22.04.2014 - 22.04.2014 18 °C
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Veere, The Netherlands
Lest you think I have gone a dramatic religious conversion whilst on vacation, let me explain the title. It is now the Tuesday after Easter (Christ is risen) and the shops are open (Alleluia!). That means we can do more than simply walk around and look at old stuff—with our free time we can cruise the shops and markets and actually buy things again! (You know I love to shop.) So the whole tenor of the vacation is once more upbeat!
We began our day cruising into Middelburg, in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. When we docked in Middelburg, a couple of ladies from (I guess) the cultural bureau treated us to a display of native Dutch costumes. The costumes are unique to each town, and apparently if you know what you are doing, so can tell lots of things about the woman, such as whether or not she is married, and whether or not she’s Catholic or Protestant. I can say that I am grateful I don’t have to do their ironing—I don’t think even I have enough heavy laundry starch to make that sucker do its thing. We’re talking Flying Nun here, people. The ladies had one interesting comment: the traditional men’s costumes are not nearly as elaborate, but they always included gold earrings for the men. Since many of the Dutch were sailors, and sailing is an inherently hazardous occupation, when his body washed ashore, they knew a decent funeral could be provided for by the sale of the earrings! And in addition to the costumes, the ladies brought bolus, a traditional pastry of Middelburg, for everyone. It had its origins with the Jewish and Portuguese communities in Zeeland. Think pecan swirl without the pecans and slightly less slimey. VERY tasty!
And what kind of day would it be without a walking tour of another adorable Benelux city that was bombed to the ground during World War II and rebuilt to look exactly the same as it did before? (Really, I’m starting to detect a theme here, people.) This time, however, they at least had the facades of the cathedral and the city hall and rebuilt them from within, not unlike Truman’s renovation of the White House. The city has a couple of marinas, and apparently does a good bit of business as a port. It is thoroughly adorable. We had a lovely local guide named Annie who was totally hysterical! She explained about how the city is renovating the downtown to make it even less car-friendly, and that more people own bikes than cars. (Which we knew—Ysofia (that’s not a typo—she’s Hungarian) told us that only 25% of the Dutch have a driver’s license.) One memorable thing was walking down the narrowest street in Middelburg. It is so narrow that you can literally reach across from one wall to the other. It is called (in Dutch) “Shaky Purse Street” because two criminals could lie in wait, one at each end, and rob you (shake your purse) since there is nowhere to escape!
After saying good-bye to Annie at the city hall, we had about an hour before we had to be back at the ship. And we really had to be back, because the ship was setting sail for Veere! We made quite effective use of our time—we found an ATM (Are you like me? Do you get a knot in the pit of your stomach the first time you put your ATM card in a foreign machine? I am always afraid that my one tenuous, fleeting connection will get irrevocably and irretrievably sucked into the ATM black hole, never to return. Were I Catholic, this would cause me to make the sign of the cross at a minimum, and more likely say a few Hail Marys. Fortunately, I’m Lutheran.) and got some cash to stash. Then, we headed down the rather brief shopping street in Middelburg and found one of my favorite foreign acquisition targets: post cards. I love ‘em! Good thing they are duty-free, otherwise I could be facing a duty on those alone! Otherwise, no great shakes. Julie handily navigated us back to the ship. She’s an awesome navigator with a great sense of direction, but she makes me a nervous wreck. Her approach is more, “I know it’s over this way,” whereas I do not make a turn that I cannot confirm on my map is the correct one (because I KNOW I don’t have a good sense of direction!). I am trying to be more relaxed about this, but you know I don’t really have a “relaxed” setting, just less tense.
The lunch options were a little sketchy, so we ate lunch in the Lido Bar, excuse me, The Bistro, where pizza was the daily special. I think we should have taken our chances with the sketchy lunch—these pizzas came with either ham (prosciutto, I think) or TUNA! Who puts tuna on a pizza??? At least there was salad and fresh fruit (I don’t know where they are getting them, but the pineapple they’ve been serving this week is absolutely delicious—perfectly ripe and juicy.). The best part was the view off the stern of the ship as we sailed away down the canal—gorgeous green Dutch countryside dotted with cows and sheep and windmills…sadly, they were the modern ones, not the ones we typically associate with Holland. We also watched from the sun deck (it finally warmed up a little bit today) as the captain maneuvered the ship through a lock. It was fascinating to watch the back gate of the lock close, then the front gate open after the lock was drained (we were going down, but only a little bit). It was even more interesting the path the ship took out of the lock: he was pulled up to the extreme left side of the lock, but the gate was over to the right. Since he was about three feet from the front of the lock, he couldn’t go at it on an angle—he just went sideways! Apparently the ship has 360° thrusters (which I learned later this afternoon during my tour of the bridge)! Anyway, we transited the lock, then it was just a very brief ride to our docking station at Veere, an even smaller town than Middelburg. And by small, read tiny! Once again, we were hot-docked: we had to walk down the gangway and through the lobby of another river boat to get to our motorcoaches for our afternoon excursion.
