With no blog updates from the last couple of (busy) days and a free weekend ahead of us, I thought now would be a good time for a “Weekly Highlights” post.
Monday was our first day using the vans. Since we’re not bound to the public transportation system, we are can go to more “off the grid” locations that – while perhaps historically or geographically interesting – are not quite important enough for a bus stop.
For our first excursion, we drove through several polders – former lakes that were drained in order to build towns, villages, and farms. These polders (like much of the Netherlands) are lower than sea level and are at a risk for flooding, resulting in the Netherlands’ impressive flood and water management systems.
After driving through these polders, we stopped by a windmill museum and got to see the inside of a working (though not operational) windmill. Unfortunately for us (while we were walking around) it was a very windy day. Fortunately for the windmill, this meant that it could spin. We got to see some of the interior workings of the windmill and also the area where the miller would live. Many of the modern-day water pumps in the Netherlands use an Archimedes’ screw to pump water – the same technology that was used in these original windmills to drain lakes.
After seeing the windmill museum, we drove along the top of one of the original North Sea Dikes. While the road is only wide enough for one vehicle, it is a two-lane road requiring a great deal of coordination. Luckily, our professors did not have to test their driving skills too much, as there were no other cars on the dike that day. We then drove to the newer sections of the North Sea dike, which is currently under construction to make it even more resistant to flooding (the new improvements will be rated to withstand a 1-in-100,000 year flooding event)
Tuesday we continued our tour of the drained lakes, visiting some polders created by the draining of the Zuiderzee and the creation of the freshwater IJsselmeer (Note: this is not a typo – ij is considered a digraph in Dutch and when a word starts with ij and is capitalized, both letters are capitalized – the more you know!). One of the first sites we visited was the town of Urk, which used to be an island in the Zuiderzee. As islands in the Zuiderzee were incorporated into the mainland Zuiderzee was drained, the economies and societies in these islands often changed dramatically. Fortunately for Urk, much of it remained coastal and Urk is still an important fishing port today.
After visiting Urk we stopped at the (former) island of Schokland. Over the years – because Schokland was primarily a sandy island – it shrunk as the wind beat against it. Eventually the island itself became too small to be inhabitable and was incorporated into the mainland. Unfortunately, this day was very rainy, so good pictures are few and far between.
On Wednesday, we made the 2.5 hour drive up to the city of Groningen, where we were hosted by the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (University of Groningen). There, we had a short lecture about earthquakes in the Groningen area. This is an especially interesting topic as earthquakes are not natural in the Groningen area, starting less than 10 years ago. These earthquakes are also interesting because they are man-made – as natural gas is removed from the ground, the ground shifts and earthquakes occur.
After this short but interesting lecture, we got on a large bus and drove around the area north of Groningen. We first stopped at a small town and had lunch at a local café. The owner told us of how the café was severely damaged during one of the earthquakes and had to be closed for three months for repairs. While the cost of the repairs is covered by the NAM (a joint venture between Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil), revenues from lost business are not covered, highlighting the frustrations of many locals and the importance of earthquake management.
After lunch we visited a dike and small water pumping station north of Groningen. Just a few days before our visit, there was a small flood in the area and debris left by the waters makes the high point of the flood. We then visited a pumping station operated by the local Waterschap (water board). These regional water boards manage many aspects of water in the surrounding area, including water levels, water quality, and sewage management. There, we heard a short presentation about the responsibilities and functions of the pumping station and water boards in general. After leaving the water board we visited another small town and saw a local church. For our last stop, we stopped at one of the NAP’s natural gas extraction facilities. This extraction facility was surprisingly open, with only a gate protecting the facility from the outside world. At the end of our trip, we were treated to dinner with some of the University of Groningen students, many of whom will be visiting Calvin this spring.
