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