Page 1

SoFoBoMo July to August 2018

Home – Away

An attempt at explaining and showing why we moved to the Netherlands in 2015.

Four years ago we decided to up sticks and move to the Netherlands. The most common question we get asked, by Dutch and English alike, is ‘why’? So I thought I would make this photo book and try to show some of the answers to that question. But rather than making it too easy for myself I have decided to challenge myself to do it all on the iPhone camera, not my much loved Fuji. Being a luddite with the camera in my pocket it will be interesting to see if I can get good results and if it is versatile enough.

Zierikzee harbour and old entrance

The Netherlands – many folks call it Holland, but that is not actually correct. South and North Holland are Provinces of the Netherlands. OK so Holland is perhaps the primary area of the country as it includes many of the high density cities of Amsterdam, Den Haag, Delft, Rotterdam and the outlying suburbs around them. It is also where the bulbs grow and we all know Holland and Tulips are synonymous. But there is so much more to this liberal, highly organised, engaging country. Having visited here for around 15 years on extended holidays in our camper van, we finally couldn’t resist upping sticks from West Dorset, UK, and moving to the equivalent area of SW Netherlands. The Province of Zeeland is the coastal SW area of the country, divided by the Western Scheldt. This is the huge estuary that goes from the North Sea reaching inland to Antwerp (Belgium). North of this estuary are a series of islands and we chose to live on Schouwen-Duiveland and in the town of Zierikzee. It is approximately opposite London and the Thames, so weather wise we gained nothing, except perhaps stronger winds as being such a flat country there is little friction to slow it down.

This image shows how in 1575 Schouwen and Duiveland were two separate islands, but by 2002 they were joined and are now one Geemente (Council) area. A river still runs along the boundary between the two original islands. Our house is only the dyke away from this divide; we live in Schouwen. Below is a modern map with the town circled. Rotterdam is a 45 minute drive NE.

In this photo album I will endeavour to show you around Zierikzee and why we live here. With a population of 10,500 it is an ancient town that received city rights as long ago as 1248. Despite the major catastrophe of the 1953 floods during which lives, properties and animals were lost, the town has been sensitively restored. However alongside the old the Dutch are never shy of building new. It is both aspects of this lively town that I will show you throughout the album.

Water is a big feature in many Dutch towns and villages. Many old cities like Zierikzee were originally built within a star shaped fortification but instead of walls they use water. This town does not have the star shape but water still surrounds it and until only a decade or so ago they had direct access to the north sea.

This water fortification now boasts a delightful bike and pedestrian path right around the town. Adjacent to the ‘Nobelpoort’ is this schematic on a post, to show visitors the route.

The water and verdant banks are topped by the bike path around the old town.

Nobelpoort – Many of my bike rides into the town take me through this ancient arched, cobbled route. The view through the arch aligns with the town windmill. This stands high above the roof tops to enable the wind to get freely into the sails. It still grinds corn, which they sell commercially.

The Nobelpoort I always term the ‘back gate’ of the town as it is less elaborate than the one at the other end where the traditional white lifting bridge provides access into the town through the grand entrance. Cars are still allowed to exit the town through this northern archway.

Old studded iron gates hang within the arch and are painted to show the traditional colours and design.

All windmills are considered to be ancient monuments in the Netherlands and as such get grants. As part of this scheme they are obliged to open to the public for a minimum number of days a year. There is one weekend in the spring when all the windmills are open throughout the country.

Immediately passing through the Nobelpoort you enter the town along this traditional street: Terraced houses fronting directly on to the narrow cobbled road. The town windmill is currently undergoing extensive maintenance. To facilitate lifting the main struts of the sails off and the new ones back on, a road was closed for the day whilst a huge crane delicately lifted the huge woods over the top of the houses.

The town mill still grinds and sells the flour commercially. But let us return to the front gate and take a look around that immediate area.

Here you see the traditional old Dutch lifting bridge still used today to give access to boats who dock further up stream or the old Dutch barges that reside in the inner old harbour.

The single tower, with the fancy turrets at each corner must have been pretty imposing in its’ day. Up till 2018 vehicles could leave the town by car, crossing the old bridge. But now it is bikes and pedestrians only.

Over the bridge and immediately to the right of the gate is a life sized sculpture of a female with her arm in the air. This is a memorial of the 1953 floods – behind the adult clings a small child. It is very poignant.

