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October 26, 2012

And what is this new sense of time?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:47 AM * 54 comments

What is this weight in my mind?
And what is this new sense of time?
It’s the open fields and the friends that are gone,
And I’ve been in the lowlands too long.
—Gillian Welsh, “Lowlands”, who didn’t mean it the way I’m hearing it now.

The sun is sinking behind the clouds on the horizon. The official sunset time on the internet is still about ten minutes away, but the air temperature isn’t going to take account of that nicety. I stop and put my jacket on over my cardigan. It’s not quite enough, but I’m keeping the gloves and hat in my front basket. Sometimes the promise of more warmth later is better than the warmth itself.

This is a good spot. The bike path runs between two strips of water, both bright with reflected sky. To my right is a narrow patch of reeds, its leaves beginning to turn purple-brown with autumn. The last light of the day gives them a bit of its orange, a parting gift of warmth and richness. To my left, the fields stretch out for kilometers, flat and treeless. Only the livestock and the woodwork—bridges and little stretches of fence—break the landscape between me and the outlines of the distant trees and towns. Above it all, the sky is full of light.

Then the sun disappears and the land goes grey. Time to mount up and ride on. I’m still about forty-five minutes away from my village, and I’m getting hungry.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been out here without a good reason. Six months ago, I was indifferent to this vast, flat, wet landscape. My heart has always been in the mountains and the desert. When I moved to Scotland, I learned to love the terrain by analogy. The rolling hills of the Borders have a lot in common with those near San Francisco1. And the way that the bones of the land show beneath the heather in the Highlands echoes the California desert and its sagebrush. The places aren’t the same, really, but the similarity is enough to make a bridge. It’s enough to find a way to love the landscape.

But there’s no bridge from anyplace I’ve lived to the Dutch polder. This is nothing like anything I have ever known. If my love of California came through the front door and my love of Scotland through the side, this sudden, inarticulate love of the Netherlands is the unexpected guest who appears one day in the living room, ringing no bell and answering no invitation. And yet here it is, and it draws me out of the house and away from the cities every bright day. I go out for half-hour rides and come back three hours later, windblown and bright-eyed.

And the Noord-Hollands polder through which I’ve been riding is the real deal: the unfiltered, unadulterated Dutch landscape, served neat. It’s undiluted by tulips and uncut by the tourist trail. It stretches out northward from the urbanized shore of the IJ to the Afsluitdijk, making up the land between the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. The fields are punctuated by towns and villages: Purmerend, Volendam, Alkmaar, Heerhugowaard, Den Helder, Edam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Schagen, Heiloo. Straight, elevated canals and swift roads cross them, taking the people and the freight to and fro. But the land between is filled only with a kind of vastness: long, straight lines of pasture under the endless, endless sky.

This land was reclaimed from the water in the sixteenth century, and its first crop was Dutch democracy. The hoogheemraadschappen, the water boards that manage drainage and flood control here, are among the oldest democratic institutions in Europe. 2 They have endured in the face of centuries of authoritarianism, a living assertion that the best way to get a thing done is to empower the people who do it. The landscape here is their mute, stubborn, enduring proof, an irrefutable argument in mud and grass. The water boards are the reason that Dutch political culture, which demands cooperation between fundamentally different points of view, is known as the polder-model. This land was built by people who did not agree with their neighbors, but who worked with them anyway, and the people who live here do not forget it.

But that’s history, and this is working farmland. The old wooden pumping mills have been moved to the tourist attractions and nature reserves. What remains are long, narrow fields, divided by sloten (canals used primarily as drainage ditches3). Just as the Scots make fences from the stones they clear from their land, so the Dutch make them of the water they drain away from theirs.4 Because the sloten are sunken, the only visible fences are the short, gated stretches that prevent the livestock straying along the roads the tractors take from field to field. So the land has an odd, ragged look from a distance, as if some force had destroyed all but three meters of every fenceline.

