Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Exploring South Holland with Even More Tandem Friends

As recounted in our last blog entry, we've begun this year's bike tour of Europe with a 16-day visit to some of our favorite places in the Netherlands with tandem friends Steve and Janet.  Today we'll head from the Province of North Holland into South Holland and meet up with yet more tandem friends, our Dutch friends Nico and Marga.

Only a few km from Haarlem we were stopping already for a very special sight, the Cruquius Museum.  In the mid-1800s Haarlem was bordered by an enormous shallow lake, the Haarlemermeer.  It was 170 sq km  / 65 sq mi.  The Dutch turned to the British for their expertise in steam engines, and three enormous ones were built to drain the lake.  The remaining one is the centerpiece of the museum, and an object of something between intense interest and veneration by Steve, who is a retired mechanical engineer.

The museum actually did more than showcase the pump.  It demonstrated various ways that the Dutch and others have pumped out water over the centuries.  To the right is a cutaway model of an Archimedes screw, a device used since Archimedes' time in ancient Greece.  It was widely used by windmills in the Netherlands for pumping water out of polders until replaced in the past few decades by electric pumps using other methods, and the image below is an Archimedes screw from just such a windmill.

Something like that can pump dozens of gallons a minute, but that would have been like using a lawn hose to drain the giant Haarlemermeer.  The Cruquius pump as built pumped 55,000 gallons per minute, raising it 15 feet (almost 5 m).  Together with two other pumps of similar design, the lake was drained in less than 4 years, from late 1848 to mid-1852.  Money paid by folks interested in buying the newly-created land covered much of the cost of the effort.

The pumping station consisted of one enormous steam piston that simultaneously powered 8 smaller pistons that took in water when submerged and dumped it when lifted, 15 feet higher, into a drainage canal that led to the ocean.  Five times a minute, every hour and every day.

Want to know more?  Check out the museum's website (Google "Cruquius").  Or find Steve and ask him.  As for the Haarlemermeer area, it's now a township, 15% of which is covered by Schiphol Airport, the largest airport in the Netherlands.  Two of the three pumps were retired early, and the Cruquius continued in service until 1933.  More efficient electric pumps do the job of keeping the polder dry today.

It was cool but dry, as you could guess from Steve and Janet's bike outfit for the day.  As for the windmill, it's a bit small to be a grinding mill and the wrong design to be a water-pumping windmill, so perhaps this one is just a garden ornament, albeit a pretty sizable one.

We had scheduled a short day to Leiden, 40 km / 25 mi.  This gave us time, after lunch and a switch into non-lycra clothing, for a walking tour of town, with a Rick Steves guidebook on one of our electronic devices as our tour guide.  Between the twists and turns of the Leiden streets and of Rick Steve's directions, we had, shall we say, difference of opinion about the correct way to turn at quite a few street junctions, but somehow made it around the circuit and past some interesting streets and structures. The quaint brick buidling in the third photo below, for example, is the palace of justice, in front of which public hangings used to be held.  The stonework in the photo to the right, however, is a weighing not of the scales of justice, but of the scales of cheese, for this is carved into the wall of the Waag, the official Weigh-house which once certified the accurate weight of all cheeses sold hereabouts.

As in Haarlem, there were several hofjes, or almshouses, to check out for their peaceful courtyards.  Because we were close to the University of Leiden, some of these were now student housing.  A clear indication of this at our first hofje was the barbecue grill in the shape of an Amstel beer bottle.

Our next hofje had historical significance, for we were now in the part of town where religious zealots from England chose to settle.  They arrived in 1609, convinced that King James, he of the King James Bible, was too much a papist for their taste, even though he was a Protestant and the head of the Anglican Church.  Their spiritual leader, Rev. John Robinson, lived on this spot.  In 1620 the group decided that their kids were becoming too Dutch, and they needed a place where they could remain both English and pure of heart.  They located a ship called The Mayflower and sailed off to Massachusetts, where they became known as The Puritans.  Dr. Robinson however stayed behind in Leiden and was buried nearby in 1625.  A few decades later this hofje was built on the site of his last home.  As for staying pure of heart, historians have been recounting the history of those Puritans in America for quite some time, and we'll let you decide.  They did have some interesting descendants, though, as a sign across the street informed us.

The final stop on our walking tour was a tiny hill that once held a small castle, but now serves as a nice spot from which to look over the city.  Nearby is the Hooglandse Kerk, the "highlands" church, so-named because of this diminutive hill.  We are, indeed, in a particularly flat part of the Netherlands, where a little hill is a Big Deal.

Our next destination was the Hague, which is only 20 km from Leiden.  To make for a more interesting ride, Jeff found a route that looped en route through Wassenaar, the Netherlands' wealthiest community.  As we entered town, however, Steve and Janet's rear brake cable broke.  Team Redtandem never leaves home without all sorts of spare parts.  Mechanical engineer Steve never leaves home without his Leatherman tool with umpteen devices, one of which is a wire cutter.  With a variety of hands on the job or photographing the effort for the archives, we soon had things back to normal.

