Bike Wheels and Windmills

Windmills are a major part of the landscape here in The Netherlands. When I was flying into Schiphol for miles and miles the water was dotted with wind turbines. A technology that has existed for a long time here. Beginning with the traditional windmills that were actually used to pump water out of the farm land back to the river beyond the dykes. Windmills can be found across The Netherlands but the community of Zaanse Schans is the most popular. Zaanse Schans, where many people visit the windmills today, is actually a collection of windmills and old buildings from across The Netherlands. Many of them now house workshops, antique shops, and sweets shops.

Going to see the windmills in Zaanse Schans is not for the faint-hearted. Getting to them is an adventure itself. Bridget and I began the day by biking across the part of Amsterdam most people know about, the side south of IJ to Centraal Station. IJ is similar to a river but technically a body of water. From Centraal Station we hopped on a free ferry to the other side of Amsterdam, called Amsterdam-Noord.

Amsterdam-Noord is an artsy place and former shipyard, called NDSM Wharf. Many of the places directly on the water and built in old shipping containers. They have art studios, offices, restaurants, apartments, and hotels built right in the old shipyard. Many music and arts festivals are also hosted there. We grabbed lunch after biking across Amsterdam at a restaurant called Pllek Noord. This restaurant had the best food I’ve ever ate and had the best atmosphere, big and open with tables and couches for people to sit and hangout. Plus the food was much cheaper than places in Amsterdam Center. I got a mackerel sandwich and the very Dutch “mint tea.” Here the mint tea is made by boiling water and placing several branches of mint leaves in the cup with some honey. This is my new favorite way to have “tea.” We finished the lunch of with a slice of raw chocolate-banana-almond cake and were ready to take on the long 15km bike ride ahead of us.

The ride out to the windmills, though long, is beautiful. Once out of the shipyard of Amsterdam Noord you are instantly in small Dutch neighborhoods. The bike path goes through a few small communities and then brings you through farm lands. As we cycled we saw goats, cows, chickens, sheep, horses, other cyclists, and many dogs running alongside their owners. As we got closer the smell of chocolate intensified. We felt like we were in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When we arrived our mouths were watering and we began asking everyone where we could get some of this amazing smelling chocolate. (It was a very chocolatey day.) Turns out there is a chocolate factory but they don’t sell it there! We were disappointed for a moment but quickly found a pastry shop and chocolate shop where we satisfied our cravings.

Also in Zaanse Schans is a wooden shoe factory. It was perfect timing when we walked in, one of the workers was just starting a demonstration. The whole process is amazing, the tricks and technology they use are quite interesting. The shoe begins as a wet block of Poplar wood which is then carved roughly with a knife attached to a work bench. The shoe is then placed in a machine with a pre-carved shoe opposite. The saw then follows the pattern of the other shoe to carve the outside. The inside is then hollowed out by hand. Because the shoe started as a wet block of wood, when the shoe was completely carved, the craftsman blew into the shoe and water squirted everywhere! The shoes then are dried for several weeks which results in them becoming water-proof and so strong, I think this is the coolest part about the shoes, that they can be run over by a car and not break! Due to this fact many of the workers in the area wear wooden shoes to protect their feet, I even saw several men wearing them while biking.

The shoes are used for many traditional celebrations, mostly they are painted as church shoes or for other occasions. In a nearby village callen Marken, when men would propose to women they would carve them exquisite clogs to be worn as a symbol of their engagement. The clogs would have symbols of love and family, along with the bride’s initials and wedding date carved into them.

We walked along the windmills and admired the sun beginning to set behind them. You can pay to go up the steps of the windmills to view the community of Zaanse Schans but it was also beautiful enough not doing that. We then biked back to the city another 15km, this time much quicker though because the wind was behind us.


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