Full circle – by Kris

June 12 and 13, 2024

I think we’re all amazed at how quickly the last two weeks have gone and at the same time it felt like it was a year. When we lined up for the photo above on the first day, we had no idea of some of the adventures to come. I’m so proud of all of the students for facing challenges we encountered with grit and teamwork. From luggage storage puzzles, to flat tires, head winds, fences, gale force winds and rain (we didn’t bike that day), tight schedules, and aching bodies, the students kept at it with laughter and determination. In total, we pedaled about 435 km or 270 miles. We had 10 flat tires. Lukas spotted 31 pick up trucks and Peter saw 19 cats along the way.

Our last day of biking on Wednesday took us back past Schiphol Airport and into Amsterdam. We successfully completed our loop within the Netherlands and pedaled into the city confidently. There was even time for a bit of play along the way.

The professionals and community members who shared their time and knowledge with us were simply the best. The knowledge people shared ranged the social impacts of flooding to benefits to human safety through flood control, nature-based and engineered solutions to flood management. In the Netherlands, we saw projects that were primarily about human safety and protection of buildings and businesses. We also saw others that considered multiple uses of the land, from habitat for birds, to space for agricultural grazing and for recreation. In Germany, we learned about the impacts as well as response and ongoing recovery from the summer 2021 floods. The students’ personal experiences with flooding and flood recovery provided insights and comparisons to the practices and situations in the Netherlands and Germany.

Our last tour of the course was one in which we were able to learn about practices being implemented in Amsterdam in an effort for the city to become more sustainable. These practices included neighborhoods heated with waste heat from a nearby factory to limited car presence in exchange for greater amounts of green space, to green roofs and solar panels.

I am indebted to our teaching assistant Jess for all her hard work to keep things running smooth and everyone safe. We couldn’t have done it without her.

Most of us parted ways yesterday, leaving our Stayokay rooms and heading to Schiphol airport. I look forward to seeing the path each of the students follows through their college years and beyond. I hope that friendships made will last and that some of the knowledge learned will aid them in their lives and careers.

The Hague to Haarlem – by Sam

June 11, 2024

We started our morning with a late breakfast and then we headed onto the road working our way up the coastline towards Haarlem. The ride out of the Hague started out beautiful until our first flat tire of the day. This seems to be an ongoing trend for us. As we biked into the dunes I couldn’t help but think how the landscape looked like a Hayao Miyazaki movie. With rolling Sandy hills covered with grasses waving in the wind. 

The dunes are the first barrier of defense against the ocean for the Netherlands, a natural dike protecting coastal towns from the North Sea. Because the dunes in their natural form provide such a an important purpose for the Dutch people they have been left relatively untouched compared to the the rest of the nation which is manipulated and engineered by humans nearly everywhere. As an ecology student this made the dunes particularly interesting to me because it gave me a glimpse into what holland may have looked like pre settlement. 

 At the halfway point of our bike ride today we stopped in a cute beach town called Katwijk. Although it wasn’t warm out many of us rallied and took a dip into the North Sea brrr.

This town had the most innovative parking garage I have ever seen. They created an artificial dune and constructed a parking lot underneath it!

After this we got back on our bikes and made our way towards Haarlem. I’m sad to say it but this was our second to last day. Our last bike ride will be tomorrow so I’ll have to savor every moment even the flat tires and sore legs. 

Delft – by Leo

June 10, 2024

Today was our first real rainy day in the Netherlands. We decided the train was the best idea with the rain and our 5 flat tires over the past few days, so we hopped into our raincoats and rain pants and headed to the train station. After the train, and a short bus ride and walk, we made it to the Technical University (TU) Delft Green Village.

Once there, our TU Delft instructor, Lindsey, gave us a presentation and overview of the Netherlands’ flood defense system. She also helped us delve deeper into the question of when do we come to the point of stopping building higher and stronger dikes or storm barriers, and when do we need to be more dynamic with nature — building with nature and using nature-based solutions. We also talked about the 2021 floods that were impacted by climate change and the importance of organization during crisis in flooding. Lindsey was amazing and down to earth and was the highlight of many of our days, having an amazing outlook on our environment and society.

The Green Village was built on the spot of the old architecture building that burnt down. It is a space without as many regulations as other areas of the country. This allows it to be used for innovation and development. There are 12 residents that live in the village along with the research facilities and laboratories. It helps to have regular people live there to see how these innovative solutions for sustainable living could be used on a bigger scale eventually. Those who live in the village cook using hydrogen rather than natural gas, which is really cool. Their washing water is also sourced from rainwater. They have many sensors for monitoring various sustainability installations (such as pervious pavers).

