Tag Archives: windmill

HOLLAND BY BIKE AND BARGE

The barge, ‘Holland’, and its intrepid crew getting ready for a great day’s riding.



As I’m going to be chained to a desk and a computer for the next few weeks, I’ll take the chance to look back on some of the highlights of the travel year to date.

Our time in Holland started with a great little trip by barge and bike though the classic Dutch countryside…

For forty years, the grimy little barge Germa carried sand around Dutch canals. Then someone decided that carrying tourists would be more fun, and perhaps more lucrative too. So in the 1960s Germa was given a total makeover, with guest cabins built inside and a coat of cheerful paint outside. They changed Germa’s name too, to the more appealing Holland.

Now proud skipper John and cycling guide Marcel lead people on leisurely canal cruises, along the way taking their guests on bikes, to pedal round those Dutch icons – tulips, clogs, windmills and cheese. Continue reading

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WINDMILLS – blots on the landscape?

Does new=ugly, old=charming?

There was an interesting discussion about wind farms on Sydney radio this morning, sparked by the release of a CSIRO report showing atmospheric CO2 levels are their highest for 800,000 years.

That makes sense. I can’t remember them being any worse, and I’m getting pretty old. It’s been a cool, wet summer in Sydney, but the last decade was Australia’s warmest on record.

Those calling for fast-tracking of renewable energy development quickly run into opposition not only from the fossil fuel industry and shock-jocks, but also from environmental groups who contend that windmills spoil the scenery, disturb the peace and endanger low-flying orange-bellied parrots. Continue reading

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KEUKENHOF, HOLLAND – It’s tulip time!

Holland’s Keukenhof is the most photographed place in the world, according to the hyperbolic guidebook. What – more than the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House? It’s quite possible, if you think about it. A couple of snaps of those other attractions are usually enough, but once we start taking photos of tulips, it’s hard to stop.

The ‘world’s most beautiful spring gardens’ are only open for the two months that the spring bulbs bloom, so when the gates open in late March there’s a feeding frenzy. Nearly a million visitors a year shuffle through the turnstiles in search of the perfect floral snapshot.

We queue at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the bus to take us to the town of Lisse, just over half an hour away. On board it’s standing room only. When we pass our first field of tulips, the bus rocks disturbingly as everybody with a camera (or a mobile phone with a hole in the back) rushes to the windows.

So many tourists can’t be wrong. This is going to be good. Anticipation builds as we arrive at the Keukenhof. Music pumps out from a colourful street organ and ladies in traditional dress sell guidebooks, telling the history of the place.

The site was once the kitchen garden (‘keukenhof’) of a 15th century castle, owned by the colourful Countess Jacoba van Beieren. She married four times, waged lots of wars, died young of TB. I don’t have time to read any more about her. There are flashes of colour in the gardens ahead, and I have photos that need taking.

Flowers are dead easy to photograph, even for us amateurs. They’re beautiful, they sit patiently while you fumble with the camera settings, and they don’t pull stupid faces when you point a lens at them.

Moreover, in the Keukenhof they’ve been arranged for maximum colour co-ordinated effect. Mr Jan D. Zocher, who also designed Amsterdam’s lovely Vondelpark, planned these castle gardens in 1857, and modern designers have built on his structure of lawns, lakes, trees and pathways.

Drifts of brilliant yellow, red and orange tulips scream out from between the blues of the grape hyacinths, under the bright green spring growth of the beech and chestnut trees. Just when we’re thinking this is perhaps getting a bit gaudy, around the corner we find a quiet area of subdued pinks and delicate mauves, contrasting with beds of purple tulips so dark they’re nearly black.


We photographers can’t get enough of it. ‘Please keep off the grass’ warn the signs in Dutch and English, but rather vainly. The grass around the beds is well trodden and worn patches have already been replaced along the fringe of the paths.

