Thursday, August 24, 2023

Windmills, Cheese and Clogs in The Nehterlands


Halfway through my one-week stay in Amsterdam, I decided to take a little road trip. I went to Viator, one of my favorite websites for finding tours when I am on vacation, and found a one-day bus tour of the area around Amsterdam. The tour promised windmills, cheese and clogs. So early in the morning (8:00 AM) I found myself near Central Station, boarding a bus with 40 or so half asleep people.


Our first stop was at Zaanse Schans -The Dutch Windmill Village. From 1964 through 1971, old buildings and windmills from the surrounding area were loaded on to trucks and relocated to the Zaanse Schans neighborhood Zaandam, about 20 km (12 miles) from Amsterdam. The buildings were turned into a historic park, where traditional skills and crafts are demonstrated, and souvenirs are sold.

The highlight of the park are the eight windmills that line the Zaan River. Fun note - You might have noticed that the town of Zaandam sits on the Zaan river. In fact it is at the site of a dam that was built across the river to control flooding, and allow for land reclamation. Every city or town in the Netherlands that ends in -dam is built at a similar spot; Amsterdam on the Amstel river, Edam on the E river, Rotterdam on the Rotte river, etc. Anyway, The Zaan river is now home to eight lovely windmills, which are open to the public to explore. These served several different roles historically, sawmills, oil mills and even a mustard mill.


Edam is a small town on the E (Ije) river. In 1230 CE a dam was built across the river at this spot. The presence of the dam required that goods being transported along the river had to be unloaded and shifted to a new boat. This allowed the town to levy a tax on all of the freight that passed through. 

Edam is best known for the cheese produced by local dairy farmers. From 1562 through1924 a weekly cheese market was held in town. Farmers would send their cheese by boat, to the town, where they would be unloaded and carried to the market on a cheese sledge. At the market, quality was judged and buyers and sellers would haggle, before coming upon a mutually accepted price. The merchants would then take the cheese, and store it for aging, until it reached the optimal taste.

Simonehoeve Cheese Making Kaserei

Our third stop was at one of the touristy places that can be found throughout this part of The Netherlands selling cheese and clogs. These shops can be really bad, so I was pleasantly surprised by Simonehoeve. The staff has their schtick down pat. It started with a talk given by a “farmers wife” about the process for making Edam cheese. She was very funny and informative. This was followed by a demonstration of modern clog making. The shop offered wide variety of clogs for sale, some very highly decorated, and in sizes from adult, to child, to key-chain size. There was also a great spread of cheeses to try in many flavors. My favorite was the truffle cheese.


After a very busy morning, it was time for lunch. We were taken to the waterfront of Volendam. Volendam sits on the shore of the Markermeer, a large fresh-water lake that was created as part of the Dutch land reclamation plan in the 1970s. A dam was built closing off the southern end of IJsselmeer, a large inlet of the North Sea. This left IJsselmeer as salt water, and allowed Markermeer to become fresh water. However, in the 1980s, it was decided that the cost of the land reclamation was too high, and so the lake was maintained as an ecological and recreational resource.

The dike in Volendam has been developed with many restaurants and tourist shops. I chose to eat at Lunchroom de Koe. Built in 1922, this restaurant is wood paneled, and, most importantly, serves an excellent chicken schnitzel, served with potatoes and salad.


Marken is a small fishing village on the Marker River. It is known for being one of the last bastions of traditional Dutch fishing culture. Its houses are built to survive the flooding that happened in the area, with brick/cement bases, and then wooden structures on top.

Finally, it was back to Amsterdam. Some of us opted for a canal boat tour, others took the ferry back to the center of the city. All of us had enjoyed our day in the country. 


No comments:

Post a Comment