January 25-27, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

By Nate Wybenga

Wow!  The past few days of our interim have gone by very fast.  We are all now packed for the most part, and are ready to leave for home at 6:30 next morning. 

On Thursday we took the entire day for one last grand excursion.  We left an hour early and headed to the northeastern part of the country.  There we drove around for most of the day looking at areas developed by peat.  Peat was used in earlier times for fuel for purposes such as heating homes.  In this part of the country the peat was so prevalent that as much as 4 or 5 meters of soil was dug out of entire regions.  After the peat was dug away much of the soil was sand and the land became used for farming.  Now the region is trying to grow the peat by preserving the land.

So we drove through the northeastern part of the country and paid attention to how the use of the peat shaped the lives of the regions inhabitants.  We also took a side excursion (a.k.a. a wrong turn) and even got to go into Germany for a brief while.

In the late afternoon we had a great opportunity.  Along with several students from the university in Groningen, we received a lecture and tour at the headquarters for the natural gas company that maintains the pipelines for all of the Netherlands.  Their building was very incredible, and it was very need to see the unique architecture.

After the tour we went out to dinner with the university students.  This was also a fun time to have some interaction with students our same age, and we were able to get a somewhat good understanding of life as a university student here in the Netherlands.

Then today, Friday, we had a free day.  I think almost everyone went to Amsterdam for at least part of the day.  The rest of the day was for the most part devoted to packing and cleaning up.  Tomorrow morning we leave from our home here at 6:30 in the morning, and are set to arrive in Grand Rapids at around 11 o’clock Michigan time Saturday evening. 

The time here has gone by so fast.  I think we have all had a good experience and have all learned quite a bit about the “Dutch landscapes”.  This will be the last entry for the blog, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it.  We will see you back in Michigan!
Nate Wybenga


One of the sandy regions where peat has been dug away


We visited some ancient burrier grounds called Hunebedden



Tree climbing time!

January 24, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Nate Wybenga

Today was our second to last day of class… the time has gone by so fast!  Our excursion led us to the southern part of the country to the province of Zeeland.  There we toured through what is called the delta region.  We focused on the country’s plan for protection from flooding of the North Sea in that region and also looked at several islands.  On our way to our destination, we also drove through a region that is used primarily for growing tulips.  In this region there are greenhouses packed in tight literally as far as we could see!  There is also an auction house in that region that auctions flowers by the truckload and ships them all over the world!  This was a very neat thing to see on our way to our destination.

Our first stop was a very unique storm surge barrier that protects the New Waterway in the Netherlands.  This waterway is very important because Europoort is located on it (one of our previous excursions, on January 17).  The waterway needed a dam to protect the region against flooding, however, the dam could not permanently block the waterway because there is heavy boat traffic in the area.  The dam that the Netherlands constructed is very unique.  It consists of two enormous semi-circular walls that pivot about an enormous ball joint.  When not in use each semi-circular wall sits on either side of the channel and it does not obstruct the flow of traffic.  When the dam is needed for storm surge protection, the two semi-circular walls are then pivoted out into the waterway and sunk, provided protection against flooding.  The pictures at the end of this entry provide a good model of the dam.  Also, here is a link to a terrific graphic that shows the enormous size of these semi-circular dam walls.

After our stop here we traveled across the waterway via a ferry and then headed to the island of Voorne.  We then went to the Haringvliet dam.  This dam is very important because it divides a fresh water body from the North Sea.  There are gates on this dam that are able to raise if need be to allow water out of the fresh body, and also provide protection against flooding when lowered.  We were not able to walk very close to the dam… we got up to a gate that said do not enter (although it was open), so we decided to turn around. 

Next we headed to our last stop, the Eastern Schelde storm surge barrier.  This barrier was incredible!  The dam was divided into 3 large sections spanning several kilometers.  Each section had several sluice gates that allowed the water to flow through the dam.  However, when a storm threatens flooding in that region, massive hydraulic pumps lower the gates and block the flow of water.  At this location we were able to visit a museum that told about the construction of the dam.  We were also able to actually walk underneath the road crossing the dam, inside the dam itself, and then walk outside and view the sluices from very close up. 

We had a long drive home today so we headed home mid afternoon.  Tonight we had our last meeting of the interim as we prepare for tomorrows excursion and the last few days of our course.


A model of the storm surge barrier in the New Waterway



Our group walks up to a lookout point for the New Waterway storm surge barrier
(the enormous beam of the dam in the background gives a sense of scale)



A fence blocks us from getting closer to the Haringvliet dam :(



Close-up view of a sluice on the Eastern Schelde storm surge barrier
with several more sluices far off in the distance

January 23, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By Nate Wybenga

Our excursion today was a brand new one for the course.  We traveled throughout Holland and observed the methods that have been implemented to protect against flooding in the rivers that are very important to the country. 

