Hidden Shortcuts

I’ve always had a thing for locks.  

No, not that kind. This kind:

Holland, a country 1/3 of which is below sea level, has a great deal of them, from the massive, to the tiny, but this one’s my favourite:

It links the city and the IJ river to the IJsselmeer, a large inland sea that used to be open ocean, before a dike was built across it in the 1930s. Some say the IJsselmeer alone is responsible for that famous Dutch light of 17th century paintings – so much water in the middle of a country bouncing off the bottoms of thick, ever-present clouds changes the quality of daylight for the better, reflecting it back down (though as the Dutch fill in the IJsselmeer to create more land for an increasing population, that light is becoming a thing of the past).

I used to have a studio in northern Amsterdam, and instead of taking the ferry across the river from behind Centraal Station, I’d take the longer (though quite pleasant) way to get there, over two big bridges,

then passing through a village of row houses along the river, whose residents seemed to be perpetually socializing outside their homes with cups of coffee or glasses of wine. No traffic could be heard – it was a peaceful place.

But the bridges, which are links to the ring road, were not. And then one day, I decided to carry my bike down the stairs of one of the bridges

and investigate the road that runs underneath.

I cycled through a kind of trailer park, alongside the shipping canal,

and finally came to the first lock, the one for the big boys.

Once you cross that, you get to a series of three smaller (almost comically small) ones – for leisurecraft and small sailboats.

There’s a delightful zigzag pattern to the whole thing, and you get spit out in that peaceful village.

So why would you ever take the bridges? Even if the locks are open and your trip is delayed by as much time as it’s already taken you to get there, it’s still a lovelier ride via the locks.

I take that route as often as I can now. It was foiled last week, due to repair, and I reluctantly returned to the bridge route.  But hey, it was at least a year before I discovered that the locks were not just a point of interest, but a through-route.

And until then, the bridges had served me well.

You can’t miss what you don’t know.