Bits and Bobs of the Netherlands: PART I


Friday, March 4, 2017

Following our visit to the States, we arrived back in Hoorn and were greeted by our Belgian Family – Koen, Ta, Seppe, Frieke, and Wannes. What a warm way to transition from house-living to boat-living. Theirs was a quick visit due to the timing of our arrival and their available dates, so we made the most of it by touring one of the Netherlands iconic, land-reclamation projects at Lelystad, the capital of Flevoland, the 12th and youngest province.

The Zuiderzee or ‘South Sea’ (a body of water in the interior of modern-day Holland) was caused by years of sea water washing over sand dunes and barriers at the top of the Netherlands. Created before the 13th century, this sea provided fishing grounds but resulted in the loss of valuable farmland. After constant flooding the pro-farmlanders won the political argument, with the government planning on barricading the sea and reclaiming lost land.

In the 17th century plans were drawn up to block off the Zuiderzee at the barrier islands (noted by black lines joining the islands in the diagram below)

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but the engineering feat wasn’t possible until Cornelis Lely proposed making a dyke further inland. He drew up plans for one that was begun in 1927 after yet another devastating flood in 1916. This was the Afsluitdijk or ‘Barrier Dyke’ that sealed the Zuiderzee from the Waddenzee. Fresh water from the IJssel river which flows from the Alps eventually flushed out the salt forming a huge lake, the IJsselmeer.

With the completion of the Afluisdijk in 1932 the Dutch began draining low lying tracts of land and creating polders (arable land lined by canals). More reclamation was planned with the construction of a second dyke In 1972, which bisected the Ijsselmeer while creating another lake, the Markermeer. However, some of the land was never reclaimed due to environmental concerns and cost (which is a good thing as Hoorn would have lost its historic harbor).

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Lelystad, located on the opposite side of the second dyke from Hoorn, is where we drove to view the Nieuw Land Museum and a 17th-century replica of a Dutch merchant frigate, the Batavia.

The museum is a haven for kids who want to play with water, but for me the most interesting parts were the maps delineating the actual reclamation, an exhibit showcasing the New Stone Age residents of the area who built terpens (islands of earth and clay) to live above the marshy sea, and the wooden carcass of an old ship (approx. 17th century) used by the Frislanders to ferry live fish to the market

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(note the holes in the hull where sea water washed in and out of the hold where the fish were kept).

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Exiting the museum we all headed to the Batavia. Commissioned by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) in 1628, it struck rocks off the western coast of Australia during its maiden voyage with tales of the survivors being much more interesting than the TV show “Survivor”.

Launched in 1995 the replica took ten years employing the same techniques as those used in the 1600s.

Along the route to the ship we saw the various workshops used by different trades–such as carpenters and blacksmiths–to recreate this ship which was used in the Dutch West & East Indies trade. There was even a workshop with looms to weave sail cloth,

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and a volunteer was actually sewing one of the massive sails … all by hand.

Aboard the ship a guide explained various features including navigation using a traverse board (on the right below). A sailor would record estimated course and distance during his four-hour watch. The information would eventually be recorded in the log by the captain while the navigator used the information to dead reckon the route on a chart.

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With the tour ending it was time for a group shot, a tradition whenever we get to be with our Belgian family.

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They left for home that night reminding us once again how lucky we are to have them close by.


Tuesday, March 7

One of the many benefits of living in Hoorn is its proximity to Amsterdam. That, and the annual museumkaart means we have unlimited visits to major museums. Having heard of a special exhibit at the Hermitage museum, we combined an errand in Amsterdam with a tour of the Romanov Family and their demise.

Focused on the lead-up to their murders, the display began with the sophistication of St. Petersburg in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The love marriage of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra (granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria) created a happy family life for them and their five children

but also led to an insular existence, one ignorant of current affairs. The ignorance and incompetence of Nicholas II, who really didn’t want to be nor should have been a ruler, meant Russian autocracy was doomed.

As we perused the exhibits it became so evident that the Tsar and his family were living in a golden bubble within a nightmare it made me feel like hitting them upside the head saying “You idiots! What don’t you see?!” This was especially true when confronted with photos showing some of the grand duchesses merrily roller skating aboard the royal yacht STANDARD

and later followed by one of the bayonets used in their execution on July 17, 1918 in Ekaterinburg.

The gruesome killing of the Tsar and his immediate family wasn’t the only royal murder. Information on other family members’ demise appeared at the end of the tour. Just read what happened to Alexandra’s sister:

Leaving the Hermitage to head home all I could think was what an excellent example of how countries can be led by stupid leaders who rose based on entitlement; however, at least Russia’s excuse is it was by heredity…

Stand by for PART II.

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