Those after extreme close-ups of dewdrops on a perfect bloom prostrate themselves on the damp ground and poke the lens upward. Others risk falling in the water in their efforts to frame their lake shot with overhanging tree limbs. We throw our lunch to the swans to encourage them to glide into the ideal spot and try to catch the cute ducklings paddling round their mother.

Poise the camera over any flowerbed and you’ll get a frame filled with a stunning pattern of bright ‘triumphs’ or ‘double earlies’. There are over a hundred different varieties of tulips here. Some thirty gardeners have hand planted some seven million bulbs. Crouch down to flower level and you’ll capture the woven patchwork of ‘victory’ and ‘parrot’ tulips offset against the upright tree trunks. Stand up again and massage your knees; there’s more walking to do – several kilometres of paths.

There are avenues of blossom, a Japanese garden, glasshouses filled with lilies and orchids and floral arrangement competitions. There are formal ponds lined by perfectly symmetrical topiary box hedges. If you can’t make a decent photo here it can only be because your battery has run out.

We shoot our partners posing casually next to a bed of ‘single lates’. They shoot us posing humorously beside a statue. At 32 hectares, the Keukenhof is the Netherlands largest outdoor sculpture park, displaying work from fifty artists. A hilarious shot of me draped around the naked lady sculpture will be sure to get a big laugh when I email it to my friends.

People here are patient with photographers. They step back and wait, so as not to walk between us and our subjects. Passing strangers offer to take shots of us with a bed of ‘orange princesses’ behind us and we do the same for them.

The full Dutch experience is available at the Keukenhof. People snap each other trying on giant clogs and eating raw herrings. There’s an old windmill too. You can climb around inside it and emerge on the balcony, waving to your family below – another perfect photo opportunity!

Wow, look – there are the Teletubbies rendered in flower petals! Quick, get a shot of the kids with Tinky-winky and Dipsy. And there behind the gardens are the tulip fields with rows of blooms stretching all the way to the power-lines beyond.

We grab a quick coffee and snack, but there’s no time to waste. We have to race home to sift through hundreds of shots and delete the rubbish. No, too much contrast, too much backlight, thumb over the lens, a wind gust must have moved that flower at the wrong moment, nice background there but what a pity your eyes are shut…

Oh no! Where’s my perfect shot? I’ll have to go back and take some more. I see this year they have an American theme, featuring a ‘flowerized’ version of the Statue of Liberty. Must get a picture of that!

TRIP NOTES:

Entry to the Keukenhof costs EUR13.50, children EUR6. Combi-ticket for return bus from Amsterdam Schiphol airport to Lisse, including garden entry costs EUR20.

For further information on the Keukenhof gardens: http://www.keukenhof.nl

First published, Sun-Herald, Sydney

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BIKES ON DYKES – cycling Zeeland, Netherlands

Visitors to Holland are quickly taught the rule – don’t stand chatting in the bike lane. So it’s a surprise when in the cycling paradise of Zeeland we come across Dutch premier Jan Pieter Balkenende and his retinue doing just that, blocking our progress across the Eastern Schelde dam. Sleek black limousines are parked on the path by the ‘bikes only’ sign.

‘The prime minister of South Korea is visiting,’ a driver tells us. ‘We’re showing him our dykes.’

Ah, fair enough. Everybody should see these dykes. As sea levels rise, the world will have much to learn from the Zeelanders. My wife and I came here to ride through the idyllic countryside, past the old windmills and through the ancient towns and villages, but we’re finding the modern engineering just as impressive.

The residents of this chain of flat islands have had a love/hate relationship with the sea for centuries. In good times, the sea provided the wealth that made a town like Middelburg one of the most important trading centres of renaissance Europe. In bad times, when dykes were breached by warfare or sea surges, Zeeland has literally and tragically gone under.

