The Dutch have a saying, “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.” I’m not so sure about the first part, but I’m definitely becoming convinced about the second.
Today I went to Kinderdijk, a small town fifteen miles Southeast of Rotterdam. It sits at the apex of where the Noord and the Lek rivers combine into the Maas. Kinderdijk is a polder, a piece of low-lying land that has been reclaimed from the rivers. There are 19 windmills there that were historically used to pump water out of the man-made basin. The Dutch use the reclaimed land to grow crops, graze livestock, and build the homes. They created a village below water level. In present day, the windmills have been replaced by an electric-powered pumping station. Nevertheless, the site tells a history lesson. The windmills sit in the same foundations as when they were built in 1740. The site highlights how long the Dutch have manipulated the landscape for their well-being and livelihood.
It’s kind of hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the water level to the left of the path is higher than the fields that the cows are grazing on to the right. The path is on a dike, a man-made wall to contain the water at a higher elevation.
One thing I observed biking around today is that the Dutch take advantage of the abundance of water. Rather than building gates for horses, sheep, or cattle, they build canals in order to contain the animals. If the water is there, embrace it.
The bike ride out to Kinderdijk was the best part of the day. It was about 10-12 miles, but each way took me over an hour…I got pretty lost. Riding on the Dutch bike highways is kind of like riding the East Australian Current. (Refresher). Everyone is vibe-ing and having a good time. For one stretch of the bike path I didn’t see a car for about 6 miles. It was pretty incredible.
I knew that there was a ferry that could take me over to Kinderdijk so my goal was to follow the river. This was harder than I had planned. Because of the dikes built up along the banks to prevent the water from flooding inland, I couldn’t see the river at all. I made my best guesses. I’d overshoot, find a map, try again, get lost in an industrial park, find a map, and try again. And so on. No asking for directions though, obviously.
The way back was a lot worse. I knew I was in trouble when all the major road signs start saying Utrecht and Amsterdam instead of Rotterdam. I tried my best but the Dutch road signs were really throwing me through some loops. I am home safe. The best part of my meandering home was that I happened to pass an art store, one of the most impressive I have ever been to. It was a maze of tiny corridors and small rooms with materials from floor to ceiling. I took the advantage of this fortuitous circumstance and picked up some acrylic paints (so they dry quickly), brushes, canvas paper, and two wood boards to paint on. We’ll see if I can make anything happen in the next couple days.