Düsseldorf is not only conveniently close to Berlin, but also to the Netherlands with the North Sea and Amsterdam. I somehow came up with the crazy brilliant idea to go mud flat walking in the Wadden Sea, so that’s what we did. Besides, road trips with Toby and A are historically known to provide a delightful combination of adventure and entertainment.
The Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the unique ecological area between the coasts of the Netherlands and Denmark and a series of islands in the North Sea. It lives off the ebb and flow of the North Sea, whose tides bring in sediment and plankton that support a community of fish, birds, and seals. Because the Wadden Sea is so shallow, you can walk across the mud flats at low tide to one of the many islands. We chose a tour from the town of Holwerd to the island of Ameland.
Mud walking, wadlopen in Dutch, is an amazing experience, even other-worldly if you’re used to the deserts of Arizona and southern Utah. You’re surrounded by nothing but mud, sea water, wind, and, in our case, rain (yes, we were that lucky). We spent four hours slogging through ankle-deep mud that tries to suck off your shoes and belly-deep channel-crossings that lap at the dry clothes in your back pack. The near-constant rain got us as wet from the top down as the channels did from the bottom up. I think we loved every minute of it, despite the blue lips and goose bumps (the air was 13°C and the water was 16°C – even one of our tour guides commented on how bad the conditions were).
Once at the island, we caught a ride with a tractor-pulled trailer that brought us closer to the village of Nes and, to make sure our North Sea baptism was complete, sprayed us with beach sand (imagine a sugary snickerdoodle). At that point we could only laugh and shiver, but it was nothing a tomato soup and hot chocolate couldn’t cure (after a hike over a grassy hill and a deck change in the bathroom at the lifeguard station – do you know how hard it is to pull off sopping wet skivvies when you’ve lost practically all fine motor skills in your fingers due to frozeness?). I imagine the whole thing is quite lovely when the sun is shining. But, since it wasn’t, we caught a bus to the ferry station to get back to the mainland. By the time we got back to the car, the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Oh, the twisted ways of Mother Nature.
We’d had our fill of the North Sea though and were looking forward to Amsterdam. The weather wasn’t much better (we never left the hotel without our umbrellas), but the canals and quaint buildings provided an inspiring contrast to the wilderness from the day before. Did you know that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and that the buildings were all built with a forward tilt to allow goods to be hoisted up to the attics without breaking any windows? A law dating from 1565 restricted this lean to 1:25 to help keep buildings from collapsing into the street.
After having been in Amsterdam, I don’t think I can legitimately complain about driving in Düsseldorf anymore. Not only are the streets extremely narrow, but there are something like half a million bicycles in Amsterdam and nearly every single one of them is driven by a crazy swift-maneuvering, don’t-believe-in-brakes-even-at-a-red-light person. We also tasted Dutch cheese, visited the floating flower market, and had famous Dutch pancakes. What more could you ask for from Holland? Maybe a little sunshine.
A tip from the locals – the weather in the Netherlands in August is drier. Good to know for the next time around.