We start our tour in Middelburg, a splendid medieval city on the island of Walchers. I say ‘medieval’, though few buildings survived the German fire bombing in 1940. A remarkable reconstruction effort has made the town look old and beautiful again. The mighty clock tower Lange Jan (Tall John) erected in the time of William of Orange, dominates Middelburg, while below it the 12th century abbey has been converted to a museum. The modern art in the temporary exhibition leaves us a little bewildered, but the sun shines in a lovely abbey courtyard, and we enjoy a coffee and a local Zeeuwse bolus, a doughnut-like scroll with apple and cinnamon to sweeten the glug.
Middelburg
Next morning we roll down beside the canal to Middelburg’s competitor, Vlissingen. By reputation it’s a no-nonsense business centre, less touristy than Middelburg. We particularly enjoy the Maritime MuZEEum. As well as a good coverage of early and modern seafaring it shows a short film (in English) telling of Zeeland’s tragedy during WWII. As Allied forces closed in on the German troops occupying Middleburg, the dykes came down and the sea came in. Those who escaped with their lives lost their homes, livestock and livelihoods.

We wind our way north along the coastal villages, now popular seaside resorts. Bulldozers continuously reinforce the dunes along the North Sea, while behind them forests have been planted and wetlands developed. Thousands of wading birds are breeding and hundreds of Zeelanders and tourists are out cycling and walking.

We come to the magnificent Delta Works, where we meet the aforementioned heads of state. A remarkable system of dams and floodgates keeps the sea at bay, allowing it to flow through when it’s behaving itself and keeping it out when it looks dangerous.

Eastern Schelde Dam

The Delta Works are not only impressive, they’re also beautiful. The road swoops evenly towards a perfectly regular row of blocks and arches stretching into the distance. Floodgates, each forty metres wide, let the sea slosh through below. Road signs are bright royal blue, boom gates red and white, and soaring above us are rows of modern white windmills, silently generating power. Somebody very efficient is in control in Zeeland, and we find it reassuring.

I was interested to read (in Alain de Botton’s book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work) that the picture postcard windmills of old were often condemned as ugly industrial blots on the landscape, until Golden Age painters like Jacob van Ruysdael pointed out their charm. Maybe in 300 years’ time there’ll be a preservation society fighting to save a few elegant white specimens from our primitive age of electricity.

When the cavalcade of dignitaries moves on, we ride across the dam behind it. We’re on the ‘Strijd Tegen Water’ (‘Fight Against Water) cycle route. It leads us around sea walls and through lovely Zierikzee to Ouwerkerk, now a neat little village, with cropped trees and manicured gardens. It’s hard to imagine that on the night of February 1, 1953, this was the scene of the Netherlands’ greatest natural disaster.

When a massive storm burst the dyke, the ocean rushed in. Over 1800 people and 182,000 animals drowned. Fifty thousand homes were destroyed and for the next eight months high tides washed over the island, covering everything in a thick layer of sand.

The event is remembered in the nearby Watersnoodmuseum, or ‘Water Emergency Museum’. Housed in the massive ‘caissons’, concrete bins that eventually dammed the breach, it gives an excellent explanation (in English and Dutch) of the disaster, moving eye witness accounts and an inspiring summary of the clean-up and subsequent engineering works, designed to ensure that it never happens again.

The final section of the museum, opened just the day before our visit, looks into the future. In times of climate change, the world may well look for ideas in an efficiently organised country where more than half the population already lives below sea level.

As we enthusiastically sign the visitors’ book we notice the names on the previous page – J.P. Balkenende and Mr Han Seung-Soo. We assume their messages (illegible to us, especially the one in Korean) say they enjoyed Zeeland as much as we did.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: Trains run every hour from Amsterdam to Middelburg. The trip takes about 2.5 hours and costs EUR26.30 one way.

Staying there: B&B de Kaepstander in Middelburg has doubles for EUR67. See kaepstander.nl. Numerous other accommodation options are on vvvzeeland.nl

Further information: Entry to the Maritiem MuZEEum costs EUR8, and the Waternoodsmuseum EUR6. See muZEEum.nl and vvvzeeland.nl.

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Filed under Budget travel, Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, travel photography, Travel- Europe