Yesterday I picked up a tent for 25 euros. It’s made for children and may or may not be waterproof.
In an hour or so I’m going to hop on a train to Middleburg, the capital of Zeeland, Holland’s southern-most province. Zeeland is where the majority of the delta works are located. The delta works are a series of dams, dikes, and storm barriers built between 1950 and 1997 to protect the low-lying polders of the region from the storm surges of the sea.
I’m going to bike around, inspect some of the bigger and more well-known delta works, find some beaches, and hope to find a campsite to sleep. Depending on how exciting it is down there, I may stay for the whole weekend or I may just return tomorrow.
On Wednesday I took a day trip up to Amsterdam. The whole city is like Rotterdam on drugs. Both literally and figuratively. I didn’t do any of the major art museums or anything ‘touristy.’ I just walked around the city, got an awesome juice from an Italian Rastafarian who first gave me a shot glass of pure ginger juice because of the way it wakes your whole body up. He definitely assumed that I was stoned like most of the other Americans that stumble into his shop. (No mom, I wasn’t high.) But I ordered the daily special which was a juice made out of pumpkin, carrots, limes, ginger, and orange juice. Honestly pretty good, but I got a stomach ache an hour later. I don’t think the Rasta juice maker has ever cleaned his juicer. I definitely tasted other substances in there.
Amsterdam is really a beautiful city with all of its canals and old european architecture. The day trip was a great little preview that got me excited to make the move up there in September. It’s much more vibrant, lively place than Rotterdam. I get the sense that Rotterdam is to Amsterdam as Manchester, England is to London or Detroit is to Chicago. The port and industrial center is down here while the arts and culture is in Amsterdam.
Tristan, the hockey player took me out to a proper european club last night. There’s definitely culture down here too, though.
The main attraction of the Amsterdam visit was to go to a social squash event. Jono, a guy that I was connected to through a friend from Norwich, VT invited me to come play squash with this group of about 10 people. For 2 hours I played about 15 sets of squash with some pretty cool people, then was invited out for some Heineken after to replenish the nutrients lost. The last time I played squash, I got smacked in the face with the racquet and had to go to the hospital to get stitches. These guys were a little less aggressive on and off the court.
I went out to practice with the Erasmus Rugby Club tonight. Erasmus is Rotterdam’s University. It’s a giant school with about 20,000 students.
Great workout; intense rugby. There are some really talented players from England, Ireland, and South America. It’s definitely up a level from Bowdoin Rugby but not quite as intense as Rugby in Chicago was last summer.
I woke to the sound of Big Boi’s Shine Blockas, the familiar yet mostly dreaded tune of my alarm clock. I put some clothes on, splashed some water on my face, packed up a day bag, and left the apartment to head towards Rotterdam Centraal. I purchased a ticket to Hoek van Holland, translated the Hook of Holland. It’s on the coast directly west of Rotterdam, but north of the port.
Rotterdam Centraal is a very elegantly designed modern train station. It just opened this year. There are fully automated ticket dispensers and plasma screens displaying the track number and departure times. The ‘tickers’ that my mom described tracking when she was backpacking through Europe at my age seem to be bygone. At the automated ticket screen, I got the machine to talk to me in english but unfortunately some things were very much lost in translation. For example, one question I was asked was “would you like to pay the regular fare or a discounted fare?” Is that a real question?
On the train I discovered that I answered incorrectly. My return ticket was confiscated by the train conductor because discount fares are reserved for people with special cards or disabilities. There was no way I could have known that, though. It was an honest mistake but the train conductor was less than impressed.
I was lucky to get a ride all the way out to Hoek van Holland. The conductor was quite adamant about kicking me off the train right then and there. I played the clueless American tourist card and got some solid defense from the man sitting across the aisle from me. A little native tongue was all that was needed to resolve the situation. It turned out that my guardian was a greenhouse panel salesman and had recently spent some time in Waterville, Maine consulting a farm on a sale. I apologized to him on behalf of all pleasant parts of Maine.
It felt very freeing getting outside of Rotterdam. The train ride was 40 minutes and only cost me 6 euros (should have cost more) but I got to a completely new place. My roommates tell me that every 10km you find a different dialect of dutch, that every region has its own vibe. I am definitely going to take advantage of the rail system here and explore the hinterlands of the Netherlands in the next 20 days.
Once I got the the Hoek, my destination was the Maeslant Barrier, a mobile flood gate that protects Rotterdam.
