Holland Under Water

I don’t know many of my relatives in Holland but my cousin Hanneke has kept up with her Canadian cousins, and I was thrilled that she offered, along with her husband Matthias, to meet with Mike and I, and take us on a tour of part of Holland. 

I had an early (by Dutch standards) walk to Central Station to take the train to our meeting point. Amsterdam was sleepy, quiet and peaceful.

The country is such a contrast to Canada, especially Vancouver Island.  Vancouver Island has an area of 31,285 sq km, vs Holland with 41,453 sq km.  However, there is a lot of water in Holland (canals and especially IJsselmeer, more on that later), so the land area is 33,482 sq km, roughly comparable to Vancouver Island.  But there are almost 18 million people living in Holland, vs the almost 1 million on Vancouver Island, so you can imagine how precious any land space is, and how ‘crowded’ living is.  It also explains why bikes, and the excellent public transit and trains, are such effective modes of transportation.  Bikes take a lot less space and public transit can move lots of people.  

Even though it’s a small country, there is lots to see and do, so we went to the northern part of the country where we had a great opportunity to see the effective reclamation of land.  The Dutch are masters at making land out of water, and when they need mores space, they just create more land!

#1:  Afsluitdijk

We zipped along the highway passing through some industrial areas and then the views turned more pastoral with billiard table-flat green fields, dotted with sheep and cows.    We made our way to Afsluitdijk, which literally translated, means “shut off dyke”. It’s 32-km long, and shuts off the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea, a large arm/bay of the North Sea) from the rest of the North Sea.  Even though the Zuiderzee was a protected entrance into Amsterdam, there was already a canal that provided a much more direct access to the port, so they decided it would be good to ‘close it off’ and see if land could be reclaimed from the shallow waters.   The dyke created a new inland lake called IJsselmeer, named for the river Ijssel that flows into it. And yes polders were created and we drove across them on our travels.

The drive along they dyke was fascinating, not only because of the length of the dyke, but because at just 7.5 m high, I was surprised it could keep out the sea.  I was convinced that there were be times when it would be breached by winds and storms from the North Sea.  But it still stands.

These are standing in IJsselmeer, fresh water lake.

The most striking feature was the windfarm of 89 turbines standing in the water. This is not the only place you will see wind turbines in Holland,; they are everywhere and they produce a substantial percentage of the power for Holland.  They even have them way out in the North Sea.  This is an ideal location  because the land is so flat, and the winds from the water must be pretty constant.  

On the way to our next stop in Franeker, Matthias took drove along some one-lane country roads (literally room for one car; we were glad we didn’t meet anyone) to the northern coast, to hopefully see the islands in the North Sea that are favourite vacation spots.  It was raining so we didn’t stay long, but we climbed up the big dyke which protect the low-lying lands behind it and felt the wind and the rain.  From the top of the dyke, we could see a log way (even in the rain), and it was flat, flat, flat!

#2 Franeker

This is an utterly charming town to visit, whose claim to fame is the oldest working planetarium in the world, soon to be a Unesco site.  Eise Eisinga, an uneducated, but extremely gifted man, built this over 7 years, in his home, finishing it in 1774.   He decided to build it to disprove the statement from a minister in church one day that the world was going to end in flames because the 4 planets were aligned that day.  It was fascinating to see.  He built this before the discovery of Uranus and Neptune, so the roof actively tracks/predicts the planetary orbits of all the planets up to Saturn.  In addition, you can determine the lunar phase, astrological sign, season, etc on the other dials.  The mechanism, visible in the roof was a series of cog wheels, for which he made all the nails to act as cogs, driven by the pendulum clock. 

For this more mechanically minded then me, here is the official description of the mechanism:

All the planets, pointers and clocks are driven by an extensive system of wooden disks with around 6.000 hand-wrought iron pins serving as cogs.

This entire mechanism is controlled by a pendulum clock with a single weight. This clockwork, however, merely regulates the speed at which the mechanism turns. The power to turn it comes from eight weights connected to the main axles that eliminate almost all resistance.

The pendulum swings at a rate of 80 times a minute.
Over the course of a year, the pendulum has to be adjusted somewhat due to temperature fluctuations.

We all loved visiting this and marvelling at the complexity, and the brain the could figure out how to do this!

This is polder country, so our drive along the country roads in this area was below sea level. It certainly didn’t feel like it but with the fields are as flat as they are, and the only elevation changes are the bridges up and over the various canals, it makes it a bit more real.  The land looks fertile, with brilliant green grass and the ubiquitous wind turbines are part of the landscape.

#3 Geithoorn

A very popular destination for tourists, this village with quaint Dutch houses with thatched roofs, situated on small canals, is so picturesque. 

As we were walking, we couldn’t understand where all the tourists were; there was nobody, and no stores/restaurants.  We have a lovely walk, and finally found a restaurant.  We discovered that we ‘missed’ the tourist sector and saw  the ‘real’ part.  We were fine with that. 

Before the dykes were built, these small canals, allowed the tides to flow in and out without flooding the land.  The farmers would use them to transport good and livestock to and from the farm.  The canals are likely a lot smaller now since they are not actively used, but it was still lovely to see.  Renting a small electric boat to travel the canals is a popular activity but we decided just to walk.  

We made our way back to Amsterdam through the polder-lands and enjoyed the scenery and time together.  It was a short day to reconnect with my Dutch family but I am glad I had the opportunity to see them and see some more of this fascinating country!

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