Downwind of Amsterdam
February 2004

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February 29, 2004

Trying to be Spring

Sunday. I bundled up for a decidedly non-linear ride around Bussum. I knew I would get lost in Het Spiegel ("the mirror", Bussum's west side, and in fact the other side of the railroad tracks).

This is the actual GPS trace of the afternoon's ride. Sort of "painting the town." A new art form. Eat your heart out, Picasso.

These I mistook for tulips. But it's still early for tulips. They are crocuses. Crocae? Hmm.

There is snow all around me, here. I'm freezing to death out here, and these guys are blooming. Showoffs.

My updated local bike map is getting pretty interesting. You can see how the west side of Bussum has filled in nicely. The round thing at top is Naarden.

All manner of plant life are budding. This is in the locally famous park across the street from my apartment: Het Mouwtje. (Yes, I'm looping back home--it's really cold.)

Jackson Pollack, eat your heart out.

It's staying light later every evening, *much* later every week. Soon I can start evening rides again--by April it will be light enough. And warm enough.

posted by eric at 20.59 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 26, 2004

The Long Way Home

The view from my apartment door, this morning. No, I don't love snow. But thanks for asking.

My weekly mail bundle from America didn't come last week. It didn't come the first three days of this week. I didn't exactly know what to do if it was lost, and then I decided the odds were against the world ending if I missed one week, or had it delayed. And simply delayed it was--it arrived this afternoon. Uh oh...

Tape on the end--it had been opened. I ripped the seal, and every piece of mail had been opened, my pay envelope, my credit card bill, even a Valentine card. This was weird. Then I noticed these pale blue stamps on the outer envelope. Dutch customs? Homeland Insecurity? Where had this package been, and who would have opened my mail? I set my digital camera to detail mode...


(Don't ask. I have no idea.)

posted by eric at 19.29 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

February 21, 2004

Twee Carnavals

...and there I was, minding my own business, in my micro-apartment, quietly doing laundry to a Talking Heads CD turned low (sacrilege, I know), when something LOUD, REALLY LOUD outside...I couldn't quite I stepped to the window...

OK now, folks, whatever I was expecting, this was not it. But indeed it was carnaval weekend, and Bussum was doing its part.

This went on for a half hour or so, and while sometimes it seems the Dutch work so very hard at having a good time, I have to admit they were braving the cold and wind to amuse the kids lining Huizerweg. Not exactly the Rio carnival or Mardi Gras, but worth a look.

Sometimes it got vaguely disturbing.

Then they all took the roundabout 300 meters to my east, and partied right back to Greater Bussum.

If nothing else, it inspired me to take a train and see how another town might do it. Yes, they all do this on the same Saturday afternoon. I missed the train to Leiden, so I took one in the other direction, to Utrecht. This turned out to be a brilliant idea.

Utrecht is actually the Netherlands' third largest city, and the parade stretched from one end of the dense city all the way out the other end. The traffic jams were apocalyptic, but the Politie gave no slack. This was parade day--if you didn't want to sit in your car or or on a stuck bus, you should have walked or stayed home. I snapped a few shots near the main post office (other than that I have no idea where I was). This informal, local marching band was superbly good. The drummer at left was one of the best of this genre I have ever, ever seen and heard. Inventive, never repeating himself (I followed for a while)--seriously rocking.

Look at this guy...and then look at all the spectators looking the other way? What could be more interesting than a guy dressed up like this?...

...of course: several people dressed up like this.

No matter what, Dutch parents expect their children to walk the line (probably without ever having heard of Johnny Cash).

A slow moment in the procession. I turn behind me at must be everywhere here. Photographer's paradise.

I was just about to head for the train station, when the best of all happened by. Flaming pink hair. A working bar, and ten floozies drinking themselves into oblivion. Twenty Killer Spike Heels. And under each bar stool, a pair of pedals, connected to chains, connected to the wheels. Yes, these harpies pedalled their way in the parade. Just free-flowing gin (Dutch in origin), spike heels, and bike pedals. For all I know, this is how they tour Utrecht every Saturday. No motor, no noise, plenty of booze, no petroleum consumption, no pollution. Very Dutch. I like it.

posted by eric at 20.30 CET | Permalink | Comments (5)

February 15, 2004

Too Cold

A ride Sunday, too. Rode up to Hoorn, a wonderful old shipping town turned slightly yuppie in the apartment area around the old harbors. The wind was whipping off the Zuider Zee. I started west to round the bay, then south. If it stayed dry enough, and warm enough, and the wind didn't turn against me, and if I made decent time, I would press on south to Amsterdam. Otherwise turn inland at Volendam to the train station at ugly Purmerend.

I tried to enjoy the ride, but in fact the wind turned against me, so that the wind chill on the bike was well below -10C/14F. Raising my face just made me colder, so I didn't even see very much. The cold hands just didn't want to come out of the gloves for the camera. The ride served mostly just to fill in the last gap on the west shore of the Zuider Zee (updated BIKE MAP (119 kB)).

