Subject: Re: Question on Holland
Hi Flavio in Rome, I saw your question on Zeeland. I'm originally from New Zealand and all my life I've wondered what made that Dutchman select our South Pacific country as the all new version. In May we were on our way to Floriade (a big disappointment) so why not detour through Zeeland on the way. We entered the territory by car ferry from Belgium. Well I think it was still Belgium. I find this incredible that you can move from one country to another so seamlessly - especially when you consider the bloody conflicts within the last century. Here's part of my impression that I sent Penelope's aunt in Norfolk Va. Now that she's chair bound she likes to live vicariously so I have to make our observations a little more personal probably than you need. Whoops! I've just reread the following passage and find that I forgot to mention 'The Delta Project'. It's a physical explanation of the complex dam projects that the Dutch have devised to prevent a similar disaster to that of 1953 when 2000 or so people were killed when the sea invaded the land. The complex is a short distance from Middleburg and should not be missed. And now for the Zeeland bit. By the way I'd titled it with reference to bicycles. Regards, James

Eventually we made it on board the ferry and I was soon able to gaze upon the landscape that inspired a Dutch explorer by the name of Abel Tasman to grant that antipodean Eden a newer version of the name.

Well that's what I've always believed. True, Abel Tasman was the first European to sight N.Z. and all through my years of education I'd been under the impression that he had decided on the name. Last night all that history fell around me. An academic has proven that in Tasman's time there already existed another New Zealand (on New Guinea of all places) and so he'd called this new discovery, Staten Landt. As I understand it, a group of cartographers made the swap some time later from their offices in Amsterdam.

Now then, I've given you that detail because my first reaction on sighting this peninsula of Zeeland was - what the heck had Tasman been smoking when he was in the naming process. Sure, New Zealand has quite a few plains that are comparatively level compared to the remainder of the country that veers between undulating and down right mountainous. This countryside before us was without relief except for a few buildings and electricity producing windmills. This is a country so damned flat that it barely makes it above sea level. To be honest I've never seen anything like it.

The ferry duly docked and we continued driving, having again crossed into another country with little signage to indicate a new land. It was only a short distance to the main city of the region - Middleburg. We decided that this was the ideal community. A city centre where pedestrians have dominance. An historic centre where the people were obviously proud of their past with an impressive mix of ancient and modern. Sometimes you can feel the vibes in such a place. Industrious but still exuding a casualness that made strolling a pleasure.

You've been waiting for the bicycle bit. I've been holding out. I mentioned how walking the cobbled streets was such a pleasurable experience but in amongst us strollers weaved the bicycles. These were not the cyclists who scare the daylights out of you as you get caught in their slipstream. Here we had people cycling casually while moving around the city centre as they did their shopping. This was late morning so most people of work age were undoubtedly gainfully employed. I guess that's the reason for so many retirees among the cycling fraternity. I was impressed with the additions on bicycles - large carryalls for their shopping, special attachments for walking sticks, mothers with more than one child seat - but most of all I was impressed with the bicycles themselves.

Ever since we've been in Perth I've impressed Penelope with my observations - those are Dutch people over there. Don' t you just hate such know-alls. Ahh! but it was my background that helped. You see, in the 50's and 60's large numbers of Dutch emigrated to N.Z. They were the sort of new citizens that every government dreams about. They were industrious and soon disappeared into the general community apart from one identifying landmark. Their bicycles. I'm not sure if you've made a similar study but the people of the Netherlands obviously feel they have mastered the ultimate general purpose bicycle. I honestly don't know the secret. Perhaps it's perfectly geared for easy pushing. They're certainly very durable but perhaps the answer is in the positioning of the rider. If you stand back and watch, the rider sits in a very upright position with handle bars sufficiently raised giving excellent vision ahead. Of course it could all have something to do with the body in relation to the pedals - I've always felt that when the knees are excessively bent you tire more quickly. Looking from afar these riders look sedate and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Well then, how come the world has not copied this perfect formula? Today I went by a cycle shop and looked at all the racing bikes, the mountain bikes and such, all with impressive complicated gears - but no mudguards to be seen. In the time we were in the Netherlands we did not see another design. Everyone had the same style of sedate bicycle complete with full mudguards and a completely enclosed chain. Surely the kids would pressure the parents so they could ape the rest of the world, but no, we watched high school students passing by in large numbers. Of course some had shinier paint jobs but very little variation.

Now, another thing impressed about these cycling Dutch people, they must have fantastic memories. We're getting a little better these days in locating our own car at the shopping mall but then only a quarter of cars are white. We 've only had it for 18 months. These people have to locate their bicycle among stands of hundreds that look to me, identical. The ultimate experience is coming out of the Amsterdam railway station and being confronted with your first bicycle parking building. Looking back, we vary between 4 and 5 stories packed solid with thousands (I was about to mention millions but you might have begun to doubt my word) of identical bicycles. Wait! I've just remembered a key fact. At every bicycle stand we noticed each and every cycle was locked. Hopefully one key doesn't fit all. I believe my only way out would be to insist on one of those remote locking devices that come with modern cars. I'd walk among all the bike stands clicking away waiting for my bicycle light to flash or the bell to start ringing to warn me I was getting close to claiming what was mine.

Moving right along. Once we were out in the countryside there on both sides of the road were cycle tracks. What Penelope found, that was really disconcerting, was the huge number of people out seemingly enjoying a ride in the country. I mean, we weren't talking one or two here, we were passing large groups (cycling clubs?) making their way around the countryside. This particular day was fine but we found the weather had little effect on the number taking such exercise in other parts of the country. This was unreal. Another disconcerting fact was that most were retirees. What we've got to investigate is whether these people are living longer. I was not kidding you before. I saw women hobbling along with the aid of a walking stick then mount their bicycle and peddle away.

Of course we could never do that here. We've got a hill at the end of our street (I'll think up some other excuses shortly). Once these people got moving the highest mound they would have had to cope with was crossing the camber of the road. Hey, that's another thing. We saw a first -having to stop for bicycle paths crossing the road. In most places of the world you take a great risk using pedestrian crossings but there in the Netherlands, cars out on the highway have to stop to allow cyclists the right of way - we were in totally new territory.

And now we're come home to the depths of winter. The days have been grey with frequent showery periods - in a word, a typical European spring. Driving around the streets of Perth we see the odd hardy soul pedalling in these adverse weather conditions (some days the temperature has barely made 18C [50 F + ????]). Are we going to invest in a bicycle each? Do we hanker to have the wind in our hair and an open platform to admire the surrounding scenery? Are you kidding?