“what’s life like on a houseboat?”
Posted in personal, pia's photos, the houseboat May 16th, 2009 by piablog

The other day, I was lost for something to post about. So I posed the question on my facebook fan page to see if anyone could suggest something to get me going.

Heather wrote: “I would love to know how you ended up in a houseboat. Is that common over there? Do many people rent/own houseboats there? What a fun living environment!!”. And then Mary said:”I second the houseboat idea. What’s life like on a houseboat?!”. And before that, Kimberly wrote: “Well, I blogged this morning about the first of many women who inspire me. Who inspires you?”

So, with all those fab suggestions to get my inspiration flowing, I was well on my way to being able to create a post! So, thank you girls! Here are the answers to your questions…

Never in all my life did I dream that I would one day live on a century old cargo boat on a centuries-old canal in Amsterdam. Here is how it happened: French Boy and I visited Amsterdam while we were living in Paris and we loved this city with its wonky old buildings, tiny vertical stairwells, canals and houseboats so much that we decided to look into moving. I said, “wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a houseboat!?”. And he said, “yeah!”. But when we did research on the internet it looked impossible and very very expensive. We learnt that there are 2500 houseboats in Amsterdam, and that a very small percentage are rented on long leases (many are available for short term lease or overnight accomodation). Anyway, we booked a trip to Amsterdam in search of an apartment, and in the dozen places we had booked to look at, one was a houseboat which we found on the internet and which just happened to be available for rent when we wanted. However, in the photos on the web it looked tiny. But we wanted to have a look, just so we could see what it was like inside…

The boat was the last place on the appointment list. French Boy and I weren’t too impressed with what we had seen in the apartments so far. Not only did they seem very expensive for the space offered, but often the kitchens were non-existent, which really didn’t appeal to us since we both love to cook.

But then we arrived at le petit bateau. Nestled under chestnut trees on a quiet canal in the middle of the city, we crossed the skinny wooden bridge and entered the front door, right into a beautiful kitchen, completely surround by windows, sunshine pouring in, and ducks playing outside. We walked up and down the narrow space with the landlord who showed us all the furniture he had made especially for the place – wooden shelves, a desk for a computer, side tables for the bed, and lovely wooden chairs. You can imagine how thrilled I was to see so many things inside this little boat had been made by hand. The landlord had designed the kitchen, installed the best heating and a fabulous washing machine, and he made all the wood trimmings on the ceiling too. He was very passionate about this little boat, and his enthusiasm was contagious. My heart was singing. It felt so right. Until I looked at the tiny pint-sized bathroom…

gasp! But alas, everything else was perfect. French Boy and I went back to Paris and thought long and hard about the places we had seen. We couldn’t get the boat out of our minds. And even with the tiny bathroom (that had no bath! could I live without a bath?!), we still kept talking about what it would be like to call this special space home. Filled with quirky details like potholes, and boat lamps, and wooden walkways along the edge of the exterior, it seemed dreamy. I did a bit more research by asking some of the locals what it might be like on a boat. We knew nobody else who lived on a boat, but the people I did ask pontificated:

“There must be water rats!” said one. Ugh, I thought, that would be rather horrible. So I asked our prospective landlord who also lived on a boat, “are there rats?”. He laughed and said “no way! There are plenty of mice and rats in those wonky old buildings, but not on this boat!”. Phew, I thought. Then somebody else said, “oh wouldn’t it be cold and damp in winter, and stinky from the oil heaters?”. Hmm i thought, this could be true. But no, the landlord informed me that it was toasty warm in winter, that it was certainly not damp, and there was gas heating.

So, we signed the lease. And I am so so glad we did. That was over a year and a half ago now! And I love this place even more than I did when we first moved in. Coming home to le petit bateau is magical – like a secret little retreat. In summer it is nice and cool, with the breeze coming through the windows, and in the winter it is toasty warm and oh so cozy. I love to listen to the raindrops on the canal, and the water birds frolic and splash about…

And sure, it is not a large space, but it suits us just fine, like two love birds in their little nest. Here are some other reasons why I love life on my houseboat:

  • I can play the piano any time of night or day and neighbours don’t complain because they can’t hear a thing! I had a horrible old lady neighbour in Paris who complained the second I put fingers to keys, it was really upsetting and I’m so glad I don’t have that problem any more! In fact, when neighbours do hear me play here, they sit and listen nearby, and wave in thanks. It is very sweet.
  • When the sun shines it hits the surface of the canal and then bounces the water reflections onto the ceiling of the boat. The reflections dance and play, and move across the ceiling as the sun moves across the sky.
  • It is very peaceful.
  • So what about things I’m not so fond of? Well there are some too…

