Cities / Towns Visited: 10
Countries Visited: 5
Steps Taken Today: 14,005
Steps Taken Around the World: 642,370
I think it is important to allow yourself the luxury of an occasional sleep in when travelling, especially when you are on the move, or cramming activities into every day. Thus we awoke slowly to a sunny Dutch morning. Our day started rather uninterestingly with us buying groceries, now that it was a day of the week larger supermarkets deem appropriate to open. Although after getting to the checkout we were surprised to discover that they don’t accept credit cards, only debit cards or cash; that was a first. After spending the last of our cash on food, we then had to attempt to find an ATM which would accept our travel money card. One failed attempt at a Dutch bank, and we found success with ING. After stocking up on food for our three day stint in the Netherlands, cashed up once more, and with the sun high in the sky, it was finally time to get some sightseeing done.
Our destination for the day: the UNESCO world heritage listed Kinderdijk, a collection of historic windmills from the 1700’s. After taking a tram and bus combo to arrive there, we alighted to the beautiful view of windmills, dotted lazily around the dykes. We quickly purchased two tickets to visit said windmills, and to use the hop on / hop off water bus to get around the area, then headed over to the information centre to watch the introduction video, which goes into detail about the hotly disputed reason for it being called the Kinderdijk or ‘children’s dyke’, as there seems to be a few conflicting stories; as well as the creation and purpose of the windmills. For those of you who don’t know, as I did not and was quite surprised to learn, a large portion of the Netherlands is reclaimed land, and although the water is now pumped by diesel and electric mills, if the pumping was to stop, in the space of three months up to a third of the country would be underwater. To be honest it does beg the question as to why you would choose to live there in the first place, but each to their own I guess. Essentially the landscape of these marshlands were dug out with channels to allow the water to drain off, this water was then directed to large dykes, which the first series of mills lifts up to another level of dykes, which is then lifted once more into one massive dyke, then pumped out into the nearby river to run out to sea. At certain points in the country the ground level actually sits up to six metres below sea level, thanks to the work of the mills.
Its all easy nowadays, with automatic pumps to move the water, but back when the mills were set up, each mill had a family living beneath it so that the miller could tend to it day and night; turning the sails to catch the wind, and making sure you were not pumping too much or too little water was a full time job. With this in mind we hopped onto the water bus and cruised towards the first of two mills which are open as exhibits. Hopping off and heading to the mill we passed a man with a cart cooking fresh to order Dutch pancakes, and who were we to pass that by. After inhaling the butter and sugar coated, warm pillows of goodness, we continued to the mill. The sound of the sails spinning at breakneck speed in the breezy afternoon air was reminiscent of a jet engine, albeit a little less ear piercing, and a lot more relaxing. As we passed into the mill, the first thing to strike you is how small the living quarters of the families was. Just a small dining room / kitchen space, with a tiny double bed, with an even tinier bunk above it for a small child. Moving up to the next level (which to be honest is only a half level which you can’t even stand up in), housed space for the children to play and another tiny bed for them to sleep. The level above this housed a further bed for the children, which had but a flimsy wall separating the bed from the whirring gears of the mill. OH&S was certainly not such a thing back then, as if the already high infant mortality rate needed to be supplemented with windmill based deaths. As we moved through the mill we were given snippets of information about the original family who had lived and worked there, including the tragic story of how the wife died by being struck by one of the sails after trying to save her daughter who had also been struck. She left behind her miller husband and 13 children. As we left and looked once more up at the majestic contraption that is the windmill, it became glaringly obvious how dangerous they can be, and with a greater respect we hopped back onto the boat to move along to the next.
This second mill was older than the first, and is one of the original mills that helped make this land livable for so many Dutch people. Although the sail was turning, it was not hooked up to the gears inside, and thus entering the mill we were met by a much quieter interior. You could not reach the upper levels of this mill, however the bottom floor was laid out with a small room beside the door for the family to store their clogs (yes those cute little wooden shoes we all think are so quintessentially Dutch), and a largish kitchen which would have been typical of a family working in the mill in the late 1800’s - early 1900’s, before the mechanical mills made their jobs obsolete. After eating our lunch out beside the serenely calm dykes, and watching the sails spin lazily beside us, we jumped back on the boat for the final cruise back to the beginning. With the sun shining down, and the area preserved so well by UNESCO, it was like going back in time; you could almost imagine the children playing on the banks of the waterways as their fathers swung the sails to the south to catch the evening winds.
After a relatively hassle free trip back to our little room at Peet’s , and another home cooked, vegetable laden dinner, we settled in for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow would be full of flowers. As I nodded in and out of slumber, my mind wandered to back to the majestic sails, and the incredible ingenuity of our forefathers. Its hard not to be impressed by a country of people so determined to live there that they would channel the water from the very earth. Men who would work day and night to ensure that the system never broke down. We rely so much on automated mechanical infrastructure nowadays that it is almost impossible to comprehend a life dedicated to one heavily manual job, necessary for the wellbeing and safety of a large portion of a countries residents. It is at times like this that I am grateful for the technology we have; that my fellow humans, in the first and second worlds at least, do not have to go through such great struggles to survive, as we once did, and so may dedicate themselves to more rewarding and fulfilling endeavours. That we may enjoy our lives, rather than have to break our backs simply to exist. Remember this as you start your car, or open your fridge, or turn on your tap; if you are reading this, you are part of the luckiest generation to ever live; you have life made so easy that you have time to complain about the little things, like slow internet, and the fact that somehow even though you have 99 channels, there is seemingly still nothing to watch. While you bicker about the price of petrol affecting your choice of second car, and the pros and cons of the new Iphone, check your privilege for moment and remember that there are still people on this planet who must walk miles simply to fetch clean water.