Holland... Big in relative terms

Holland… Big in Relative TermsBy Ted [Canadian] Widen

Holland is a country that is world-renowned for its vast fields of tulips and daffodils, for the vast number of traditional old windmills, for the vast system of dikes holding back the North Sea, and for the wooden shoes… vast in comparison to the number of wooden shoes you’ll see in any other country.

The geography is reflected perfectly in the name “The Netherlands”, which is “the lowlands”. It is a country on a huge river delta, but even this delta created by the continental glaciers melting away does NOT make a very big country. Indeed, if there was a decent hill here, you could probably see across this entire vast country to its border in the distance.

This, of course, is through the eyes of a guy from Canada, where distance isn’t discussed in terms of kilometres or miles as much as in terms of time. “Hey Paul, how far is it to Vancouver from Smithers?” …and the response would be something like, “About 14 hours.” This is a drive that nearly everyone back home has done; for some people it’s a very well-known drive from west-central BC down to the southwest corner of the province. Things are smaller in Holland.

A two-hour drive in Nederland takes you across the whole country; no need to even stop for a pee break and a coffee. What’s really cute is that you will have crossed as many as 5 provinces in that vast 2-hour journey.

We certainly wouldn’t want to make fun of the Dutch people’s perception of “big”. After all, “big” is a relative thing, and the Dutch people are, on average, the tallest on Earth. However, I don’t think it’s too rude for a Canadian to snicker inside himself when a Dutch friend talks of “going way up into the north of our country,” or maybe, “I haven’t been all the way to the south of our country in many years!” It’s a big outing to do a trip halfway across this country; it’s something to plan ahead for, like checking to see what the weather forecast is for that region.

A Dutch guy I met recently correctly identified my speech pattern as “sounding Canadian or so.” He asked if I knew Mark Something-or-other, but I had never heard of him. The guy told me this Mark What’s-his-name lives in Ontario; I had to inform him that Ontario is three time zones away. To start in Holland, he would need to travel eastward across Germany and Poland before leaving this time zone, across the old Eastern Bloc countries to leave the second time zone, and well beyond Moscow to reach the third time zone… but I didn’t tell him that.

The Dutch people’s concern about the weather is cute, too, because it’s well known that the eastern “inland” part of this coastal country gets extreme temperatures compared to the part along the sea. It’s very much like BC’s lower-mainland region in that way, and coincidentally, the climate there is quite similar to here. Winter DOES happen, but they are never prepared for it. I haven’t yet heard the sound of studded tires on a Holland street… though that may be to protect these old streets. Still, in BC’s lower-mainland, a common thing to hear on a weather forecast is something like, “Expect snow at upper elevations” …that warning is not used here.

The real fun, however, comes in looking at the topography of the Netherlands. Being a big river delta, most of the country is quite flat, while the rest has no hills. There are some areas that are a bit swampy, whereas other areas just have excess groundwater, but those are only where the land is flat. On the farmland the horizon usually can’t be seen because there is a row of trees in the distance, while in the areas where there are no hills, the houses of a distant town might block the horizon.

I am not sure if it’s possible to buy a topographical map showing the contour lines that we are familiar with on maps back home. If such a map exists here, a person would have to take special note of the elevation scale indicated by the contour lines, because to avoid having just a big green shape on the paper, you might see contour lines showing the speedbumps on the streets, while the highway approaches to bridges and overpasses would show up as mountain ranges.

I want to make a few advertisements to run in a Dutch newspaper, just to see if anyone would notice:
• Job Opportunity—Experienced road surveyor, must have experience dealing with slopes.
• Job Opportunity—Avalanche patrol personnel needed for mountain passes.
• Franchise available—Mountain bike manufacturer looking for outlets.
• Job Opportunity—Coach needed for national downhill ski team.

…or add a notice to the end of the weather forecast:
• Warning—Possible frost in low-lying areas.
• Warning—Chinook winds expected near the mountains.

…of course that last one might simply prompt the question, “What are Chinook winds?” People here HAVE seen pictures of mountains, so they don’t need to ask about those.

For any enthusiastic young businessman, there is almost certainly an open market here for selling snowboards and downhill skis. Or, for the industry-minded businessman, there’s an untapped market in producing tire chains… or maybe block heaters, since I have never yet seen a cord hanging out of the grill of ANY vehicle here. You might think there’s also a big opening for 4-wheel-drive trucks, but someone seems to have that market covered already. I’ve seen at least five 4×4 pickups here, though I do NOT have an answer for, “What do they need a 4×4 truck for?” I suspect the answer is probably similar to, “Why does anyone buy a Hummer?” …but we are not here to make fun of Canadian city people.

Holland... Big in relative terms


Alkmaar, Netherlands

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Artist's Description

A tongue-in-cheek fun look at the difference in size and topography of “Nederland” and Canada.

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