On Friday, I was fortunate enough to join other members of my philosophy department for their annual departmental outing. So, instead of going to work, we all met at the train station in Oldenzaal, which is a little town just northeast of Hengelo – about a ten minute train ride away. We walked to the middle of town to a bike rental store and we all picked out our fiets (bicycles) for a fietsrijdt through the countryside. On the way out of Oldenzaal, we passed by an enormous 13th century church and several quaint homes before encountering the steepest hills I have seen yet in this country (still very mild by Colorado standards).
Our group of about 15 philosophers toured through the Dutch country side, occasionally getting lost, but mostly just enjoying the scenery and discussions about hermeneutics or the philosophy of religion or some other obscure topic that we all enjoy thinking about. It was a great chance for me to get to know my colleagues better and to get to meet some people that work in our department on only a part-time basis whom I had not met yet. We biked along sun-dappled wooded lanes and through fields of corn and hay. The countryside was dotted with typical Dutch buildings and farm houses and black and white cows.
Our destination was Singraven, which is not a town, but rather an old manor that used to be owned by a long line of wealthy families. We ate lunch in a beautiful and slightly upscale restaurant that specializes in pancakes. I had a spekpannekoeken (bacon pancake), which was lekker.
The restaurant, however, was just the appetizer for the main course: the mill. After eating, we went next door to a saw and grain mill that dates from 1484. This pre-Columbian mill is still functional, and our department got a full tour from a strong and witty old Dutchman who showed us how the whole thing worked. He engaged the saw mill and cut through a giant log with five blades running in parallel to make wooden planks. He then engaged the grain mill and we actually got to taste the flour that sifted through to the bottom floor where it is collected and used locally – even in the restaurant that we ate at.
It was a real treat to visit such an old technological system with a bunch of philosophers of technology. I know for me that every time I see technological devices that predate the widespread use of fossil fuels (and even steel in this case), it really throws into sharp relief the kind of world we live in today and the kinds of artifacts and socio-technical systems that we take for granted.
We then toured the old mansion and learned all about the pottery and tapestries and stuff, which I thought got a bit tedious. After that, we biked back to Oldenzaal and caught a train back to Hengelo. There, we met up with other members of the department and some of their spouses (Amber did not go on the bike ride on account of a West Nile relapse, but she felt well enough to join us for dinner). The restaurant at the Hotel 'tLansink was quite ritzy and it was a real treat to have an upscale dining experience, even though neither Amber or I liked the food that the group had picked out (Mackerel tastes too fishy for us…but they did have a delicious apple pie for dessert). Amber then biked home and I got a ride from one of my fellow philosophers. All in all it was a priceless experience.