  • There is no bath! But you knew that already.
  • There is not much storage so the space gets untidy very quickly.
  • It gets dusty quickly – the dust and debris from the canal sometimes gets picked up by the wind and brings it right inside the boat. That can be frustrating.
  • It’s small – not enough room to house guests.
  • But, I don’t really mind about these things when everything else about the space is so beautiful. If you have a question that you’d love to know the answer to about living in a houseboat, just comment on this post and I will reply. And for more info about what it’s like, you can read my daily on Design For Mankind which is a moment by moment account of what I get up to here in the boat – I wrote that while I was writing Paris: Made By Hand actually! Also, you can listen to this soundscape I recorded which is what it sounds like when it rains, and this one which is what is sounds like in summer. And then there is this one, which is what it sounds like when i play the piano.

    As for Kimberly’s question about which women have inspired me in my life? I might leave that for another post, another day.


    « « « Leave a comment » » »


    1. anne says

      Hi I came to you via Frenchless in France…I think you have choosen well…how fab it is for you…I can just imagine it..bliss!

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    2. The Deco Detective says

      I’m a piano teacher by profession, so my question comes naturally: Do you actually have your piano on the house boat? That’s so cool! Maybe I ought to change teaching locations…
      I’ll listen to your playing later – there’s a rock n’ roll concert right outside my apartment building at the moment =(

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    3. pia says

      Welcome Anne! Thanks for coming by, I hope you stay a while.

      Trudi – yes indeed! I rent an upright, yamaha, and it fits snuggly here on the boat. I was worried that the piano company wouldn’t let me have the piano on a boat, you know, insurance risk or something silly. Anyway, when I told them, they said “oh, that’s fabulous! Many professional pianists live on houseboats here in Amsterdam and have grand pianos – its the best sound proofing!!” I was so relieved and it’s so true- unless I have all the windows open, no one can hear a thing! And even if I have all the windows open, it’s still very faint outside.

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    4. Laura says

      Oh, Pia, this is wonderful! I really enjoyed hearing the background about how you ended up living on the houseboat. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we spent a bit of time in Amsterdam with my dear friends who had also just gotten married – and we stayed on a houseboat rental! It was unbelievably lovely – there was a wee little deck where we would take our morning coffee, and tourists on the little boats going by would wave, probably thinking we were locals. It really is a magical way to live, and I think your houseboat home must be the most beautiful of all.

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    5. josephine says

      what a lovely story, pia! it seems as if le petit bateau chose you and french boy.

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    6. Maia says

      Thanks for this history! And oh, that swan among the petals. I love the interface with water, and something tugs at my heart every time I think of living on it. I envy you that! (Though I’m not sure I could ever leave the mountains, which are possibly my greatest love).

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    7. Paris Parfait says

      I’ve heard so many people wax rhapsodic over houseboats and I must say the idea is very appealing. We live in Paris now (for the past eight plus years), but are considering where to live after Paris. One of the places is Amsterdam and we’re taking a short break there in June to consider the possibilities. When I lived in the Middle East, I often took brief sojourns in Amsterdam (when I needed a taste of the West) and loved it. But the problem is, in all these years in Paris, I have amassed quite a few antiques and collectibles – where would I put those on a houseboat??!! 🙂 I understand property there is quite expensive, so we’ll see. Anyway, have recently discovered your blog through several of my blogging friends and am delighted to have done so. Felicitations on your new book!

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    8. Christina says

      what a beautiful story you have shared with us. my husband spent some of his high school time in Amsterdam, he loved it. there is not a time when he doesn’t tell me how he wants to take me there. it seems so beautiful. you have made me want to visit more. : ) bliss

      May 16th, 2009 | #

    9. cricket says

      Pia, thankyou!
      When travelling through Europe I am always desperate to know how people live! While walking past dwellings you here banter, smell food offerings and you slow your pace – hoping for a glimpse of HOW. How people live away from your community! A houseboat, thankyou Pia for that glimpse!
      Divine xx

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    10. corine says

      A boat is perfect for 2, cozy and so romantic. And the more space you have the more you accumulate, I know from experience. This forces you to be very discriminating. And when you need to take a bath and sleep on firm ground, you can always spend the night in a hotel.

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    11. Brittany Noel says

      Such a great story! It was clearly meant to be. The photos of you bedroom are just amazing. What I wouldn’t give to have a bedroom like that! Thank you for letting us in to have a glimpse of your houseboat. Can’t believe you’re right in Amsterdam!