The next place we visited was Flood Proof Holland. We took the bus and walked to this field experiment site at the southern end of the TU Delft campus.

Once there, we saw options for flood control including box barriers that can be filled with water, tube barriers (very hungry caterpillar looking thing) among others. TU Delft researcher, Jean Paul, described that they have experimented with destroying dikes to where they are on their 12th experimental dike. They saturate their experimental dike and can watch the water table shift and observe how various manipulations they make to the dike influence its stability and ability to hold back water.

In these labs, they have also sunk electric cars and brought in the fire department to learn during these experiments. We talked about flood deaths in cars, specifically in electric cars. As the Netherlands has so many canals and waterways, understanding how systems in electric cars are affected by being submerged is important.

Some US delegates were getting a tour of the dike experiments the same afternoon as us, so we were able to watch the demonstration of various flood barriers with them. The US delegates were mostly from flood-prone Southern US states. We got to watch the demonstrations of the different barriers, the box barrier, the waterschot, and the NoFlood. It was really amazing to see these in action.

After our Floodproof Holland tour, we got stuck in some wild rain, escaped into a restaurant, and had some amazing hot chocolate. 

Next, after a wait for the bus in the rain, we got to spend time with TU Delft engineering students in their student lounge. We had a blast talking to them about everything from water management to grad school to how crazy we are to be biking so far (we aren’t crazy). 

To my family, I miss you and will see you so so soon.

Maeslantkering – by Peter

June 9, 2024

We started the day with breakfast at around 7:30am. To an onlooker, the sheer volume of food on all of our plates might have suggested that we were running a marathon. Once breakfast had been devoured, and our lunches had been made we set off into the city of Rotterdam in two separate groups. In sharp contrast with the nearly overwhelming levels of activity in the city on Friday, the streets were nearly deserted as it seemed the entire population was recovering from a collective Sunday hangover. It wasn’t long before the first group had hit a patch of glass and contracted a now familiar (and despised) case of flat tires. This issue persisted as we reached the outskirts of the city and entered the countryside. Air pumps had to be ferried to and from groups in order to keep our bikes operational.

As the rear group continued to suffer from flat tires my group wound through the familiar yet still beautiful Dutch countryside filled yet again with cows, sheep, sprawling fields tall grass waving in the wind, all bathing in the pleasant sunlight. 

The tranquility of this landscape was rudely interrupted by a straight and exposed path of around four miles in length traveling along the Nieuve waterway containing a brutal headwind which made our biking efforts quite difficult. The Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, our destination, loomed in the distance.

Once we had arrived at the Maeslantkering, we were greeted by our tour guide Alexander who presented us with a video of how the structure was built. Afterwards, our group was brought outside to take a tour of the gargantuan structure. The Maeslantkering, a deployable storm barrier consisting of two triangular arms each as big as an Eiffel Tower and twice the weight, loomed over us as we walked its perimeter. Despite its imposing size, and might that was possessed by this conglomerate of welded steel, the discussion with Alexander moved to how unsustainable a structure such as this would be for the future of the Netherlands in the context of new challenges such as climate change.

With factors such as high maintenance costs and low usage, the Maeslantkering is a temporary solution at most. Compared to 20th century Dutch water engineering logic, 21st century thinking revolves around living with water rather than fighting against it, such as the implementation of projects like room for the river. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will see future massive engineering projects such as this in the future. However, the ingenuity, planning, and precision that went into creating such a structure cannot be ignored, and the Maeslantkering still serves as an example of environmental engineering at its most grand and spectacular.

The Oosterscheldekering – by Ali

June 8, 2024

Hello all! Ali writing. We started and finished our day today in Rotterdam and I’m excited to tell you about it.

Rather than biking today, we took a train and a couple of buses out of Rotterdam to Neeltje Jans Delta Park, where the Oosterscheldekering, one of the storm surge barriers in the Netherlands and the largest in the world, is. Our commute was full of naps, music sharing, and, apparently, sneaky conversations (the sneaky conversations will make sense later 😉). 

When we arrived to Neeltje Jans (after a walk along a narrow pathway from the bus stop), we met with our tour guide and watched a film about Neeltje Jans and the construction of the Oosterscheldekering. The Oosterscheldekering is part of a series of construction projects called the Delta Works, which was a response to the devastating North Sea flood of 1953. 

Following the film, we entered an immersive 4D animation titled “The Delta Experience”, which showed us a recreation the flood of ‘53. Surrounded by swelling music and (very, very) loud thunder, we saw water levels rapidly rising as a house was destroyed a child struggled, and succeeded, to get to his family. It was emotional, and left some of us a bit shaken up.