Apart from the fences, all that stand above the fields are strips of reeds beside the water, wooden bridges carrying bike paths and roads over the canals, and the occasional bench where one can sit and look out over the landscape. I don’t think there’s anything to see, sitting on those benches, but I’m always half-afraid to stop and find out, lest a further undiscovered passion take me and I never get up again.

I’m only half-afraid, mind, because it’s not just the polder that draws me, but the act of cycling through it. Noord-Holland is interlaced with networks of bike paths, all well-marked and well-paved, used almost exclusively by Dutch people. My experience of the landscape is inextricably linked with the little thrums and whirrs of my bike as I ride, the steady progression the of ground beneath my front wheel, and the occasional nods and terse greetings shared with my fellow-travelers. I treasure this feeling of going somewhere, past these indifferent cattle and disinterested sheep, over bridges and beside bright stretches of smooth water, moving always toward the intricate silhouette of civilization that marks the boundary between earth and sky all around.

It’s not a landscape for secrets. You see whom you’re going to meet well in advance, and the prosperity or ruin of the next farm over is apparent at a glance. Even the rain comes well-heralded, sweeping across the open pastureland. I’ve read many theories that the Dutch bluntness and honesty comes from the openness of their land, that it grew alongside the polder-model in these fields. I don’t know if it’s true, or provable, but cycling here, I find it entirely plausible. This clarity and openness gets into a person’s head and won’t leave it. I can’t even imagine growing up immersed in it from birth. This is an area where many of the older generation still do not have living-room curtains, but choose to spend their leisure time in full view of their neighbors.5

And yet, despite that ceaseless visibility, it is a place of surprises: the tiny clover blossoms still showing beside the cycle track; the ruined propeller of a World War 2 plane that came down in the fields, a monument to the crew that bailed out over the North Sea and died; the cable ferries that take me across the broad canal, pulling themselves along on a metal rope suspended above the water6; the honesty-box stand where I buy six new-laid eggs, still grassy, for €1.50. And underneath those lies the constant rediscovery that this land is the work of human hands, and that it is pleasant because the people who built it valued the people who would live there enough to make it so. It is a perpetual gift from the past to the future, and I am perpetually humbled to receive it, like a stranger invited to dinner and fed the best food in the house.

I’m conscious that I’m finding it hard to disentangle my sudden passion for this open land from my steady, growing understanding of and affection for the people who live in it. Indeed, I get the sense that the two are deeply linked, that I journey into this culture the way I cross these open fields, and that the destination of the two is a single thing: home.


  1. Though something in my subconscious insisted that their greenness meant it was always spring, even in the snow.
  2. Regular readers know that I’ve voted in their elections.
  3. Unsurprisingly, Dutch has a lot of complex technical vocabulary for waterworks.
  4. In the Netherlands, by the way, Robert Frost’s neighbor is right. Good fences make good neighbors here; an un-dredged sloot can endanger all of the fields around it at flood time.
  5. The younger generation do have curtains, albeit usually left open, and self-adhesive plastic that looks like etched glass to blur the view in.
  6. I asked the operator how ships got up and down the canal. She explained that they can loosen the cable so that it lies on the water bottom; they do it twenty or thirty times a day in the off-season, and a good hundred or so during the summer.
Comments on And what is this new sense of time?:
#1 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 07:31 AM:

That's lovely, Abi. Your writing makes me homesick for a place that is not home.

#2 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 07:41 AM:

Coincidentally, just after reading this post - which gives a lovely sense of place and history - I saw this book listed on the NHBS website: Landscape Ecology in the Dutch Context: Nature, Town and Infrastructure; TM de Jong, JNM Dekker and R Posthoorn.

#3 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 07:49 AM:

Beautiful. It's also hugely evocative of the quiet, damp lands in the Fens north of Cambridge. This is not surprising, since it's similar territory, and the first stages of draining it were doen by Dutch engineers who'd been hired in. The process was rather less democratic, but the Internal Drainage Boards that run it now do their job well.

