Friday, April 25, 2014

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
After the lecture about the river and canal system which is the lifeblood of the country, we walked off of the ship and directly into the town of Schoonhaven.  There were distractions, of course, the best of which was the arrival of newlyweds in an old Volvo strewn with flowers.  They stopped right at the old gate to the city, which dated to 1603[?], to have wedding photos taken.  We saw them later having more pictures taken.  Our group waved and applauded and the couple smiled and waved back at us.

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
And another
We passed the old church but kept going.  We also paused at what had been ground zero for the Schoonhaven Witch Trials.  With a special cobbled circle and a metal plaque, the place was commemorated as the spot where witches were executed; our guide said they were either hanged or burned or both.  Since this may be Schoonhaven’s one real claim to fame, the witch motif was on display, at least in the areas where tourists might be.

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
Kinderdijk translates as “children’s dike.”  While there were several equally plausible explanations for the name, no one is sure of the real reason.  Kinderdijk is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Angkor Wat, which means that the exterior of the buildings cannot be changed.  The place is Windmill Central.

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
One of the windmills is still open to the public, so we had the opportunity to see the giant wooden gears and see the vanes up close.  David climbed the interior stairs but MA stayed outside.  The giant propeller was spinning at a leisurely pace, covered in canvas sails.  The sails are attached to the honey-combed vanes [or arms] to catch the wind.  If the miller did not want them to turn, the canvas was removed.  The “Windmill Authority” really controlled the operation of the windmills and told the operators, through a signal relay system, when to power up the windmills.  We were told that the entire Kinderdijk system could be operational in 15 minutes.  Since the direction of the wind could change [duh], there was a system of gears which allowed the miller to rotate the top of the windmill to change the direction the vanes faced.

The demonstration windmill
The millers never owned the windmills; the “Authority” did.  Even today, this holds true.  The remaining windmills are rented out to families who actually work elsewhere.  We could see people outside doing gardening; there were toys and bicycles in front of several; and some of the residents waved to us.  While the rent is low – about 200 euros a month – it must be difficult being on display all day for tourists.

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








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