Travelling around the Netherlands you are rarely far from water. Looking from train windows, cycling or walking the drainage systems are often evident and to my eyes they always seem to be brim full of water, even in the summer. We grew up on stories of the drainage and polders in our 1970s geography lessons.
But when I was in Dordrecht last week I captured three images that really brought home to me how the development of land and housing are all wrapped up in this system.
A row of houses.
The same street forty years ago – the floods coming down the same street. Impressive juxtaposition.
But look again at the original. There is a gap in the houses to the left where those yellow signs point. So turn left to look back to the street we have just come from on our bikes.
I suddenly realise that the street we have just cycled along is way below the level of those 1953 floods and every house we have passed is in effect outside the protective barrier. The 1953 floods would have come almost to the roofs.
How comfortable would I feel there? No idea, but my discomfort tells me I’m definitely not Dutch.
Photo RienVal (All rights reserved)
I have never given a talk in a stables before.
But at the Dordrecht Sustainability Café (Duurzaamheidscafé) last week I was speaking in the former stables of a rich merchant’s house which is now the Weizigt Sustainability Centre. Next door was an even bigger and grander room which used to park the carriages when the house was built in the 19th Century.
To keep the integrity of the space there were even two fibreglass horses in the end stalls.
And how those horses must have lived. Look at this place! Expensively tiled walls and each horse has its personalised drinking trough. I’d hate to say that these were from marble, but this was a carved solid stone trough out of something impressive. If you wanted to carve a trendy modern work surface for your designer kitchen then this is the sort of stuff you would use.
It was a great environment for the informal and interactive series of sustainability talks (the café) held each quarter where local groups can come together and hear presentations and discuss topical sustainability issues.
But I couldn’t help but think of my own animal shed. I have been over the moon since I moved to Belgium because the house I am renting comes with old farm buildings, including a milking shed with the cow stalls still in place.
So my bikes have been given their own stalls too.
Only problem is that in this one the roof leaks and there is a howling wind blowing through the space, but it is the best bike shed I have ever had. I even had this sneaking temptation to start giving the bikes appropriate names like Daisy, Buttercup and Ermintrude.
However now I have seen the Weizigt centre all that is behind me.
How could I possibly match up when those Dutch horses each had a personalised brass name plate over their stall. Now that would be some bike shed.