#4 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 08:46 AM:

What a lovely post, abi. It's evocative of Kathleen Norris's Dakota in its discussion of the ways our landscapes shape us and the ways we depend on our neighbors. Though the low-lying terrain makes me think more of south Louisiana, where the road rolls down between the ditches.

#5 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 10:37 AM:

You may have hit on my slow adoption of a sense of "place". I need, a sense of community before a place feels homey.

Which may account for how well I have managed to identify with places the Army has sent me, it comes with built in community.

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 11:28 AM:

I am reminded of the Tribunal de les Aigües (Cast: Tribunal de las Aguas, or Tribunal de la Vega) of Valencia.

#7 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 02:46 PM:

I loved this--thank you. It reminds me of walks through the water meadows near Salisbury, England, looking across green fields populated by sheep and the occasional llama, seeing the spire of Salisbury Cathedral in the distance--a breathtaking view. I used to walk from town through the water meadows to the Old Mill, which is now an inn and pub. It was so peaceful. Walking on the path alongside the stream made me feel as though I'd fallen into The Wind and the Willows--I expected to see rat or mole emerge, wearing slippers down-at-the-heel.

#8 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2012, 07:03 PM:

Lovely! This brings back memories of long walks in West Flanders, in the northeast near the border with the Netherlands. The land seeming to go on forever, perfectly flat to a misty horizon. Walking along a straight lane, in the shelter for a perfectly straight dike, the grasses on it rippling in the wind.

#9 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 12:54 AM:

I would love to visit and see the Netherlands, but I don't think I'd want to stay too long where there's nothing to hold up the sky. I live in hill country, at the edge of Appalachia, where the forest reclaims any land not kept clear. This is where I belong.

#10 ::: xaaronx ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 01:32 AM:

Just chiming in to to add my appreciation for your writing about this place. It reminds me a bit of some pieces at Lovely Bicycle.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 03:47 AM:

So after posting this yesterday, I got on my bike for a bit of a ride. Five hours later, I was back home. I went to Marken, which is on an island in the IJsselmeer, reachable by a causeway. There's a ferry across to Volendam (home of what you're picturing when I say "traditional Dutch costume"). I took that, then looped back home—a long push south through the gathering darkness.

I saw a row of houseboats across a canal from the road. Each one had what I thought was its own little jetty, till I saw a couple of people crossing the water on one, and understood. Everyone there has their own little cable ferry, but I had missed it because the cables are loose and on the canal-bed until needed!

And I saw a hedgehog out in the daylight in Edam. Not a good sign. There was a crow watching it interestedly.

Temperatures are dropping precipitously at the moment. I got thoroughly chilled at one point in the ride, so cold that my Reynaud's turned seven of my fingers corpse-white and clumsy in my gloves. I'm not sure that long-distance cycling over the polder is a winter sport for me. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is...hesitant.

I should visit the fens in England, now that I "get" this kind of landscape. I should also pick up Dakota and read up on the Tribunal de les Aigües.

Anne @9:
That is pretty much what I thought about moving here, though I had reasons for overriding my first, visceral reaction and doing it anyway. I am perpetually astonished that this has happened to me. It was not at all what I expected, and is in no way reasonable or consistent with the who I am.

Or, at least, who I thought I was.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 04:56 AM:

Abi,

For the fens in England, there is "The Nine Tailors". I am not sure that it gets across the feel, even when the floods come, but so much does happen in that flat, damp, country.

But it maybe isn't so flat. The Fens were settled before the drainage, and villages such as Outwell and Upwell can be a whole two metres above the level of the surrounding fen, and by the time you get to the Bedford rivers you have a 0m contour line on the map, and a 2m rise is called a hill.

The sort of village Sayers describes is on the edge of the fens, maybe an isolated hill similar to Hilgay and Southery. The settlements scattered across the Fens don't have the truly old churches.

