The first part of our day was traveling on the barge down the river to Willemstad, where the bikes would then be unloaded and we’d be hitting the pedals. I took a look at the map to try to figure out the name of the river and realized that we must have actually weaved our way along 3 different rivers on the way to Willemstad. The rivers were quite wide and very busy. It was a gloomy morning, but no rain.
At Willemstad, the bikes were unloaded and we did a quick spin around the town with Marcel pointing out some things of interest.
One of those being a plaque on a wall marking the height of the water during the big flood of 1953 (more about this later).
We also stopped briefly in front of a house that Marcel informed us was once owned by the Prince of Orange, Maurice, a half-brother to William of Orange. Maurice was born in 1567. Around the age of 18 he inherited the responsibility of being ‘stadholder’ of Holland and Zeeland. A stadholder would be like a chief magistrate. He was a major figure in the 80 years war between the Netherlands and Spain. As you can imagine, the storyline and details for an 80 year war are too much to try to explain here. The house was quite pretty!
After we left the house, we stopped at a memorial garden erected in memory of a water disaster during WWII on the river resulting in the death of many soldiers when a boat sank.
Our day’s ride would take us over the Volkerak locks. I’m pretty sure that Maurice said were the busiest locks in the Netherlands, but I’m not sure if I heard correctly. I tried to do a bit of research, but didn’t find anything to confirm or deny that claim. We rode above them on a road bridge. I’m guessing that the lock area was at least ½ mile across, with 7 or more locks in use.
After the locks, we had some miles to go before we were stopping for lunch. I took a few pictures along the way.
We stopped at lunch in a cute town square.
Mike and I saw a grocery store as we rolled into this little town and once we knew where lunch was going to be, we hopped back on the bikes and went to the store to pick up a few things.
After that, Marcel made a stop at a garden memorial in memory of all the people from that town that died in the great flood. It was over 300 people.
As we rolled out of town, we had to climb a short hill and we noticed that at the top, to the side, there was quite a crowd of senior citizens in wheelchairs with attendants waiting to push them down the path after we got by. They cheered us on as we got up the hill. There was a lot of smiling and waving from both sides.
We had some more miles to go until our next planned stop -so I took some more pictures along the way.
Marcel had promised us that we’d have a stop at a place that was famous for mussels and seafood –and that was our next stop. Quite a few of us (but not me!) had a taste testing. It was a nice break.
As we were leaving the marina, we were again climbing a small hill and it was sprinkling again. I heard a commotion behind me and turned just in time to see Mike in the middle of a crash and roll. He said he’d been adjusting his helmet with one hand when riders in front of him started to slow down in the process of getting going and he squeezed the brakes with the other hand and they locked up…and he went over the handlebars. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and was able to hop up right away and jump back on his bike. The look of amazement on his face was priceless. I think it’s been a very long time since he’s fallen off a bike. I can attest, having tipped over on last fall’s bike trip, that it is a bit of a shock that it happens –especially when it’s been 40+ years since the last time. His was not the first crash –nor the last– of the week. The important thing is that the big bag of potato chips we’d bought earlier in the day didn’t get crushed when the bike went over! Earlier in the week after someone fell over, Marcel (after visually seeing that the crash-ee was OK) make a joke by asking how the bike was since he would have new riders next week, but needed the bikes to be in good shape! The group had called a stop while Mike gathered his wits and I moved up toward the front and heard Marcel asking who fell… and I just said… “The bike is fine!” Marcel was pretty surprised to hear it was Mike who went down.
As the trip continued – more countryside and a big, miserable, downpour of rain. We rode on a nice trail along the top of a dike with a nice (if gloomy) water view.
Our next stop was the museum for the big flood. In February of 1953, the Netherlands was hit by what we might call today ‘a perfect storm’ and the North Sea broke through the dikes creating a devastating flood. Over 1800 people died.
The museum is actually located inside a few caissons –huge rectangular cement barriers a couple of stories tall that they started using after the big storm to more solidly shore up the dikes and seawalls. After the 1953 storm and the aftereffects, the government decided that they would not let it happen again. Many large projects were undertaken to further close off avenues where water could flood and make sure that the sea would be held back the next time a perfect storm arrives.
The Dutch seem to have made an art of reclaiming land from the sea by closing off bits of land with dikes and then pumping the water out and putting the land to use. About 17% of the total land in the Netherlands was originally underwater and has now been reclaimed from the sea/lakes. About 26% of the country and 21% of the population are actually below sea level. It has been interesting along the ride so far to see places where the river passing by is contained by dikes on both sides, and the houses on the other side of those dikes are sitting below the level of the water in the river. No wonder they do everything they can to manage the water.
The design of this museum has you walk through starting at one end and exit at the other. It might be ¼ mile or so. At the exit, they don’t exactly explain how to get back to the entrance – and there was no line-of-sight to help me figure out which way to go. I started up along what I might call a levee knowing it was in the right direction –but it didn’t look like I could get where I wanted to go, so I went back to the exit and walked all around the front of the thing. It seemed like I’d never find the bikes. It was a bit disorienting. I envisioned Marcel having to send out a search party. IF anyone even noticed I was missing.
After we left the museum, we only had about 5 miles to go to our stop for the night – Zierikzee.
We made a stop in town for Marcel to buy a bottle of liquor that is a traditional Dutch drink that he wanted us to try. Unfortunately, I missed getting the name of it, but didn’t miss getting a taste of it. It wasn’t half bad!
There was a windmill near the barge that was partially blocked by other buildings. This is my “artsy” bike/windmill shot. Turned out a bit dark.
It was a long day; so much so that our dinner was delayed. After dinner Mike and I took a quick walk through town with another couple from the trip looking for a grocery store -but everything was closed by the time we got there.
It was a really long day. We rode a total of 34 miles at a pace of under 10 mph. I only mention our pace because it is a lot slower than is normal for us -but we actually don’t mind it at all. It is a lot more relaxing to stop and smell the roses!