Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nederland, the beautiful land

After a few uneventful weeks in New York/Florida, my travel adventure began in earnest last week in the Netherlands. Saskia and Andrew met me at Schipol airport in Amsterdam at the conclusion of their two month cycling trip. We took a whirlwind walking and tram tour of the city the following day.  I had the pleasure of observing Amsterdam’s extensive bicycle and tram infrastructure.  It’s a relatively quiet and pleasant smelling large city as a result.  We checked out a turn of the century (20th) public housing project, Het Schip, which was notable because of the sense of social responsibility and value with which it was created. Architecturally it is very unique, both beautiful and funky with odd little curves, carvings and towers. At the time of construction, the public was shocked and outraged by the architect’s use of bricks and stone facing the “wrong” direction and roofing tiles used on vertical walls.  Each of the buildings was given unique features and all were constructed using extremely expensive materials because the housing association believed that the poor deserved good housing as well.  It was suggested by a tour guide who we briefly hovered near that the railroad owners also feared a socialist uprising and revolution and therefore invested a large sum in the project.  In any case, the beautiful national historic sites are still reserved for low-income housing today, evidence of the country’s continued commitment to social equity.

Het Schip
 I had visited the Anne Frank House and Jewish History museum on a previous visit, so I spent a few hours in the Versetz (Resistance) Museum learning about the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation during WWII.  The Dutch were none too happy to be invaded by Germany, so their resistance was more general to the occupation and not always specific to Nazi discrimination and war crimes. Despite extensive efforts to keep Jews and resistance workers in hiding and a very active industry counterfeiting documents, of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands prior to the war, only approximately 30,000 survived and of those, 8,000 were sterilized. And that was in a country in which the vast majority of citizens did not support the Nazi party.

After our day in Amsterdam we headed to Oosterbeek for a long weekend at Saskia’s Aunt Mirjam and Uncle Henk’s house. On Friday we enjoyed an all day barbecue with the large van Hecke clan.  The following day we borrowed bikes and rode to the Open Air museum in nearby Arnhem, up one of the country’s only “mountains.”  The Open Air museum was incredible because the creators took historic buildings from all around the Netherlands to educate the public about history and culture throughout the country and across time periods.  There are also demonstrations of many old techniques including paper milling, cooking oil milling/pressing, printing, cheesemaking, sawmilling, etc.  A highlight of this museum for me was watching a windmill being turned into the wind and the sails tied out to catch the wind.  The entire windmill was on a wheel track and was turned by attaching a cable to a post and tightening the cable by two people hand-turning a winch around which the cable is wound to turn the building.  The process is repeated until it is in the desired position.  In larger windmills, only the top portion of the building is turned.

The following day Henk and Mirjam led us on an all day walking tour of the region, through gardens, creeks, and flood plains to the Rijn (Rhine) River.  There we viewed a sluice used to control the river flow and all the related canals in order to both control flooding and ensure sufficient flow for boat travel on all canals during the drier season. Between this system and the drainage system of canals to dry agricultural land, originally achieved using windmills and now with electric pumps, the Netherlands has truly mastered water engineering while still balancing environmental conservation with human use. We continued on to a local castle and then headed back to house through the forest where we were able to view the roads and remnants of several historic estates. Now (Monday) I’m on a train to Berlin where I can’t wait to see more Silver City friends!

In conclusion, the Netherlands is an amazing country and I will definitely be visiting it again for a longer stay.  Also, if you want to be a water engineer or a transit planner, go study in the Netherlands.  They’re kilometers ahead of anyone else.

Route 66...and a bunch of other Routes

Due to my travel preparations and other distractions, I neglected to post this entry, mostly written on my way to NY a month ago.  But now I’ve got all the time in the world thanks to 6 hour train rides.

On my drive to New Mexico five and a half years ago, I was amazed by the number of trucks on the road, as I hadn’t previously spent a lot of time on east-west highways.  I was also interested in the cliché sightings such as oil drills and cowboys in Texas.  These things were no longer of note this time around, thanks to the time I’ve spent living in the southwest and extensive driving in both directions on I-10 to get to an airport.  So here are a selection of things that I learned on this road trip:

  •        Dr. Seuss must have spent time in NM – I’ve long thought that Dr. Seuss must have been inspired by NM flora in his illustrations.  I submit for evidence this photo of a century plant in bloom.  For those unaware, these things throw up thick stalks that look like giant asparagus and literally grow several inches, maybe even a foot, per day.  The below photo is admittedly from Silver City, so not technically part of the road trip:

Agave/Century plant
  • Then, in northeastern New Mexico, I drove past a town named Zuzax, which seems to be straight out of Seuss.
  •   Farmers need their own dating service.  In a Motel 6, I decided to turn on the TV, a novelty since I don’t own one.  I saw a commercial for FarmersOnly.Com, a dating service for “ranchers, farmers, and” country dwellers, featuring actors dressed from the 90s, dogs and cows “talking” about how the humans will never find someone on the farm, with a closing line of “city folks just don’t get it.” I suppose a farming-specific dating service actually makes sense, but nonetheless this commercial seemed ridiculous.  It was actually the only entertaining thing on TV that night, but maybe you had to see it.
  • Oklahoma is windy.  And humid.
  • The City Museum in St. Louis, MO is amazing.  It’s an old warehouse that has been turned into a giant playscape built with recycled industrial materials including slides, caverns, “trees”, etc.  The best views of the city may be from the rooftop ferris wheel.  Go see it. St. Louis is also humid.
  • Cincinnati is full of fun activities.  My aunt and uncle and cousins and all their friends would like me to tell you this, as they kept emphasizing it on my visit.  It’s actually true though, despite the humidity.
  • New York charges an arm and a leg for the pleasure of sitting in hours of traffic to enter the southern portion of the state, where you get to sit in more traffic.  Here the humidity is intermittent.  
     Glad the driving part of my journey is over.