Netherlands Re-Visited (Page 1)

Oh yes, it's still there, and just as good and varied and abundant as ever. Cheese may be purchased from the cheese-monger in the village high street, or at one of many stalls at the weekly village market.

What a luxury to have a local shop that deals in cheese and cheese only. Cheese comes not only in a multitude of sorts, but within each sort it you can choose how old you want it to be - young, slightly aged, aged, or really old.

The weekly market will have a number of large stalls selling cheese - not just a table's worth, but a large purpose-built trailer with a fold-out canopy that is hauled in by a truck, and sports just as many (if not more) cheeses than the shop in the high street.

In one medium-sized village, I counted three of these cheese stalls at the weekly market.

Yep - they're still around. In fact they are pretty well all protected with historic status, and are carefully preserved.

But a far more noticeable kind of windmill has now established itself as an icon of the Dutch landcape.

Whether strung along dikes facing the sea (as in this picture) or dotted through the farmlands where enterprising farmers have rented out the space for the pylons, hundreds (maybe thousands) of these new windmills now cover large swaths of the Dutch landscape.

The old-fashioned ones pumped water directly, and were basically dedicated to that task. The new ones generate electricity which can be used to pump water or be applied wherever else energy is needed. Holland still pumps a lot of water. Constant drainage of the fields is necessary to control ground-water levels - and this water has to be pumped from the ditches that surround every field into bigger ditches which are pumped into canals and so on - which are eventualy pumped out into the open sea.

These windmills are big - 52 meters (170 ft) diameter on a 70 meter (230 ft) mast- accounting for 13% of the total energy needs for the country, and that figure is climbing.

The dikes are of course covered in green grass, and land is scarce in Holland, and the grass needs to be kept under control. So the sides of these dikes are frequently in use as pasture for sheep. I am told that this because sheep are lighter than cows, and thus do less damage to the slopes of the dikes.


To the right is a picture I took of an actual working bicycle in daily use in a village in Friesland. Compared to the effete specialty bikes we see in California - (invariably pedalled by a grim-faced rider, clad in spandex that loudly proclaims some marketeer's muse in garish colors) this velocipede is built for durability under extreme conditions of service. Note the double cross-bar in the frame, the sturdy support for the front basket, and the saddle designed to last for a few trips round the earth.

This is a bicycle as God meant it to be - an unpretentious work-horse, built to last multiple generations within a family.

This on the other hand is a city-dweller's bike. Parked outside an upscale purveyor of women's apparel and soft furnishings in The Hague (with branches in London, Paris, and New York) this is the ultimate solid no-frills commuter's vehicle.

Note the capacious panniers on the back, dynamo-driven headlight on the front, effective mud-guards (and shield over the rear wheel so that a wayward skirt won't get caught in the spokes). The carefull observer will also note the presence of a spark plug and cylinder attached to the rear wheel - this is in fact a classic of the genre "brom fiets" (growling bicycle)

(Below) In the center of any sizable town or city, the popularity of the bicycle as a daily mode of transportation becomes apparent. In just about any square or sidewalk with a wide spot, parking areas overflow with bicycles. Only now does the enormity of "I've forgotten where I parked my wheels" really sink in.

A pedestrian tourist, unschooled in the ways of Dutch traffic, runs a good chance of colliding with a bicycle or at best becoming the target of an irate cyclist's invective. The tourist is merely conscious of the fact that these rather rude cyclists are on the sidewalk and keep running into him - almost on purpose it seems. And then they have the temerity to yell at him. Most inconsiderate.

What the tourist doesn't realise is that he has been literally walking down the middle of the road - the cyclist's road - whereas he should have constrained himself to the part set aside for pedestrian use.

The tourist is used to streets having sidewalks, where pedestrians stay on the latter, and wheeled traffic on the former. In Holland however, the streets may be divided into three sections - for the pedestrian, the cyclist, and the auto. A pedestrian who walks on the part intended for cyclists is asking for trouble, just as much as if he walked down the middle of the automobile part of the roadway.


Yes - wooden shoes are still used in The Netherlands.

For agricultural workers, life can be muddy in Holland. And over the years they have refined their footwear to deal with moisture.

Vulcanized rubber allowed for the invention of the gum boot or Wellington, but the Dutch also still use the trusty wooden clog. They can be found in all sizes in the shops where agricultural or gardening supplies are sold.

They come most commonly in yellow, or in black for those of more sombre mien. Or you can get them in blue, decorated with the Frisian flag.

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