Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Windmills, Clogs, and Cows
When thinking of the Netherlands, many people conjure up images of a small country filled with windmills, wooden shoes, and tulips. While there are lots of traditional windmills, and you can see people wearing clogs (mostly farmers), the truth is that modern Netherlands is not typically like this. Still, symbols of this history can be found all around the country, and particularly for the enjoyment of visiting tourists.
Just as the USA is not only New York City, and Canada is more than just Toronto, the Netherlands is much more than Amsterdam. Leave the Red Light District, the coffee shops, and the hustle and bustle behind, and head to Zaanse Schans, a beautiful respite from city life.
Zaanse Schans is located 10km north of Amsterdam, and is a historic village with windmills, exhibitions, and plentiful Dutch countryside. The homes are all dark green wood with white trim, and there are 6 working windmills along the Zaan river. We went inside a mill that makes pigments for paints, and had fun climbing to the outer deck while the sails spun strongly in the North Sea breeze.
We also visited the Dutch costume museum and the clog museum. There were plenty of opportunities to stand in over-sized clogs and take pictures, as well as eat lots of ice cream from the many vendors. My favourite part of the day was sitting near a small canal, watching the windmills spin in unison, and see tiny baby ducks floating by. Absolutely beautiful!
To visit Zaanse Schans, take the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Koog-Zandijk (a 17 minute ride). Once off the train, it is a well-marked walk to Zannse Schans (just look for the signs with the windmills!) Since a main bridge is undergoing construction, we had to take a ferry across the Zaan, accompanied by many bicycles and pedestrians. Admission to the village is free, although to enter any of the mini-museums (like a historical Albert Heijn) there is a cost of around 1-3 euros. I was able to use my Museumkaart at a few places for free entry.
Although Zaanse Schans may be very busy on weekends, if you visit during the week, it will be less-packed with tour buses, and most exhibits will be easily accessible. It was fun getting close to the Dutch farmland that we often just zip by in the car. It definitely was a taste of traditional Dutch country life :)