Heavens Above

In Franeker there is a planetarium. Many towns and cities have a planetarium and they’re very interesting places, showing us the heavens above and instilling the desire to be an astronaut in many a small child.

Franeker’s planetarium is different, more special. It’s the oldest functioning planetarium in the world. That it was constructed by a man who worked as a wool carder, turning bundles of fleece into workable yarns, makes it all the more remarkable.

Untitled

Back in 1770’s the general populous where having a bit of a panic. Many believed that a great conjunction of the stars would result in a heavenly star crash, a collision that would throw the Earth from its orbit and into a fiery death plunge towards the sun. It was a worry.

Eise Eisiger didn’t believe this would be the case and set out to show that come the 8th of May 1774, they’d be a few oohs and ahhs, but other than that, life would continue as normal. The model of the solar system that he created in his Franeker living room is absolutely fantastic and it’s not just for show, the collection of cogs, gears, levers and pendulums is incredibly accurate, with the planets orbiting the sun in real time.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

His model finishes at Saturn, which can be forgiven as this was the furthest of the planets known at the time. He didn’t stop at the planets though, adding various other chronological and astrological displays.

For all this genius, Eisiger didn’t foresee just how long his planetarium would remain in use and the date display does require a new set of years to be added every now and then.

Advertisements

By the Seaside, Not By the Sea

We were parked outside Roadhouse Checkpoint Charlie in the middle of the Houtribdijk, a 27 kilometre long dam that crossed what was once the Zuiderzee. Mrs TomTom was adamant that we were floating in the water and was being quite insistent that we got back on the N302 before Davey Jones claimed us for the locker.

Untitled

Our visit to the Zuiderzeemusem had taught us that in years gone by, life around the Zuiderzee had been a harsh one. Storms and flooding would reek havoc on the coastal communities. Rising sea levels and erosion of the peaty soil combined to make matters worse.

In 1932 the Afsluitdijk was completed, a 32 kilometre long dyke that cut the Zuiderzee off from the North Sea. The resulting lagoon was renamed IJsselmeer, Lake Ijssel. The dyke served to protect the communities that lived along its shores, although it killed off the fishing industry. In 1975 the more southerly Houtribdijk was completed and this was where we now sat. To the north east of us was the IJsselmeer and to the southwest the newly created Markermeer.

Both have roads crossing them and we thought it would be fun to cross them both, and take in some of the lovely old villages along the way. The guide book listed a few places that looked interesting. We wouldn’t have time for them all so we picked a couple at random.

Volendam was nice enough but very touristy with far too many trinket shops. In many ways it was like a little seaside town, except these days it’s lakeside. Like many popular places in the Netherlands, Volendam had a cheese shop masquerading as a museum. Cheese is incredibly important to the Dutch, eating considerably more than the european average. And it’s not surprising, their cheeses are excellent, not at all like the rubbery Dutch cheeses from the local supermarket at home. We stayed for the demonstration that was being run for a visiting bus tour and learned a little about cheese production. We may have purchased one or two cheeses as well. Possibly more.

Untitled

Untitled Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Markem was pretty too and much quieter. It was also mostly closed. We found a restaurant for lunch that offered views over the little harbour and braved an outside table despite the dark clouds on the horizon. Entertained by the sparrows who were trading cuteness for breadcrumbs, we watched the sky darken and thought about where to head next.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled Untitled

With rain forecast for the next few days we were looking for something with a roof. With a destination in mind we headed north to cross the Afsluitdijk.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The Kindness of Strangers

By another miracle of not really planning anything, our arrival in Enkhuizen coincided with a weekend of ‘open houses’, allowing access to buildings not usually open to the public.

We parked in the large marina carpark and negotiated with the machine for a camping ticket for the weekend before heading off to explore. It seemed a prosperous place, kris crossed by many canals and it was boats formed the lifeblood of the town. Large Dutch barges lined the marina and beautifully maintained steam tugs were moored on more protected quays. Modern yachts and motorboats filled all the remaining space on the water.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

We joined the queue heading into an unusual looking building. We weren’t sure what it was, but it had a nice clock tower and the bells were ringing in the belfry. Following the crowd up the narrow staircase we were rewarded with a cramped concert performed on the most unlikely looking of musical instruments. Ropes ran in all directions, linking keys to bells, all under control of a solitary musician. He played his contraption with gusto, earning a round of applause after each energetic rendition.

Untitled Untitled

During our afternoon’s wanderings we’d gained a couple of neighbours. The carpark had been busy with camper vans and motorhomes when we’d arrived, but there were more now and our quiet corner was not so quiet any more. On one side, another Westfalia (as is written in Westfalia law) and on the other an unusual and old Mercedes, inhabited by a hirsute old boy and his grandkids.

Untitled

He wondered if we might have some matches, he’d come away for the weekend without any, explaining that it was his late wife who’d always taken care of such things, but now forgetting things just added to the adventure.

We gave him a spare box of matches and chatted for a while, taking the opportunity to ask about the nearby Zuiderzeemuseum, a large open air museum on the far side of the bay dedicated to recording life around the Zuiderzee (the southern sea) in bygone times. He was incredibly enthusiastic about it, often taking his grandkids to visit the place.

Untitled Untitled

Later that evening, as we cooked our dinner there was a knock at the window. Our new friend was stood there with plates of freshly cooked pizzas for us. There was no question about it, what we had on the stove could be reheated after our visit to the museum tomorrow.

He was right about the museum, it was definitely worth visiting and we spent the whole day wandering around a world that no longer exists.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

War and Peace

We visited Amersfoort because of a simple enough question.  “What”, had asked Rosana, “happened with the Netherlands during the war?”

Arriving in the newer part of town, our first impression of the town was a Rock.  Stood proudly on a plinth the Rock looked important.  The guide book made no mention of the Rock and our translation of the plaque below was probably wildly inaccurate.  But it was a nice enough Rock.

Untitled Untitled

We headed further into the town, crossing bridges across canals, crossing into the older part of town.  Despite being out of season, tourist boats still plied their trade.  We found the tourist information centre, the VVV, across a large square from an impressive looking tower that was once home to the town’s armoury.  We forgot to ask about the Rock but we did get a map , which is what we really wanted.

It’s an old and pretty town and quite photogenic, worth wandering around it’s narrow streets and large squares for a few hours, with the gatehouse to the town one of the highlights.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

But it was on the outskirts of the town that we’d seek the answer to Rosana’s question.  The story of Anne Frank and her family is well know, but what else?  Kamp Amersfoort is now a national monument, a reminder of darker times.  It’s been many things during it’s life, but during the WWII German occupation it functioned as a transit camp and as a work camp.

A lonely watchtower stands over the entrance, casting a shadow both literally and metaphorically.  It’s one of the few intact pieces of the camp that remains.  Inside there is not much to see, but at the same time too much.  Hints and reminders, plaques and photographs.  It’s enough to bring alive the nature of the place,  the horror and the inhumanity.

Inside the next door building we find something that’s not quite a museum and not quite an information centre.  We chat with the elderly gentleman inside for a while, about the camp, about Dutch history and about the Netherlands in general, although we forget to ask about Amersfoort’s Rock.  He offers us coffee and puts on an informational film for us.

Before leaving we wander into the woodland on the other side of the road.  A statue stands at the end of a long corridor, a corridor that was originally a firing line. It had been dug by the prisoners and used for the murder of prisoners.

Untitled Untitled

In a somber and reflective mood it was time to get out of town. We headed into the Ermelosche Heide National Park to find a campsite for a couple of days of trees and wildlife.