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Water, Water, Everywhere

To tour the Netherlands is to marvel at Dutch ingenuity in water management. With one quarter of Holland below sea level and one half at one metre or less above sea level, the Dutch have lived with the threat of flooding for their entire history. The country boasts over 17,000 kilometres of dikes, along their rivers, intended to protect residents from flooding. 

But one night in 1953, the confluence of an especially high spring tide and a wind storm over the North Sea struck just after midnight and caused water levels to rise more than 5 meters above normal, breaching the protective dikes. Radio was off the air and government agencies were not staffed; there was no warning for the residents of low-lying land and islands. By 3 a.m., more than 1,800 people had lost their lives.

The Netherlands decided to get serious about a new era of flood control water management. They wanted to have defences that would handle once-in-a-thousand years storms. This is a lofty goal, as our guide pointed o…
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Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a World Heritage site, where 19 windmills are preserved, all built around the early 1740s. These windmills are all used for water management (throughout Holland, Dutch people pay a special water tax to support the water authority). 

This is in contrast to the mills we visited in Zaanse Schans, which were part of what you could think of as a large industrial park of about 1000 windmills in the 18thC where the mills were used to cut timber, grind spices, make linseed oil, or other products. 

 Some mills were to lift water from the canals in the fields to larger canals, another group lifted to yet larger and higher canals, and the last set lifted to the River Lek (aka the Rhine). 

The mills had fallen into disrepair, when the Queen saw them, and started the effort to restore and maintain this piece of Dutch history.


We took a short boat trip along the big canal looking a windmills close up. All but one of the windmills, reachable only by bicycle, is lived in by families. For so…

The Perils of the Wrong GPS settings

So, we're leaving our B&B and heading to Kinderdijk (next post) following the directions of our excellent car GPS. But we seem to be driving back where we came from. We try to intervene with the map and the GPS keeps taking us in circles. What can be going on?  Finally we determine the GPS is set to avoid ferries and there's only one convenient way to get across the Lek (Rhine) and it's a ferry rather than a bridge! The ferry is considered part of the road.  This is just one of the perils of driving in Holland. Then there are the narrow streets, especially difficult with the big car we have to give Wayne leg and head room:
Many road have two bike lanes but only one car lane, like this example: Note the houses here well below the road built along the top of the dike. Sometimes there is a separate road for bikes nearby, sometimes there's one bike area, with painted lines separating the two directions, sometimes there's a concrete separation, sometimes there's no…

Oudewater

Another town on the prettiest town list and deservedly so. Canals, pretty houses and cafes, flowers everywhere and a nice peaceful atmosphere not overrun by tourists. There was a typical pretty town hall:
We had a very nice dinner by the canal at this restaurant  With this view The plate was so pretty I took a picture
It was such a balmy evening we ate outside but discovered an exquisite interior: On we drove on a single lane road to our B&B in the country nearby. It was a very pretty old house that had been modernized inside. 

As well as a B&B, it had been set up to handle rustic weddings exploiting the ample outdoor space. 
The husband, who works in finance in Amsterdam, had a dream to live in the country and the wife's dream was to run a B&B so that worked well together. Apparently it was not the dream of the oldest daughter to leave Amsterdam and ride her bike 30 minutes to high school in Gouda!
We had a delightful drive the next morning along the narrow road with polders …

Gouda - Another pleasant surprise

We didn't spend a lot of time in Gouda but enjoyed another pretty town. Narrow streets, canals, flowers, pretty houses. I visited the church with its stained glass windows but didn't enjoy as much as the church in Naarden. 
The town is very proud of the fact that Eradmus was born there; you can see him on this sign at the museum. 
The town hall was most impressive, dramatically situated in the middle of a large square. 

Naarden

Naarden is best known as a star-shaped fortress town. It's a very compact town of 17,000 inhabitants with the walls and moats very well preserved. We walked out through the town gate to admire the fortifications. We walked out through the town gate to see the walls and the moat:
The town itself is very pretty and not surprisingly is considered one of the prettiest towns in Holland. 


We just loved the church. Those paintings on the ceiling are quite spectacular.  We spent some time wandering, and having a very pleasant lunch. One thing that surprised me was the number of very nice clothing stores. It seems retail is alive and well in the small towns of Holland. This observation was underscored in other small towns we visited. Very nice clothes too!

Along the paths and canals of Amsterdam

One of the conference sponsors hosted an interesting guided walking tour of Amsterdam for 8 of us from Canada, US, India, Taiwan, Ghana, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. My favourite part of the tour was the Begijnhof, shown above. After its long history as a Catholic almost-convent (the women took vows but were free to leave to marry), this beautiful peaceful enclave has 105 residents, all widows. After the bustle of Amsterdam, your heart rate responds to the serenity of the quiet closed-off courtyard. Amsterdam's oldest house is also found here.

The homes in Amsterdam are distinctive both for their gables and for how crooked they are. Sometimes this is because their pilings have deteriorated, but partly it's intended: the upper stories usually lean out to ensure the furniture which is to be brought up by that hoist on the gable won't hit the house, as dramatically shown down this little street.

 Of course we walked through part of the Red Light District. Despite the e…