Downwind of Amsterdam
November 2003

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November 30, 2003

Seriously Jet Lagged

Oh yes, I've been terribly derelict in reporting all the weirdness evoked by my two-week visit to the USA...and the weirdness evoked by eating too much turkey. And then returning with 400 other overstuffed US visitors out of DFW through O'Hare to Schiphol. I'm surprised the planes even got off the ground.

Full report IS on the way--say, by about Wednesday, Dec. 3

Including evidence of America's recent rediscovery of the Joy of Pregnancy.

posted by eric at 10.03 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 8, 2003

I Discover a Jewel

Today: Lelystad to Enkhuizen to Hoorn. Newly updated bike map HERE (105 kB)--as usual, this weekend's rides in red, previous ones in black. On the bicycle, right across the middle of the old Zuider Zee. Leaving Flevoland, the huge island brought into the world by the Dutch. Then arriving in North Holland in a town dating from the Renaissance, around the south side of the peninsula.

Arrive in freezing, windblown Lelystad, a city that didn't exist a few decades ago, built on land that was didn't exist then, either. Think of it--no history, everything invented: neighborhoods, place names. What local customs could such a place have?

I regret that this post is such a long download, but there was simply no other way to show you this.

Not even through Lelystad to the bridge yet, and my Spa bottle does a triple-gainer. I guzzle the last before it all bleeds away. Just as well not to drink too much with 30 highly public km without WCs ahead.

Behind, the start of the Markerwaarddijk. We're going right across it. Strange about the great ship--only fifty years ago, its deck would have been out of sight of land.

Unglamorous by itself, the dijk is a long ridge of earth with a two-lane road, a bicycle path, and rocks along both water lines. My glasses kept getting fogged from the salt air blowing in a near-gale from the north side. Destination far in the haze.

The dijk is hardly straight (check the map). You start northeastward and end up going almost due west. I got the upwind part out of the way early, struggling against a near-gale, averaging all of 8 km/hour--a fast walk. At that moment, a friend of mine was flying back to the US, sipping a drink, at 800 km/hour--but I suspect I was having more fun. Shown is the spot where I rested mid-dijk. I sorely needed a break...and I got it: just after this photo, a gust blew over the bike and broke the kick stand. There was no place to hide from the cold.

And having made it across with nothing worse than a broken water bottle, broken kick stand, and frozen face, I looked across the inner harbor of a small town. Typical yellow-and-blue NS trains on the left--this is a railhead for the system, nothing but water beyond. The end of the world. Boats all wrapped up and safely somewhere, anywhere else. This town is so completely exposed, I can imagine that its winters are simply fearsome. But it has to rank as one of the world's perfect places to build a town, and I was completely unprepared for the sublime, modest glory of the ancient little jewel named...

It grows on you so. If you're paying attention while you're wandering through it, you realize that you are growing deeply fond of a place you didn't know an hour before. When you've left it, you feel something strange, some thing a bit like...homesick for it. Is that possible? It is? I am afraid so.

How to convey this, so that you feel a speck of what I do? Here...I'll just recede for a moment, let this simple, small, living monument speak for itself.







These sights and the rest of the city center are all within 3 minutes' walk. Something about the thought that people actually live their ordinary lives in such a place provokes such mixed feelings. The Netherlands' odd and characteristic mixture of opposites: the long, rough, oceangoing history of trading and naval glory when navigation and fast ships were new and daring and the highest of high-tech; versus the emphasis on home--thuis blijven--and warm surroundings and sheer good taste, refined exquisitely and idiosyncratically stylized to a degree approaching preciousness, or obsession--these opposing Dutch characteristics are compressed together in little Enkhuizen, as in a diamond, to a degree that can make one's teeth hurt.

But the sun will settle on time, no matter what. I rode away. I looked back. I will return to Enkhuizen.

The coastal road wound around the south dijk that protects the peninsula's existence, and that of all the houses and people and animals below sea level. Turning for the last few km northwest to Hoorn, I leaned hard right into the wind as I pedalled. I raced with a sailboat strugging to port.

I won--whence this victory picture. On the train home from Hoorn, my legs told me I should have let the boat win.

posted by eric at 22.24 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)