Thursday, August 26, 2010

With the Wind and into the Car-therlands

Our first day off the boat the wind was with us, the sky was mostly clear, and we made good time, moving inland and also lower than sea level. When we stopped, the wind roared. When we rolled, everything seemed quiet and calm - we were flying with a tail wind.

Notice that the water level is actually higher than where the photographer is standing

Windmills, ferries, and horses were abundant. Also cows and sheep. We knew that ferries were coming up, as they were marked on the map, and at first we were concerned about schedules and other normal ferry stuff. But this is a land of water, and some, no, most of the ferries we took were just for bicycles and pedestrians. In a land of water, the bike paths cross canals often.

That little house is where the ferry driver sits and reads until cyclists come along

There he goes! Picking up people on the other side who showed up after he helped us locate ourselves on our map!

This was a relatively large ferry. Usually it's waiting across the way. If you want to call it, ring the BEL.

fietspad = bike path

Oh! And sail boats, lots of sail boats!

A high point, and some nice clouds

In Fryslan, the part of the Netherlands we were crossing into, they have a local dialect. So each town has two names and as you leave the signs say goodbye twice. One of my favorite names for a town was Smalle Ee Smelle Le (say it fast, small e, smelly). They are also quite proud of the distinguishing traits of their land.

In that last one, you even see a car. This is indeed where we saw most of the cars in the Netherlands. There were still cyclists around, but it felt like more people were in cars and I suddenly trusted the drivers a little less. As we rode around, looking for a grocery store, we noticed that there seemed to be a kind of lower level of economy. In other words, people seemed poorer than in other parts of the Netherlands. 

In Drachten (even the name is scary) there were buildings that were halfway built that just stood untouched and piles of rubble left un-cleared. We also saw a lot of graffiti, some fantastic, some mediocre, but all of it left up on un-used and fenced off buildings. A little depressed, this town, this neighborhood. And at the bar where we stopped for the pommes frites, coffee, and beer at 5pm, we were greeted by some grumpy, already drunk regulars. They turned out to be friendly, but the first impression they made was of bitterness at their lot in life. 

Although it's pretty silly to make a judgement about the entire region based on a couple of interactions, my predisposition to seeing bicycle culture in a good light and car culture as poisonous to society made me notice a correlation. Here, where people are just slightly poorer, unhappy, and unfriendly, more people have cars. It made me think again of how much money we saved by not owning a car in Los Angeles, and how grumpy I would get if I rode the bus to work too often, or when I was injured and couldn't get my daily frustrations out with a little physical work on a bike. Owning a car can make a huge difference, economically, when compared with riding a bike. Not to mention the health benefits, both physical and mental.  

I won't bother with the specifics, unless someone wants me to enumerate the expenses of owning a car. You probably know already. But seeing the difference between parts of the Netherlands where people ride their bikes, and the parts where there are many more people in cars, made me wonder if owning and driving a car is the difference.

No comments: