Walking into the stereotype

Kinderdijk, Zaanse schans, Keukenhof, Volendam. These are just a few of the places in The Netherlands that get bus loads of tourists each day, but which I haven’t seen. While I was having dinner with my friends I mentioned I really wanted to see some classic Dutch hot spots, starting with the Zaanse Schans. One of my friends asked me later when I was planning to go and soon a plan was made. So I met up with her in Haarlem and from there we started driving through the province of Noord-Holland.

img_4541Where I am from we don’t get many tourists. The tourists we do get are other Dutch or maybe some Germans. We do have the typical Dutch windmills, but many are only open to the public once or twice a year or aren’t operational at all. Now, there are over 1100 windmills spread out over The Netherlands, but there used to be many more. Windmills were used to saw wood, to make paper, to grind stones, to pump water out of an area and for many more things. The Zaanstreek area, just above Amsterdam, used to have a massive industrial area consisting of windmills. A few of them are still standing and now serve to demonstrate what life was like in the Golden age, when this area had about 600 windmills.

From Haarlem we drove via Amsterdam and Assendelft to the Zaanse Schans. This is the polder, an area that is well underneath sea level. A short drive out of the city brings you into the farm land. There are big meadows that are separated by water. Some of the houses even have a little bridge to get to their driveway. There are lots of cute, little towns where old, traditional houses are mixed with big new buildings. Along the river Zaan is the Zaanse Schans. From the bridge leading towards the area you get an amazing view of the river and the windmills. There is a cacoa smell in the air. The windmills have been replaced by big factories that still transport their goods on the river.

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It’s November so the Zaanse Schans is pretty quiet. There are still plenty of people, but you can enjoy a walk around and enter the buildings without it being crowded. I can only imagine what it must be like in the summer months. It seems like every single person has a camera around their neck and so have I. This is probably one of the most scenic places in the country. Even the weather is Dutch today; dark clouds hang above us, but the sun still comes through. The fields are green with here and there a sheep. The houses and mills are old fashioned and mostly kept the way they used to be.

We pass the old Albert Heijn, a supermarket chain, but it is only open on the weekends. There is also a cheese farm, a mill with lots of spices and of course the maker of the wooden shoes. A lot of wooden shoes are on display, from the simple classic model to shoes used in weddings. I feel like I am walking through a Dutch stereotype. This is what people think I live in, but it is entertaining and educational for me too. I’ve never worn wooden shoes or traditional clothes and even I pay to have a look in the windmill. We visit windmill De Kat, where the wicks are moving. It is a windy day. Inside the mill it smells like chalk. They are grinding something which will eventually become chalk or paint. When we stand on the top level we feel the vibrations of the mill at work.

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We get back on the road and take the scenic route to Volendam. We pass through Middenbeemster, which looks incredibly cute. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of time left before dark so we keep going and admire it from the car. We pass another few windmills and arrive in Volendam, probably the most famous of the typical Dutch towns. The town is next to the Markermeer, so the main street is along the water. You can take a boat trip or just stroll through town and hang out in one of the many pubs. But we have something else in mind. We soon find the fish stand and get a massive portion of Kibbeling, little pieces of breaded codfish, and eat it looking out over the water. I had such a fun day immersing myself in Dutch culture. Especially the Zaanse Schans was a lot of fun to see. If you’re ever in Amsterdam and want to get out of the city, or have some more time there, consider taking a bus to the Zaanse Schans. Amsterdam is Dutch, but this is where all the typical Dutch images come from.

 

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