Through the turreted gate takes you to the inner harbour. Another smaller Dutch lifting bridge gives access for the boats. We only ever see the old traditional Dutch barges tied up in here. Whether that is a rule I do not know – maybe I should endeavour to find out.

An old Dutch barge on the move. They have very shallow hulls to enable them to pass through shallow waters. In deeper water they could lower the rudders you see on the side for stability.

The impressive, ornate merchant houses take pride of place facing the inner harbour. These merchants mainly made their money from ‘mudder’. This is a red weed that grows on the shallow wetlands around the town and were discovered to provide red pigments for dying. This gave great wealth to the town and its’ merchants.

Passing the grand houses one enters the main market place. This was totally renewed since we have lived here and is a multi use area – Thursday’s is the traditional market, but in the summer holiday period we also get a large tourist market on a Tuesday. The water feature is loved by the children, especially in the hot weather. And the glass walled outside eateries seem popular all year round – yes even in the winter if it is dry the Dutch will sit outside, albeit under rugs.

The town is a very popular tourist destination. Talking to the shop keepers they tell me that if it weren’t for the tourists then some of them wouldn’t survive.

Early morning view from the bandstand across the market place.

A major feature of the market place is the handsome old Gasthuiskerk, with it’s old trading space beneath the unusual arched ceiling. Originally a hospital it dates from the 14th century and was built to serve as accommodation for poor strangers passing through and sick needy. In 1613 it became a Reformed church and is still such to this day.

The arched trading space is mainly used for bike parking these days. But I was up and around early on the morning I took this – unusual for me.

Inside it has lower and upper seating areas; having 700 seats in all and views out

over the market place.

The cobbled streets around the town have small individual shops and even the main supermarket is in town. When we first visited the Netherlands I could never seem to find the supermarkets, till I twigged that unlike UK ones they are very low key affairs’ that to our eyes do not shout ‘supermarket’.

Dominating the town skyline is the very ornate tower with its’ gold wind vane figurine on the very tip. Once the Council (Geemente) building this is now the Museum and also uses the elegant old Council Chamber for weddings.

Hidden away behind the old building is a delightful little plaza known as Plein Montmaertre. It is where the artists of the town live and three years ago they

were given permission to paint the most amazing trompe l’oeil – the detail has to be seen up close to be totally appreciated.

Another dominating feature on the skyline is a very solid tower known as the monster toren – officially it is the Sint-Lievensmonstertoren. Originally this was planned to be about three times as high but they ran out of money as well as had some building problems. After many years they decided to leave it at the current height and simply topped it off. It now stands at 62 mtrs. Originally built in 1454 to 1510 but due to war damage was restored in 19571972. The Church to which it was originally attached caught fire and was raised to the ground, so now only the tower survives.

Not exactly the prettiest of buildings but it stands out in the landscape and can be seen from miles around. When we are out for a bike ride I use it as a marker of how far we have to cycle to get home.

Ever since we moved here I have been meaning to go to the top of the tower – this SoFoBoMo has finally made me take the time to do it. It is the usual difficult spiral stone stairs to navigate to get to the top. But it was worth it for the views. I was also surprised how well the iPhone camera coped with such long distant scenes.

Looking across the town you can see a narrow strip of water – this is the waterway leading to what was once the sea from the town. Also top left you can see the 6km bridge that joins our island to the one immediately south of us.

In this shot I am using the phone on the panorama mode where you move the camera slowly through the scene. It does amazingly well even if it cannot cope with the into sun sky area – but that is asking just too much of most cameras.

In this shot down on to the town you can see how close the houses are and hardly any gardens. This is very common in Dutch towns. It was also a good view of the old Council building.

Properties in the old town are expected to remain in keeping with the traditions. Where new houses are built then they have to retain the traditional style. All properties are always extremely well maintained.

These days the outer harbour (the waterway that once led to the sea) is now both a working dock and a yacht haven. The working boats go out into the inland sea and fish locally there. What always impresses me is how immaculately clean they are. They may dredge the muddy depths but you would never know it.

We have a wide variety of boats along the quayside. Some super cruisers, yachts, pilot boats, barges, tourist galleons and working vessels.

Along the quayside are houses of equal variety to the boats they look out over, interspersed with the occasional cafĂŠ and shop. At the end stands the second windmill of the town.

