I was swept away by Paul in his silver chariot and we made the 40 minute drive down to their home in Zoetermeer. I had to wait an extra hour thanks to an undetonated 500 lb WWII explosive found during a highway expansion. We still made it in time for a late lunch though, so no problem. Passing through the countryside revealed what a low lying country this was. It was not uncommon to see boats sitting in canals higher than the streets we drove on.
Once in the door, I met his wife Elena and their daughter Laura. There was a homemade pizza just finishing up in the oven about the time that we walked in, so we sat right down and devoured it. I should add that Elena is Italian, meaning that everything to emerge from her kitchen was outstanding.
After getting settled a bit, Paul and I hopped back in the car to do some more tourism. Along the way, we had to cross a river, but rather than by bridge it was just a little car ferry. This just being a normal part of their everyday life made it interesting to me.
To come to the Netherlands and not see windmills would be a travesty, so our first stop would be the UNESCO listed Kinderdijk. For hundreds of years the Dutch have been using the power of wind to move water and drain swamps for farmland. I had always just assumed that they were for milling…. Here was the modern day diesel equivalent.
It was a fairly breezy day so the blades were really turning. We got pretty close to one of them and could really sense the power coming off it. We could have gone inside but agreed that just walking around and taking some photos was good enough. I had never seen so many of these things all in the same place before.
We returned to the car and then went to this area called Roosenburg. This is not a stop on the average tourist itinerary, but it did help to round out my knowledge of The Netherlands. In this area was the country’s petroleum refining operations, representing the ‘cork’ of their economy. The other bit of note was that much of this was on recently reclaimed land, so at times when we were driving around the GPS showed us out in the ocean. It was dusk while we were there, making the lighted metal structures pretty cool.
We returned home to another Italian feast! There was spaghetti, salad, and a really good tuna dish. I probably overate but I couldn’t help myself. We spent the evening chatting, sipping on some Belgian beers from their recent trip, and watching a movie.
The next morning I had to wake up at a decent hour so that Paul and I would have time enough to drive down to the south easternmost province of Zeeland, but first was a very Dutch breakfast. It was mostly bread with different spreads and sprinkles and I sampled all sorts of combinations. Based on the looks I was getting though, some of them were probably unorthodox.
On the road at last, we drove two hours to get to this distant, rural piece of the country. When I mentioned this outing to people back in Amsterdam, they could only ask me ‘why?!’ I was going there. Being from a town of the same name in the states, I was particular interested in again checking out the REAL one. Things were really rural though, so I was starting to wonder if mine was more interesting. This was the first sign I saw with a ‘Zeeland’ on it, and I got a bit overexcited.
The primary and perhaps only reason to go to this place is to see the storm surge barrier. This incredible monument of engineering is several kilometers long and has the power to protect the land from the zee. This area is also the country’s largest national park, so I guess there’s that.
We went inside and right away watched a film about the 1953 disaster that served as the impetus for building this thing. The combination of a high tide and massive storm raised the water level and broke the dijks, killing about 1800 people and 100000 livestock. By building this barrier, they are able to block off the sea any time the water level warrants it. We watched another movie explaining how they constructed this before going outside to see it for ourselves.
From there we hustled over to the boat that would take us out into the reserve and give a nice view of the wall. The wind was punishing, but I was excited for the chance to test my new element-proof jacket.
We motored out a ways before turning around and heading back. I was starting to feel the chill by the end, but there was some useful information delivered throughout and also a nice view of the barrier. We returned to port, grabbed some food, and then finally back to home.
There was another delicious feast waiting for us, this time lasagna, and we enjoyed revisiting the day’s excitement. After supping, we all just chatted until it was time to sleep. I thanked Paul and the family before going bed for their hospitality, because they had to rise early to get back to their normal Monday routines. Thanks to them though, I saw so much more of the Netherlands than I could have ever seen on my own. (Thanks again!)