Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Boats, Windmills and Tulips… Walcheren and The Delta Works

Day 8 - Walcheren and The Delta Works
On this day we boarded a bus and drove through the countryside to the area of Walcheren. Walcheren is a former island in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands at the mouth of the Scheldt estuary. It lies between the Oosterschelde in the north and the Westerschelde in the south and is roughly the shape of a rhombus.
Originally, Walcheren was an island, but polders and a dam across the Oosterschelde have connected it to the former island of Zuid-Beveland, which in turn has been connected to the North Brabant mainland. The two sides facing the North Sea consist of dunes; the rest of its coastline is made up of dykes. And these sheep seemed to enjoy grazing on the green grass on top of the dykes.
Along the way we saw modern wind turbines used for energy production and water management.
The Dutch reserve the term windmill for the traditional wind catchers. We saw one of those too.
This is the modern map of Walcheren. As you can see the area is exposed and vulnerable to the strong tides and winds of the North Sea.
We visited a museum built inside a caisson which was dedicated to the North Sea Flood of 1953 and the development of the Delta Works. A caisson is a watertight retaining structure used for the construction of a concrete dam. These are constructed such that the water can be pumped out, keeping the working environment dry. 
The North Sea Flood of 1953 (Watersnoodramp) was a major flood caused by a heavy storm, that occurred on the night of Saturday, January 31, 1953 and morning of Sunday, February 1, 1953. The floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland. 

A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm tide of the North Sea and a water level of more than 5.6 meters (18.4 ft) above mean sea level in some locations. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defenses and caused extensive flooding. The Netherlands, a country with 20% of its territory below mean sea level and 50% less than 1 meter (3.3 ft) above sea level and which relies heavily on sea defenses, was worst affected, recording 1,836 deaths and widespread property damage. 
On the map above, the striped area illustrates the areas of flooding. On the first night of the flood, many dykes in the provinces of Zeeland, South Holland and Noord-Brabant proved unable to resist the combination of spring tide and a northwesterly storm. On both the islands and the mainland, large areas of the country were completely flooded. 
At the time of the flood, none of the local radio stations broadcast at night, and many of the smaller weather stations operated only during the day. As a result, the warnings of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute did not penetrate the flood-threatened area in time. People were unable to prepare for the impending flood. As the disaster struck, many offices in the disaster area were unstaffed. As telephone and telegraph networks were disrupted by flood damage, amateur radio operators were the only people maintaining contact with the outside world. 

They estimated that flooding killed 1,835 people and forced the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more. Floods covered 9% of Dutch farmland, and sea water flooded 1,365 km² of land. 
This museum display list the names of all the victims of the flood.
Afterward, the government started the Delta Commission to study the causes and effects of the floods. Realizing that such infrequent events could recur, The Netherlands developed the Delta Works, an extensive system of dams and storm surge barriers. 
After visiting the Delta Works museum, we hopped back on the bus and traveled to another part of Zeeland.
We came across this small ferry boat which allowed people to pull themselves across the river by a rope that was stretched from side to side.
It appeared that only sheep with long wool coats enjoyed the strong winds, cold and rain that are typical of the area.
The Zeeland flag. I'm sure that it flies openly most of the time due to the strong winds.
As we approached the village of Veere, this sheep greeted us, but could not be bothered to move or stand up.
The small city of Veere, with a population of about 1500 people, stands on the Veerse Meer lagoon on the island of Walcheren.  In 1281, Wolfert Van Borsselen established a ferry service in the area and the name Veere actually means "ferry".
Houses in this area often would have little signs attached to the house with the family name and perhaps their trade. 
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Veere was a prosperous trading city, with about 750 houses inside the city walls then, compared to about 300 today.
Sailors would frequent this house with red storm window which served as a brothel.
Now the main industry of Veere is tourism.
The Zoutelande church still towers over the small town and small houses.
Stores and cafes welcome visitors to this quaint village.
There is a Dutch word… gezellig. The word is perhaps best translated as... cozy - an upbeat feeling about one's surroundings or having company with a pleasant, friendly ambience. 