After all of our excursions to the north of the country, we finally took a trip to the south when we visited Utrecht on Thursday. The first place we visited in Utrecht was the Domkerk (“Home Church” of the Bishopric of Utrecht). Initially a Catholic church, almost half of the church is “missing” – part of the church was constructed during the Reformation and resource were low, so the flying buttresses that support the rest of the church were not able to be constructed in this section and, during a wind storm, that section of the church blew down. Fortunately, the church tower remained standing and we climbed to the top of the tower, nearly 100 meters above the streets of Utrecht. After visiting the Domkerk, we saw a few more sights around town before heading to the town of Maarssen along the Vecht River where wealthy merchants would often build summer homes.Herm explains some of the history and significance Utrecht
This past weekend we enjoyed a wonderful walking tour through the charming neighborhood of the “Jordaan.” The area is adjacent to the western edge of the Prinsengracht canal ring. Looking over the area is the beautiful Westerkerk (West Church) where some of us worshiped (in a Dutch language service) Sunday morning. Afterwards we enjoyed classic Dutch open-faced egg sandwiches (uitsmijters !) at the nearby cafe, De Oude Wester (The Ol’e Wester). Enjoy these pictures from that area! – Herm
For our third and final (official) trip into Amsterdam, we visited some of the (relatively) newer parts of the city – constructed after the canal ring system was constructed and expanded. One of the first sites we stopped at was the location of the former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company. While certainly not as familiar as the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compangnie: the VOC) it is of special importance for those from the United States – after the Dutch West India Company founded New Netherlands in North America (later renamed New York), Peter Stuyvesant was chosen as a governor of New Amsterdam (incidentally, he would be the last governor of New Amsterdam). Peter Stuyvesant is also known for building what would later become Wall Street and Broadway.
Radiating out from the center of Amsterdam are the three canals that were built during Amesterdam’s expansion period. The three main canals are called Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), and Herengracht (Lord’s Canal – incidentally, this does not refer to medieval lords but to wealthy and powerful merchants in 1600s Amsterdam). As Amsterdam expanded additional space was needed to build new canals and city defenses (the threat from Phillip II and the Spanish army was still looming during this time). In order to make foom for these expansions, land needed to be “reclaimed” from people living in the city and from people living illegally outside of the city’s walls. This practice, referred to as “squatting”, was popular despite the fact that “squatters” did not enjoy any protection from the city – land outside of the city was cheap and those living outside the city had no obligations to the city and did not have to pay taxes. In order to accomodate residents displaced by the expansions a district called Jordaan (from the French word for “garden”) was created. The Jordaan district was inhabited primarily by poorer citizens and eventually the canal running through the district eventually became so polluted and such a health hazard that it needed to be filled in and made into a road. In an interesting twist of fate, what was once a working-class district and the home of both Rembrandt and Anne Frank is not one of the most expensive and desirable housing locations in Amsterdam.
After our walk through the Jordaan region, we were treated to a dinner of rijsttafel (literally “rice table”) – an Indonesian inspired meal consisting of a rice base with sautéed and seasoned meats and vegetables on top (the side dishes are served on the table with the rice, hence the name). While it might seem strange to have an Indonesian dish while staying in the Netherlands, it has an important cultural importance and enjoys significant popularity – up until the 1940s, Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands and Dutch colonists serve rijsttafel in order to give guests a taste of Indonesia as well as display their wealth through exotic dishes.
Also, some people jumped in the canal in the morning.
After getting off of the bus in Amsterdam we stopped at the Visitor’s Center for the (soon-to-be-completed) Noord/Zuidlijn (North/South Line). As Amsterdam has become more-and-more populated, commuting in the city – even with the Netherlands’ efficient transportation system – has become increasingly difficult. This extension to the existing train route attempts reduce congestion and traffic, taking an estimated 16 minutes to travel from Station Noord (the North Station) to Station Zuid (the South Station). For both efficiency and aesthetic purposes, much of the route will lie underground. As much of Amsterdam was built on reclaimed land, most of the buildings in Amsterdam are supported by wood piles (posts) driven more than 60 feet into the ground. In many cases the existing piles supporting buildings today are the original piles. To avoid these piles, the underground section of the line follows the existing roads above ground, necessitating complex construction methods such as underground borers.
Before heading to the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), we stopped in Leidseplein, one of the famous squares in Amsterdam and renowned for its abundance of restaurants and vibrant night life.
Following the completion of a ten-year renovation plan in 2013 (to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), the Rijksmuseum reopened and continues to serve as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Netherlands. In order to see the highlights of the museum, our group got guided tours of the main attractions. The Rijksmuseum was moved to its current location by Louis Napoleon (brother of Napoleon Bonaparte). Napoleon Bonaparte created the Kingdom of the Netherlands and made his brother Louis king. At the museum we saw many highlights from the Dutch golden age (the 1600s), including several Rembrandt paintings.
After leaving the Rijksmuseum, many of us returned to Leidseplein for dinner.