One of my favourite quayside houses is the converted wharf house with its’ navy blue shutters. Looking up when the windows are open you can see that they have created a huge open top floor with roof lights flooding the space with light. In the late afternoon/evenings the owners along this road sit out on their front steps enjoying a glass of wine and watching the world go by.

The quayside windmill taken from the other side of the dyke.

In a previous image from the top of the tower I mentioned the 6km bridge Zeelandbrug. This is the longest bridge in the Netherlands and spans the Oosterschelde estuary. Built between 1963 and 1965, it is a very impressive white structure that shines in the sun light. One sections opens to allow taller boats to pass under.

Open to allow pleasure craft to transit.

Between the town and the bridge lies the industrial area, but like all such areas in the Netherlands it is clean, tidy and well organised. Some of the more recent developments are stunning pieces of architecture too. My favourite is in fact a shoe warehouse/logistics building. Around it they have placed small raised areas planted with wild flowers. This makes a great contrast to the angularity of the building.

Around the industrial area and even between the units is farming land. In this next shot you can see the industrial units just beyond the field of ripening corn.

One thing that impresses us is how, outside their old town, the Council aren’t afraid to embrace the modern. The most innovative example is the Council building itself with its’ green roof and other environmental features. In cold weather you enter their double door entrance system. Once through the first stage you have to wait for the doors behind you to close before the second set opens, thus not loosing the heat out of the building. The reverse on the way out of course. Takes longer to access the inner atrium, but given we the residents have to pay for their heating it makes perfect sense to be patient. Do indulge me as I show you lots of images of this building as I just love it.

Nature surrounds the Council building, with a pond, walkways and reeds to wander amongst. However this long hot summer has dried the pond and streams so currently the little bridges arch over grasses and flowers only.

Other community assets are also built using modern techniques and with a contemporary look to them.

This block of flats for those needing support and regular care faces on to a pleasant water area to one side and at the other overlooks the infant/junior school.

The local infant/Junior school as plenty of parking but most mothers accompany their kids to school by bike – even the youngest children ride independently. The most recent housing to be built again embraces a lovely environment and whilst each house takes only a small foot print they have style.

These houses are built to be energy efficient, having a ground source heat pump that works to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer. Plus sola on their roof. All equals low to zero running costs apparently. This development area has a variety of housing which attracts a mix of families, older people and singles, all living happily alongside each other. I am sure this

leads to a healthier community with more tolerance of all ages and mutual support.

People seem to respect their locale, and one hardly ever sees litter or dog crap. The first time we saw this rather unusual contraption we didn’t even realise what it was – a rubbish bin, but one you can cycle past and throw things in without missing. Admittedly there was one tin next to this bin that had obviously missed it’s target – so I took the shot and then popped it in!

They will also invest in street art and sculptures. Or erect rows of flags to promote the old town to the visitors parking in the large free car parks positioned just around, outside the older area. Inside is heavily pedestrian/bike orientated and car parking limited and expensive to intentionally reduce traffic.

Their skate park was moved recently as they extended one of the free carparks. But the kids didn’t loose their play area but rather got a bigger and better one. Interestingly it is not defaced and normally used a lot in holiday

times, but obviously this hot weather has quietened things down significantly as there were none there when I went to shoot these images.

The town also has a children’s petting farm. This is often a feature of Dutch towns and they are manned by mentally challenged people, with usually just one fully functioning adult in charge. Many have tea shops attached to them too.

The Dutch ‘do quirky’ – well to our English eyes anyway. They often decorate their front windows with outward facing ornaments to display to the passersby. Or put out strange seating arrangements to make you smile. Rarely do they close their curtains – indeed few houses have heavy curtains but more likely voiles at best. At night, when lights are on, they do not seem in the least bit bothered that passers by can see direct in to their homes. When I question them the answer is ‘what have we got to hide?’

They must find us, ‘those odd Brits down the road’, to be quite peculiar with our heavy curtains that always get closed every night. For them if someone closes the curtains then it is because someone has died apparently!

Other investments impress us too. Near to the big white bridge is a special building for the divers who like to use the waters here. Not only do they provide showers and loos, and a large sink to wash out gear, but also a gas bottle refilling point. There are several around the island as diving is a favoured sport in the inland waters. Can you see any British councils investing and maintaining such things?

