July 4, 2009

bicycling the afsluitdijk

afsluiten , v.: close off.
afsluitdijk: dike that closes off (the sea).

the netherland adventurers meetup group was supposed to do this trip on july 4, but venkat, the organizer, had a sudden bout of flu and it got postponed to the 25th. eugen and i decided to go anyhow - so at 0900 on this saturday, we put our bikes on eugen's bike-rack and drove off following his gps...

on the bike at "het monument" - the ijsselmeer behind me

the 32 km long causeway of afsluitdijk was built from 1927-1933 by getting ships to dredge clay from the bottom of the zuiderzee and dump it along a straight line from den oever, north holland to zurich, friesland, thus connecting these two culturally different provinces of the netherlands.

to the north-west of the dike is the north sea (the part near holland is called the waddenzee), and the huge inland part of the zuiderzee became ijsselmeer (after gelderse ijssel, the major river feeding into it). a few years after the closure, the freshwater coming in turned the ijsselmeer into a freshwater lake; this inland freshwater lake now supplies one-sixth of dutch drinking water.

cross-section of the dike (from the original plans). on the left, the north sea. the seabed is 13m below the sea level, and the dike rises 7m above the waters. at 90m wide, for 32 km, this was a huge engineering venture in the 1920s. the sea-facing side of the dike has mostly boulder clay (till) at the bottom; the quieter ijsselmeer side is mostly filled out with sand.

though the image above shows ijsselmeer as being lower, both sides are actually about level; indeed, the freshwater flowing into the ijsselmeer is let out into the waddensee - at the rate upto two olympic size swimming pools every second.

het monument

driving down A7, the 95 km to afslujidijk was covered sooner than we thought and suddenly we realized we were already on dike itself! the bike paths were on the other side of the highway, and there were no U-turns. fortunately, there was a pedestrian walkway at "het monument", some six km into the dike, so our cycling was cut short by that much (we were grateful for this while heading back later, against the wind...). future perpetrators of this ride should remember to take the den oever exit, and start off on the dike from the bike path!

"the monument" commemorates this huge enterprise; it has a tower with excellent views of the ijsselmer, as well as the waddenzee and the A7 (european E-22).

eugen, preparing to photograph the afsluitdijk from the top of the tower at "het monument"... at top right is the statue of Cornelis Lely, who planned the afsluitdijk but died three years before its completion. the bike path is to the extreme right.

just before starting off, we posed with some of the statues at the monument, including this one of a worker - perhaps he is laying down the basalt that covers the till layer.

map of the inland sea, ijsselmeer, created by the afsluidijk. much land could now be reclaimed (grey areas), creating the province of flevoland. its capital lelystad was named after cornelis lely.

bicycling the afsluitdijk

it was almost quarter to twelve by the time we started off. we met several groups of serious bicyclists grunting their way at high speeds; the long straight, flat bike path makes the afsluidijk an excellent time trial venue. the wind was slightly behind us and we were fresh, so it was pleasant going. about ten km along, a sign told us that we'd entered friesland.

about an hour later, we reached the ruins of an old gun bunker, the "xvi"th in the line of defences called Fort Kornwaterzand, created in 1933 to protect the dike.

eugen the intrepid photographer.
beyond the bunker you see the channel for the water coming out of the lorentzsluis.

soon, we were crossing the lorentzsluis, where millions of liters of water was entering the waddenzee at lowtide. hundreds of fish come to these waters, attracting a flotilla of seagulls, and even a few intrepid fishermen.

these gates are named after the physist hendrik lorentz, whose transformations predict time compression near the speed of light, a crucial notion behind the theory of relativity (some people consider him, and not einstein, as the discoverer of relativity). at the time, lorentz had computed the undersea flow near the dike.

near the end of the dike, the grassy slopes facing the north sea had been given over to raising sheep (also saves effort on mowing the grass!)

at peace with the world

the beach at makkum

so now we had reached the mainland of the province of friesland, and we had two choices. we could go to the town of haarlingen on the north sea, or to the small town of makkum. some passersby recommended the beach at makkum, so that's where we headed.