And then, in Lincolnshire, there are places such as Old Bolingbroke, near the southern end of the Wolds with the remains of its castle (and it is that Bolingbroke). Getting there, in the days before the great drainages, could have been tricky, but there was Tatershall Castle by the Witham. There were routes across.

And, a few miles south, there is the post-drainage New Bolingbroke, a ribbon-development along a dead-straight Fenland road. To the east of that are Stickney and Sibsey on the relatively prominent ridge that the main road to Boston follows.

The Fens start to seem a little different to the polders. And then, sometimes, no different at all.

#13 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 08:45 AM:

It took me a long time before I'd think of here as home as opposed to 'the place where I live'. Not coincidentally, that began when I got involved with the local fandom.

#14 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 09:22 AM:

Thank you, Abi. I'd love to see other countries, and you just let me do it.
(And it's the country of many of my ancestors, too!)

#15 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 11:23 AM:

9
I thought like that, too, until I spent a few years in West Texas and learned that when there's nothing at the edges, keeping the sky in, you can see the weather coming an hour away. And it's wonderful for watching meteor showers, or flocks of migrating geese.

#16 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 02:02 PM:

Thanks. Ideally, I ought to row 12-15 km along a Dutch canal (Beatrix, in Eindhoven) tomorrow morning, so this is good motivation. (Even though this part of the country is slightly higher and not true polder.)

#17 ::: dichroicd ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2012, 02:05 PM:

And also, your footnote 4. is the very foundation of the Polder Model (For people who aren't Abi, that's Dutch for: it doesn't matter if you like your neighbors, you need to be able to work together to keep the water out).

#18 ::: Jurie ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2012, 09:24 AM:

Lovely. That's, almost literally, the place where I was born, and the place I recognize and miss whenever I go back.

#19 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2012, 11:23 AM:

Nicely evocative.

#20 ::: Abi's Mom ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2012, 12:36 PM:

Reminds me of the desert, where there is no secret but the one secret, and that is fully out in the open. You can see 100 miles and walk 100 miles. Nothing is hidden, but everything is hidden. Until you see it. There too are the tiny surprises close up: the tortoise shell (and sometimes the tortoise!), the belly-flowers in the springtime...ants. Harvesting what few seeds there may be....

But the desert is wilderness, and the polders are very much human-made. Further, there are now almost no people in the American desert. That is a profound difference....

#21 ::: T. Stanbury ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2012, 09:19 PM:

Ahhh. This, oddly enough, is my country, one generation removed. Most of my motherside family is from this area: Hoorn, Wognum, Blokker, the spaces between, and a good bit of my life has been spent looking out of car windows over the sloten and the Marker (my one great failing as a pseudo-Dutchman is that I cannot ride a bike.)

Still, it's lovely to read of the Low Lands, and feel nostalgic for a place that's never quite home.

#22 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2012, 11:40 PM:

Dave Bell, the podcast Naked Archaeology talked about the Fens a bit back. One of their points was how much the land surface has fallen since the drainage. (Marshes get anaerobic, and build up plant matter too wet to finish rotting, and when drained it finishes decaying and vanishes.) The old villages could be on old even-shallower rises, or on aits of mineral soil. Hm!

The same thing has happened in the California Delta, perhaps faster, and with perhaps ruinous effect when the levees fail. I was gobsmacked to hear it had all been seen in the Fens because I can't imagine that *none* of the drainage engineers in California had ever heard of the Fens.

#23 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 10:46 AM:

I have lived in other parts of the country, and visited more. For about 13 years I lived in various locations in Iowa and Minnesota. Still, I spent my early childhood in Appalachia, and it did my heart good to come back to the hills.

I'm being urged to move back to Iowa by a family member, and I'm getting more reluctant the more I'm pressured, so there are some emotional undercurrents here for me. It's good that you're happy to be where you are, Abi. Some transplants work well. Some don't.

