We arrived in Amsterdam early this morning. People were cycling on the bike paths alongside the river bank and there was a good deal of traffic on the water. Optional tours from the ship included a walking tour of the city, a canal cruise, a cycling tour or a bus trip to Zaanse Schans to visit an outdoor museum featuring operational windmills. We chose the latter.
It was immediately obvious that people like to ride cycles in this city, where marked bike paths are a ‘no go zone’ for pedestrians. Not far from where our ship was docked we passed innovative student housing apartment blocks made from used shipping containers.
We didn’t have to travel too far to reach our destination, but even on the short trip we we were able to get away from the city and out into the fields. We drove through farmland criss-crossed by canals. As much of this part of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the Dutch created a system of dykes, canals and barrages to manage the water. It has created extra work for farmers here who must inspect the canals every day and rescue any of their cows that have fallen in.
Zaanse Schans is a working outdoor museum that provides tourists with a glimpse of some of the traditions of Holland from yesteryear. We visited a working paint mill, De Kat, and were fortunate to do so on a windy way. The windmill’s sails were turning, and in turn driving the massive cog wheel mechanism that caused the huge stone wheels inside the mill to roll around in a circular motion, crushing the materials used to make paint as they moved. If there was no wind today, the sails would not have turned and the mill would have been at a standstill. We were able to climb ladders inside the windmill to view some of its workings at close hand. It was quite remarkable to learn that this mill was built in 1782 and little has changed in the technology in use here since that time.
Next stop was a wooden clog factory. The clogs are fashioned out of poplar wood while it is still green and holds a lot of water, making the wood very easy to shape. After a drying period they are ready to wear, though of course, few Dutch people wear them today.
A short distance away, we stopped at Edam, famous for the cheese which is no longer made there. A short walking tour gave us an opportunity to have a close look at Dutch building styles of the past. It was interesting to note that this was a Protestant town, and the Catholics lived right across the road in a neighbouring town. We were told that the people of Edam never drew the curtains because the bishop had ordered them to leave them open so he could walk through the town and observe the people living wholesome lives inside their houses.