Highlights of the Week – Week 2

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.

Notice how straight the road and the canals along the road are as we drive through the polder. This is typical of Dutch polders as they were very well planned out
Notice how straight the road and the canals along the road are as we drive through the polder. This is typical of Dutch polders as they were very well planned out
We stop at the CONO cheese maker in Beemster
We stop at the CONO cheese maker in Beemster

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.

The windmill museum we stopped at. On days when the wind is not as strong, cloth sails can be put on the windmill in order to catch more wind
The windmill museum we stopped at. On days when the wind is not as strong, cloth sails can be put on the windmill in order to catch more wind
Turning the Archimedes' screw to take water out of the river (and put it promptly back in!)
Turning the Archimedes’ screw to take water out of the river (and put it promptly back in!)

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)

Driving along the old North Sea dike. Notice how high the dike (and road) is compared to the pool of water on the right
Driving along the old North Sea dike. Notice how high the dike (and road) is compared to the pool of water on the right
Many ran up to the top of the dike
Many ran up to the top of the dike
Others walked
Others walked
Reaching the top of the dike
Reaching the top of the dike
"You will smile and you will like it!" - Bob
“You will smile and you will like it!” – Bob
Looking from the top of the dike into the area below
Looking from the top of the dike into the area below
Standing at the top of the North Sea Dike it was very windy. The sea is just barely visible past the barrier
Standing at the top of the North Sea Dike it was very windy. The sea is just barely visible past the barrier

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.

A statue of a woman watching the sea and waiting for her husband and sons to return. Unfortunately, many sailors did not return.
A statue of a woman watching the sea and waiting for her husband and sons to return. Unfortunately, many sailors did not return.
A memorial to all of the sailors who lost their lives while working out of Urk.
A memorial to all of the sailors who lost their lives while working out of Urk.
Unfortunately, accidents still occur in modern times. Fortunately, there are very few
Unfortunately, accidents still occur in modern times. Fortunately, there are very few
On a stormy day, the water near Urk (and places close to the coast) can be quite threatening. Note (just barely visible in the background) the modern windmills taking advantage of the strong winds. These wind farms are controversial in the Netherlands, with many being placed off the coast to preserve landscape aesthetics
On a stormy day, the water near Urk (and places close to the coast) can be quite threatening. Note (just barely visible in the background) the modern windmills taking advantage of the strong winds. These wind farms are controversial in the Netherlands, with many being placed off the coast to preserve landscape aesthetics
One of the churches in Urk
One of the churches in Urk
Urk remains an active fishing community
Urk remains an active fishing community
One of the larger ships in the dry dock at Urk
One of the larger ships in the dry dock at Urk
"Check out my boat, guys"
“Check out my boat, guys”

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.

Here we can see the remains of the sea wall that separated the island of Schokland from the water.
Here we can see the remains of the sea wall that separated the island of Schokland from the water.
Another view of the sea wall at Schokland
Another view of the sea wall at Schokland
The weather at Schokland was not pleasant. Nevertheless, we had fun (sort of haha)
The weather at Schokland was not pleasant. Nevertheless, we had fun (sort of haha)

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.

Arriving at the University of Groningen
Arriving at the University of Groningen
During the presentation at the University, we were treated to coffee and breads
During the presentation at the University, we were treated to coffee and breads

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.

Our bus gets ready to leave the University
Our bus gets ready to leave the University
Marcus, as usual, finds something funny
Marcus, as usual, finds something funny
This historic cafe is a popular destination for cyclists touring the country
This historic cafe is a popular destination for cyclists touring the country
Our lunch consisted of sandwiches and mustard soup, a local Groningen favorite
Our lunch consisted of sandwiches and mustard soup, a local Groningen favorite
Lunch was very good
Lunch was very good
Shenanigans at the lunch table
Shenanigans at the lunch table
The owner of the cafe explains to our group how damage from the earthquakes has affected his business. At one point there was a crack so big that he could stick his hand through it. While the gas company paid for the repairs to the building, it was closed for business for over 3 months
The owner of the cafe explains to our group how damage from the earthquakes has affected his business. At one point there was a crack so big that he could stick his hand through it. While the gas company paid for the repairs to the building, it was closed for business for over 3 months
The chairman of a group of concerned citizens advocating for transparency from the gas companies
The chairman of a group of concerned citizens advocating for transparency from the gas companies
Leaving the Cafe Hammingh
Leaving the Cafe Hammingh

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.

