailboat is an interminable chore of striking and resetting the mast.
In company with Marc Connelly, the American playwright, I hired a cruiser from the Piet Hein Shipyards in Warmond. The Piet Hein yard maintains five Holland cruisers in the Zomer class, these being named variously after the summer: 1) sun, 2) joy, 3) flower, 4) breeze, 5) bird. Each has two settee berths in a forward cabin, two inflatable mattresses for the wheelhouse and two berths in the aft cabin. There is a head in the bow and, forward of the saloon, a galley complete with gas stove. All this is packed into 30 feet of boat with a draft of three feet.
We took on 65 liters of gas, which lightened the money belt by $7, and sailed south from Piet Hein's Jachtwerf, one of the few jachtwerfs in the world, I am sure, which lies immediately adjacent to a Kelly green pasture land where contented Guernseys munch the polder grass. The Zomerzon, flying the American flag from its stern, set out for Leiden, ancient city honored by William the Silent in the 16th century for its successful resistance against Spain. Signposts for yachts marked the way, canalside restaurants lured us for midmorning coffee and we had our first experience with a Dutch toll bridge. As we sailed under it, the bridgekeeper lowered a basket on a fishing pole. We dropped in 10 Dutch cents (2� U.S.). During the day we were dunned twice at 10� bridges, four times at 20� bridges and once at a 33� sluice. At the sluice there was an extra charge of one Dutch cent for each person not counting the skipper. Total day's dunning: 30� U.S., a lot less than what a short trip costs in tolls on many American superhighways.
In Leiden, flowerpots hung from the lampposts, horses were pulling wagon-loads of lettuce, motorcycle carts filled with flowers rasped through the streets, a huge windmill rose out of the traffic at the end of the main street and in the window of a record shop was an album entitled, "Satch Plays Fats."
We tied the Zomerzon to a mooring ring and ate vitsmuiter in the Vergulden Turk, a skylighted restaurant of some renown. A vergulden Turk is a golden Turk, and a vitsmuiter is two slices of beef or ham with two eggs on top. Literally it means "throw out."
Full of vitsmuiter, we dropped our mooring and headed for The Hague. (Local note: the Leiden bridgekeeper collects his toll in a wooden shoe lowered from a fishing pole.) At the Leidschendam sluice we met W. P. Miller, a Dutchman who used to live in the States. "I'm 68 years old and strong as a mine horse," he said. "I'm an eel catcher. Hey, what country you from? The U.S.? Times Square, Chatham Square, Baltimore, Washington, Pensacola, Key West! Got any old English papers?"
A man in a car can see Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam between dawn and dusk, and Holland from north to south is only about 190 miles. Thus it was no surprise that we reached The Hague that same afternoon. The Hague, confusingly, is also known as Den Haag, 's Gravenhage, 's Hage, La Haye and La Haya, which makes locating the city something of a gamy proposition until the traveler catches on. On the site of the present city, the first building was a hunting lodge built by the Counts of Holland; and although it is the seat of government, the residence of the royal family and all the embassies, it is not the capital of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is.
The Hague's most imposing building is the Peace Palace, toward the construction of which the American industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, donated $1,500,000. Started in 1907 and dedicated to world peace, it was finished in 1913, just in time for the war. It is now the Court of International Justice. The Hague's parliament buildings were begun in 1248 by William II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The Hall of Knights is opened regularly on the third Tuesday in September when the Queen arrives in a golden coach, reads her program for the coming year and departs. Then the Hall of Knights is closed until the following year.