Then there are the fantastic cycle paths – proper cycle paths not short scraps of roads with a dotted line between you and the cars which stops abruptly when the road narrows and it gets even more dangerous ! No mainly these are separate to the roads; indeed if you cycle on a normal road the cars get justifiably cross with you. On the farm roads then you might share with the traffic, but as you see so little on these roads it is hardly an issue.

On many crossings of cars and bikes it is the latter who have priority. This comes as a major shock to us biking Brits who are used to being treated as second class citizens by car owners. But remember in this country most of the car owners are also cyclists as there are 1.3 bikes to every head of the population here. Also if a car hits a cyclist they are always assumed to be in the wrong and the penalties are high. So these factors engender a different ethos and respect for the cyclist. Cycle paths can also be used by scooters under 50cc. This is not something I personally like as they catch up with you so quickly and feel like an accident

waiting to happen. Often they are ridden by youngsters who, I have been told, take the limiters off them so can exceed the limits. Traffic of both sorts on the cycle paths rarely wear helmets and there is no law compelling them to do so. Only the fast sports cyclists wear helmets and they often ride in pelotons all dressed in matching lycra, especially on Sundays.

The triangles (bottom left) denote that the cars must give way to bikes.

2 way cycle path for both scooter and bike.

Here the scooter is being told to go on the road.

Some things we like about being here are not possible to show you in photos but here are a few…. The Dutch believe in building things well and for maintaining things properly. Their roads are to die for – rarely a pot hole in sight. They even totally relaid our local bike path recently, which had but a couple of minor cracks in it and one area that was very slightly breaking up. When a major motorway or dual carriageway road needs repair (not that we had noticed it did) they do not close it off and delay traffic. Instead they close the carriageway completely from midnight to 5am on pre-announced dates. They completely renew a short stretch that they complete in the one night. The road gets totally reopened through the day, then the following night they do the next stretch etc. All the equipment and facilities they need are parked in a convenient area and not left taking up a carriageway through the day time hours. Traffic lights are mainly vehicle controlled. So you do not sit at them wondering why it is red when nothing is coming the other way. Even bikes can trigger traffic lights. It is all done with sensors under the tarmac. In the UK we were forever chasing the Council to repair roads, cut hedges, sweep the street. Here we are astounded at the services we get – and without even having to nag ! Plus our Council tax is far far less p.a. Waste bins, of which we have 3 for different recycling, are on a rota. Bins have to be left out on the curb facing the correct way as the vehicle is fully automatic in that it picks up and empties the bin, returning it to the curb. Only a driver on board and he doesn’t leave his cabin. The general waste that cannot be recycled we have to pay to have emptied. This bin has a chip in it

which is what is used to calculate our account. Again all done to try to encourage as much recycling as possible. Streets get regularly swept. In autumn they come round with leaf blowers and a special vacuum lorry then sucks up the piles.

Since doing this SoFo project we have had our street footpath sort of scraped (I have never seen anything like this in the UK to even know what to call it). A machine came along that literally scraped off any weeds that were attempting to grow through the joins or along the curb side.

The pavement scraper / weeder machine in action.

Next along came the hedge cutter. First two happy guys cut the front and back faces manually. Then along came a huge machine to level off the tops so that the entire length of the street the hedge remained totally at the same height ! Oh and I forgot to say that they blew up the cuttings into heaps and loaded it on to a van to take away too, leaving everything ship shape just as they like it.

Regularly the grass verges get cut and even though the grass is now almost dead due to the hot weather, they are still cutting !

The green reeds you can see behind the machine stand on the banks of the water. These will be cut back in the autumn and then they often come along in a flat bottomed tub of a boat taking depth measurements. If these aren’t within tolerances then along comes another machine to scoop out the waterway to enable it to flow properly and not flood. Somerset Levels eat your heart out – this is what should be happening for you ! The waterways are all interconnected and permanently monitored, as all water is in the Netherlands. This is essential and part of their national scheme to ensure the 1953 floods could never happen again. Maintenance of dykes is also a priority and this current heat wave is causing some anxiety as if a dyke dries out it can crack. Maybe I should add at this point (for reference) that the base of our house is 2mtrs below sea level as are nearly all the houses on the island. So you can understand why controlling water is paramount in this country. Even the bus shelters (which are not vandalised) are thoroughly cleaned. When I spotted our local one being done during this shooting period I stopped to photograph them and talked to the guys doing the job. They were proud of their work and tell me that every bus shelter gets washed down four times a year.