Eugen crossing the sluis bridge at makkum


we had lunch by the water in the harbour at makkum (sandwiches and wine), where a lovely wooden boat, built 1952, returned from a sail and docked next to us. after lunch we went into the town center and got some beer (hoegaarden grand cru) and headed down to the beach, where we found lots of wind-surfers and para-sailers, many from germany.

at the harbour after we had our sandwiches, washed down with a nice chianti

after an hour or so in the sun, we stepped into the water, which wasn't too cold, but it was amazingly flat - eugen went out a km or two and could swim, but i got tired walking upto my knees and came back.

eugen : triumphant smile!

the journey back was harder, mostly because of the opposing winds as we were going from makkum to kornwaterzand. but once on the dike, things improved; though there was still a good bit of wind, it was mostly from the side. at one point near the war museum at kornwaterzand we got lost and had to cross a highway - it wasn't clear where we'd gone wrong.

on the way back we saw this beautiful old sailing boat sailing in, so we stopped for a bit at the harbour of breezanddijk - this was an artificial island created in the middle of sea while constructing the afsluitdijk (now it has a texaco petrol station where you can U-turn).

this old style sailing boat was going to spend the night in this harbour; it was manned by a group of schoolkids

other images

at one point some sheep bounded down to check us out. yes, these sheep are big and fat and woolly!

windmills on land and swans on water

this flotilla of birds were moving slowly down ijsselmeer.

a village near makkum, with some sheep in the fields below

eugen and i on the bridge over the highway, with ijsselmeer behind us.

waddenzee is an unesco world heritage site because of wildlife like. this waterbird however, must be quite common - can someone please help id it? the two parents and eight chicks scampered out of the grass and into the water at the breezanddijk harbour.

bicycles loaded and ready to head back...

sailing into the twilight

More pictures from eugen: on picassa.

June 28, 2009

klimpark in the amsterdamse bos

barun (my brother-in-law, "prasanta dutt") called me around noon, saying that he had managed to get 2pm reservations at the klimpark that had recently opened in the amsterdamse bos. i got ready quickly and bicycled down through the mild drizzle. the klimpark is a series of eight tree routes where you swing, slide, slither, and scream from tree to tree, across cable-connected pathways running high above land and water. it is one of two in the netherlands (there are several also in germany and france).

Arush, Arohan, Barun and Amit geared up with seat harnesses and carabineri.

on the whole, it's sort of a evolved, closer-to-nature version of the roller-coaster amusement park. the equipment is designed by using modern mountaineering gear, and is completely safe after a relatively quick training.

Arohan negotiating a pendulum segment on the course. The course is designed not only to be adventurous, but also with a pleasant sense of aesthetics.

Arush on one of the segments in route 5

barun negotiating a relatively easy stretch on route 5

more relaxed as the end is near

Arohan took this picture of me while we were waiting for a thunderstorm and lightning warning. for some time it looked as if the park might get closed for the day but it opened up again. I am holding one of the two hooks at least one of which you must at all times keep hooked on a cable. The other one has rollers on which you whiz across sky-cables from one tree to another.

A sweating but relieved Arohan near the end of the "sandal" segment on route 8. This segment had floating sandal-like footholds that kept slipping off. While not dangerous, we found it among the most challenging parts...

amit at the end of one of the bungee segment on route 8. here you jump off a platform at the end of a 3m bungee cable that rolls you across a chasm to another tree, while you are bungeeing up and down. At the end is you slam onto this net which i can be seen climbing.

Arohan is relieved that the course is coming to an end (almost)!

what i like about this entire exercise is that while it is completely safe, it isn't the wear helmets and body-cage type of security you find in some lawsuit-crazy american places. in europe, if you get hurt because of your own stupidity, the courts don't let you sue the owners as readily as in the us, so school kids here learn trapeze and unicycle and other circus tricks much more readily...