#24 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 01:52 PM:

I'm surprised they don't use texas gates rather than 3m of fencing.

Lovely imagery, Abi. Wish I were there - especially last week, when Mr. Winter reminded us that he's here, and will get serious soon.

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 03:00 PM:

Mycroft W @24:

Cattle grids require more support infrastructure than fences, lest they slowly sink into the mud. Particularly with heavy tractors driving over them.

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 03:44 PM:

clew @22:

It was all known in the Netherlands well before the Europeans even reached California.

I used the term reclaimed in the OP ("This land was reclaimed from the water in the sixteenth century") advisedly. The drainage of Noord-Holland in the sixteenth century was actually the second such effort. There had been extensive water management and land drainage* in the area from about the twelfth century, but that resulted in the gradual subsidence of the drained land.

In the thirteenth century, a number of large storm surges overtopped the flood defenses around the Zuyderzee† and filled the sunken land, creating a bunch of inland lakes: the Purmermeer, Beemstermeer, Schermermeer, and Heerhugowaardmeer**. By the end of the fifteenth century, they were large enough to be flood risks on their own. Equally importantly, they were also were eating up more and more arable land.

The water control systems of the sixteenth century were designed to take account of the drying/shrinking issue. In point of fact, a sloot§ is more than just a fence and a place to drain surface water. It's also a reservoir, keeping the water table from sinking much below the level of the field it drains. The entirety of Noord-Holland (and Zuid-Holland, and the entire western side of the country) can be thought of as a gigantic sponge, kept at a carefully controlled moisture level.

And this, by the way, is why the Dutch have very little time for American-style political lying, and none whatever for the notion that "government is bad". Government is the way we keep our feet dry. If government—the people we select to operate on our common behalf—doesn't work, then the beautiful cities and the dear children and the crazy, intricate language and history are washed away, and everyone drowns.

And that hasn't happened. Because government does work, if you believe it does, elect people who believe it does, and make sure that they do their jobs.

(If you're getting the feeling that this blog post could have been a lot, lot longer, you're absolutely correct.)

-----
* Note that this predates the pump windmill. Most of the early land drainage was done with pure muscle power.
† The Zuyderzee‡ was relatively new then, having been formed by a couple of major storm surges in the late twelfth century.
‡ The Zuyderzee is no more, by the way; in the early twentieth century, the Dutch built the Afsluitdijk and turned it from an arm of the sea into a freshwater inland lake; now it's called the IJsselmeer.
** Yes, I can pronounce that.
§ Pronounced "sloat", by the way.

#27 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 04:33 PM:

abi @26: (If you're getting the feeling that this blog post could have been a lot, lot longer, you're absolutely correct.)

Yes, please.

#28 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2012, 08:28 PM:

Seconding 27!

It was Dutch engineers who carried out the draining of the Cambridgeshire Fens, I believe, so I don't know why they didn't arrange to maintain the water table. (English managers didn't believe them, for all I know.) But I can just, just believe that American civil engineers in the bumptious 1800s didn't know about anything not published in English. ...Though, as I write that, it gets harder to believe: how could a civil engineer not know about the Dutch Golden Age?

#29 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2012, 11:38 AM:

Abi @25 and 26:

Ah yes; as soon as you mentioned the infrastructure, I thought "right, the ground's probably not as dry and rockhard as it is on the Canadian Prairies, given the water table" - and then you give explanation...

I've always liked the idea of the haha ever since I heard about it (and the sloot seems much like "oh, and as a bonus, we get a haha". Fencing just doesn't have the same look on the ground.

Again, beautiful imagery.

#30 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 10:20 AM:

abi @ #26: Heerhugowaardmeer

Having skimmed over the mention of Heerhugowaard in the original post, it is only here that I began wondering if there is also a Heernebulawaard.

