Extreme caution is in order when you walk the sidewalks of Hoorn, our first stop in Holland on the inaugural cruise of Avalon Waterways‘ new river cruise ship Avalon Vista. Many of the city’s streets are canals, with no railings to keep errant pedestrians or unwary bikers from taking a plunge into the water.
This charming town on the Zuiderzee grew fabulously rich as the home base of the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s and some of its streets still remain as they did four centuries ago, although with a fair number of twists.
Is it just me–or are many of the homes leaning drunkenly into the street? Imagine being an owner and being told your 400-year-old heritage home can’t be altered as you watch its foundation sink a bit more each year into land that was reclaimed from the sea.
Here they call that character, and it certainly adds to the fun of streets whose buildings have cornerstones that feature the logo VOC — the initials of the unpronounceable Dutch name of what was one of the world`s first multi-national companies.
Then as now, tall sailing ships pack the harbor and while crews tend the rigging and ducks swim in patrol around their brightly painted hulls. Each ship sports a fantastic figurehead of mermaids, lions or dragons.
Exotic spices like pepper, nutmeg, cloves and mace that arrived here were worth their weight in gold in those days. So fleets that left from here and made it back made fortunes, But to do that meant being bold or just foolhearty and fortunate to survive the months of privation, disease and pirate attacks they faced on the journey to the east and back. As many as two thirds of the sailors who set out from Hoorn never made it home. But the lure was always the fortune that made the city’s elaborately decorated palaces possisble.
Among the most famous of the traders was Jan Pieterszoon Coen who founded the city of Batavia—now Jakarta—in Indonesia in 1619. A huge statue in the center of town commemorates the feat. Cape Horn, the most southerly point in South America was also named after the town by Willem Schouten, who rounded the Cape in 1616.
One other claim to fame of Hoorn are the liqueurs made by the Bols family, who distributed them worldwide. Thank Hoorn for the Genever liquor made from cargos of juniper berries that landed in the port. It`s the original gin and in a toast to the fact there was a tasting aboard Avalon Vista, which is about to be christened in a double ceremony with sister ship Avalon Visionary.
Young Genever is as clear and crisp as a dry martini while the older and darker it gets the more it looks and tastes like a brandy. They all have a wicked kick.
After tasting six kinds of Genever, I had a new perspective.
Somehow the streets of Hoorn looked much straighter.