As for Wassenaar, the Netherlands is such an egalitarian society that mega-mansions, or as Americans sometimes call them "McMansions," are just not considered as an appropriate form of architecture.  Now old nobility sometimes had rather large, ornate digs like this former palace called Oude Wassenaar, which now serves primarily as a wedding reception venue and home to some storks visiting from Africa for the summer months, as storks are wont to do.  And we did find one place along the way that was certainly very stylish in its use of brick and thatch.  But if you want the sort of garish displays of wealth one finds in various enclaves in the US, you'll be disappointed here.

 The heart of The Hague is a few km inland, but a small seaside town that is now part of The Hague is not merely on the sea, but in fact is the most visited seaside town in the country, Scheveningen.  A few years ago a grand boardwalk was created, and a portion of the boardwalk peopled with 19 little sculptures entitled Fairytales by the Sea, plus one enormous one entitled The Proper Way to Eat Herring.  The artist is Tom Otterness, and you simply can't pass these artworks without smiling.

 We arrived late afternoon and had a full day planned for the next day so didn't do much sightseeing in the Hague, but we did take time to walk around the Binnenhof, the center of the Dutch parliament, in the photo below, and the Ridderzaal or "Knight's Hall" that the Binnenhof wraps around.  The Ridderzaal dates back to the 13th century, and more recently has served as a place for large gatherings, such as the conference in the late 1940s when the Netherlands gave up its colonial claims to Indonesia.  Its main function these days is as the venue for the annual King's Speech to open Parliament.  As in the UK, it's pretty much written by the Prime Minister and his assistants and merely read by the monarch.

We now moved on to Delft for our second 4-night stay.  We arrived at noon at a 2-bedroom apartment we found through Homeaway.com, and dropped our bike panniers.  Meanwhile friends Nico and Marga arrived with their tandem on the back of their car, and the six of us took off for a 35 km tour of the countryside southeast of town.  But first we found a bench for a picnic lunch and a group photo courtesy of a passerby.  After lunch Team Redtandem managed to get a few action photos of the other two teams along the way.  And of course we stopped for coffee and an Appeltaart at a trailside cafe, of which the Netherlands has hundreds (they're even marked on bicycle maps!)  Since our own tandem has no kickstand and there was no place nearby to lean it, we made a "tandem sandwich" to hold all three bikes upright during our cafe stop.

The Netherlands has hundreds and hundreds of ferries, many of them just for pedestrians and bikes.  Most of these have a ferry operator, but there are a few dozen "do-it-yourself" ferries around the country.  We had encountered one near Delft in our first visit to the Netherlands, and Jeff was able to figure out where it was and to route our group to it.  We told the other two teams only that there would be a Verrassing, a surprise, a few km from the end of the ride.  As it turns out, Nico and Marga had encountered these once or twice before, but even smaller ones just for walkers, in nature parks.  This was their first self-propelled bike ferry.  It was a pleasant surprise for them, as well as for Steve and Janet.

The ferry has a continuous chain and four places to crank it:  one on each shore, and one at each end of the ferry.  We first had to crank it from the other shore, Jeff and Steve taking turns.  Then Nico was the motive power for our trip across.  You have to push the crank in to engage the chain, then crank HARD.  The first minute or two appears to accomplish nothing, since it takes at least that long to wind the chain up from the bottom of the canal.  By the time we were approaching the far shore, Nico seemed glad to be getting assistance from a cyclist on the shore who helped crank us in.

Of course we ended our day with a meal in a square in Delft.  Do we eat to bike or bike to eat?  Age-old question with a simple answer:  yes.

Marga had to work the next day so we said goodbye for now.  We will see Marga and Nico two months from now, however, when we return to this part of the Netherlands in late August.  The remaining four of us headed southwest from Delft this time for a 45 km  ride to the Hook of Holland, where the Rhine flows into the North Sea, creating the SW corner of South Holland province (the Dutch work Hoek actually means "corner," not "hook").  This took us through what must be the greenhouse capital of the world.  We went past not acres and hectares but rather square miles and square kilometers, lots of them, covered with greenhouses.  The first two photos show two sides of a single one we rode past, called "Garden #4" at the front entry.  For long stretches we were continually alongside or near greenhouses on one or both sides of the road.

Near the mouth of the Rhine is an enormous steel gate painted white that gets rarely used.  It swings out from both shores and temporarily closes off the Rhine.  Not to hold the Rhine in but to keep the ocean out, for its sole purpose is to protect against a sea surge such as the disastrous one in 1953 that killed 1,836 people in SW Netherlands.

Closer to the sea and to the terminal for the ferry that leaves each morning and evening for Harwich England is a sculpture.  It stands, probably not by coincidence, in front of a bunker built by the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands in WWII.  The plaque in Dutch and English explains its poignant message.

Our rented apartment was within a courtyard right off a canal, and the next morning we took some photos of the street and canal in front of our courtyard entrance, and also around the block.  What we want to know is, how did the driver get out of the black car without swimming in the canal?  We wonder, too, how often cars go for a swim as their drivers position them into tight parking spots this close to the canals?  "Sorry, honey, I drowned the car"?