#31 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 11:44 AM:

28: well, the Fen drainage was abandoned several times, for example during the Civil Wars, when the political consensus required had failed as badly as it possibly could.

#32 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 02:26 PM:

Alex @31:

The German occupation of the Netherlands set the Zuyderzee works back in a similar fashion. Not only did they neglect to carry forward time-critical events (leading to the re-flooding of some of the land near Den Helder), but they also blew up the dike and deliberately drowned the Wieringermeer polder in April of 1945. (Fortunately, only with fresh water; the land didn't need to be desalinated again).

But the greater damage from the war and German occupation was the steady bleeding-off of resources that would otherwise have gone toward drainage, particularly toward the end of things. The Hunger Winter after they left, and the subsequent emphasis on rebuilding Dutch agricultural production, continued that trend until 1953.

#33 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:12 PM:

How does one desalinate large areas of land? Flood with fresh water then drain?

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2012, 05:30 PM:

Cally @33:
Flood with fresh water then drain?

That's the second stage. Before you can do that, you have to move the salt/sweet barrier so that the groundwater saturating the land doesn't undo your work entirely.

Generally, that involves narrowing the mouths of rivers so that you restrict the tidal inflow. That is, in the very large scale, how the Dutch changed the salt Zuiderzee into the fresh IJsselmeer. The Deltaworks project after the 1953 flood did much the same thing to numerous outlets of the river deltas in the south of the country.

(This approach has the added benefit of shortening the coastline you need to defend.)

Then you leach the salt out of the soil and wash it out to sea.

Step three, of course, is profit, which is to say, arable land.

#35 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2012, 11:20 PM:

abi@11: Clearly that was Arable's Raven.

--Dave, not sorry

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2012, 12:12 AM:

28
Well, they were inland, and dealing with rivers that were barely there in high-water season - the area was mostly marsh. (It still wants to be, when there's enough rain.)
The levees help to keep the rivers flowing through, and the salt intrusion back a bit. And both Stockton and Sacramento are deep-water seaports now, with some human help, and were ports in the 19th century; the levees also make that possible. (The Delta Queen wasn't named for the Mississippi delta! She was built for the SF to Stockton and Sacramento trips.)

Now the idjits who want waterfront housing development along the rivers - that's another story.

#37 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2012, 11:53 PM:

Paul A. @30: I was thinking something similar, myself. Something along the lines of "That must be where all the writers hang out before Worldcon, sending out the psychic message, 'Heeeeere, Hugo Award, heeeere!'"

#38 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2012, 05:53 PM:

I biked that land one distant September.

Den Haag to Haarlem to Den Helder. Then across the Afsluitdijk (I biked it - I recommend the bus) to Sneek, eventually ending up at Utrecht (didn't quite manage to close the loop). Long peaceful days on bike paths across the farmland, being occasionally startled by seeing ships traveling across the polder, looking up at their plimsoll lines (my brain had a bit of difficulty with rivers and canals being the high "ground").

My internal geography is New England - boreal forest, rolling hills, old mountains, Cape Cod - so the feel of the land was like cranberry bogs, not completely foreign. September, so crops still in the ground, I remember being amused by all of the cornfields (maize) - I didn't need to cross the ocean to see that!
My sense of place was disturbed by the incredible difference in land-use. Cities and towns with amazingly sharp edges - rows of small houses and even apartment blocks abruptly giving way to farmland in some places. Goats or sheep grazing on any small plot of open land. The little hotel in a monstrous old apartment block in Amsterdam that had a wonderful shared(?) courtyard (I imagine it started life with stables and carriage houses enclosed).

I think I parsed the slooten as irrigation/drainage ditches at the time, but I suspect that the lowlands are pretty much self-watering all of the time. I did imagine tiny round bottomed boats in the slooten to be pulled along like a child's wagon, filled with whatever to finish up the supply chain from ship to cogger to pull boat to home.

