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Friday, November 13, 2009

Molen van Kinderdijk (Mills of Kinderdijk)

Wind mills are one of the first things that would come to your mind when I say Holland. After, 10 months of living here, I finally went to visit these rotating beauties ( well, technically not rotating any more). Kinderdijk is a small village in the the province of North Holland. It is situated at a point where two rivers Lek and Noord meet. To drain the excess water in this region a group of 19 windmills were built in 1740. Apart from being in the UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, it is also one of Netherlands' top tourist spots.

The name of the place, Kinderdijk originates from a legend which has it that on the Saint Elizabeth's Flood of 1421, after the storm had subsided, a small basket was visible in the dike area. A cat was jumping from one edge of the basket to the other, to keep it afloat. On bringing the basket to land, a baby was found in it asleep, dry and safe. Hence the name, Kinderdijk or Child's Dike.

From Eindhoven, we took a train to Dordrecht and waited for a bus to fetch us to Kinderdijk. Now, who knew the bus driver would forget to change the number on the display of the bus while he was at our stop? We were gleefully talking right in front of it while the bus took off. We had to wait for one hour more for the next bus. We obviously crashed into Smullers again for frites. :)

It was lunch time when we reached Kinderdijk. The place was extremely windy and cold. One of our rather thin friends actually tried lifting one of her legs to check if she could fly :D. Except for some threatening shakes, she couldn't defy gravity. We were all disappointed! Nov 1st was the last day to take a tour inside the wind mills. We were just in time for that. One wouldn't even imagine how such a cozy house could be built in such small places. Every available square inch was packed with furniture and utilities -tables, chairs, a kitchen and several beds at different levels of the house. At the attic is where the huge gears of the wind mills were placed. Videos and models were placed at every point for a good explanation of the working of the house. And the stair cases! How narrow they were! We were wondering how anybody ever managed to climb up and down those "you are bound to fall one day" stairs.
Our lovely neighbors had somehow managed to pack lunches for all of us. We sat down at one of the benches on the way and gobbled up the food quickly, before the wind could beat us on it. There is a long pathway to walk/bike along the windmills. We walked till we could see all the19 of them. We sang songs as we walked further as the path became completely isolated (could have been the other way around, maybe! :) ).

We honestly hadn't picked a perfect day for this trip. That, we had all not gotten soaked to our skins in the rain that pelted down right after we got into the bus on our way back, was perhaps our biggest relief. I came back home a little soaked and tired, but I have finally seen the Dutch wind mills..:)

Picture Courtesy - Harish. S

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dutchiness part 1: Nederlandse taal (Dutch language)

I wish to start a series called the Dutchiness to explain the Dutch as I see and experience, their culture, food, people, places and various other oddities that come to my mind. A series somehow I thought would give me more motivation to post frequently. The first topic was easy to chose, the Dutch language of course. Dutch is the native language of more than 22 million people and is spoken widely in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname. Being one of the Western Germanic languages like English and German, Dutch strangely has similarities to Afrikaans, a language spoken widely in South Africa and Namibia. Dutch is definitely not the most difficult language to learn (think Chinese and Sanskrit) but then it is not so easy as well.

As an expat in the Netherlands, so is it absolutely essential to learn the language? Well, it depends on several things - how long you plan to stay here, which profession you are in and mostly if you have the interest to learn the language. Fortunately enough most Dutch can speak English. In work places I find it almost non essential (Engineering field). But it is at the coffee corners and lunches when you miss out the joke that you feel the prick to learn the language. Also, all the official letters, announcements in trains and buses, signs are in Dutch. So I have been at it for the past 10 months. I passed the beginner's course and am at the intermediate level. While my reading, listening and writing have improved quite a bit, speaking is still a problem.

In the initial days though (actually even now), my biggest help tool has been Google Translate. This God sent tool has eased several frustrating 'Dutch decoding' moments for me. In my opinion, if you are planning to stay in the Netherlands for more than 6 months, then go for atleast a basic course. It does please people to see that you are atleast trying. Did it help me at all at any point? I think it did. Recently at an interview for a project, the boss of the company was genuinely surprised when I answered some of his questions in Dutch. They offered me the post a couple of days back. If I decide to take it up, I will be their first non Dutch employee... :D

Some useful Dutch language websites: (highly recommended by my Dutch teachers)

Nothing replaces taking actual lessons though. Some Dutch language courses in Eindhoven:

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