A photo as we crossed another canal not far away sums up centuries of history for Delft.  In the distance is a windmill that was built in the 17th century and modified in the 18th.  To the right is a cityscape that dates from the 19th and 20th centuries.  To the left is the 21st century, just completed City Hall, which doubles (underground) as the new train station.  Use it we did as took the train to Rotterdam, less than 15 minutes and 8 euros (round trip) away.

The Rotterdam Centraal train station gives you a strong hint that you are in the Dutch city most famous for modern architecture.  This is due in part to the tragedy of May 14, 1940, when the German Luftwaffe bombed the heart out of central Rotterdam, despite the fact that the Dutch surrendered before the bombs started falling.  The Dutch filled in many of the old canals and with rare exception did not attempt to recreate the old buildings, but rather started anew.  They have only gotten bolder as time has moved along.

A fifteen-minute walk brought us to a vista displaying three boldly modern buildings (actually four, but all you see of the fourth at this point is part of a roof -- hang on, we'll get to it).  To the left is the Central Public Library with its form-follows-function yellow heating ducts crawling over and around the building.  Next to it is a building the locals call "The Pencil," for obvious reasons.  To the right is the Markthal, but to really appreciate this one you need to walk past it toward the pencil and look back.  Wow!

Opened less than four years ago, the Markthal contains 228 apartments, underground parking for over 1200 cars, 100 food stalls, 100+ other shops, dozens of restaurants, and one full service supermarket.  And you could slide a 10-story building right through that arch if you disassembled the windows at each end that keep everything comfortable inside.  From the inside looking up you can see the mural, which required a supercomputer to plot out.  It's called Horn of Plenty to celebrate all the food inside.

If you go back outside and face the Pencil once again, from closer up, you can now see the entrance to the Rotterdam Blaak train station, known to the locals as "the Flying Saucer."  Behind it is a building with bright yellow panels that looks a bit unusual.  Walk a little closer and you will see that it's not unusual, it's bizarre.  It's the Cube Houses!

The Cube Houses were designed by architect Piet Blom, who also designed The Pencil.  He conceived of each cube as a tree and the group of 38 regular cubes and two supercubes as a forest.  In 2009 the larger cubes were converted into a youth hostel, and the other 38 remain homes.  Each one has about 1100 square feet (a little over 100 sq. meters), but a bit of that is unusable because of tight corners.  So many people pestered the owners for a peek inside that one of them converted his into a museum.  We popped for the senior price of 2 euros and took a look around.  We'll start on the first floor (after a bit of a hike up the stairs -- this is not a home for the old or arthritic).  Here you can relax in the living room and/or check out what the neighbors are up to.  In the kitchen you can watch pedestrians and cyclists right below you as you cook or do the dishes.

On the middle floor you find the bedroom and study.  The top floor, which is more of a loft, can be used as a second bedroom, a library or a hideaway.  The view is pretty spectacular from there, particularly if you like all this modern architecture.  And, come to think of it, you probably do if you bothered to move into a place like this!

Down at street level we encountered an old bakfiets (cargo bike) that must be fairly weird to ride around corners.  To see how weird, look at the second photo.  To keep up with all the modern architecture, Rotterdam has a fleet of rental bikes like many other cities nowadays, but check out these bikes!  The "spokes" are only on one side, and the drive train appears to be a drive shaft rather than a chain.  Since there's a shifter on the handlebar, there's obviously an internal gear shifter inside the rear hub.

To regain our sense that we were still in the Netherlands, we stopped at a charming cafe for coffee and an appeltaart and a view over a small harbor to "The White House," a pre-war office building that lay just outside the zone of destruction of May 14.  To see how close, consider the photo reproduced on a sign down on the street.  It shows a view toward the center of the city from the White House taken a few weeks before the bombing.  Every building in this photo was destroyed or damaged.

After our break we continued along the Rhine and looked out, past some incomprehensible sculpture, to the south bank, where a lot of the new action is happening in Rotterdam architecture.  The tall building left of center is now the tallest in the Low Countries, though it would be lost in New York or Chicago.  Before heading back "home" to Delft we needed one more antidote to our heavy exposure to modern architecture, provided by the green and oh-so-formal garden in a park named, yes, "The Park."

We were pretty tired by the time we got back to Delft -- we walked about 11 miles -- but still managed to stay upright during an Indonesian feast called a Rijsttafel, literally a "rice table."  It started as a Dutch way of boasting about the diversity of cuisines in their colonial empire in the East Indies, today's Indonesia.  So for some, it is a colonial vestige best left alone.   Nonetheless it remains popular in the Netherlands for a special meal, and in our case it was downplayed a little and came across as less ostentatious and more authentic, in large part because our cafe was a very small one run by an Indonesian family.  Twenty or thirty different dishes are not unheard of, but ours was "only" a little over a dozen.  Steve and Janet are exercising remarkable restraint as the last dishes are being brought to the table.

We had one more day in Delft, but we are going to tackle that one in our next entry and end on this day of diverse experiences.  We are catching up on the blog and hopefully the next episode will appear fairly soon.