Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 18 - Rotterdam

Another day, another power tour.

Keith is up at 5am after a restless night. Bright lights in view close by out the cabin window. Smells like an oil refinery.


Early Morning on the Banks of the River Maas

Keith is showered, shaved, and in the Crow's Nest with coffee at 5:30 for a ride in the early dawn light, up the Maas River into the heart of Rotterdam. Rotterdam is about 20 miles upstream from the river mouth. The banks are lined with industrial stuff like refineries, wind farms, tank farms, etc. It's a beautiful ride before sunrise, with a bigillion lights. It's almost like Disneyland after dark.

Rotterdam and the River Maas

As the day brightens, the industrial infrastructure supporting the lights begins to emerge from the darkness. Further along, the Rotterdam cityscape looms out of the haze. Rotterdam has a relatively low skyline, with no hundred story skyscrapers such as are seen in many large cities.


Fireboats Greet Our Arrival in Rotterdam


Rotterdam, Looking Across into Germany

As we near the dock we see an older incarnation of the vessel Rotterdam, docked permanently near the city center. It is said that this vessel is being converted to a hotel, like the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

We dock on the south shore of the Maas River in the center of downtown Rotterdam. Police boats patrol continuously to keep terrorists and sightseers away. There is a modern cable stayed bridge just off our bow. We are told that Germany is on the other side of the bridge.

Nearby is the former world headquarters of the Holland Amerika Lun, also now a hotel.


The Elder Rotterdam, Being Converted to a Hotel


The Elder Holland America Headquarters

Following a quick breakfast we board a bus to tour Holland. Our first stop is an Amsterdam canal cruise, then lunch in Volendam, a visit to a traditional windmill whirlwind, and some traditional Dutch shoes, maybe.

Our route takes through Rotterdam, then north toward Amsterdam. The tour guide tells us that the Netherlands has 60 million residents, and fits in Maryland. The tour guide told us a lot of other stuff about the history of the Netherlands, when the Dutch ruled the world of commerce. All this stuff went in one ear and out the other. If you are interested, look it up on Wikipedia.


Typical Rotterdam Residential Architecture

What a pleasure to be back in the part of the world where they drive on the right side of the road! We are on a freeway with an 80kph speed limit, enforced by an interesting camera system that photographs and time stamps all license plates entering the motorway, then exiting the motorway. A computer sorts photos by plate number, then matches entering and exiting plates. Transit times are calculated for each plate, and a summons is mailed to the owner of any car with too short a transit time. Any car exiting the motorway before entering is required to return to their TARDIS for transport off world.

Cameras are located every 100 meters along the highway, and help is dispatched to any vehicle stopping on the shoulder.

Big brother is watching you, in Holland.

Along the way we are treated to a rant about how Holland does not try to prohibit deviant behaviors such as prostitution, drug use, etc. These activities are regulated, contained, and taxed.

North of the Rotterdam suburbs we travel through the traditional Dutch countryside, much of it below sea level. Drainage canals criss-cross the lush fields. The level of the water in the canals is above the level of the surrounding countryside, which is below sea level. Pumps work continuously to pump water from the fields up into the canals.


Dutch Canal and Countryside

Approaching Amsterdam we again enter a zone of urban sprawl. Most of what we see, even near the city center, is relatively new construction. After a very brief drive through the supposedly old section, we arrive at the harbor and turn right to follow the water.


A Traditional Amsterdam Street

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Dutch Bicycle Parking Lot Along the Amsterdam Waterfront

After a brief ride along the harbor we arrive at the train/boat station, where we get off the bus and board a canal boat. We spend about an hour riding the canals around Amsterdam. Photography is difficult because the boat is low, to pass under all the low bridges, and is covered with light-distorting plastic, to keep out liquid sunshine. There are open skylights which are accessed by standing on the seats. The tour guide barks at Keith for this behavior, warning him that he could bump his head on a low bridge. Keith ignores him and gets some good pictures. Fortunately we have a partly sunny day for our tour.


Boarding a Canal Boat for a Canal Tour

The many traditional houses along the canal are narrow, 14 to 20 feet wide, mostly 3 or 4 stories tall. Typical depth is said to be 60 feet, for a typical footprint of about 1000 square feet. With four floors, this grosses out to 4000 square feet. They are said to sell for upwards of a million dollars. At $250 per square foot, that's not too different from typical US values. The older canal front homes are sometimes tilted, like the leaning tower of Pisa, because the entire city is built on wet soil, similar to Venice. A shortage of housing leads to numerous floating residences.


Amsterdam Canal Front Homes Lean and Tilt

On the Poor Canal-Front Sub Soil


Amsterdam Floating Residence

Most canal front homes have a traditional beam at the peak. When these homes were used for commerce, this beam was used to hoist goods to the upper stories, which were used as warehouses.


Cargo Hoist is Typical of Most Canal Front Homes in Amsterdam


Seven Bridges Canal


A Unique Dutch Watercraft

A highlight of the canal cruise was a trip by the Ann Frank house, where a diary written by a young Jewish victim of the Nazis was found after the war, by the father and sole survivor of the Frank family.


The Ann Frank House and Museum

Back on the bus for a ride to the small fishing village of Volendam for lunch. Soup, chicken, ice cream, and gift shop. On our way we went through a long tunnel. What it passes under, and where we are, we don't know. We are pass a bridge known locally as the Dolly Parton, because it (supposedly) looks like a brassiere.


Dolly Parton Bridge

Approaching the restaurant, we ride on top of a dike separating the town from the Zeider Zee. It seems creepy to look left and see water that is a good 10 feet higher than the land on the right.


Dutch Waterfront Dyke

Only the Third and Fourth Stories of the Homes are Visible Behind the Dyke

Lunch was about 2-1/2 Cows, across the board, except for the ice cream, which was 3-1/2. Service was slow, taking 75 of the allotted 90 minute lunch break. This was fine with Keith, but Kathy was itching to shop, shop, Shop! She desperately wants to take Dutch shoes home to the grandchildren.

Next stop wooden windmills. Cute. Enough said.


Traditional Dutch Wooden Windmills


Dutch Trailer Park

Back to the Maasdam at 4:30, just in time for sail away. We go up to the Crow's Nest at 5 to watch sail away. Not! Way too crowded to get a good seat. We needed to arrive at 4, while we were still on the motorway. Down one floor to the Lido deck for dogs & burgers. Both very good, and available before the Lido CafĂ© opens at 5:30. The view from the Lido is almost as good as the view from the Crow’s Nest.

At about 5pm we backed away from the pier and swung 180 degrees, then headed west for the 20 mile run back to the North Sea. With bow thrusters and azipods in the stern, the maneuverability of these large ships is simply amazing. No tugs required, thank you (unless the wind is strong enough to overpower the thrusters, in which case tugs are called for).

Along the channel, and especially at the exit to the blustery North Sea, are hundreds of modern windmills.


Modern Windmills Abound in Holland


Buoy Farm on he South Bank of the River Maas

Tomorrow is a sea day (thank God). We don't know if we get our first hour back tomorrow, or the next day.

Stay tuned!

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