After we finished these two films, we learned more from our guide about the planning and building of the Delta Works, then took a walk along the shore outside.

Before saying goodbye to our guide, we gifted him a bottle of maple syrup. He initially thought it was perfume for his wife, which was pretty cute. 

We had some leftover free time at Neeltje Jans, so we visited the waterpark (no swimming though 😞) and aquarium, I bought a puppet, and then we took our buses and trains back to Rotterdam. 

As we arrived back at our hostel, I ran to the bathroom since I’d had to pee pretty bad, which I think was convenient for Kris, Jess, and my classmates. When I came back downstairs to the lobby, I was greeted with a feather boa, birthday cake, a card, and all of my classmates and instructors singing Happy Birthday to me! The card was full of sweet notes from everyone, which I later learned were written while I was knocked out on the bus to Neeltje Jans. Do the sneaky conversations make sense now?

I’m thankful for all that we got to do today, and couldn’t be happier to have spent my birthday in the Netherlands with the people I got to meet from this class! I’m excited for more learning and laughs and experiences. To all my people at home—I miss you and love you and can’t wait to tell you all about my trip.

Dordrecht to Rotterdam – by Martha

June 7, 2024

Hey everyone, it’s Martha! So today has been a journey for sure but we all made it to Rotterdam with only a few scratches! 

This morning started a little rough. After breakfast, we began our bike trek with my tire leaking air, but thankfully we had our resident mechanic Lukas on the trip to patch up the hole. Next, we witnessed a bit of a traumatizing fall from a local biker, but thankfully we used some of our med kit to help her out and were grateful she was eventually ok and none of us got hurt. Following the fall, Leo’s bike got a completely flat tire. But our resident mechanic advised us to pump the tire like a 14 year old high-school boy. 

Eventually, we made it to Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk windmills were built in the 1700s to pump water in an effort to keep nearby low lying land of Alblasserwaard dry. These windmills also housed families, which was really cool to see how the Dutch utilized the space. Given previously discussed events, we were an hour and a half late and had to leave quickly to make our afternoon tour, so we did not get to fully experience and learn about the Kinderdijk as much as planned. However, we ate well deserved treats consisting of homemade Belgian waffles with chocolate and various toppings while gazing over at the 19 beautiful windmills. Those who biked back to Rotterdam were able to explore at the Kinderdijk for longer.

Then we were off to Rotterdam. Regarding our travels, we split up into groups with half of us taking our bikes and the other half taking a water bus. The bike route involved both a short ferry and some heavy lifting to maneuver the bikes around a gate blocking the bike path.

On the other hand, the water bus provided unique views of the city, but some of us were a little bit sleepy from our morning. 

One of our last stops was Dakakkar, which entailed a lovely tour of a green roof given by Rob. From the tour, we learned about how the rooftop utilizes a substrate composed of lava rock, clay, and organic material with pathways and plants requiring different depths of substrate of 5 cm and 20 to 40 cm respectively. The building’s strength is emphasized on its sides, with a layered roof design featuring root-resistant and rainwater-containment layers, capable of holding up to 60,000 liters of water. Initially focusing on vegetable cultivation for local restaurants, the green roof shifted to growing edible flowers due to restaurant demand, which are maintained by a farmer. Additionally, native plants adorn the green roof, monitored regularly. Although excess water is directed to the street if not absorbed by plants, efforts to repurpose it for drinking water for the restaurant is in discussion. The green roof also hosts 50,000 bees, maintained by beekeepers and supported by an association providing replacements if needed. Five chickens contribute fertilization and pest control, fed with tiger worms. Other fauna, such as snails, are discouraged due to their plant-eating tendencies. Composting is integral, with a 7-year plan for crop rotation and soil fertility maintenance such as cover crops and fixed nitrogen, all without pesticides.

Carter got a flat tire (the third of the day and of the trip) on the way to the hostel after the green roof tour. He was close enough to push the bike to the hostel and take care of it there.

We ended our day at Istanbul Döner Kebab near our hostel and had good banter and ate yummy food. Although we had a rough start to the day, I’m so impressed by everyone for keeping a positive mindset and giving their best effort forward, and we are all hoping for a smoother day tomorrow!

The second half – by Emma

June 6, 2024

We had a nice bike ride today! From Kerkstraat in ‘s Hertogenbosch, we biked to Dordrecht. We passed a lot of farm animals, including sheep, cows, and some cats. Some sheep early on said “baa”, which I believe is sheep dutch for “good morning.”