I'd love to travel that land again, but there is also so much more of the world to see. If I do go again, I'll need a sign, though:
"Let op! Amerikaanse fietser"

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 04:44 PM:

jnh @38:

That must have been a great trip.

How long did it take you to ride it? I've been kind of musing on throwing together a three-day weekend this spring or summer to do the loop. Two days would be a bit of a rush, I reckon, but three would allow me to get sidetracked and take interesting ways.

If I do go again, I'll need a sign, though:
"Let op! Amerikaanse fietser"

I always say that I was a very good cyclist when I moved to the Netherlands, but fortunately, I've improved substantially since then. It really is a completely different universe of biking.

#40 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 06:25 PM:

(slowly) 36 doesn't make sense to me. I know that area would really like to be winter marsh, and the earliest dikers and dredgers knew it even better -- so why didn't they know that draining marsh drops the ground-level?

I have an incomers' theory about the California personality, which is that the weather is so intoxicatingly perfect so much of the time that people get very optimistic. Sometimes this pays off, sometimes it backfires, on both the personal and the state level.

#41 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2012, 07:03 PM:

My maps and such got damp and rotted over time, as has the memory. About a week, but I meandered a bit - a night on Texel (which isn't polder, so I didn't mention it above). I think I stopped around Zwolle and again in Apeldoorn. Somewhere in there is/was a hostel on a lake that was attached to a sailing school (I think I missed getting a offer of a sailing day by having a Plan), maybe I could find it again. Some of my routing was based on where I could get a hostel bed that night.

Making a shorter route looping around the IJsselmeer with Google Maps shows 283km and a bicycling estimate of 15 hours. That would be 5 hrs a day on the bike in 3 days at 20km/hr. 100km a day is a bit of a push for a wander. I'd want to have my overnights arranged in advance, even in mid-September I had some trouble finding a bed on short notice. How long to take probably comes down to how much meandering around you want to do.
I always had trouble staying on the bikeroutes through the towns, my eyes weren't good at picking out the signs. Does TomTom make a GPS that mounts to the handlebars and routes for bikes? If so, I'm sure it needs some actual field-testing within het Abiveld!

Now you've got me playing with GoogleMaps. If I were planning a trip in the Netherlands now, I'd probably want to visit the Maastricht - the Dutch Highlands. And/or going through the western side with the language slowly changing to German as I went.

I'm actually thinking of using some of my inheritance for a trip or two. Amsterdam to Paris by bike? Hey, only 500km. 5 days head-down. 15 days? Time in the Netherlands at the start, and Paris at the end? Hmmm.

My problem with Dutch drivers is that, being a Bostonian, I was completely unprepared for drivers not only being aware that I existed, but drivers that expected me to actually use my right-of-way! Especially since the money for the trip came from a settlement from being hit by a car and having my collarbone broken while biking.

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 01:31 AM:

I adore Maastricht. It's a beautiful place, very different than the north in both landscape and culture.

Patrick and I cycled south from Maastricht into Francophone Belgium last spring. (Long day trip: early train from Amsterdam to Maastricht, hire bikes at the station, cycle aimlessly all day, train home after dinner.) That's a lovely, lovely ride -- if you were to do that trip, you should definitely (a) route via Maastricht, and (b) enjoy the wits out of it.

If you do it, ping me and we'll have coffee or something in Amsterdam.

My problem with Dutch drivers is that, being a Bostonian, I was completely unprepared for drivers not only being aware that I existed, but drivers that expected me to actually use my right-of-way! Especially since the money for the trip came from a settlement from being hit by a car and having my collarbone broken while biking.

It's taken me a while to realize that Dutch drivers don't just expect me to use my right of way, but to take it even when I don't strictly have it. There's one particular intersection where the cars coming from my right keep stopping, even when they have right of way. Then I have to galumph back into motion so as not to delay them, and we're all a little sheepish. I should just charge through.