One of the dikes and a smaller modern pumping station
One of the dikes and a smaller modern pumping station
Our guide, Eric, is a professor of geography at the University of Groningen. He was friendly and knowledgeable
Our guide, Eric, is a professor of geography at the University of Groningen. He was friendly and knowledgeable
One of the smallest operational harbors in the Netherlands. This photo was taken right where the flood waters were a few days ago.
One of the smallest operational harbors in the Netherlands. This photo was taken right where the flood waters were a few days ago.
Here we can see debris left from the water after a small flood only a few days before. This point is several meters about the current level of the water.
Here we can see debris left from the water after a small flood only a few days before. This point is several meters about the current level of the water.
When the tide is low, you can walk to the islands in the distance. However, our guide said that some of the water drainage ditches are 100 meters deep. Caution!
When the tide is low, you can walk to the islands in the distance. However, our guide said that some of the water drainage ditches are 100 meters deep. Caution!
It was quite windy and cold at the end of the dock
It was quite windy and cold at the end of the dock
One of the modern water pumps
One of the modern water pumps
The manager of the pumping station gives a presentation (in Dutch) while our guide translates
The manager of the pumping station gives a presentation (in Dutch) while our guide translates
Our group listens intently to the presentations
Our group listens intently to the presentations
The pumping station we visited said that they bought an American flag so that they could fly it when we visited. We (at least the US students) felt quite honored
The pumping station we visited said that they bought an American flag so that they could fly it when we visited. We (at least the US students) felt quite honored
Walking back from the modern-day pumping station. The weather is finally starting to look better!
Walking back from the modern-day pumping station. The weather is finally starting to look better!
As we stopped at the church, the rain finally stopped and the sun came out. Note the golden glow of the sunset
As we stopped at the church, the rain finally stopped and the sun came out. Note the golden glow of the sunset
"As you can see, there is not much protecting the station. Someone could easily get in and cause a lot of trouble. I believe you would call them a nutcase?" - Our guide
“As you can see, there is not much protecting the station. Someone could easily get in and cause a lot of trouble. I believe you would call them a nutcase?” – Our guide, Eric 

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

If the middle part of the church had not collapsed, this picture would have been taken from the inside of the church (and would have been of a ceiling!)
If the middle part of the church had not collapsed, this picture would have been taken from the inside of the church (and would have been of a ceiling!)
The Domkerk is also called St. Martin's Cathedral. This relief shows St. Martin cutting off part of his cloak and giving it to a freezing beggar, earning him sainthood
The Domkerk is also called St. Martin’s Cathedral. This relief shows St. Martin cutting off part of his cloak and giving it to a freezing beggar, earning him sainthood
Climbing some of the many stairs in the Domkerk tower
Climbing some of the many stairs in the Domkerk tower
One of the very large bells in the church tower
One of the very large bells in the church tower
We could really feel the wind as we stood on one of the outside platforms on the church tower
We could really feel the wind as we stood on one of the outside platforms on the church tower
A view of Utrecht from the Domkerk tower. Note the cross shape typical of Catholic cathedrals of the rest of the cathedral below
A view of Utrecht from the Domkerk tower. Note the cross shape typical of Catholic cathedrals of the rest of the cathedral below
Eating lunch
Eating lunch
Even though we were under a roof, we were still in the open air
Even though we were under a roof, we were still in the open air
Everyone is thankful to be out of the rain for a short while
Everyone is thankful to be out of the rain for a short while
Some of the Gothic-inspired flying buttresses of the Domkerk. If the middle section of the church had these buttresses, it probably wouldn't have collapsed.
Some of the Gothic-inspired flying buttresses of the Domkerk. If the middle section of the church had these buttresses, it probably wouldn’t have collapsed.
This brick building is allegedly where the Union of Utrecht was signed, unifying the northern Dutch provinces
This brick building is allegedly where the Union of Utrecht was signed, unifying the northern Dutch provinces
After the Netherlands became Protestant, many Catholic icons were (unfortunately) destroyed or covered up. This icon depicts Mary (in the center) holding Baby Jesus
After the Netherlands became Protestant, many Catholic icons were (unfortunately) destroyed or covered up. This icon depicts Mary (in the center) holding Baby Jesus
A painting of John Calvin in a Christian History museum in Utrecht
A painting of John Calvin in a Christian History museum in Utrecht
In Maarssen, we took a tour of an operational Catholic priory lead by one of the nuns.
In Maarssen, we took a tour of an operational Catholic priory lead by one of the nuns.
Walking up the path to one of the summer homes of wealthy Amsterdam merchants from the 1600s
Walking up the path to one of the summer homes of wealthy Amsterdam merchants from the 1600s
Henk goes house hunting "Do you have anything with a little more space?"
Henk goes house hunting
“Do you have anything with a little more space?”
Walking along one of the canals through Maarssen
Walking along one of the canals through Maarssen
Boats still pass through the canals!
Boats still pass through the canals!

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