This is pretty much what the whole ride looked like, anyway. The green area is a polder, a field well below sea level, that is, that used to be part of the Zuider Zee. The ditches are to drain the water to waiting pumps--and sometimes to separate flocks of sheep, cows, etc. The steeple in the background is that of the main church in the pleasant village of Edam. Yes, the very Edam for which the famous cheese is named.

Volendam (pictured) is one noisy, touristic strip of shops along the harbor, and the rest is streets and more streets full of faceless apartments stacked in drained seabed. See, Edam is the old town, built on a "ridge" of land just above sea level. Volendam's harbor area is high, too, but the rest just looks like former mosquito and swan country.

Volendam's church bells went crazy--exactly 4:00 by the GPS. By now it would be almost dark before I got to Amsterdam, and I wasn't even sure how to approach it, since I knew there was no bridge across the IJ to the station (Amsterdam Centraal). I turned inland to Purmerend, an awful instant bedroom town and light industrial purgatory. Not even a bike paths along the main roads. I cheated death to the weirdly named Purmerend Overwhere train station and hooked 'em home. Maybe my idea to delay the bike rides until it warmed up more was a pretty good idea.

posted by eric at 20.44 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 14, 2004

Here's Fog in Your IJ

Totally unexpected. Cold, but promised to be dry (a word we'd forgotten here), and the sun is streaming into my apartment, so---ER-OP-UIT!!! met m'n fiets. Last year's rides left two small gaps, promising as short rides close to train stations if the bike (or, more likely, a winterized leg muscle) gives out. Check out the updated BIKE MAP (112 kB), with this weekend's rides in red, as always. (Today's ride around IJmuiden is the red path more to the west.)

So OK, it didn't turn out to be as dry as all that. I arrived in Beverwijk near the coast, near the mouth of the IJ, that strange and strangely named kind-of-sort-of river that connects Amsterdam with the North Sea. A big industrial area. I get off the train in Beverwijk and it is pouring rain. Now, with all due respect to its residents, Beverwijk is just a commuter village with nothing imaginable to distinguish it from its neighbor villages. I wait under the station's overhang for maybe an hour. Gobbling some lunch, my eye wanders off to a plaque simply attached to the station wall:

Do you even see it? I wasn't sure I did. Look just behind the white lamppost, over a few tiles removed to make room for some knee-high shrubs. I walked over with rozijnenbrood (raisin bread) in hand, to investigate. And the plaque read:

Those of you with a little Dutch or even a little German under your hats are already dreading this message:

On April 16 1944, from here, were 486 young men taken away by the occupation, of whom many never came back.

In two months it will be 60 years. In this town there are old women who still remember the springtime day when they were beautiful and their young men were taken behind this everyday wall to a rail car and down the tracks to God knows what.

The rain stopped and I rolled along wet tiles to the Beverwijk Bazaar, which looked like an enormous American-style covered flea market. One of the buildings is the Zwarte Markt, the Black Market. I looked for the ANWB to buy some maps (we don't have on in my home town of Bussum, grrr), but it was just a travel agency, no maps. I get out of Beverwijk toward the IJ.

The Dutch do many things well, and one of them is: MOVE DIRT. I mean, move dirt on a scale that threatens to alter the rotation of the Earth. Calculate the amount of dirt in the Afsluitdijk: 30 km long, 30 meters wide at the narrowest, and able to witstand at least 4-meter tidal waves. We're talking serious dirt volume--and the Afsluitdijk was closed in the 1930s. Sometimes you need a place to store a spare kilometer or so of dirt. This apparently is one of them.

Dirt can only do so much, of course, so another thing the Dutch have gotten very good at is making cement and bricks. Lots and lots of cement and bricks. Think about it--all those tiles along the bike paths and sidewalks, and all those apartments and shops have to be built out of something. And where there is lots of water, there are lots and lots of bridges. Mostly concrete bridges. The sloping pipe that transfers the output from this kiln to the ship waiting on the IJ (and over the road--eek) is large enough to drive my car down.

And at the end of the IJ is the North Sea, and the world. Welcome to IJmuiden.

If they honor you with a harbor statue, birds will pay homage, too.

One of IJmuiden's harbors. This is by far the most crowded working harbor I've seen in the Netherlands--or anywhere else. The competition for moorings is unreal.

Complete with triple-parked fishing boats.

Make no mistake about it, this is a working harbor, in the crusty, Hooi, haar haar haar Old Dutch manner, like going back 200 years.

Perhaps you've noticed from the previous photos that the day wasn't getting any clearer. In fact, fog settled in to a visibility of perhaps 50 meters just after this picture. This is a drilling rig in the middle of a sand flat. Exactly like in the ocean or North Sea, complete with loud machines and loud speakers and long cranes and a cantilevered helicopter pad--except from this one you drive your pickup home, out the bottom of it. I guess if there's natural gas under the shore, it makes more sense than putting it out in the water. Still--extremely weird, even weirder with the fog rolling in.

