I had one of the most rewarding days of my year up to this point on Friday. I took a train down to Zeeland, the southern most reaches of Holland, to explore the Delta Works. In particular I wanted to see the Oosterschelde Barrier, a 5 mile long storm surge barrier.
The trains have special carriages for those traveling with a bicycle. I hopped on and was greeted by a party of three first-year university students on the train. I met them as they were barking at me in Dutch. After looking back at one of the girls blankly, she realized that I wasn’t quite as intelligent as I look. I informed her I didn’t speak a lick of Dutch. However, she was in school to be an English teacher so our miscommunication got aligned speedily. She laughed and explained in a prefect British accent that she was simply just wondering where I was going.
I sat down at there booth and told them I was heading down to Middleburg. The group was quick to tell me that there isn’t much down in Middleburg besides German tourists, cows, and mussel farms. However, after explaining my fellowship and my quest to see the Oosterschelde, they had a change of heart and started to reveal the secrets about the nice beaches and the areas where I might find campsites.
I got into the station after a two hour train ride and hit it right to a tourist office to pick up a map of the area. The map was handy, labeled with attractions and campsites. It turned out to be a great guide. My plan was to head North towards the storm barrier and explore on bike then find a campsite around 8 o’clock so I could set up camp before it got dark.
The hinterlands of the Netherlands were as I expected: flat expanses of fields, cows, windmills, and quaint towns. Parts of the area I was biking through looked like parts of Long Island, like North Haven or Sag Harbor. Many of the towns had very nice motor boats and yachts docked there. The only difference was the Medieval churches and old fashioned buildings. The tell that I was in fact not in the playground of New York’s rich and famous was that the towns were very clearly over 600 years older.
Clouds began to form overhead and it started to lightly drizzle, as I result I happened to be the only person on the bike paths that cut through the countryside. I had an especially erie experience biking through a farm of wind turbines. Finally, I could relate to Jack that first time he looked up at his bean-stalk. It was by far the closest I had ever gotten to the massive turbines. They cast off a hollow humming as the massive 50 ft blades whirled gracefully around.
The Barrier was quite impressive, especially as a feat of engineering. Effectively, the dutch reduced the coastline by hundreds of miles by creating barriers across the inlets of the deltas of the Rhine and Maas rivers. In fact, they reduced the length of sea dikes in the region from over 700 km to just 25 km. The dams vastly improved Zeeland’s transportation network, too. The damns created highways right across the water, significantly reducing the travel time North. In addition, there is another row of barriers further inland which separates fresh water discharge from the rivers from the tidal brackish water.
All these dams, dikes, and barriers were built as a reaction to floods that devastated the area in 1953. 1800 civilians drowned along with thousands of livestock. The government said never again. The Ministry of Water Management selected a committee to engineer solutions to prevent the area from flooding. Between 1953 and 1997, a whole series of water defenses were constructed.
During the four decades of construction there was a sea change with the emergence of stricter environmental policy. The pure economic benefit of having a floodless Zeeland began to be challenged by scientists who presented studies showing that dams do considerable damage to the wildlife of the region. Obviously completely damming up one of Europe’s major river delta’s would have severely hazardous effects on the ecological systems. Therefore around the 1970’s when the final, yet longest and most complex dam was about the be constructed, the planners installed a storm barrier instead to maintain the natural ebb and flow of the delta region.
The Oosterschelde barrier has massive steel curtains that can be lowered when there are big storm swells or high spring tides (when the force of the moon and sun align to create bigger tides). It was very cool riding across the dam, elevated with a picturesque view of the North Sea. I saw silhoutes of oil tankers in the distance coming into harbor, a whole mess of rabbits, and fearless seagulls that seemed to do a lot of hands on testing on the flattening power of Vespas, cars, and bikes. I saw about 50 bird carcasses, recently smushed. Thole dam is also lined with wind turbines. Biking alone on top of this man made monstrosity was thrilling ride. I put on some tunes on the iPod and soaked up the landscape.
I carried on to find a campsite. I was told that the Netherlands has a very strict land management policy so unfortunately I couldn’t just plop down on the beach somewhere. I don’t want to be featured on next season’s ‘Locked up Abroad.’ Camping in Holland didn’t match up to what I had in mind. I’ve definitely been spoiled by beautiful, remote campsites on all my trips with the Bowdoin Outing Club so trying to sleep next to screaming children and rowdy German teenagers wasn’t the beauty sleep in the sand dunes of the North Sea that I had hoped for. The best parts of the camping were my waitress at a small pub that looked just like Blake Lively and a after-dinner hike to the beach to see this: (I invited Dutch Blake but she had to work until about midnight.)
I soaked up the final rays of the day and felt especially satisfied with myself. A day well spent exploring a new place.
I got up early on Saturday, biked around the area to small towns, farmers markets, through fields, and then hoped on the train back to Rotterdam just in time for Dinner.
Marco, the guy who is sub-letting his room to me for the month was back in the Apartment, briefly swinging by after his trip to Norway and before he headed to Prague. He cooked up a great dinner of Moule-Frits. Mussels with delicious mustard source and french fries. Marco, Berend and I put down about 2kg of Mussels. Feasting.
Here is a diary log of my weekend in selfies:
And finally a painting of an apartment building outside of Rotterdam: