Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kampen, Hoorn, Amsterdam; The Holland Trip Winds Down

Thursday, August 20: Kampen to Hoorn
Today the morning routine was disrupted by a 7:00 AM Lena departure. We are heading west across the Ijssel Lake, formerly the South Sea. It will be a three hour cruise.

The Ijssel Lake was once the open ocean of the Zieder Zee. In the 1930’s a 20 mile long dam was constructed across the entrance and it became a 470 square mile lake, with the salt water replaced by fresh. Former trading towns were cut off and fishermen were put out of business. It is hard to imagine a change of that environmental magnitude taking place today but that is how Holland grew over the years.

In the 1970’s a second dam was built cutting off the south half of Ijssel Lake. The plan called for draining that area and reclaiming the land. But the citizens said “stop” and the massive pumping operation never took place.

We arrived at the old trading town of Enkhuizen where the two groups split and the bike riding began. Plans for the “short ride” group to visit a wonderful local museum were tabled by the threat of thunder and lightening. Instead we did a quick ride around the town before an easy ride to Hoorn.

The Lena was moored near the harbor entrance in a not too charming part of town. The former prison nearby was being redeveloped and the contractor was busy all afternoon. But the wonderful and historic downtown was just a short walk and everyone made it to town to visit one of the better shopping streets we have encountered.

The town square was the scene of a giant art project made up of begonia blooms arranged artfully on the cobblestones. Teams of young people worked on their knees to place the thousands of multicolored blooms while other shuttled back and forth with bins of petals. We passed the work site several times and Kath climbed the viewing scaffold each time to record the progress.

The brunt of the predicted storm held off until dinner time and then unloaded with a noisy vengeance. Wind, thunder and lightening accompanied the downpour. But, by the end of dinner, the storm was over and several people joined Lia for a city walk.

A Word About Pumping Stations: Since much of Holland is below the level of the surrounding lake, canals and the north sea, the country depends on an elaborate system of massive pumping stations for it’s very existence. In the old days the pumping was provided by wind mills which turned paddle wheels. Since a paddle wheel could only efficiently lift water about 1.5 meters, higher lifts, of say 6 meters, would require a “flight” of four windmills close to one another to raise the water the full height.

In the 1800’s the paddle wheel gave way to the screw mill using a more efficient (5 meter lift per pump) “Archimedes” screw to raise the water. Wind power gave way to steam power and ultimately to the massive electric pump system they now use. The entire system of pumps, canals and dams is controlled by a national water board.

Given how close to the dikes people build they clearly have confidence in the system that keeps them dry.

Friday, August 21; Hoorn to Amsterdam
The last day of cycling offered a “long” with Klaas and a “short” with Lia. Daggetts took the train to the “cheese” market in Alkmaar, Kathy, Keith, Mary and Sherm stayed with Lia and the rest followed Klaas.

In the end the Lia a group took the longest time arriving at the Lena with many stops at “Dam” cities across North Holland. Refreshment and shopping stops kept them out until nearly 5:30.

The long group passed through Klaas’ home country and he generously shared memories of his early years in the area. We visited an excellent water mill exhibit and many small towns before we reached the industrial suburbs of Amsterdam and the grand city itself. The ride through urban spaces, without the familiar sheep and cattle, kept all on their toes but we made it without a problem and arrived at the busy dock area about 4:00.

The area is home to dozens of barges, all engaged in moving bikes and passengers off and on their boats in preparation for their next trip.

The final dinner, with comments from the guides and guests, was followed by an evening stroll through the vibrant downtown area of town. On a Friday evening it was filled with gawking tourists and gyrating young people. The relative quiet of the Lena’s back deck offered a welcome respite.
Saturday, August 22, Departure Day
Saturday we went our separate ways. Linda St Clair left early to fly home. Mike packed off for more touring of Holland before heading to Canada. Geoff and Viv headed for London. The others will scatter with most flying out on Sunday morning.

The trip is over and it seems all had a wonderful time. Guides, boat, weather, group and the Dutch culture meshed better than one could hope. It was a happy band from start to finish.

The 2009 Tour of the Delta is now history.

Final Words

Downtown Amsterdam is an electric place, laced with canals and an urban vibrancy. Our time was spent within a mile of the central train station so we did not see all of the city but we saw the core of the old town with its polyglot collection of residents and tourists. Crowds of people mingle on the more popular streets, dodging bikes, buses and streetcars. It seems as if every third person is clutching a tourist map in some language, alternatively staring at the map, the street or the canalscape around them.

We spent two days wandering the inner city and each time welcomed the escape to the quiet of our hotel. Cafes and coffee shops abound, offering a place to sit and watch the throngs pass by. Museums of all types are available within easy walking distance. Boat and canal tours are available. We stumbled onto a Saturday evening classical concert taking place on a barge in a canal surrounded by boats and listeners clinging to balconies and canal banks on either side. It was an urban experience.

With so many people, many of them young, the place became a trash heap each day but, each morning, a street cleaning crew came through washing down the cobblestones and gathering up the paper and debris of the previous day.

Visiting Amsterdam was an unforgettable experience. I preferred the countryside.

Interesting facts about Holland:
· There are around 16 million bicycles in Holland, which supposedly means one for every inhabitant.
· The highest point in Holland is called the ‘mountain;’ 323 meters high.
· Holland has the highest museum density in the world, with almost 1000 museums; there are 42 in Amsterdam alone.
· The lowest point in Holland is a polder near Rotterdam, which is about seven meters below sea level.
· Holland roughly makes 13 percent of Netherlands.
· Holland has over 4,400 km of navigable rivers, canals and lakes.
· Holland was one of the six founding members of the European Community.
· The Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum houses the largest Van Gogh collections in the world.
· One-quarter of Holland is below sea level.
· The International Court of Justice (at the Peace Palace) and the International Criminal Court are both in The Hague.
· Holland still has around a thousand old-fashioned working windmills.
· Holland has no less than 15,000 km of cycle paths.
· Every Dutch person has a bike and there are twice as many bikes as cars.
· Amsterdam is the capital, but the government is in The Hague.
· Most Dutch people speak a foreign language as well as Dutch.
· Rotterdam is the second largest port in the world.
· Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges.
· When you arrive at Schiphol Airport, you are four meters below sea level.

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