I had a client post ready to go, but due to popular demand (read: my family and friends) I’ll do another personal post first. Welcome to day 2 of our vacation. (You’re welcome, family) 🙂 In case you missed Day 1 you can go back to it here.
After what might be one of the best sleeps of my life – thank you jet-lag – we were ready for another day of adventure. We were in for a treat! Annie & Kees, relatives of my sister-in-law, were delighted to show us their country. They went above and beyond, renting a vehicle that would carry all of us, and arriving early in the morning with a list of amazing options. Wow.
Here in Canada, it’s not feasible to consider seeing more than even a fraction of the country in a day. To drive from one end to the other takes days and days. To visit more than one province in a day is only worth considering if you’re in the east, and even then you need a real plan. And you have to really, really, want to.
So to realize that we were going to drive easily from one end of the Netherlands to the other? In a day? It made me realize how very big our country is.
So I will begin with an apology – there are quite a few ‘shoot-out-the-window’ pictures in today’s post. Even though the Netherlands is smaller than Canada, in order to cover it all in a day, one simply cannot stop at every single point of interest. 😉
Windmills. Oh the windmills. That was the one thing I really wanted to see. And we did! Every little town and village had one, and a church steeple. To see them with my own eyes and know they actually exist, functioning, in use and in three dimensions, made me smile all day long.
What I didn’t expect to see was a boat in the field beside the windmill. (yep, that’s a boat)
The other thing that happens in Europe (or at least, with all our relatives over there) is kaffe und kuchen. It’s slightly different in Dutch, but it’s the same idea. 11am and Annie says it’s time to stop… so we find the next little town, cross the moat, drive through the huge, ancient fortified gate in the town wall and find the local watering hole.
Parking spots are marked in the cobblestone streets like this… (how cool is that?!)
And the village is right out of a story book. A story-book village ready to cheer on its national soccer team.
The innkeeper was delighted to have some international guests, though I don’t think he understood my fascination with the Pringles vending machine.
Once fortified on kaffe und kuchen, mineral water or bier, we were ready to continue on the adventure. Next up – touching the North Sea… almost.
One quarter of the country is below sea-level, so everywhere you look you can see any number of earthworks, dams, dikes and locks, either nearby or on the horizon. The national commitment to maintaining these structures – and their relationship with the sea – is incredible. And essential. Climate change and changing sea-levels is a real threat around here.
So it shouldn’t have surprised me that there would be a huge dike between the roads and the ocean. It shouldn’t have, but it did. And even though I tried to capture the amazement and perspective with my camera, it doesn’t do it justice. So add a hefty helping of awe and amazement to these images…. and you’ll come close.We were keen to put our toes into the North Sea… until we realized it was low tide, and we saw just how.far.away the water was.So we settled for gazing from afar and pausing for a moment to talk and laugh together. And the odd photo-bomb with brother’s camera. (one never knows what will happen when the camera gets handed off to the brother… myself included)Marsha and her cousin, Annie, have a very special relationship. It was wonderful to see them together. ❤ Kees and Annie were excellent sources of information. We peppered them with questions all.day.long and they never grew tired of answering, or guessing, as best they could. Tour guides extraordinaire.
For example, this pole with the ice cream cone on top? In summer months, when the beach is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people, everyone near and far knows where the ice-cream stand is. Brilliant.
On our way again.
I was endlessly fascinated by the countryside – poppies blooming wild by the roadside, the windmills, the sheep and cows in the fields, the street-signs, the ever-presence of the sea… it’s all so very different from what’s here at home. And the house-barns… they have only ever lived in the stories of my grandparents, who lived in these in the “old country.” Here they were in front of me… real.
These big bridges, for example? These chains of bridges with gates that can be opened and closed against the water? Yeah, we don’t have these at home.
Decades ago (and I’ll apologize right now if I don’t get this history quite right) there was a huge storm. The surge was so high and so strong that the damage inland along the shores of the lake/sea was enormous. After that they closed off the outlet to the sea with a series of these bridges and gates. During normal, calm weather the water can flow in and out with the tides. If a storm is coming they can close the gates against the surge and so protect the water levels further inland where the shoreline is much more vulnerable.
Again… what a relationship to maintain with the sea. The giant rocks above, we later learned, trace the outline of an old church/cathedral destroyed in one of those storms (you can see them on GoogleEarth). A testament to the history of the land-sea relationship.
Cool bikes aren’t limited to Amsterdam.Time for lunch. It was, after all, around 3pm. Off to another small town with another windmill and heaps of small village quaint-ness.
When I asked Annie & Kees what a traditional dutch food to try would be, the response was immediate… Croquetten. Translation: deep fried, breaded cheese. Or meat.
Salty. Crunchy. Greasy. That covers all my favourite food groups. Yummmmm….
My dad and I got a real kick out of the ‘open’ sign hanging in the window. He figured his brother would too. Lest you think, like I did, that windmills are cute and little… When you’re leaving town the sign looks like this… and then when we headed back north the bridge to cross looks like this!
Bellies filled with good food, we set off for one of the Canadian War cemeteries in Holland.
It was a profound and deeply moving experience.At the entrance to the cemetery stands an enormous tulip tree… in full bloom. It’s something I have never seen before.Our journeys took us back through Amsterdam where we had the great fortune (according to some in our party) to be stopped by a lift bridge. It made me smile that the bicycles were the first ones across once the road re-connected. The final leg of our tour-of-the-country was across the longest dike – the 30km long Afsluitdijk or “Barrier Dike”. The brainchild of Cornelius Lely, the Afsluitdijk took nearly 40 years from idea to completion. And it’s no wonder. It’s an astounding feat. The stretch connects North Holland with Friesland and turned the inland sea from salt to fresh-water. Land is still being reclaimed from that sea-turned-lake.
Boats and water-outflow get through a lock and sluice system at one end.In the middle there is a stop-off point with a restaurant, picnic tables and 2 monuments: One of a young man laying the final block in the dike, and another of Cornelius Lely himself, gazing out over the new lake his idea-come-to-fruition created. … and in true dutch fashion, there are bike lanes on it too. Next time. 🙂 And when you look out to sea from the dike… wow.
Thank you, Annie & Kees, for the best tour of your country we could have imagined. Even now as I’m typing this my head is spinning with how much we did, how many things you showed us, and all the effort and care you took. It was truly wonderful! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
We’ll see you again tomorrow.