Gezellig is something that the Dutch try to achieve in their relationships, cafes, houses, gardens and parks.
Cafe menu… Gezellig
Walking stick… Gezellig 
Bench… Gezellig
The details matter
Park… Gezellig
Garden… Gezellig 
Picnic table… Gezellig
Garden wall… Gezellig
Flowers… Gezellig
Local kids returning to school… Gezellig 
I left Veere with the feeling of Gezellig.
We headed back toward the river boat, but made one quick stop along the way to view the North Sea and the Oosterscheldekering.
The Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt torm surge barrier), sits between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland. This engineered structure is the largest of the thirteen ambitious Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. The construction of the Delta Works was in response to the widespread damage and loss of life due to the North Sea Flood of 1953.
Upon our return to the river boat it began to rain. But we were also greeted by this rainbow which gave us hope that the next day would be a bright one.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Boats, Windmills and Tulips… Bruges and Ghent

Day 7 - Ghent and Bruges
Our next stop was the city of Bruges. The city is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in Belgium.
At one time, Bruges had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic league trade route and the Southern trade routes. However, starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the low countries.
During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made.
The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success, as Antwerp became increasingly dominant. Bruges became impoverished and gradually faded in importance
However, Bruges was able to keep most of its medieval architecture intact. 
Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady.
The church's brick spire reaches 122m (401ft), making it one of the world's highest brick buildings.
The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.
The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
When walking around some corners in Bruges, I felt like I was walking back in time.
This building's claim to fame is that it has the worlds smallest gothic stained glass windows. You might say that these two windows do not look that small.
But look at the two little windows in the upper right hand corner of the structure.
The people of Bruges freshen up the old spaces with fresh flowers.
Does Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life?
You be the judge.

We walked by this building that somewhat stood out from the other surrounding buildings.
These little characters were standing in the windows. I thought that they were perhaps examples of Belgium characters.
But then I saw these statues of Laurel and Hardy - two comedians from the USA.
And then there were these guys… a golfer, a waiter and Blues Brother John Belushi. I found out that this building was a curiosity museum.
Today, the town is a mix of medieval structures and modern lifestyles.
Hmmm… what is that I smell?
Belgium waffles anyone?
Two guys relaxing with their dogs.
Two guys performing their act.
Bruges seemed to be a city of Rivers, bridges, churches…
Arches and alleyways...
Steeples and spires...
Tall gothic buildings...
And clock towers.
Bruges was once known for their elaborate hand made lace weavings.
Now they are more known for this...
Handmade Belgium chocolate
Lots of chocolate in every size, shape and flavor.
I ended up buying $125 of chocolate as souvenirs for my family. OK, honestly… I bought most of it for myself, but I probably will share some of it with my family. 
We went for a little walk around a lake, over a bridge...
Through some gardens.
We arrived at this grouping of white houses. The béguinage (French) or begijnhof (Dutch) is a collection of small buildings used by Beguines. The Beguines were a religious movement of women or sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church who sought to serve God without retiring from the world. 
This Beguine compound was founded in the 13th century. A béguinage is typically comprised of a courtyard surrounded by small dwellings. It is often encircled by a wall and secluded from the town proper by one or two gates.
The béguinages differ from a convent. These béguinages evolved due to a surplus of women occasioned by violence, war, military and semi-military operations, which took the lives of many men. Poor and elderly beguines were housed here by benefactors. Great numbers of women had no option but to unite and collectively live together.
The flag of Bruges against the backdrop of one of the first hospitals in the city.
I took one last look back at the city of Bruges and its exquisite scenery.
By early afternoon, it was time to move on to the town of Ghent. Along the way we passed by some green pastureland.
This farmland and most of these cows were raised for dairy products like milk and cheese.
Ghent started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys.
In the Middle Ages the city became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe
United States history buffs may recall that the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States ended with the signing of The Treaty of Ghent. 
Within the city there is an interesting mix of medieval and modern architecture juxtaposed next to each other. 
The Saint Bavo Cathedral (also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral or the Dutch Sint Baafskathedraal) is the seat of the diocese of Ghent. It is named for Saint Bavo of Ghent. 
The building is based upon the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. It was consecrated in 942 by Bishop Transmarus. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569.
The cathedral is noted for the Ghent Altarpiece, originally in its Joost Vijd chapel. It is formally known as: The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. This work is considered Van Eyck's masterpiece and one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance, as well as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of Belgium.
The cathedral contained many works of art including the baroque alter, a rococo pulpit, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens and other liturgical vestments
Out on the town, the young people in Belgium are just like young people everywhere… they like hanging out with friends and sharing photos that they have taken on the mobile phones.
This youngster was just interested in making a transaction with his money in exchange for an ice cream cone.
And these ladies were about to enjoy a Belgium waffle.
As we were preparing to leave Ghent, I caught a parting glimpse of these silhouettes of merry jesters dancing in the sky.