Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's a Dutch Thing: Dijks and Windmills

As promised, I’m back to regale you with stories about windmills! As I type this I have to direct all of you towards the new (er… to me) album by Train, California 37. I’d heard a few of the big hit tracks but didn’t realize they’d released a whole album until Sunday in the car with WDG. Figures, right? This is the part where you all realize that I live under a gigantic pop culture rock hahaha!
Moving on, Sunday was full of Windmills. We spent the morning puttering around Rotterdam, and then drove out towards Kinderdijk. Just for the record, dijks in Holland are these pretty little green hills that just sort of rise out of the otherwise flat landscape. When you learn about Holland in grade school (ok, at least in Canada) you get this image of a country living behind something resembling a large stone retaining wall.

Big dijk, courtesy of Google, that much more closely resembles what I was expecting a dijk to look like.
            There could very well be gigantic dijks like that in Holland, but the ones I saw were greener, inhabited, and notably smaller. They were abundant, and had bike paths on top to boot! Really it makes sense, if you need to have a network of raised sections all over the nation why not layout an incredibly extensive network of bike paths? The canals also varied widely in size. Some, like the ones in the farmer’s fields, were so small I could have hopped from one side to the other without a problem. This one was so big that I watched two fairly large cargo ships zip past each other in front of me, with plenty of room to spare.

The bike path on top of the dijk.
Looking along the dijk at water level. WDG was at least slightly worried I'd gotten myself stuck when I realised the leather soles of my little boots had zero traction on algae-covered rocks.
           Shortly thereafter we arrived at Kinderdijk, which translates (roughly) to ‘Children’s dijk’. As far as I could tell, Kinderdijk is a wetland nature reserve, but also a historic museum/tourist attraction. It’s mostly made up of two long canals with old windmills running down each side; the cute ones! Once we’d arrived we made the little museum center our first stop. In the museum the main attraction was an incredibly engaging video on the history of Kinderdijk, windmills, and Holland’s history in general. The film was played on six different screens, with a different stream of images and movement on each one. Viewers sat in the middle of the screens while the action happened all around you, so that you had to keep turning in order to follow it all. It was outrageously well done, and I was very impressed. They made the whole thing fun! Important information included in this short;

1.      Holland is below sea level because they have been pumping water out of the soil, and the land has settled as a result.
Check, knew that.
2.      There are windmills in Holland, and have been since basically the beginning.
Check, knew that.
3.      Kinder translates as ‘child’, and there is debate about how exactly the dijk received its name, but all the stories involve either children (surprise) or that this set of dijks were tiny compared to others.
Ok, I didn’t know that but arriving at that conclusion isn’t tough.
4.      The windmills are what pump the water out of Holland.
… oh.

            Yes, that is my terrible secret. I knew there were windmills; I didn’t know they were responsible for the water management. In all fairness, I want it noted that there are a variety of other things windmills can be used for, they’re useful contraptions. There is apparently a phrase that goes along with how much work it has taken over the years to build (drain?) Holland; ‘God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland’. At the very least I have to agree with the sentiment of the statement, this country definitely didn’t just fall into its citizen’s lap.
Kinderdijk historic windmills, much cuter than the really tall, modern ones we have on the prairies at home.
Anyway, once I had a better grasp on the windmill situation we borrowed a pair of bicycles and began to cycle around the park section of the site. It was a very windy day, but it felt good to ride a bike again. We do a whole lot of car driving in Canada, and I have a shiny new bicycle at home waiting for me that I don’t get to use this summer because I’m in Europe. I’ve decided that riding along a bike path next to historic windmills is a completely acceptable exchange.
A little ways down the path there was a windmill open to tourists, whoo! So we locked up the bikes and in we went. There were four floors in the windmill, but the ceilings were at different heights for each floor. The ground floor had a nice high ceiling, well out of my reach even if I stood on WDG’s shoulders. The second floor had this little low ceiling, so low that you had to bend over to pass under the rafters.

Low ceilings and big rafters in the windmill on the second floor.
The narrow ladder steps used to navigate the windmills. 
           The third floor ceiling was variable, and then up on the fourth ‘floor’ is where most of the big gears and machinery are kept. You could climb up and view it through a grate at the top of the ladder steps. Just for the record the pretty, colour balanced, sharp shot of the ladder steps was definitely from WDG’s camera. My little point-and-shoot failed me on that one haha!

WDG stepping in to make sure a proper picture of the steep ladder steps made it to the internet. 
            Shortly thereafter we had pancakes for a late lunch. (Er... be careful how you pronounce 'pannenkoek', which is the Dutch word for 'pancake', should you ever be faced with such a challenge. I'll give you a hint, that last syllable is pronounced like the first half of 'cookie', and not anything else. WDG nearly choked on his tongue when he heard my attempt at the word.) Then we had to get back in the car and drive to the airport, because my flight was due to depart just before 7:00pm.
            All in all, Holland was awesome. I've come to the conclusion that of all the countries I've travelled to - including the USA and New Zealand - Holland is the first one I'd actually consider moving to if I had to leave Canada for any significant length of time. Part of it is how relaxed and friendly the people are, part of it is how much green space they've incorporated into their cities. The plant life they have is surprisingly similar to what we've got in Canada near my hometown. Call me crazy, but it felt good to step out of all of the foreign sights, sounds, and smells of the south of France and into something that was suddenly (and surprisingly) familiar.
           Thank you Holland, and here's to you! I'll be back.

Requisite picture of tourist with windmills. 

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