And yes I could talk to them because around 90% of the Dutch speak English and are happy to do so. My husband has made a very gallant effort to learn the language but has now given up as it is so difficult. Personally I do not want

to learn the language as I like living in my bubble – it is like being on holiday permanently, when you feel relaxed because you are not bombarded with other peoples conversations when in supermarkets etc. Just occasionally the lack of language is a small problem, such as right now when the Tax authority have sent me a letter and I obviously need to go online and complete something for them. Because their web site does not give me a language option and I need to get this 100% correct, I will appeal to my neighbour to sit next to me and guide me through the process. House building is very different. Our house has no wooden upstairs floors or stud walls. Everything is concrete, even the stair case. As a consequence it does not creak and groan as British houses often do, indeed I can never tell where my husband is in the house as it is all so silent.

To get down to a secure foundation they are all pile driven, then walls go up which are single breeze block looking pieces, but large. Huge cranes are always used to move things on and off site, and onsite cement mixers are installed along with the workers cabin and port-a-loo. Insulation is both

external and internal to the original walls. All trades people here are extremely professional and efficient. But they cost a lot to employ if you need work done – but you get what you pay for. Never has our house been so well decorated and maintained. Our own house was built in 2000 and is a factory built construction kit. Designed and planned by the original owners it is not very traditional and appears to have a Floridian influence in style. What is pretty normal here though are the bedrooms in the roof with sloping ceilings and dorma windows. Having looked at many properties over here for months on end we were struggling to find one that was ‘right for us’. We tried to make others work but we never felt totally committed to any prior to this one coming on the market. We had returned to the UK only weeks prior to it appearing online and as soon as we saw it then we got straight back in the van and motored over. First viewing and we knew it was for us and made an offer. Obviously this was a total surprise to the Dutch agent and owner as they are used to cautious Dutch buyers who take longer to assess and make decisions when house buying apparently. With a conveyancing system more like the Scots you are quickly in to the initial contracts with huge penalties if you fail to complete. So fairly high risk if you are English with a house still to sell and the risk of any English buyer pulling out or the chain collapsing. But we pinched our noses and jumped in feet first, hoping we would bob to the surface and survive to the end.

We love living here. The quality of life is far higher, everything is well organised, managed and controlled, which suits our personalities to a T. The Dutch are friendly and welcoming. In Zierikzee there is a very strong influx of Germans in the tourist seasons; many having holiday homes here too. But an English couple is a rarity and seems to almost be a novelty factor. The Dutch love the Brits as we liberated them in WW2 and even though the majority of that generation is now dead the feeling still lives on. So here we are three and a half years later and hoping like hell that the final Brexit deals and new rules won’t mean we have to return to the UK.

What have I learnt from this exercise? That I have been extremely impressed with the iPhone camera and the basic software. Quite intentionally I did not attempt to use any Apps as I felt I first needed to know what it was capable of in itself. The pano mode proved to be an interesting substitute for a wide angle lens. However it does distort as where I have take a photo of (say) the houses fronting on to the quayside they are in reality in a straight road. As I moved the camera from left to right it makes the final image appear as if the central properties (those nearest to me) are on a corner with the others falling away each side. But using it in the vertical mode (such as on the monster toren) it coped far better. It has enlarged the water lily pond at the base, which was the closest element, but does not give quite such a distorted final image. Coping with different lighting conditions it is amazing. Detail; it is fine. Even the longer distance shots it has achieved admirably. Will I use it again – absolutely. My only small gripe is that it only appears to produce 72 dpi files and I would love to have some RAW files at 16bit. Someone will now likely tell me that if I upgrade my phone to the latest version I can have that too. But for now I will just enjoy what I have and live with that small downside. Janet Haines August 5th 2018

Profile for jayhaines

SoFoBoMo - Home - Away by Janet Haines  

An explanation for why we chose to move to live in the Netherlands. But with the added twist of challenging myself to work only using the iP...

SoFoBoMo - Home - Away by Janet Haines  

An explanation for why we chose to move to live in the Netherlands. But with the added twist of challenging myself to work only using the iP...