I was already suspicious about the bike path marked on the map--with writing right over the top of the thin gray line. Sure enough, under the writing--well, OK, over the harbor entrance--there is a gap of perhaps 30 meters. This cost me 2 kilometers of riding, not much, but it seemed like much farther in the fog. I had to ride with the lights on.

I peddle around the nondescript little resort harbor, past the Toegang Verboden sign with all the people on the other side ignoring it as I did, and along the Zuiddijk to the polite little bicycle circle around the lighthouse at the end. The lighthouse is not particularly impressive, except for the foghorn. THAT was impressive. As I peddled around it to just the wrong place, the horn let loose, and I thought the welds of my bicycle frame might come undone or my spine fuse. Damnation that was loud. My lungs actually hurt for a minute or so, and my teeth felt funny for perhaps a half hour. There were three guys fishing at the end, just a little out of the horn's way. I don't know how they do it.

These guys must know what they're doing, or you'd have read about it by now. The channels seemed pretty narrow to me.

And it was time to peddle back. I had no intention of making a long day of it--the weather isn't yet up to it, nor the length of days, nor my legs. The red path on the bike map doesn't look like much, but between the long harbors and getting lost in the fog, there was a lot of backtracking.

I rode in from the peaceful North Sea dunes. Of course, it hasn't always been so peaceful here. The coast is lined with these.

posted by eric at 22.33 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 1, 2004


The skies parted. The radar promised three or four hours of rainless Sunday afternoon. Quick train ride to Amersfoort.

For all that Utrecht has going for it, Amersfoort has its own famous son, Piet Mondriaan. This cozy canal street is where he was born and apparently worked. Having started college life in architecture and almost worshipped Piet Mondriaan, this is practically hallowed ground for me.

The canals in Amersfoort are decorated with little bas-reliefs like this one, for no apparent reason except that they are pleasant to see. If there was a reason for this subject to be in this place, I couldn't divine it.

Every Dutch town has its central plaza, usually built around one of the oldest churches (not necessarily the largest), and Amersfoort is no exception--the Hof. It feels more spacious than most, reminding me of Brussels' Grand'Place (OK, Grote Markt in Dutch), except that Amersfoort's Hof is much plainer...but then you noticed some weirdnesses...I mean "distinguishing characteristics" of course...

It is not your eyes, or my camera. This building really is leaning. You see this in some of the very very old, narrow streets in the third and fourth arrondissements of Paris, where medieval taxes were based on coverage at the ground, and the tax-wise built homes that leaned over the streets. As though the streets weren't already claustrophobic or stagnant enough. But I hadn't noticed leaning walls in the Netherlands before this.

I wandered northward, for no other reason than it seemed interesting, and the light was wonderful. Near the edge of the city was this wall, which I suspected was the old city wall. I came closer, and...

...was rewarded by this bronze map. Compare a modern map of Amersfoort with this 1580 map, and you'll find precious little difference. In fact, I looked this map over from corner to corner and could easily trace where I had just walked, could see the canal bend near Piet Mondriaan's home, the Hof and its church (open place in the map's center), the city gate where I was standing at that moment, and the canal I had just walked along. That canal is over five hundred years old--not as old as in Utrecht (which was founded by Romans), but hey, I just moved from Orlando, where you hear things like: "My house is SO OLD, it was built in the seventies."

Along the canal just outside the city wall.

And I was on my return walk to Amersfoort's very large train station (it is a connection point for that part of the Netherlands), I had in fact made it almost to the Hof again, when I noticed one, then another, then very many street names. This is what I will probably remember of Amersfoort, or at least this first day in it...the wonder of some of its street names.

I have been here long enough now, and I have been surrounded by the Dutch language long enough (though I still don't much speak it), that even I could notice this:

't Zand
Lieve Vrouwekerkhof.

Whether this does anything for you I can't know. But these names strike me--yes, in Dutch--as wonderful, and after the same boring names that every Dutch town seems to suffer with--Ceintuurbaan, Kerkstraat, Brinklaan, Meentweg, Havenstraat (I'm falling asleep)--Amersfoort shows what a street name can be:

Zevenhuizen ("seven houses", and only 30 steps long)
Achter het Oude Stadhuis
Achter de Heilege Geest
--"behind the Holy Ghost"--definitely wins the oddity prize

and my favorite of the whole lot...

Bloemendalse Binnenpoort--an impossibly lyrical name that probably defies translation, but the pieces lay out something like: "bloom-filled valley's inner door". I can't place literally what it could possibly mean...but that's part of its beauty, isn't it?

Of course, next to that is Elleboogkerk: "elbow church". And just when I was giving up on the Dutch language...

The weather has been odd. Some of our plants have taken to considering it spring already, budding here on the first of February. This seems to me a very poor strategy--there is a lot of winter and icy weather yet to go.

And many days yet of damaging gales, like the ones of last Thursday and Friday.

posted by eric at 22.50 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)