In the morning we followed the Rhine River.  The Rhine was a key location for battle during the war, and we observed several German fortifications as we traveled along the dike.  The first method of flood protection we looked at was 3 ‘visor’ dams.  The visor dams are semi-circular barricades that are able to rotate in and out of the water When they are not needed to protect against flooding, they can be rotated out of the water and boats can pass under them (see the picture below).  The 3 dams in series provide protection against flooding for a large portion of water.

Next we took a little side trip and stopped in a town called “Wijk bij Duurstede”.  The town is one of the oldest in the Netherlands, and was originally settled by the Romans!  We took a walk around the quaint town, and even had the chance to stop by and look around a castle located there.

After our side trip we drove through what may be the highest land in the Netherlands, at about 100 meters high.  The “Veluwe” (the name of this area) primarily consists of manmade forests, and is home to a lot of Army training facilities.  The land is home for much wildlife, and interestingly enough the country has created wildlife overpasses for which the animals can cross over the highways that run through the Veluwe.

Next we drove into an area where a channel has been constructed to allow water that would normally flood the IJssel River valley to flood this specially chosen region.  This manmade area amounts to essentially a lake that is connected to the river with its water height controlled.  The “lake”, then, can hold extra water when the river floods and help keep the land dry.  We received a tour of this area from a man who would be considered, where we live, a DNR ranger.  He did not speak very good English, so Professor Aay had to translate for him, but we still learned a lot about that region.

Our final stop for the day was a town called Kampen.  The town of Kampen has designed a unique system of protection against the flooding of the IJssel River.  Instead of having a permanent dike system that would ruin the look of the historic downtown, the town had created a barrier system that can be assembled and put in place to prevent flooding.  This was really interesting.  The town has 200 volunteers who are trained to put up the dike.  When a storm is coming, the water board calls these volunteers and assembles a group of 100 people that can put the protection in place.  Over the course of 3 hours or so, walls are assembled all across the city, attached to brackets already in place or raised from their rest position in the ground, and then the city is protected against flooding!  It was truly unique to see how all throughout the city there are brackets and underground walls that can then accommodate for protection against flooding. 

After this we drove home and relaxed for the rest of the evening!

One of the ‘visor’ dams (in the up position)


The castle in the town Wijk bij Duurstede



Professor Aay translates for us



The water is transported from the IJssel to the storage channel
via underground tubing that creates a vortex in the water

January 22, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

By Nate Wybenga

Today our excursion lead us to the northern part of the country, up the Frisian coast.  It was a beautiful day, although fairly windy and cool, it still was nice to have the sunshine!

As we headed up the coast, we crossed over from the province of Noord-Holland to Friesland via an extensive enclosing dam that separates the salt water North Sea and the fresh water Ijsselmeer.  We were able to stop on the dam, takes some pictures, and even have a cup of coffee.

Our first stop was in a town called Franeker.  In Franeker we simply parked the vans and walked around the town for a while taking note of some of the questions asked on our homework.  We then drove along the Friesian coast and looked at how the coastline has changed over time.  As time has passed, the Friesians have been able to reclaim coastal regions for mud flats, marshland, sheep grazing, etc.  The land that is reclaimed is then on the coastal side of the dike.  Over time then, the Friesians have but additional dikes so that the reclaimed land is on the mainland side of the dike, also allowing them to build higher and more secure dikes.

So on our tour of the Friesian coast, we were able to drive along older dikes while noticing the towns that have been built against them, the reclaimed land that is now used of pasture, and the more modern coastal sea dikes.  At lunchtime we stopped by the main sea dike and were able to walk over the dike and see the North Sea. 

The final leg of our excursion took us further north up to Ameland.  Ameland is a location where a ferry departs and connects some of the islands off the coast to the mainland.  We took a short stop there, looked around at the mud flats in that location, and then headed home.

Our group stops on the dam to take a look around


We all walked the pier in Ameland


Another picture of our group at the ferry in Ameland

January 19-21, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

By Nate Wybenga

This was the last full free weekend of our interim!  Friday, Saturday, and today many of us ventured out across the Netherlands and across Europe to explore and enjoy our last few free days.  Some went to Spain, others Belgium, and still others to the northern parts of the country, Friesland and Groningen.  And for those who didn’t venture so far, most explored the region we are in; visiting towns they hadn’t been to or revisiting towns we had stopped at on our excursions.  It was a good and relaxing weekend, and we all made it home in time for our meeting Sunday night with plenty of stories to tell!

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