I only had to bike a few miles until the barrier came into eyesight, it’s such a dominant object in the landscape. The flood defense consists of two iron curtains that close off when there are storm surges and high spring tides. Although it’s measured that the gate only needs to be used in conditions that occur once every five years, the barrier has it’s own brain that knows when it’s time to close. Each wing of the gate are eiffel tower sized arms that attach to a ball (that is 10m in diameter) and socket joint (52,000 tons) that can shift the gate move in all logical directions. The wall of the barrier rests on a dry dock. When the gate needs to be closed, the dock floods and the massive curtains start to float. The two sides are pulled together to meet in the middle of the channel. Then the curtain is filled with water so the whole wall sinks into the foundation in the seabed. The defense was designed specifically to protect the port and the millions of people that live inland in Rotterdam and beyond, yet the barrier still allows for the movement of hundreds of cargo and shipping containers that pass through each day.
It was difficult to get a good photograph of the barrier because of the massive scale. It was also savagely hard to draw. I’ll assume it looks best from the air. I’ve included a google image here so you guys can match an image to my words, then I made a gallery with my own content…none of it is great.
Because my train ticket got confiscated, I decided to bike the 30km trip back to Rotterdam. The biking was great, the sun finally came out, I met some sheep, and got some exercise.
But then, about 7km outside of Rotterdam I got a brutally flat tire. Obviously.
I had a small hand-pump that came with the bike so I tried inflating it, but I knew my efforts would be fruitless. Something bigger was wrong. The tire went kaput almost instantaneously. I tried hitch-hiking…no luck. (Maybe it’s time to shave the scraggily beard). I then thought I could just hike it back in. The sun was shining and I had Muddy Waters on my iPod. It could have been worse…raining and a system glitch where only One Direction would play. I walked a mile or two, but then the roads got windy, I started to get some blisters, and there was a Metro stop right in front of me.
In order to ride the Metro you need a special card that you top up with funds (like the Oyster Card in London) so in order to ride a few miles, I had to pay 14 euros. I decided my blisters weren’t that bad and I started looking for a local bike shop. For how many bikes there are in the Netherlands it was surprisingly hard to find a bike store. I absolutely realized how much we take smartphones, map applications, and a constant flux of information for granted. I just walked, asked, got terrible directions, walked more, found nothing, and so on.
Eventually I turned the right corner and found a shop. I told the store owner my story and he said he could replace the tube in an hour. I got myself a vanilla milkshake and things started to look up. I went back to the bike store and started chatting with the guy in the repair shop. He was awesome. He’d done some hiking on the Lewis and Clarke trail in Montana so I told him all about the expedition and in exchange he gave me all the dirty details about the best bike paths to make my way to the Hague and Amsterdam later on at the end of the summer. We hit it off so well he didn’t charge me for the service, I only had to buy the new inner-tube.
I realized when I was back on the bike pushing the final stretch towards home that minor inconveniences that trip up the journey really aren’t so bad. It was actually quite fun discovering the sequence of events that would lead me to resolve the problem the problem at hand. The solution I found was something I could have never even imagined when I first realized the tire was pancake flat.
A flat tire in the middle of no where isn’t such a big deal. Of course, I had the time to fix it, there was no pressing emergency, and absolutely no urgency. But the problem, which at first made me super irritated and annoyed led me to a great vanilla milkshake, a more than pleasant conversation with a local bike repair man, and a test of my own ability problem solve.
The day was exhausting, but I got home to a sunny day on the balcony. I flopped down on a bean bag, cracked open a can of Grolsch, and I cannot even begin to describe how good that felt.
Its hard to believe I’ve been here for 10 days already. Whoosh.
I had a fantastic Saturday night last night. I stayed in and painted the living room of this apartment. I cook all my meals here, it’s where I come and sit down after a long day walking or biking around, and I do a lot of reading out on the balcony or just watch the barges pass and listen to vespa scooters putting by. I’ve quickly grown to really enjoy this room, with its high 15ft ceilings, the Miss Blanche Virginia Cigarettes board, and awesome picture-frame windows that have special hinges so they can open completely like doors to let you out or just pop out at the top like mini-van backseat windows.
Bending the space in the room I was thinking about work by Amer Kobaslija, a hero of mine who was my professor for a drawing class Sophomore year. He has recently spent time in Japan painting the aftermath of Fukushima. (See).
I also took the idea on as a sort of challenge. Anna Schuleit, an incredible artist and MacArthur fellow came to visit a painting studio I was in last year. Her major critique of my work was that none of my paintings had any space in them besides one or two that had ‘abstract’ space. Ever since then, I have been pretty conscious of what she said and realized that she makes a great point. With drawing or painting you have the ability to create a world that does not exist in reality. Photographs have a monopoly on representing something mostly the way it looks in real life, so why not try to stretch the borders with art? I was finishing this up at around 3am…not quite sure if it’s done, but I think it is.
