Friday, April 25, 2014 – Schoonhaven and Kinderdijk
Today started out busy and ended the same way. This was the first day in which we spent time in 2 different places, cruising between them while we ate lunch. Additionally, we started and ended the day with lectures.
The morning lecture preceded our visit to Schoonhaven and was an overview of the Rhine River system as it impacts Holland. The Rhine breaks into 3 branches when it crosses into the Netherlands and then these branches continue to branch out into smaller and smaller rivers. The river system is dependent on the snowfall and rainfall in Switzerland, France and Germany which feed it before it enters the Netherlands. Flooding from too much rain or snow-melt can be as much of a problem to shipping and river cruisers as drought from too little rain or snow. [One of our fellow passengers recounted a cruise last year where the river level was too high for any boats to navigate safely and the river cruise was accomplished on buses and in hotels.]
An even bigger problem for the Dutch is the incursion of the North Sea from the north and west. Following a disastrous flood in 1952, in which 2000 people died, the government embarked on what became a 30-year project to make the country essentially waterproof. The key part of the plan is called the Delta Works. Large barriers have been built to effectively seal the coast line with a series of gates which fit securely not only with each other but also with the sea bottom; thus, the water cannot breach the coast. Two unguarded areas were left, however. The ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, Belgium, still have unimpeded access to the North Sea so they can continue their pre-eminence as commercial ports; Rotterdam is the second largest port in the world, only recently surpassed only by Shanghai.
The flooding the Delta Works now prevents had several disastrous results. First, of course, was the loss of both human and animal life. Second, and perhaps even more important, was the ruin of thousands of acres of farmland by the salt in the ocean water. Flooding resulted in the loss of life and livelihoods.
A generation earlier, the Zuider Zee was turned from a large tidal lake which was fed by a Rhine tributary but opened directly into the North Sea into a strictly land-locked lake. With time, the salt levels decreased, to the joy of farmers, but without access to the North Sea, the fishermen were out of work.
Keep the importance and danger of water in mind for later.
|The wedding chariot|
The town of Schoonhaven sits above and behind the dike, and the gate we entered, the last one left, has its own barrier doors which can be closed to seal out encroaching water. The town itself has quite small canals and locks which seem now to be more decorative than functional. We saw floral displays floating on the in preparation for King’s Day which will be celebrated while we are in Belgium tomorrow.
We wandered through the small downtown area but did not enter any of the buildings during the tour. We saw the old, now disused, synagogue across the street but, again, did not go in. Apparently, the building now houses a jewelry and silver museum but we were told that the mikvah [ritual bath] is still in place even though the Jewish population disappeared permanently in the 1940s.
|A Random Act of Art|
Market Square was also being prepared for King’s Day and there were no stalls or vendors as there had been in Gouda yesterday. We wandered a bit more and then the group disbanded. We wandered back toward the ship, stopping in a bakery to buy more stroopwafels and in a silversmith’s just to look.
Once everyone was back on board, the ship continued toward Kiderdijk, our next stop. We sailed during the lunch hour so we were able to see traditional windmills as we went downstream. These were just the precursors of what we would discover in Kinderdijk.
|A field of windmills in Kinderdijk|
We traversed a bit of one of the canals which with the rivers, surround Kinderdijk on all four sides, and saw windmills upon windmills, perhaps 20 in close proximity with the assurance that there more we would not see. We wondered why there were so many in this one spot and discovered that they had been built, along with two canals, to manage the water level of the area.
Much if not most of the Netherlands is below sea level. This topographical oddity is another driving force in holding back the North Sea. Since so much of the country was subject to the North Sea and its tides, the water level would rise and fall with the Sea. The windmills were designed to pump water from the flooded land and dump it into the canals which carried it to the adjacent rivers and out to sea when the tide was low. The guide compared this area to a bath tub with the land in the center being lower and wetter; the windmills, which have been replaced by electric pumps, kept the land dry and arable. We were astonished because we had associated windmills with the grinding of grain and had no idea of their importance in the survival of the Netherlands.
|Windmill with covered |
vanes, ready to turn
|Windmill with uncovered|
vanes, not ready to spin
|The demonstration windmill|
One more fact about the windmills: the original mills were made of stone but were so heavy that they began to sink in the soft soil [remember Sint Janskirk in Gouda?], so later ones were made of thatch which is much lighter but still sturdy enough.
Now it was nap time, so we left the group and walked back to the ship. We had a meeting to hear about tomorrow’s trip to Brugge at 6:45, so we went early for a drink and munchies. Dinner followed [Vegetarian risotto/turkey and stuffing]. We shared a table with folks we had eaten with before and had an enjoyable meal. Barry, one of the other men grew up in Baltimore [a Poly grad!], so we talked about nostalgic Baltimore and favorite brands unique to the area. Barry’s eyes lit up at the mention of Goetze’s Caramel Cremes, so David shared his stash when we went from dinner to the lounge for a presentation on Dutch phrases and pronunciation.
Tomorrow – Terneuzen, Brugge and friends