Where were headed, you ask? To a true marvel of modern engineering, the Delta Works. What are the Delta Works, you ask? The Delta Works are a series of protective measures designed and built to protect Zeeland flooding when the North Sea backs up into the Schelde River. And how do they do that, you ask? Ass-kicking engineering, is how. They started by building two islands. Yes, they first had to build two islands. Then, they had to dredge the channels until their bottoms were almost perfectly flat. After that, they had to fabricate 65 concrete piers (64 for use, and one extra in case one got damaged during deployment) that range from 30 to 40 meters tall and way up to 18,000 tons. A special factory with a floodable yard had to be built to do just that part alone—the yard was floodable so the piers could be floated to the construction site. And the piers were made hollow so that when they were moved into place, they could be filled with sand to stabilize them against currents and pressure disparities between the North Sea and the Schelde River. Next, they had to line the bottom of the now-perfectly flat channel with giant rock-filled mats made of woven polypropylene (again, manufactured at a facility built specifically for the purpose), then set these piers into place, one by one. Oh yeah, and they had to design and build the ships that would be able to do all of these operations first, too. Then came the trivial engineering detail of building the actual flood gates, then placing (one at a time) stones from Finland (no native quarries in Holland) weighing up to ten tons on either side of the piers to help stabilize the piers and gates against currents and the pressure disparities that will arise from one side to the other if the gates are closed. So, how it all works is that if, based on tide and wind, flooding is expected, the gates (which are normally up) are closed down to their lower position against the piers, which closes off the river from the North Sea. This closing is actuated by enormous hydraulics, and takes about 1 hour to accomplish. When all was said and done, the storm surge barrier cost approximately 2 billion euro (cheaper than the Big Dig and considerably more important) and took ten years to accomplish. Agnes, our tour guide, said that the gates were last closed in December, 2013, and typically are closed about twice per year. You’ve gotta respect engineers that had to build the tools they needed before they could get to the actual project, especially when those tools are ship-based cranes and entire factories! I can’t help but think what a difference a system like this might make to New Orleans to avert another Katrina, or New York to prevent the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy. I am truly in awe of the Dutch ability to engineer water movement.
After the Delta Works, it was back to the ship for my tour of the bridge with the extremely hunky Captain Patrick. But first, a briefing about our day tomorrow. We will be cruising in the morning, followed by an excursion to Delft in the afternoon. That’s not the interesting part. Here’s the interesting part: while we’re in Delft (or Rotterdam…we had a choice) the ship is going to go into a sort of dry-dock pier so it can be lifted out of the water and one of the propellers can be replaced. Apparently, Captain Patrick noticed that the ship wasn’t quite right sometime last month(and my mechanic LAUGHS at me when I tell him my car isn’t quite right!), so the home office sent out a scuba diver who went under the ship and determined that, yep, something was wrong: one of five blades had completely sheared off one of the props. He showed us pictures; it’s clearly not an impact by water-born debris, but complete metal failure in the blade itself, not near the hub of the prop. I would LOVE to get that prop back to the lab for analysis to see what went wrong, but Captain Patrick apparently doesn’t care about this as much as I do: he’s got a spare prop on board to make the repair, so he’s just going to throw the broken one away. Bet that’s too big to get in my luggage, anyway… He also said the repair should only take two hours, which I hope is true because it means we will be picked up by the ship in Dordrecht, which is where one of the other Teflon® plants is located. I’ve never gotten to visit Dordrecht, so at least I’ll get to say I’ve been to the town. But if the repair takes longer than estimated, we will be picked up in Rotterdam. Root for the estimate to be right, people! (I picked up most of extra information during the bridge tour, but unlike one of the other guests, I didn’t have the guts to ask Captain Patrick to pose for a picture with me. More on Captain Patrick in a moment…)
After dinner (unremarkable chicken, but lovely lemon mousse for dessert), Julie and I decided to walk around the town…well, it’s really more of a village…of Veere. We started down the main market street, checking out the shops, most of which were closed for the night (it takes for bloomin’ ever to eat on this ship because of all the courses). But the girl at our front desk was right: it looks exactly like a fairy tale. And as we were toodling through the Enchanted Forest, who should we see eating dinner at a little outdoor café but Captain Patrick and the little blond girl who works the front desk?! Scandal! I told Julie I was afraid we’d end up like the Costa Concordia, but she did point out that we are technically docked!
One funny thing did happen as we were walking along the levy: we ran into another passenger from our ship, who told us we could only walk a short ways farther down the sidewalk, because it was blocked off because a group of men were trying to test-fire an 18th century cannon to see if it would still fire without exploding! We think this is in anticipation of the King’s Day party, since we passed a couple of men hanging orange bunting across the street. We asked if it was for King’s Day, and they said, “Ja, for King’s Day.” Sure enough, we got about a hundred yards further down the sidewalk when that sucker went off. No “Fore.” No “Fire in the Hole.” No nothing. It scared us about out of our sneakers. And apparently it must not have exploded, since they fired it about three more times before we got back to the ship! Fire bugs.
That’s about it from Veere—you’ve gotten some engineering education and some gossip, all in the same post, so my work here is done. Tomorrow, Delft and a tour of the porcelain factory—sure hope they ship! Love from Veere.