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Exploring The Netherlands: Around the "Zuiderzee"

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I put Zuiderzee in quotes in the title because it no longer exists, having been cut off from the North Sea (Waddenzee) and made into two lakes, the IJsselmeer in the north and the Markermeer in the south.


As I mentioned in my last post, we decided the only real way to see this whole area was by car so we picked up a rental in Utrecht and headed out. We first traveled up the southeast side through Flevoland. This entire area, the lower green area on the map, is polder land (land completely reclaimed from the sea with dykes, drainage canals, and pumping stations).

Some areas are still being developed with new, innovative architecture.

Most of it, however, is well developed with housing, industry, and mature trees. The edge is protected by the dyke and vast wetland areas behind which is the development.

From Flevoland, we crossed the first major dam, the Houtribdijk. This is the lower dam that separates the two lakes.large_IMG_1846.jpeglarge_IMG_1850.jpeg

The engineering involved in this endeavor to tame the sea is just amazing everywhere you look but one of the truly fascinating things we saw was the Naviduct Krabbersgat (get it naviduct?!). The road on the dyke goes under a lock so you literally drive under boats going over you. We stopped and watched the boats go through for awhile.

This area is filled with tall ships! We get excited just seeing one in the US and here there were dozens of them. It was quite a sight.

We ended the day by driving back down to Edam, where we were staying. As it happened, they were on the last day of their fall fair so we were greeted by a city in full-on party mode.

Luckily for us it was the last day and they cleaned up quickly so that we could enjoy the beautiful town. Its little white counter-weight bridges, canals, and beautiful old buildings are especially charming.


Next day we made our way up to the Afsluitdijk and crossed into Friesland. The amazing 20 mile long Afsluitdijk was competed in 1932 and with its locks and sluiceways manages the water in and out of the lakes.

Fun fact: the water is now fresh, replenished by freshwater rivers and water pumped out of the polders. When it rises they open the sluiceways to let water out of the lakes.

We stopped at Harlingen to view the shore at the Wadden Sea before heading back. large_149da800-4ef3-11ee-9966-5fb1755180ed.jpeglarge_IMG_1916.jpeglarge_13efb4c0-4ef3-11ee-b758-e535b64b2807.jpeg

It's really hard to capture in photos how big the dykes are but if you look you can see the cars on the inside are lower than the cars on the outside. You can get a sense that the land inside the dykes really would be underwater without them.

We crossed back and headed to Den Helder. The northernmost point of the peninsula, it commands the straight between the mainland and the Friesian Islands and the opening of the Wadden Sea into the North Sea. It was time for lunch and a cold beverage before heading on down the west coast.

The west coast is bordered and protected by huge dune structures. There are access points along the way to climb up and over and, of course, this being Holland many bike paths.

All along the coast there are small beach towns like you find anywhere with beaches this beautiful. large_IMG_1972.jpeglarge_0e8f4b10-4ef5-11ee-8be7-6d42ca7238c0.jpeglarge_IMG_1978.jpeg

The inland area is all farms, many of which along the coast looked to be tulip growers.

The farmhouses are beautiful and many still have their pyramidal shape and thatched roofs. Cows are everywhere but interestingly there are as many beef cattle as milk cows. You may not know this but The Netherlands are the second largest exporter of food behind the US, an amazing statistic given it's about the size of Maryland.

While the areas reclaimed from the Zuiderzee are arguably the most famous polders, the Dutch were reclaiming land from lakes and peat beds since the early 1600's. In fact, the Beemster polder is a UNESCO world heritage site for it's importance in three criterion:

Criterion (i): The Beemster Polder is a masterpiece of creative planning, in which the ideals of antiquity and the Renaissance were applied to the design of a reclaimed landscape.
Criterion (ii): The innovative and intellectually imaginative landscape of the Beemster Polder had a profound and lasting impact on reclamation projects in Europe and beyond.
Criterion (iv): The creation of the Beemster Polder marks a major step forward in the interrelationship between humankind and water at a crucial period of social and economic expansion.

Most of central North Holland was once under water. It's an inescapable reality as you travel the roads and see dykes, dams, pumping stations and large and small canals everywhere you look. It's fascinating how fields are divided by small canals that feed into bigger canals that are pumped out into even larger canals that feed the water back into the two main, managed lakes. While it's a wild and natural environment in many places you can't help but feel that every square foot is a managed space where someone knows exactly how much water is where.

This is also the area we saw the most windmills still in the fields, literally dozens.

And these small one lane roads with allees of trees are predominant in areas where you travel through the fields.

This had to be one of the best single days of travel we've had. It's an amazing landscape.

On our last day, we headed out to Marken, an island that is now connected to the mainland by a causeway. Being cutoff from land for so long, there "Markers" maintain their own customs that hark back more to the Middle Ages than to modern Holland. There's a small museum that shows the "costumes' the people continue to wear today on festival days. Their lifestyle and history as a fishing village are really interested and the museum is very informative.

It's a beautiful little car-free town and we enjoyed wandering the streets and canals.

They have a little harbor with restaurants and having lunch there was a perfect ending to our time in the northern Netherlands.

We are so glad we made the decision to rent a car and see this area. If you ever come to The Netherlands be sure to do the same. It's the Holland you read about and imagine and its so much better in person. In truth, there are two Netherlands, the cities and the countryside. The cities are amazing! We love Amsterdam and we really enjoyed Delft and Utrecht but if that's all you see you're only getting half the picture. The countryside and the smaller towns are just as historic and just as interesting and really probably more beautiful. Of course it helped we had warm days with beautiful sunny skies for our travels! We were so fortunate and we are so grateful.

Posted by mrb430 08:24 Archived in Netherlands

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