After a four-hour layover in Detroit and a six-hour flight, we finally arrived in Amsterdam after a long day of travel and a six-hour time change on 7 January at around 8:00 am. Unfortunately due to the travel we were not as wide awake as one would expect for a group of college students at 8 in the morning…
Unfortunately very few of us got any sleep on the flight from Detroit to Amsterdam – likely due to the wide breadth of movies available on the flight. After arriving in Amsterdam we cleared customs – the Dutch customs agents were no doubt confused by the large number of student with Dutch last names and US and Canadian passports. We then collected our baggage, got our OV chip cards (used for public transportation), and picked up the vans that will serve as one of our primary means of transportation for the next three weeks – along with the Netherland’s excellent public transportation system. Now that we had our vans and had our luggage loaded into the vans (in what appeared to be a life-sized game of Tetris), we made the short drive to Broek-in-Waterland, where we will be spending the majority of our three weeks in the Netherlands. There we were greeted by the driver of the Albert Heijn truck that delivered the food we ordered. Just as the United States has a penchant for naming supermarkets after individuals (see: Meijer), so too does the Netherlands. Soon after our arrival, we moved our luggage upstairs and into the rooms we will be sleeping in. The bedrooms – though sparse – are comfortable, with bedding and towels provided and a washer and dryer in the building (parents, take note). After we settled in we had our first Dutch-style meal, consisting primarily of bread, cold cuts, cheeses, and a multitude of spreads (such as mayonnaise, spicy mustard, and – of course – Nutella). Following lunch, we had a short time to settle in and get used to our new surroundings before our first official activity in the Dutch Landscapes course.
After our break, we boarded our vans and drove to the nearby town of Monnickendam where Henk Aay took us on a short tour of the town, which dates back to the 1300s. Interestingly, the name Monnickendam comes from the Dutch word monnick (monk), paying homage to the monks who initially sponsored much of the early water management efforts in the Netherlands (amongst many endeavours), and the local symbol of Monnickendam is a monk carrying a club. One of the first things we saw was the St. Nicolaaskerk, a church dedicated to St. Nicholas (the patron saint of, amongst many other things, fishing, merchants, and sailors – an important figure to the early Dutch, needless to say). The church took over 250 years to finish and as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.
We continued our tour of Monnickendam by waking along many of the paths and bridges though the city and along the canals. There we saw several of old houses built along the roads and canals. Many of these old houses were decorated with facades (gevels) with a unique (and often intricately-carved stone called a geavelsteen). These gevelsteen plaques were often related to the profession of the resident of the house and served as a means to indentify homes as there were no addresses. As one can imagine, things like FedEx overnight delivery likely did not exist and getting mail from other cities probably took a long time. After our tour, we returned to Logement Waterland and had our first group meal together.
After dinner we were free, and several members of the group decided to put the Dutch public transportation system to the test and took the bus back into Monnickendam to go to a bar. While the trip to Monnickendam went smoothly, the return trip was a little less smooth (with one group missing two busses and another group walking back to Broek-in-Waterland).
The next morning, we had a Dutch breakfast (which, like a Dutch lunch, consists mostly of the same bread, cold cuts, cheeses, and spreads). We also had our first lecture at 8:30 am – with the aid of several cups of hot coffee, the lecture went smoothly and we all stayed awake. After the lecture, we met two local tour guides for a tour of Broek-in-Waterland. On the tour, we learned the history of Broek-in-Waterland and got to see several of the town’s most important buildings, including the local church and the Beroemde Huis (Famous House). In the local church, ceilings that were one intricately painted were covered over with several layers of paint as Protestants preferred a simpler aesthetic. Likewise, wall and ceiling paintings in the Famous House were also covered with several layers of paint. In both of these buildings, restorers used scalpels to carefully scrape away each layer of paint. Several of these large wall paintings are lost as they were sold to German and American tourists.
After our tour of Broek-in-Waterland, we returned to Logement Waterland for lunch and then headed out to the bus stop to catch the bus to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy, windy, and cloudy, but we (thankfully) made several stops at indoor locations. The first place we stopped was the Sint-Nicolaasbasiliek (the Basilica of Saint Nicholas). Like I said, he was a fairly important saint to the early Dutch. We also saw a Catholic church disguised after a house used after Catholics were forced into hiding and secret worship by Protestants in Amsterdam. We also saw several of the canals and buildings of Amsterdam (including a plethora of tourist shops – some sketchier than others).