Ahhhh!! (arohan, barun and arush)

June 19, 2009

hermitage opening: ballet, concert, fireworks and the queen

there wasn't much news about the concert at the opening of the hermitage but wouter and i met up at 7 pm on the blauwbrug. a huge line of suited vips were waiting for security, and wouter pointed out the ex-prime minister Wim Kok, and several other ministers and bank presidents.

crowds jammed up for half a kilometer on the west bank of the amstel

the river had been sealed off between the blauwbrug and the magere brugge. at the mouth of kaizersgracht a huge barge was parked, presumably to prevent any watercraft from ramming through. i had never seen so many policemen in amsterdam. we joked that today would be a good day for thieves in the rest of the city...

the public part of the program started at quarter to ten, when there was still some daylight to go. there had been a few drops of rain earlier, fortunately now it was cloudy but dry.

the vips sat on the riverbank opposite (if you click on the picture and enlarge it, you can make out queen beatrix - she's the only light dress in the front row).

the houseboats had the best view of course - some of them were festooned with yellow tape saying Politkovskaya- protesting russia's failure to arrest either the killer or the men behind the assassination of this fiery russian journalist. people on the riverbank houses had called friends over for wine and snacks and a party spirit was everywhere ...

the program started with a military band, and then there was a ballet (pas-de-deux), which could be seen quite well thanks to a large screen.

some years ago when these screens started i used to think - well - might as well watch it on TV... but there is much to be said about the conviviality of a large crowd sharing the event. the night sky and the reflection on the water added their own rhythm to the dancer's steps.

after this there was a concert, mussorgski's "pictures at an exhibition".

some of us had been perched precariously on the bridge railings over herengracht, cracking jokes about the purity of the water below us (yes, that's how these pictures came about!).

in the end, wouter decamped to another party, and ruth, anne-marie, janka and i walked down to cafe schiller in rembrandtplein where i was introduced to hoegaarden grand cru beer - an excellent brew - sweetish, fruitish, gentle, yet pulling a punch of 8.7%.

well, three beers later, now it's nearly 4 am as i type this...

June 15, 2009

the utrechtse heuvelrug

despite the drizzle since morning, 19 brave souls and dog were found when noses were counted at the Driebergen-zeist station for this Netherlands Adventurers group hike.

onion smiles

rightaway we plunged into the woods, braving occasional droplets, along a partially cemented track. The woods - mostly elms and pines and oaks - seemed quite old but apparently it wasn's really virgin forest; the land had been part of several family estates, before becoming a national park in 2003.

our intrepid teamleader Carly (with umbrella). she worked hard to make sure we didn't take too many wrong turns

it seems the entire area had been deforested around the 15th c. to make grazing land for cattle and esp. sheep (whose sh.t - ahem - manure was much in demand). In the 17th c. some of it became a tobacco farm. In the 19th c., demand for timber resulted in reforestation. Today there are 27 estates within the national park.

at one point we crossed a cement embankment - apparently it had been a railway platform once upon a time, when a resident family installed a private railroad for their personal pleasure.

by far the most energetic member of the group was paul and baida's beagle Balu, who kept straining at her leash throughout the trip

Our first break was at a large stretch of sand which was a bit of a surprise this far from the sea.

as we walked, we talked. there were a good number of academics and intellectual interests in the group. as we were walking i got to discuss resonance in computer networks with christian from delft; impending trips to darjeeling and nepal with "in a jiffy" alex; brain transplants and immigration with baida; kayaking and bicycling and statistical information retrieval with eugen; infant cognition and attention with dorothy; the falling markets for corporate insurance with paul...

we stopped at the small village of austerlitz where we ate our snacks and most people had coffee but i managed to expand on my inventory of ales tasted with the belgian "la chouffe".

the woods looked darker and deeper in the moist sunlight

nearing maarn, we crossed a small round structure with classical columns. a woman standing outside turned out to be the maarn-based artist mijpe, she said she'd lived six years in bhutan, and we fell talking. the romantic structure in the middle of lush greenery was her studio - how fortunate! it was called Koepel van Stoop, and had been a tea house (the columns were from the demolished Koopmans exchange building in Amsterdam).

while talking to mijpe about her art and the ownership of the parklands and history, the group had long vanished from sight.

fortunately, I was able to catch up soon enough...

our third break of the trip; at a bluebell patch near the manor.

at one point while we were taking a break near a paddock, a horse came by and checked us out, much to balu's delight.

it took us another hour or so to get to maarn. after five hours of walking through the mud, we didn't find the prospect of maarn's single chinese restaurant too alluring. we got onto the train and dispersed like woodland seeds...


a marker along the path

eugen near the manor

what eugen was shooting above
bluebell flowers

raindrops on petals ...