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    12. Linda says

      I’m not sure if my previous comment on another posting got through but I wrote about your book on my blog, http://www.lindamathieu.com. A publicist sent me your very lovely book and it has been a fun way to explore Paris.
      I’ve often looked at houseboat tied up along the Seine in Paris and thought it would be an interesting way to live. Your place looks really fabulous.

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    13. diana strinati baur says

      This is very interesting. I would have thought the soundboard of the piano would suffer because of the humidity. I have heard that in Holland many people own property simply because rentals are so expensive. You’ve chosen a pretty cool alternative. Do you feel it move underfoot? How is it when it rains alot? Does it get tossed around at all?

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    14. Holly-UK says

      Oh pia! I found your blog through “Gypsy Girl’s Guide” and your blog is utterly AMAZINGGGGGGG!

      I love all the things you post about, I love your style and your photographs, and your love for thrifted handmade jewels!

      I LOVE the fact you live in a Houseboat in Amsterdam, (i love that place!). Thats so quirky and artistic! I am sooo jealous! its one of my dreams to live on a houseboat in amsterdam!

      I just wanted to let you know how much I LOVE and ADORE you and your style and your blog…… im from the UK so will your book be avaliable on amazon soon?? x

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    15. Gaelka says

      I think every time you say “pothole” you actually mean “porthole”. Anyway. Nice photos! Must be really nice living in Amsterdam, Holland is really pretty…

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    16. pia says

      yes indeed i do gaelka, thanks for picking up the spelling mistake. i always find so many in my posts and i try to go back and correct them as i see them but usually i miss them. merci!

      Holly-UK thank you so much!! The book is available on amazon.co.uk, so go for it!!

      diana strinati baur – it is not humid on the boat at all, so it doesn’t affect the piano. It only ever gets rocky on the boat if a huge wind comes up through the canal, and even then all you feel is a slight jolt. It doesn’t get tossed around at all because this particular canal is very quiet and protected, it’s not like the amstel or IJ rivers. In fact, people who come to visit are ‘disappointed’ because of the lack of movement.

      Linda – thanks for letting me know about you and your fab post, merci!!

      Laura, Josephine, Maia, Paris Parfait, Christina, Cricket, Corine and Brittany Noel – thank you for your beautiful comments!


      May 17th, 2009 | #

    17. Jamie says

      Oh how I adore your blog!!! I discovered it recently and it has become a delightful, sparkley, glittery piece of my day!!!! My husband and I traveled to Amsterdam last April and loved it so much! We biked along the Amstel and thought about how cool it would be to live on a houseboat, or vacation on one someday!!! I love getting glimpses of Amsterdam again through your photos! Thank you!

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    18. Jamie says

      oh, one more thing…I’m looking for poetry recommendations….I’m sure you must have some beautiful ones!

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    19. lynne says

      romantic and close to the water – sounds good to me!
      i’m plugging your book on my blog! best wishes!

      May 17th, 2009 | #

    20. the paris apartment says

      Quel fairytale! I love the shots of the swans and the water. Thanks for the glimpse into your gorgeous life with your french boy!

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    21. Kym says

      Oh my gosh Pia! I have just read your post on The Dailies and I officially announce that I want to BE YOU!
      Oh it is sooooo dreamy and sooooo romantic.
      I’m sure that my face would have had that dreamy (kinda droopy) look that I get when Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) says “You had me at Hello” to Jerry (Tom Cruise) after his “You… you complete me” speech in Jerry Maguire. *sigh*
      I will be daydreaming about You, French Boy & your little houseboat all day.
      Thank you

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    22. Katherine says

      beautiful photos, especially of the water

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    23. vanessa says

      how lovely, i love hearing about your little boat so much! it would be a dream living in such a unique little space. xo

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    24. vicki archer says

      Life on the houseboat sounds magical Pia, xv.

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    25. louise says

      I love the way that you both had an impulse and followed it through. I picture your wee boat bobbing away in the nine streets canals, or maybe the jordaan area…with a little bike parked outside.

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    26. Esti says

      I enjoy your boathouse posts a lot. It’s like reading a happy tale. It can’t get any better…

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    27. The Deco Detective says

      I just had an hour’s break from my piano students, so I listened to your music – which I loved. The intro reminds me of the feeling you cam sometimes find in Debussy’s music! Sorry to read about your great-granddad. I can tell from the music that he meant a lot to you.
      Thanks for sharing this with us Pia.
      Have a lovely Monday afternoon!

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    28. Concha says

      What a sweet, lovely post, Pia!

