Friday, January 19, 2007

After the Storm

What a 30-minute to an hour (during peak hours traffic) drive between Amsterdam and Utrecht, took me almost 4 hours yesterday!

The news headlines hugging local TV and the internet: The Dutch NS train went flat. Only short distances trains, trams and buses were functioning in many municipalities, and all intercity trains didn’t ride. Due to flying objects and trees that have fallen across the tracks, risking a train ride would be too dangerous. Thousands of stranded and harassed passengers all over the Netherlands were homeless for a night.

About 1500 stranded passengers in Utrecht Centraal alone were housed in Jaarbeurs exhibition center. Fortunately, their temporary home is just an easy walk right across the train station. Food was served and beds were provided by Utrecht municipality. The trains resumed service the next day early morning.

A new car in Zwolle, er --- it is not anymore new, foto by Martijn Kleingeerts. And a truck that lost its balance in Mijdrecht, foto by Edwin Glaser. Both pictures were posted at lezersfoto (readers foto).

The strong winds lashing at 130 kilometers per hour left almost 200 million euros in insurance damages and 7 casualties in the Netherlands - I think around 40 deaths all over Western Europe.

On other news, roads and highways were a huge mess. The infamous A2 highway, which is my usual and only route to and fro home and work, was shut down. News reports said that some of the aluminum noise barriers between Abcoude and Vinkeveen were seen flying across the highway, which is the reason why traffic officials closed the area. Considering that the A2 is the busiest highway in the Netherlands, you can just imagine the chaos this decision has brought upon between Amsterdam and Utrecht.

Example: I left work at 3:30PM and got home 7:20PM. (I could have arrived home later to midnight if I did not manage to arrange an impromptu detour!)

About two thirds of driving time lost was spent queuing up in the hopeless overflowing with cars A2 which was diverted to A9. So when I had the chance to exit A2 before my traffic chain sets foot in A9 with no choice but to follow a bumper-to-bumper ride, I did, and retraced my steps back to Amsterdam. My ultimate goal was to get out of the nightmarish A2 and gamble with another route. I know; the smarty pants me, lol.

Traffic officials have sent all A2 road users via the A9 to Amersfoort which is about 50 kilometers from Amsterdam to the east. From Amersfoort is another 30 kilometers to Utrecht. Looking at the traffic mayhem, it would be utterly crazy to follow the Amersfoort route to Utrecht. I am sure I would be home by 10PM, if not midnight. No freaking way.

The red strips are the main Dutch highways. The A2 highway is the red strip on the left side from Amsterdam on top down to Utrecht in the center --- this was closed yesterday as traffic was diverted through Amersfoort - towards the east. The black oblong drawing on the left side is my secret route last night. I drove between the little villages and fields.

This is by the way the provincial map of Utrecht. And this may be of interest to you, Utrecht (the city) is the capital of Utrecht (the province) - yes the city and province have the same name.

Thus when the open opportunity came, I exited near Ouderkerk a/d Amstel and followed the road towards the regional municipalities of De Ronde Venen and Woerden; from Mijdrecht to Waverween to Wilnis to Kamerik to Woerden to Harmelen and De Meern...

During the drive, the unforgiving wind almost lifted up the car from the ground. I know. Quite scary. If you saw the trucks that skirted off the road, you will understand why. I was thankful that not a single debris fell in front of me or on top of the windshield.

Nevertheless, trying my best to concentrate steadily on the dark narrow winding dike road before me (here is an example how narrow this road is: you have to pullover to the side when another car approaches from the other side of the road!), making sure my grip on the steering wheel is tight enough to fight the ferocious gusts of wind outside, and peeling my way through the slanting rain, realization dawned on me that being lost in strange unknown and somewhat deserted places during a storm with a mobile phone network out is not really fun at all. Plus, under the same circumstance, I was following an off-the-beaten-track road where there were no lights, very little reflectors on the road, and the recommended speed was 35 kilometers per hour.

Or perhaps I should rejoice? Just parallel away from the road I was driving on and across the water, is a long queue of red tail lights, village to village. I wondered - when will my lonely trail meet up with the busy traffic on the other side?

All in all, it was an interesting driving adventure. Not knowing where the dark and narrow road leads me to totally wrack my nerves. At the same time, it was very refreshing not to sit in the traffic jam with everyone, and realizing in the end that I actually took the right and fastest route! Damn, ha-ha - Woohoo! *pats my back*

Out of the almost 4 hours drive last night, it took me only an hour to muscle through and between the villages from Amsterdam to Utrecht. Many people I believe came home after a 6 to 8 hour ordeal with the traffic. Well, at least individuals with cars were able to get home --- unlike the train travelers, they were stuck. My only regret: The route I took would have been best during the day, where I could enjoy the beautiful scenery.

I was dead tired when I got home, but I need to cook and serve dinner – I never trust the Dutchman in the kitchen! After dinner, I dropped on the couch. ZZZ...

PS - During the storm, the Dutchman reported a horrific encounter with a door. A door flew over his head!!! *shock* Poor he is now nursing a blue pinkie. At least that was all of it that got derailed. Gek, he?

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