Sunday, April 12, 2009

Waterways of Holland and Belgium Day 2

In the morning we woke up at Schoonhoven. The view from
our window was a gravel barge unloading, which was interesting to watch. From the dining room we were able to see a small drawbridge/lock, leading into what promised to be a picturesque town. The town did not disappoint. We walked through part of the town with our program manager and were then turned loose to explore on our own. One of the sights were oddly trimmed trees, which had an espaliered look to them. We found out later that these were linden trees, and they were trimmed that way to create shade for the ladies of the town, so they could keep their skin as white as possible (to prove that they were not farmers, whom they considered to be lower class). We also later saw some of these trees that were actually espaliered. As we entered the town through the old gate, we saw our first blooming tulips, a very small, early variety. The town has modern shops combined with old-fashioned ones. The church building has a part that is sinking. That is a phenomenon that is not easy to capture with a camera, but in the photo, you can see at least one window sill that is at an odd angle. In the central canal I spotted my first great crested grebe. The birdwatching was already exciting because I was seeing birds I'd never seen before.

In the afternoon we traveled to a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk, where there are 19 functioning windmills. These were used to pump water so the people could have dry land. As part of the trip we got to go into one of the windmills. The living area was very small, even in a seemingly large windmill, and the bed cupboard was so small that adults would have to sleep almost sitting up (that is apparently typical of old Dutch houses - we saw the same thing in a home in the Zuiderzee Outdoor Museum later on in the trip). I did not even try to go to the upper floors, as the stairs were difficult to maneuver even for people with excellent coordination. At the windmill they showed us that there is a mechanism for turning the top of the windmill so the blades could take advantage of the wind when it came from different directions. The birdwatching continued here. We saw several of the Eurasian coots, got to watch the behavior of great crested grebes, and spotted our first gray heron at the pump house.

Following the visit to the windmill we went to the nearby pump house where they explained to us how the windmills and pump house function. I did not get much from that because I had lost my receiver prior to boarding the bus. (It later reappeared, for which I am gra
teful, since they cost $200 to replace).

On the road
to Kinderdijk we observed 2 pairs of nesting white storks. Many of the homes had gardens with formal low hedge plantings in ornate shapes. The countryside had a very neat appearance, and everything looked well taken care of. We saw many thatched roofs, and at one point saw a roof in the process of being thatched. It turns out that while thatching was the poor man's roofing material at one time, when tiles were considered to be better, that now it has turned around, and thatching has become the choice of the rich. Apparently thatching must work pretty well because many homes we saw had thatched roofs. Many others had part tile, part thatched roofs, always in a planned design.

All in all, this was an exciting day, full of new sights and experiences.

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