Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Great Welcome to Holland

8 weeks after leaving Seattle we boarded a ferry to take us from the UK to Holland, the start of our grand trek across what we anticipate will be about 2,500 km of the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.  Since British trains are fairly unfriendly to tandem bicycles, we took our bike apart once again and packed it into our suitcases.  The two largest suitcases have the bike, the bike panniers, and most of our bike clothes.  The carry-on sized suitcase and the small duffel have the rest of the clothes we will carry on the bike in the panniers, plus extra clothes for our longer stays in London and Cambridge, which we will also need for the 2 weeks we will take in September to travel across the US visiting family along the way.  Not seen in the photo are the small backpacks we were wearing that have most of the electronics and a few more items of clothes.

From the ferry we hopped onto a Dutch train for a 45 minute ride to a town outside Rotterdam, where our Dutch friends Nico and Marga were waiting for us with their thankfully large car.  We were then their houseguests for three wonderful days.  Soon after lunch we reassembled our tandem and headed out for a short ride.  The next day we rode 20 km to see their son and the countryside to the west of their home town, and on the third day we took a 50 km loop ride that really showed off their part of Holland.  Here we are on a bicycle ferry -- one of several dozen all over Holland -- with their folding tandem and our take-apart one, once again all put together.

Jeff learned to love tandem biking from his blind friend Pete Dawson, and Pete became such a good friend he was Best Man at our wedding.  Jeff also spent a few weeks living with Pete, so learned a bit about how you manage life without sight.  It was interesting to revisit the issue with Nico, who lost his own sight due to a childhood illness, after having limited sight for his first few years.  Technology has had a huge impact on him, and he is one tech-savvy guy.  Check out his braille reader!  When he gets an email he can have a mechanical voice read it to him, or he can read it in braille on the reader.  If he writes something he can double-check his work in braille.  It's so central to the ease with which he manages his life that he has multiple devices, including this smaller one he takes with his Mac Book, and another that has a memory.  He downloads the hymns for his church each week, and has the text of the hymns play out for him in braille as he joins the rest of the congregation in song!  He could also download a good novel and read it during a dull sermon while seeming to pay full attention, but that's not actually the Nico we saw during our visit.

Our great shared love of course is tandem riding, and that longer ride took us to Willemstad, an historical town that has a fine old windmill we rode past, and many newer ones churning out electricity.

Although one sees modern windmills in most of the Netherlands and also in some large wind farms offshore in the North Sea, it still only accounts for about 8% of their electric production.  Solar is only a fraction of a percent, but Nico and Marga are doing their bit.  When we asked about the solar panels we saw on the roof of their garage, we learned that they generate almost the exact amount of electricity they use in a year, but of course all in the daytime and mostly in the summer.

Near Willemstad we stopped to read a sign about that hill standing behind Nico and Marga.  It marks one of many places in the SW of the Netherlands where a dike failed in the Watersnoodramp, or "water disaster" of Feb. 1, 1953.  A trifecta of bad luck -- a particularly high tide, an especially low pressure system, and a storm surge from that low pressure system -- combined to create a tide that was up to 18 feet above mean sea level in some parts of the Netherlands, particularly in the Province of Zeeland.  Nico told us how his Dad was at home that day in Strijen, which is 50 km / 30 mi. from the main part of the coast.  A neighbor burst in and told him to run to a high place, having just heard the warning herself on a radio.  They ran, and then looked down at a wall of water that ruined his house and thousands of others.  In the Netherlands over 1,800 people died, including 44 even in Strijen.  Later that day we stopped at the cemetery in their small town to see the memorial to the flood victims there.  It is a moving place, with hedges cut to represent the waves and a stark sculpture of a flood victim later recovered, dead, from a tree.  As if that isn't enough tragedy for this community, nearby is a second memorial to the victims of the Holocaust from their town.  The Star of David is deliberately broken to represent how the Jewish community was shattered by this brutality.  As elsewhere, hope for the future is expressed in the saying "Never again."

On our second night with Nico and Marga we had a wonderful serendipity.  Jeff's daughter Rebecca had been sent the week before to a large indoor farming conference in Amsterdam.  She is director of research for Illumitex, a company that makes grow lights for indoor farms and greenhouses, both of which are large industries in the Netherlands.  After he conference ended she and Jeff worked out a plan for her to stay in Rotterdam and to take the Waterbus to Dordrecht, a city close to Strijen.  We met in front of De Crimpte Zalm, a seafood restaurant located on Fish Street (Visstraat), with carvings of fish in this 1609 building since it was once part of the fishing industry.  Inside we had a wonderful meal and lively conversation.

Well, we consider ourselves lucky indeed to have made the acquaintance of Nico and Marga last year while tandeming in Germany, renewed with a ride in Leiden near the end of last year's trip.  With our stay this week, we have created quite a good friendship.  Perhaps the most surprising part was when Nico mentioned how much he liked card games.  "How do you play cards?" wondered Jeff.  "With a decks of cards I've marked with braille," said Nico, and we sat down to teach them our favorite card game, Oh Hell.  After a minute or two of explanation, both Marga and Nico said "Hey, we already know that game, but it has a different name in Dutch."  Know it they did, and Marga took first and Nico second place.

It's now time to move on, and we'll tell you in our next blog entry about our ride a short ways up the Rhine to see some old towns and a 12th century castle, then to Rotterdam, and finally on up the coast as we make our way to northern Germany.

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