Holland is pretty low. I’m talking sea level low. The ground on which our apartment building is built is somewhere around 2 meters (6 feet) below sea level. The airport, Schiphol, is also entirely below sea level, by about 3 meters – and before the land there was drained the location was once the site of a naval battle. Last year, after the crash of a Turkish Airline’s flight, I happened to read in the Seattle Times that the aircraft’s altimeter was showing a negative value, something the reporter called “impossible”. I sent him a note to say that well, actually, in this country it technically is possible.
There are advantages to being so low. The thing we refer to locally as “overcast” is in many places known as “fog”. We’re that low. We get fog too, but – I’m convinced – not nearly as much as we would if we were up a little higher. The highest point in the country is in the furthest southeast corner, bordering Belgium and Germany, and comes in at the astonishing height of 322 meters. That’s two meters lower than the Eiffel Tower.
Holland is also flat. Really flat. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before I came here just how low and flat the country was. I mean, if there are huge networks of canals, and millions of bicycles, it must be flat. And if there is land reclaimed from the sea, it must be low. One does get used to it, of course. And the landscape would be quite beautiful, if only one could see it. But there is a real dearth of useful vantage points. What this country needs is just one really big hill from which one can take in all the flatness. But it would be shrouded in fog.
Did I mention the wind? It’s really windy here. I have a friend who says she had constant headaches when she first arrived, until she got used to the wind. So all those windmills they built in the olden days, that wasn’t done just because the things were so quaint and photogenic. They actually were very useful – for pumping water out of flat fields, for milling grain, and for sawing logs. Nowadays the countryside is sprouting hundreds of new, modern “windmills”. All the electricity we use at home is guaranteed to come from 100% wind energy. Cool, huh?
The wind is really obnoxious when cycling. What we don’t have in the way of hills to make cycling a challenge, we more than make up for with wind. Ancient mariners used to believe that sailing against the prevailing wind was against God’s will. If God wanted you to go that way he would have provided the proper wind to take you there!
I fully agree, as long as the principle applies to cycling too. At least, cycling against the wind has a tremendously diabolical effect on me.