We stayed in two groups for biking and three people took the train. Our groups stopped at different times, so we had some snack exchanges when we passed each other! We all seem to be getting stronger and getting a better handle on things. 

We got to the stayokay (which was right off the bike path) and ate some hagenslag/bread/Nutella/other snacks outside. 

We then met Jaap, who works with the water authorities, in one of the stayokay meeting rooms and he gave us an insightful presentation about the water management authorities. The presentation focused on governance and flood adaptive strategies. One highlight was a challenge posed by Jaap to the group about beavers. Beavers have been reintroduced in the Netherlands recently, and have since grown exponentially and are difficult to control. The beavers dig holes in the dikes, which requires damage control measures. With the highly engineered water management system in the Netherlands, it’s difficult to cooperate with ecosystem engineers like beavers. In comparison, in Vermont, we rely on beaver dam storage for water quality and purification.

Following Jaap’s presentation, we biked into Dordrecht and Jaap took us on a tour focused on flood management in the city. We observed different ways that buildings have been constructed to minimize flooding in homes and businesses and ways the water authority works to keep those within the dike ring from being flooded during storms. For example, one side of the canal had buildings with steps, and one did not. Jaap explained that the houses with steps were built by wealthy people to give them a bit more height to avoid floods. When originally built hundreds of years ago (and through to today) these spaces were used as houses, whereas, originally, the other side of the street (where there was no in the entryways) was often used for storage.

Japp treated us to appetizers and drinks on the water, which was very kind and delicious! We then went to dinner in town.

Finally, we biked back to the StayOkay to end our day. I believe we biked about 73 kilometers today, but i am not entirely sure. We are all quite tired and ready for some sleep.

I feel as though every day of this trip is my new favorite day, and this tradition held today. I am exhausted and I am having the time of my life.

To my parents and Katie, if you’re reading this, I love you and I will see you soon!

‘s Hertogenbosch – by Mal

June 5, 2024

Hi hi! Today was our 3rd official day of biking! Most of us didn’t actually bike though, we took the train to our stop ‘s-Hertogenbosch (applause for those that did decide to bike today). For those of us not biking, we went to the market in town. The shops were mostly clothing and food, including homemade stroopwafels. It was fun to walk around and see all the shops, people, and pigeons. There are a lot of pigeons here.

It was a really beautiful day, sun shining and all that. It was perfect for trying haring, which are pickled herring with onions. You kind of just dangle the fish over your mouth and lower it in.

In the afternoon, we were warmly welcomed by Francien and Ferd with the water study group at Kring Vrienden. Ferd provided us with a professional presentation. He discussed a bit of the water management history about the Netherlands and specifically ‘s-Hertogenbosch. His presentation included some really interesting comparisons between the Netherlands and Vermont (e.g., the Netherlands has 20x more people per capita than Vermont).

He also shared some of the issues with flooding that the area had in their past as well as what the town, and the entire Netherlands do to prevent future damages. These would be the 21 Water Authorities that are responsible for flood protection and water management in their regions. While they still have a lot of work to do, especially given the issues with rainfall this year, they have made a lot of progress already (such as, Room for the River, which was discussed yesterday). 

We then went for a trip to a bakery (Jan de Groot) to try something that looked like chocolate covered cream puffs. Locals call them chocolade bollen (chocolate balls) while visitors attach a form of the town name (Den Bosch) to them by calling them Bossche bollen.

Later, we went on a boat tour with Ivo, another volunteer from the water study group. This was a very cool history lesson once again. We went underneath the buildings and streets of the town and looked at the canals while hearing about things from old sewage pipes to trees and paintings. My favorite part was probably seeing the bat sculptures that they put up, even if it was for tourists (I fell into their trap!) and seeing the lily pads.

The actual last thing we did though was go to dinner at an Italian restaurant. Good reviews of the food all around, pizza was really good, pasta dishes were delicious. Then we went back to the hotel. 

Just to touch on it briefly, I was responsible for discussing the social sustainability pillar today. So, especially when discussing floods, I can recall back to the Ahr River and how it led to destruction of so much economically and the loss of so many community members for their residents, even if it did show the strength of community in that region. When we look at natural disasters like floods, we tend to focus on physical loss of life and property– but what of the loss of community and the disruption of a person’s mind from such events? Another thing that I observed was how the government and Water Advisory of ‘s-Hertogenbosch was intent on minimizing flooding and its effects (even the more conservative people still want to mitigate the risks for floods) and actually managed to get it done. In the US, it feels like we can’t ever accomplish large scale projects like the Dutch have, so it definitely piqued my interests. 

