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The Netherlands is a fascinating little country: a huge swath of it is below sea level. The name itself even means “lowlands.” The people that settled here historically faced a hard battle with the sea and were constantly threatened by floods and broken dykes. The last catastrophe was in 1953 when a storm on the North Sea caused huge surges and floods in South Holland (and in UK and Belgium, too). The old dykes and dams weren’t enough to hold back the water: thousands were killed and even more lost their homes.

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After the disaster, the Dutch put their collective foot down and said, “no more.” An ambitious 50-year plan to strengthen flood defenses was conceived and named the Delta Works, involving sluices, dams and barriers. In 1998 the final piece was completed, the Maeslant Storm Barrier.

Located on the waterway between Rotterdam and the North Sea, just outside the town of Hoek van Holland, the storm barrier is a deceptively simple piece of engineering. Because Rotterdam is such busy port the waterway has to be kept open. So two giant “gates” were constructed that, in the event of a surge, could be moved together to protect the river.

Overlooking the barrier, Jesse sweeps his hand for dramatic effect.

Not only is the barrier itself fascinating, but the visitor’s center is decently interesting and informative, and on a sunny day was a pleasure to get to. Their website recommends taking the train to Hoek van Holland and renting bikes or a taxi–we still had our trusty 3 bikes, and rode the entire 9km on those, with plenty of stops for pictures.

Rachel and Alan on their bikes.

A bit of a quirky stop, the barrier shows a different side of the Netherlands: brilliant engineering, and a constant battle with the sea. More information here.