      I really enjoyed learning about your home! 🙂

      May 18th, 2009 | #

    29. Jessica says


      After stumbling onto your blog, I listened to your music after what had been a long and uninspiring week. I couldn’t help but cry and felt better afterward for it. Thank you for bringing a bit of beauty and peace into the world. I adore your work. So when can I expect to purchase your album? ; )

      May 20th, 2009 | #

    30. fiona says

      I also have lived in a boat in Amsterdam- lots of years ago and a long way from Sydney where I grew up and now live. It was a barge moored behind the Central Station and more than anything I remember the movement. Everything swayed. Once I was sitting in a cafe and couldn’t work out what felt odd and then I realised nothing was moving!And to always see water and not be closed in by buildings meant that nature was so close, so present. Thanks for flooding my mind with glowing memories.

      May 20th, 2009 | #

    31. liza says

      What an absolutely fabulous post! Thank you for telling us all of this. And I love all your beautiful photos of your home.

      May 20th, 2009 | #

    32. Annely says

      I visited Amsterdam lately (incl the Puccini Bomboni in Staalstraat :). It’s a pity I didn’t hear any piano when walking beside the canals 🙂

      May 21st, 2009 | #

    33. dingodevil says

      Pia, you are totally right about the magic of living on a houseboat. I spent my childhood growing up on a 100-year-old solid-oak “berrichon” on the Seine in the outskirts of Paris, and it was a very special experience. My father fitted it out himself completely by hand (with a little help from me as a young kid). Due to space constrictions, our bathroom facilities were also very constrained, as yours are; but one gets used to that…

      Your description of the play of the sunlight on the water reflecting off the ceiling is very evocative to me. Also the constant gentle movement of the boat was very soothing.

      As for the sound, it works both ways: sure, it’s unlikely that neighbours will complain if you are too rowdy, but music travels beautifully across water, and our upstream houseboat neighbour happened to be the leader of a French musical group specializing in South American folkloric music, and his instrument of choice was the pan flute: we used to love listening to him practising in the evening, with the ethereal notes of his flute floating across the water…

      June 4th, 2009 | #

    34. Fannytje says

      found your site via creativevoyage blog. I really like it, I also live in Amsterdam, but Im from France and grew up in Sydney… so I relate to your backgrounds 🙂
      Your description of the houseboat is magical, makes me want to move into one! Ive seen the inside of a friend’s houseboat, I love how ingeniously they are built:-) Enjoy the simple pleasures of your wonderful home and lovely Amsterdam!!

      September 11th, 2009 | #

    35. Olga says

      Yes thats right, Im from sweden so you won´t be able to read my blog. Most nonsens anyway. What good can a 16 year old art-student be ut to, really?
      Well, to the point. Here we go. LETS TRADE LIFE. I am not kidding you here. I have had this dream of mine, ever sins I can remember, to live on a boat. The freedom you must experience very day must be… unhuman. But I am stuck here with my family telling me it will never work out anyhow, that “It is just a face, silly” and I will grow up with a wealthy family, having a good job, magically poop out babies from my vag whenever they feel like it ( Well, I think they have given up on that one now ) Every day I wake up and feel this urge to run barefoot into the snow to nearest airport and fly to Paris, London, anything but here. And I suppose most people feel like this. And It will probably pass. But SCREW THAT. I AM GOING TO FIND A FRENCH ,HANDSOME GINGER-GENTLEMAN WITH TATOOS AND A BOWLERHAT, AND WE ARE GOING TO ADOPT ORPHAN INDIAN CHILDREN AND TEACH THEM TO PICKPOCKET AND SAIL THE WORLD. ARSGFHR NOSEBLEED. SHIT.
      I am so Sorry. Lets blame it on hormones, Its easier that way. You must find this outmost silly. But I somehow felt that I needed to tell you how darn lucky you are. And the fact that I now know that it is possible to live my stupid dream, makes me so exited ( that my nose begins gushing blood, yes ). Envy somehow doesnt really say it all. I wish to get to know you, and how you are currently doing what I would kill for.

      How do you make a living?
      What is the name of your husband? ( I like how you refer to him as “French boy” )
      Do you ever leave the harbour?
      How did you find your boat?
      Is it expensive to live like you do?
      Do you know of if there is anything like chronic nooesbleed? And is i cureble?

      With love and envy, Olga

      February 17th, 2010 | #

    36. Olga says

      *Phase, not face. STUPID SPELLING.