To my family and my three kitties, love you and miss you all!

Nijmegen and the Room for the River project  – by Carter 

June 4, 2024

After a somewhat messy first bike day, the second went much smoother. We had breakfast in the lobby at 7am and hit the road by 8 (after untangling the bike-lock-puzzle we had created the night before).

Carter giving the day's summary.

While yesterday was many people’s bike distance PR, today we went even further, as our destination was Nijmegen. Also, after realizing yesterday that a 14-person bike conga line was terribly inefficient, we split into two groups staggered 5 minutes apart. This allowed us to go the full 65 km in only a little over 5 hours, including stops and a quick ferry ride! I’m very proud of everyone and think we all did great! (Kris’ addition: I’m proud of everyone too!)

Bicyclists having a rest break.
Bicyclists having a rest break.
Bicyclists on a ferry.
Bicyclists on a ferry.
Bicyclists on a Dutch bike path.
Bicyclists at a rest stop near a windmill and little library.
Cows in the field.

Upon arriving to Nijmegen, we stopped at a cute ice cream and coffee shop so people could get their caffeine and sugar fill. I had a raspberry cone, while others dared to try the blue “Smurf” flavored cone. 

Ijs break.

After we had refilled our waters and finished our cones, our city employee/tour guide/expert, Maarten, arrived. 

The tour began with a conversation around a 400 year-old cannon.

Ancient canon discovered when room for the river project was in development.

Here we learned that the river we overlooked was actually engineered to prevent city flooding. (The river narrows as it enters a large bend at the city of Nijmegen. During flooding, its added power put the city of Nijmegen at risk as it is perched atop the outside bank of the river which was liable to erode away.)


He showed us maps explaining that the bottleneck dikes are used to protect Nijmegen as it is the most centrally used shipping lane in Europe.

Maarten shows the group the room for the river project at Nijmegen.

This model they use is ingenious because it’s a solution that only works when the river floods. When it does flood, the water flows over the river bank and into an engineered side channel designed to hold the extra water, creating an island in-between the side channel and original river. He then explained that the Room for the River is about 35 projects along the shore of several rivers in the Netherlands to ensure safety for country while also making the river look more attractive and increasing its spatial quality. 

After, we hopped back on the bikes (as if we hadn’t been on them enough already) and got a tour of the room for the river project in Nijmegen. We stopped at the path that gets flooded when the channel is needed, learning that later this week it probably will flood (due to the flooding in Germany happening now that will make its way downstream to Nijmegen). We also rode on multiple bridges designed for both cars and bikes.

Creatively designed bridge for pedestrians, cars and cyclists with homes for swallows and access for people to interact more with the water than a usual bridge.

We had lots of meaningful conversations about the ecology of the river banks, government funding for projects, social aspects of moving houses/people for river projects, three bridges designed by three separate groups of people, prediction of potential floods, and other informative topics. 

Maarten escorted us to our hotel. Then we cleaned up, went out to eat, did our journal entries (hopefully), and went to bed. Once again I’m so proud everyone, y’all killed it and y’all are gonna keep killing it. I’m very happy I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet everyone, and I can’t wait to do more riding and learning!  

I hope you have enjoyed (or at least tolerated) the day narrated by yours truly. I love you mom, dad, Greta, and Celeste, see you guys soon! 

First day of biking – by Bridget

June 3, 2024

Hello! What a Monday we had. We started off by having some lovely breakfast back at the hostel, preparing to begin our first long biking day! While originally we were supposed to visit a wastewater energy plant, the visit unfortunately had to be cancelled due to an emergency on site, not allowing us to visit. So, we had the day to take our time preparing and biking to Amersfoort. 

After breakfast we prepared our panniers, the bags that attach to our bikes to hold our clothes and items, and as we were packing ran into unfortunate news that the hostel would not hold our luggage for the time we were on the road. Luckily enough, however, the bike rental company was able to provide some room, but not for all fourteen of our suitcases. So, with some help from our smart minds (and engineering majors) we were able to compile fourteen suitcases into seven, allowing us to store the suitcases at the other location. This proved to be quite the team bonding event and was the highlight of multiple of our days.

After some more transporting of luggage and whatnot, the biking began! We left Amsterdam and began the 54km trek to Amersfoort. 

The trip started off great, with sightings of sheep right off the bike path, which was an exciting sight to see for us all. 

While the couple of hours of biking proved to be a bit challenging as the group got used to biking together for the first time, in the end we did a great job.

The countryside we biked through was beautiful, and the burgers we ate at the end were highly earned. Ready to bike & learn more tomorrow!