May 27, 2009

apartment life villanelle

how i miss, how i miss the man below
if i walked barefoot or put down a tray
he was quick to bang his ceiling so

for hitting the roof, there's none i know
who with apoplexic joy could so bang away
how i miss, how i miss the man below

we'd dance each evening, a small do-ci-do
i'd take a step, and yippee! and yay!
he was quick to bang his ceiling so

every night when to bed i'd go
in loud morse code, "good night" he'd say
how i miss, how i miss the man below

i wondered often if he kept a shoe to throw
or a pole by the bed for these moments gay
he was quick to bang his ceiling so

these days i can stomp and dance in a row
no one hits the ceiling, no one says "nay"
how i miss, how i miss the man below

no other soul in these halls i know
at least he "conversed", in his staccato way
he was quick to bang his ceiling so
but i miss, how i miss the man below

May 24, 2009

Bicycling to Utrecht : Slow and easy

It had been a cold and rainy two weeks, but May 24, Saturday, was promising to be sunny. So I set off for Utrecht on my trusty bike, now in its second week.

I went through google maps choosing a "walking" path along parks and waterbodies. But I needn't have bothered. For one, I got lost promptly and found myself in the ugly industrial area near the Arena, but then I found my way back to Oudekerk and the Amstel quite easily.

This is the Groene Hart of Holland, and your route doesn't matter much - most of it is simply beautiful. The ride felt more like going through a park: green-leafed Canals and windmills everywhere, boats on tranquil lakes and old couples with picnic baskets or the odd mallard or coot lounging on benches at water's edge, boats of all kinds - motorboats small and large, rowboats and inflatable kayaks, pontoons with kids jumping on and off - even the houses had a fairytale look.

Also, they have bicycle maps posted at key points!

I had taken a sandwich and a bottle of wine, and I chose a bridge with the canal flowing under me for having lunch. It was a low bridge, and pretty soon some boats came and were waiting on either side. Then a woman came up in a scooter to open the bridge I was sitting on.

here's where I had my little lunch. the boat behind waited for some twenty minutes before the bridge was opened.
As the boats passed by, the operator would lower a wooden clog like a fishing-pole, and the boats would put some money. No doubt this is an ancient dutch tradition of tipping the gatekeeper.

Though I took it slow and easy, it was a pleasure for me to see this sign - it was a 45 km ride, after all. Of course, by the time I was halfway, the pros were riding back from their 100K circuits in their helmeted racing bikes.

Once I reached Utrecht, I found a carnival going on in a park. Then I had dinner by the Oudegracht (lit. "old canal"). This has large loading bays for the boats to offload salt and other merchandise; and the subterranean warehouses next to them have of course become restaurants - all of them apparently. I ate at a french style (Burgundy) place called Den Draeck - the sirloin tips was quite good.

By now it was 10PM and night so I took the train back! Sadly, that took only 15 minutes.


View Larger Map

Route Breakup

Down to the Amstel to Abcoude (16km)

This is a lovely stretch mostly along the Amstel river. Once on the Amsteldijk (left bank), it's mostly parkland (though I missed this stretch this time, I've done it other times). At van Boshuizenstraat, you cross an old windmill with a statue of Rembrandt, and then it's wide open, a few grand houses and lazy boats till you reach oudekerk-an-amstel. If it's weekend, the restaurants are full and there may be a saxophonist on the square.

And then you go through Ouder-Amstel, by a small canal into Abcoude. This is a small village, very laid back, with restaurants scattered like lilypads around the canal. It's quite close to Amsterdam (15km), and a bike ride here should be on everybody's agenda. Even if you are worried you should get here; there's even a train station should you need it...

Country canals to Brekeulen (15km)

Beyond Abcoude, you go along the canals on Rijksstraatweg. At a pier in Brambrugge, I was setting up the camera, when a mallard decided to take off.

The lively Brekeulen town square.

Maarssen, and the Rhine Canal into Utrecht-Noord

You pass castles like this one, which is now the campus of the Nyenrode management university. Entering Utrecht, you go along the Rijnkanal, which you've crossed earlier near Loenen. You can come all the way along the Rhine canal which is a major shipping channel, but I had been avoiding it a bit, since it's so straight and deserted. But the part leading into Utrecht has a beautiful tree canopy.

Warning: Cows

Remember not to get too near the cows, or they crowd around thinking you've come to feed them!

Your intrepid explorer - in kurta and sunglasses - during a water break at a park near Brekeulen.