Monday, February 21, 2011

Road Trip: Part One: Netherlands.

(My) Matt and I (Liz) welcome (other) Matt and Vicki to Europe by a whirlwind 2 week trip through the Low Countries, the Alps, and the Black Forest. Pre-planned to an extent, this is what really happened.  Below follows Days 0 to Day 3 through the Dutch Countryside. 

(Other) Matt and Vicki arrived early Saturday morning (Day 0), jetlagged and probably cramped from the plane ride. That day, they experienced the wonders of the inside of our house - either sleeping' or teeveein'. 

The next day (Day 1), Sunday, was a wander day. The main attraction of the day was the Anne Frank Museum. The Secret Annexe is a small section of a canal house on Prinsengracht. Prinsengracht is one of the wider ring canals of Amsterdam, and the house is located between the tight and twisty streets of Nieuwekerk and the tree-lined avenues of Jordaan. I had prebooked the Anne Frank tix, as overtime we'd walked by the line was around the block. This means that we just sailed on into the museum. 

Matt1 and Matt2: in Motion. 
The first part of the Anne Frank Museum is an introduction to the history of the  buildings themselves. One enters through 265, and the office building is 263. The entrance to the Secret Annexe is up a steep flight of narrow stairs. Still, there is the bookcase that hid the door. It forces one to stoop as well as step up simultaneously. The rooms are bare, except for Anne's, which has the original wallpaper with a multitude of photos stuck to it. The emptiness is because the SS cleared out furnishings after raids. Otto Frank decided to keep the rooms unfurnished. 

I can't really explain visiting the Annexe. It is a place that one should visit, and a place to remember in both Anne's writing and in person.

Monday (Day 2), we headed out to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to pick up our car. We had no choice but to concede to Avis' availability. Not a diesel Volkswagen Golf as ordered, but a gas Kia C'eed. However, the car  drives forward and backward without problem, and is currently carrying the luggage of 4 people and the large assortment of purchased souvenirs. It was the beginning of our massive two-week road trip. 

Of course, we started the trip going in the wrong direction, and following the idiotic directions of the iPhone navigation application. It was especially bad in the downtown of Rotterdam. It was really only supposed to be a quick pit stop, but it was near impossible to leave the core. We had to go over the Willemsbrug twice, and do about 3 U-turns to get onto the correct street. Either Rotterdam has awful city-planning, or the nasally British iPhone lady is a dumb-dumb. 

Historical Windmills and the weteringen
After driving for about an hour by route signs, we started to follow the iPhone's directions to our first Dutch stop: the Kinderdijk. Built around 1740, there are 19 wooden windmills along countryside canals (weteringen) outside of Rotterdam and at the confluence of two rivers. The windmills were used to pump the water out of the polder (low-lying land, protected by dikes), to keep the fields dry enough to plow.   Some were in perfect condition, others were being restored. It seemed that some were homes for families. Imagine living in a windmill! All the rooms are round, and the staircases up the four floors are steep and narrow. Also, one would be living with a whole bunch of giant wooden gears. Neat though. 

After the Kinderdijk, we headed to the coast of the Netherlands. The coast is where the Delta Works project holds back the ocean forces from the low-lands. It started after the 1953 floods that devastated Zeeland. The initial concept was to create a fresh water inland sea in one region, while leaving the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp open to the sea. Public pressure in the form of environmentalism and capitalism adjusted the plans. Now, there are moveable barriers, earth dikes, and kilometres long bridges. The combinations allow for economic growth in the region, and the conservation of a unique enviroment.

Modern Windmills and the North Sea.
Driving south, the right is the North Sea, to the left is the estuary of the Rhone, the Meuse and the Scheldt rivers. These rivers cut through Europe, starting in either northern France or Switzerland. At first glance, it is hard to distinguish between the sea and the river. Both sides have some built-up villages, and the associated sailboats in any summer town. There are large fishing boats on either side of bridges. This combination of bridge-boat delayed our journey for about 15 minutes. But we got to see a trawler head from under a drawbridge and out into the ocean at sunset. By the time we exited the estuary it was dark. Underneath the last finger of the river delta is an lengthy (6.6 km) car tunnel. So after going over and beside the ocean, we went below to Hulst.

Hulst is a small fortified Dutch town in Zeelandic Flanders, a part of the Netherlands that has no land connection to the rest of the country. In Hulst are a windmill, church and belfry - three buildings defining a typical Dutch town. Hulst was the last major siege during the 80 Years' War, when the Dutch conquered the city from the Spanish in 1645. It is an important control point for the left bank of the Schelde river. The walls are star shaped, and built in the 17th century after an Italian design.

Our hotel was outside of the walls, and faced the main archway gate. From the window could also be seen the moat, a cannon and small cobbled streets. It was a glittering and gorgeous view at night, and another reason I want a camera tripod.

Walking along the walls the next morning (Day 3) was beautiful. The walls were not lost in masses of suburbia; they rose above the moat and parkland on the outside of Hulst. From the pathway on the walls we explored a decrepit fortified tower, the enormous windmill and eventually the town streets. Houses were a mix of old and new Dutch townhouses. Ready to Move. Back to the Car. Time to get Gas.

Or not.  We had an idiot-event involving a gas burning car, a diesel pump, bad instructions and bad execution and bad observation. 3 hours of waiting around to sort out the issue. Each of us figured out something to do. I think that the trunk was rearranged, photographs were taken, conversations were had, as well as pine cone/stick T-ball, juggling, eating sweets, getting groceries, pushing the car into a parking spot and generally annoying the poor woman who worked at the gas station. Everything was fixed by a local mechanic. Petrol was then put into the car, followed by the people. Off to a new country and a new city.

Photo of the Moment: 

C-c-c-click Candidly.

Next installment: Belgium. 

1 comment:

  1. first, windmill row is AWESOME!!
    second, isn't this the second time that you had that diesel/gas problem? slow learners are we?