Today, Berend invited me along to go and see Feyenoord F.C., Rotterdam’s football club that plays in the premier Dutch league. I was the only person of 40,000 that didn’t know the lyrics to all the songs so I think I brought some bad mojo with me to the stadium. It was 1-1 at the half, but then at the start of the second, everything took a turn for the worse. A 17 year old Feyenoord defender in his career debut got a red card for an aggressive tackle in the box…1-2 on a penalty kick…then a couple minutes later a similar thing happened again…1-3. So then Feyenoord was two players down and the opposition but a fourth goal in. Tough day for Rotterdam football, but all the fans were die-hard. They saw the game to the end, singing “Feyenoord until death” (translated) through to the final whistle. (Experience)
Being in the mob was almost more fun than watching the football. You see plumes of smoke rising all over the stadium from all the cigarettes and cigars being smoked, you get wet from all the beer and rain trickling down from the ceiling, and are deafened by whistling thats directed at the referee and opposing players when the fans disagree with something that happens on the field. I was reminded of a time more than 15 years ago when my Dad took me to a Chelsea game and I was so overwhelmed by the rowdiness I just hid under my Dad’s seat. This time I could handle it though. Big thanks to Berend for inviting me out there! Generosity is a great thing.
My upstairs neighbor plays field hockey for the Dutch U-21 National Field Hockey team. They took on England today in a friendly match. The Dutch won handily 5-1 or so. My friends Brooke and Cat who played Field Hockey for Bowdoin would have loved to watch the game, I think. The pace of play was very fast and all those guys were super talented. It was impressive to watch.
This was game two of a three game series. Unfortunately, the USA women’s national team was attending on Wednesday. I missed a big chance for the second installment of Duo’s global. I’m super bummed about it. I also would have liked to meet some of the US players. I rode my bike out to the stadium and got nice and lost as usual.
Watching the game gave me a big urge to look up the Rotterdam Rugby Club and go out and run around with those guys.
Yesterday I went to the Netherlands’ Architecture Institute; it’s based here in Rotterdam. (Aside–I just had my first sip ever of licht sprankelend natuurlijk mineraalwater light sparkled water…so good!). The design of the architecture building is very elegant and quite relevant to the Dutch condition. The structure is surrounded by water, the entrance is on a small causeway. The water enhances the building’s beauty. There are large floor to ceiling windows that nicely frame the agua outside. The institute had a peaceful cafe on a patio by the water but I passed grabbing a coffee there…a little out of my budget. The exhibit was called ‘ruin.’ A ruin is more than a pile of stones scattered on the ground. A ruin is a symbol that everything will be erased by time, it refers not only to an inescapable past, but also to an equally ineluctable future. Good food for thought.
After I went to the Boijmans van Beuningen museum and saw some Dutch art.
Lewis and Clarke reached the Pacific, believe it or not! For a day there I didn’t think they’d make it over the Rockies.
Right now I’m sitting down to watch Bayurn Munich in their season opener.
Rainy day in Rotterdam so I stayed in and made this.
I didn’t love using Acrylic paint after using oil paints the past two years. But the Acrylic is less mess, quick to dry, and cheaper so probably best for traveling. Feedback and criticism is encouraged.
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.
Woke up and ran around the entirety of central Rotterdam, about 4 miles. I found some spots I liked and returned to draw them. See above and below.
This evening I decided to take a trip up the Euromast, the second tallest building in the Netherlands…it’s only marginally taller than the tower on Bowdoin’s campus in Brunswick. Scaling the Euromast was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve done on this trip so far. You take an elevator up to about 400 feet, then you hop in a little launch pad called the Euro sling…huh? That sounded like an offer to be tossed off the side of the building, so I hopped on in.
The sling was a rotating chamber that takes you up another 200 feet. As it reaches the top it jerks around and drops into its landing place, but the whole process feels remarkably unstable. I’m pretty sure I felt free-fall. The trip turned out to be totally worth it. I went as the sun was setting at 9:30 and got some great shots. The industrial smoke stacks, cranes, and docks extended as far as the eye could see. It was quite a sight to see.
Time to make some mac n’cheese, meet up with my buddies Lewis and Clark while they rumble with some Grizzly Bears in the Rockies, then hit the sack. I’m getting up early tomorrow to help Berend and his older sister set up this film festival. They rented out an old train station downtown and are setting the festival up on the rooftop. Should be a great opportunity to meet some hipster Nedelandahs!