      February 17th, 2010 | #

    37. Online Engineering Degree » Blog Archive » 100 Brilliant Blog Posts for Small-Space Living says

      […] 98.) “‘what’s life like on a houseboat?’” at pia jane bijkerk […]

      September 8th, 2010 | #

    38. Mr. Freelance says

      Thanks for this brilliant post! We’re just looking around for something similar ourselves and this sounds great 🙂

      September 23rd, 2010 | #

    39. The Tiny Life , Archive » Pia’s Houseboat says

      […] Via Share!: […]

      January 26th, 2011 | #

    40. landlocked says

      My partner and I have discussed about living on a boat several times. She lives in Strasbourg and I live in the US. The times I have visited Stras I was always fascinated by the houseboats on the canal. They never moved, however. Do you move yours? I have a friend that lives on a sailboat in California, and when they get tired of the view or the neighbors, they just move. Nanci(my partner) is moving to the states in August, and we were thinking about settling in North Carolina. The biggest problem is our children. Between the two of us, we have four. That would be a bit tight on a boat, and neither of us is rich enough to afford a boat that big. I would love to see your boat sometime. I usually fly through AMS on my way to Strasbourg, and if my layover is long enough I would love to visit, if I may.

      As Olga says, “With love and envy”

      February 11th, 2011 | #

    41. Isabelle says

      Hello 🙂
      First of all, I’m so happy to have stumbled across your blog. Lovely afternoon reading!

      I have a question which I hope isn’t too cheeky! I’m currently in the planning stages of writing a novel which is set primarily on a houseboat. The thing is, I have no knowledge of the logistics and realities of houseboat living. I want to make this life realistic, but I lack the background! Reading your post has certainly given me a good start. But I wanted to ask two questions:
      Would you be willing to exchange the odd email with me? I’d really love to have someone who I could send questions to as they come up. They’ll undoubtedly be mostly about the most simple every day things that wouldn’t take more than a sentence to answer. I completely understand if this is too much to ask…
      And do you know of any other blogs of people who live on houseboats and write about their lives on the boats?
      I really appreciate your time! Izzy.

      May 3rd, 2011 | #

    42. Marina says

      Hi to the person who’s blog this is. I have been living on one of Mark’s houseboats for the past 8 weeks. It is simply amazing and concur with your comments that I have been reading and your experiences. It is simply idilic and I have loved every moment. I vacate the boat on 29th May this year and will miss it terribly, along with the ducks and my resident Heron, who I have named ‘Hector’. I hope one day to relive this experience and have enough funds to purchase my own but it would have to be in Amsterdam. I will spend more time reading your blog when I am back in the UK and missing the boat.
      Best regards

      May 20th, 2011 | #

    43. Amos says

      How lucky I am to have come across your wonderful blog! I really enjoyed every corner of it just as you may have enjoyed your boathouse. Could you please tell me a little bit about the space you live in? Is is a two-storie boat? Besides a kitchen, a tiny bathroom and a living room, what else does it have? How many bedrooms are there? I appreciate any information. Greetings from Brazil! Amos

      November 22nd, 2011 | #

    44. Carina says

      Hi Pia! Thanks for this amazing post. I am Brazilian, currently living in Zurich and being relocated to Netherlands in September. I am looking for an apartment to rent in Amsterdam and I just received a houseboate offer. Shouls I go for it?


      It is smaller than our current apartment and I am afraid we wont “fit” there.

      Any advice is welcome.

      Thanks, Carina

      August 2nd, 2012 | #

    45. Weekend inspiration | island diaries says

      […] you ever lived on a houseboat in […]

      June 1st, 2013 | #

    46. The Dock of the Bay « Sycamore Street Press says

      […] houseboats. Like the one where Tom Hanks’ character lives in Sleepless in Seattle. Or the river barge that blogger/stylist Pia Jane Bijkerk lives on in Amsterdam. So when I spotted this houseboat […]

      March 24th, 2014 | #

    47. Mormorii | Alaska says

      […] forma di foto straordinariamente delicate, spesso Polaroid, e di testi un po’ sognanti. Ecco il suo resoconto di come ha scoperto la piccola casa galleggiante dove abita adesso, godetevi nella puntata qui […]

      July 24th, 2014 | #

    48. Alan says

      Hi Pia Jane,
      Loved your blog. Sounds idyllic and I am thinking of living aboard here in the UK. I just wanted to clarify – no damp in the winter? Is this true?

      March 16th, 2015 | #

    49. Weekend inspiration | island diaries says

      […] you ever lived on a houseboat in […]

      November 30th, 2015 | #

    50. pia jane bijkerkthe last post on this blog... - pia jane bijkerk says

      […] moment or two to peruse this old blog, read back on some of the archived posts from when I lived on the houseboat, rode my bike around Amsterdam, shared beautiful work by beautiful people, made soundscapes in […]

      September 19th, 2021 | #

    RSS feed for these comments. | TrackBack URI