I once read the handout that one of the larger bike rental places in Amsterdam gives out with its bikes. The advice is all quite sound, but if I were to boil it down to a single sentence, it would be, "For God's sake, whatever you do, don't cycle like the locals."

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 06:44 AM:

So, within an hour of posting about cycling and cars and rights of way, what do I do but get hit by a car while on my bike?

In this case, I clearly and indisputably had right of way. I was cycling back from the school, on a bike path that has priority over the side road that leads onto the main road. The driver paused at the intersection, but clearly didn't see me as she pulled into the bike lane and struck my back wheel. She was going maybe 5kph/2mph; I was at the normal Dutch road speed of 20kph/12mph. So there wasn't much momentum to deal with.

I fell down and skinned my knee, and the fall knocked the saddle a little loose on the bike. The driver was, of course, completely freaked out. Fortunately, she works in an English-language office, and her English was perfect—because I was really not in my best Dutch form right then.

We talked, giving ourselves enough time to get over the emotional reactions. We exchanged details, and she assured me (repeatedly) that she'll pay for any damage. But it looks like the saddle just needed a little quality time with a crescent wrench, and I've only lost a bit of knee skin. I went home, fixed the saddle and bandaged myself, then rode onward to work.

And while talking, we also discovered that we quite like one another. We may become friends. Which would be pretty funny, actually.

#44 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 07:18 AM:

Glad to hear it's working out ok in more than one way, Abi.

#45 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 07:49 AM:

abi @43, ouch. Glad it wasn't serious, hope you're not too sore the next day. And it would indeed be amusing if you were to become friends.

#46 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 07:51 AM:

Clearly, I shouldn't have brought up accidents and Boston drivers. Good that you and the bike are OK!

If I end up passing through Amsterdam, I'll certainly take you up on your offer, thanks!

#47 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 07:52 AM:

"How did you first meet?"
"Oh, we just ran into each other outside of town."

#48 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 09:29 AM:

abi (43): I'm glad you're okay.

And it's great if you've made a new friend, but next time try to find a less painful way to do it.

#49 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 10:02 AM:

abi @43: Ouch! But potentially yay! There are probably safer ways to make new friends, but that one certainly has "great story to tell years later" qualities to recommend itself too.

#50 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 10:49 AM:

Good grief! I'm so glad you weren't hurt, and truly amazed that you have the serenity to possibly make friends with the person who knocked you down. (But I'm known for intemperate emotional reactions.).

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Xopher @50:

My first emotion, as I found myself on the ground, was of course anger. But it's hard to sustain one's fury in the face of profound, thoroughgoing and repeated apologies. There was no question in any of our minds (hers, mine, the bystander's who came to see if help was needed) that she was entirely to blame.

And it's more than just a technicality. Even if she had had the right of way, she'd still have been to blame for hitting me. The traffic laws here are set up so that virtually every time a car and a bike meet, it's the car's fault. The universal consensus is that it is the driver's duty to figure out a way to occupy the road that doesn't harm cyclists, and that cyclists who behave foolishly will receive sufficient punishment from the laws of physics without assistance from the law of the land.

But her sense of wrongness was also more than a consciousness that she'd broken a paper law. At some level deep in all of our heads was the awareness that hitting a cyclist is an offense against Dutchness itself. One does not do it. Better to slap the Queen. Better to kick a puppy.

She was sorrier than I could have wished her to be.

#52 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 02:09 PM:

OK, I can see that. There are those who would yell at the other person anyway.

You know, you're making me really want to try living in the Netherlands, even though I doubt that would work out for me in reality.

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2012, 02:26 PM:

Michael, #47: 88888888888888888888888888888888888

abi, so glad it wasn't any worse! Not to mention that you might get a new friend out of it, which would be cool.

#54 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2012, 10:09 PM:

abi, I hope you do become friends, so that your offhand comment "Oh, I bumped into X today," can be a sort of in-joke.

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