Really, I must be dreaming. A tractor in the middle of the road? Am I still in the Netherlands? A common site in my hometown, this tractor’s presence immediately reminded me of the numerous times I was stuck behind a John Deere going a whopping 15 mph. While in the States, I found this sort of thing to be quite the inconvenience; however, this time was a little different as I immediately went from 20 to 100 on the excitement scale (and was almost inclined to ask if I could take it for a spin – I’m in desperate need of driving something BIG).
While Joost and I were driving back from Utrecht, I felt the urge to have a little taste of the countryside – and oh my, it was divine. There was land for days, spacious yards, big houses, beautiful views, swans waddling along the vegetation and these little things called windmills (the Dutch might be slightly famous for these creations). Obviously, I’m totally in love with the Dutch farm scene – only question – how will I get city boy Yoshi to fall in love too? To be continued…
Thanks to the development of the windmill, the Netherlands is a part of Europe and not the ocean. This super low-lying country has been fighting a war against water since the beginning of time, but thankfully, white flags have been waved (or should I say, windmills have been turning) and water is no longer an immediate danger. While these windmills are very pretty to the eye, they continue to serve a great purpose. Originally built for land drainage and control and industrial power, the Dutch used the wind as no one had done before. In the early 20th century, the country was dotted with 10,000 working windmills; today, there’s roughly 1,200 which are preserved as historic and cultural sites. While driving along the interstate, you’ll find these, along with the modern-day windmill, which is a main source of power and electricity to the people of Holland.
While leaving the beloved farmland and windmills ::sigh:: we came across, what seemed to be, an old building that was overgrown with trees and plants. When taking a second look, I noticed grass on the roofs and an old war-like feel to the area. Joost, of course, was immediately interested and agreed to explore. What we found was Fort Altena.
As mentioned previously, water was somewhat of an enemy to the Dutch due to the below sea level land. However, in times of war, water quickly became one of their deadliest weapons. In 1672 the Dutch Waterline was created, which was a ring of water that stretched from Zuiderzee near Muiden to the Biesbosch (English speakers – feel my pain in learning how to pronounce these words) and was extended in 1885 to the cities of Muiden, Utrecht, Vreeswijk and Gorinchem. The waterline was somewhat shallow (making it impossible for ships to cross), but deep enough to make passing treacherous and difficult for soldiers, vehicles and horses. Weak points along the defense line were strengthened with forts, bunkers and group shelters and that’s how Fort Altena (and roughly 20 others) came to be!
Today, the forts act as museums, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, event centers, and botanical gardens – all with fun activities, such as bicycle and canoe rentals, guided tours, festivals, wine tasting – the works! Definitely look forward to visiting the different forts and taking advantage of the entertainment.
Until next time – tot ziens!
XX – Whitney