On October 19, 2010 I moved from the US to The Netherlands. This is a love story many years in the making.


We had a glimmer of sunlight and a sky that showed a little blue in it today so after I got the boeuf Bourguignon started and simmering slowly on the hob, we packed a little bag with a couple of excellent cookies and two bottles of water, saddled up the dog, grabbed the Nikon and went on a road trip to the coast.

I had no real idea of where we were going. I mean, yeah, I could see it on the map but had no concept of what it might look like. If you look at the map, we followed N46 north out of Groningen to a little industrial area where a number of interesting things are located. The first thing we came across was a Google data center.

I was taken aback. A data center? Really? Out here in the middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Land’s End, Nederlands? I asked why, and Carel pointed at another building not far away. “Cheap power,” he said a little smugly. “Over there a cable comes in from Norway carrying 700 megawatts, all water-generated and clean.” I didn’t take a picture of it, but he found one for me on the interwebs. This is the inside.

They’re building a couple new power plants to bolster the existing one (which is far from being small). This is apparently of sufficient urgency that they are working on Sunday. It was a remarkable sight, this intricate dance of cranes.

We drove around some more, taking our time and gaping at the windmills. Those things are enormous. I asked him to pull over so I could take a photo of one of them. This one was right next to the road, and in very un-American fashion had no fence, cameras or anything else warning people off it. I just walked right up to it and leaned against it.

The sound it makes is huge. It’s a very deep note that you can feel thrumming in your bones, constant as a heartbeat. I find it very soothing. Did I mention they are colossal? Birds fly among them.

Speaking of birds, I caught sight of something that to me looks totally wrong. A seagull flying only a foot above…green grass. I absolutely love how this photo came out.

The weather started to turn…

…so we continued our journey, stopping at a storage area for mill blades on the way out. I had thought the ones we were driving through were big. The blades stored in this depot are for the sea-going wind farms. They are built out in the open water of the North Sea, and let me tell you, they are staggeringly huge.

I asked Carel to stand by the fence so as to provide a sense of scale. See? FREAKIN’ HUMONGOUS.

He took a really neat photo of them!

As we were leaving the area Carel pointed at a flock of geese that apparently didn’t get the memo about flying South for winter until quite late. It was a veritable river of birds and they just kept coming.

One lovely image was of this old mill and its upstart new cousin which I shot as we were leaving.

On our way back to Groningen we drove through a couple of small cities that have names I found very amusing in a totally juvenile sort of way – Uithuizen (Out-house!) and Usquert (needs no explanation). Hee hee. We stopped at a viewpoint, and climbed the steep stairs to look out. Once on top I realized that of course we were standing on a dike – this country doesnt have hills! So I took a look at the backside of it.

Having gained the top of the dike, we looked out.


I had no idea how much land there was on the other side of the dike. We were looking out at a seemingly endless coastal flat, all mud and water and struggling grass. It’s a protected area, being a crucial stop for the countless birds on their migratory routes. Not terribly attractive, but important. It’s nice that they care about it even if it’s not pretty. I was freezing, though, so I fled back to the car.

The engineering that goes into stealing land from the North Sea is phenomenal. The Shrub really ought to have accepted the Dutch offer of help for the New Orleans levees when they broke: noone knows water management like this nation. Without truly expert knowledge, there would not *be* a nation! To sit there in my comfy car and look at the field beside me and realize that it once was under the sea is quite an experience. It’s unsettling and humbling and really gives me an appreciation for the backbreaking centuries of work that went into creating this country.

The light was failing so we made a beeline for home. We drove though a lot of fields and tiny towns and winding little country lanes. With apologies to John Denver, and a tip of the hat to West Virginia…

Take me home, country roads






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