27.05.2013 - 27.05.2013 18 °C
We ventured out today to see all things Dutch and in the end can say we have experienced it as well.
In the Netherlands, they like to make it easy for even the laziest tourist to view and experience many of the iconic Dutch structures, crafts, products, foods and scenes in just one location. I would not characterize ourselves as the impatient or lazy tourist sort, we are travelling for nine months after all and that takes more patience and work then you might imagine. We generally steer clear of “manufactured” tourist sites but the Zaanse Schans was recommended by a relative and when we did an image search on the Internet the windmill scene caught our fancy.
With traditional houses, windmills, warehouses and workshops, the Zaanse Schans offers a preserved glimpse of what it was like to live in the Zaan area of the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the time, the Zaan was an important industrial region and the hundreds of windmills there helped produce linseed oil, paint, snuff, mustard, paper and more. Most of the buildings have been re-located from other areas in the Zaanstreek in the 1960’s and 70’s as a result of urban development that threatened to demolish them. Many of the houses are now museums, shops or demonstration areas for traditional crafts, while others are still private residences.
Zaanse Schans is a popular destination as it is a short jaunt from Amsterdam. We have visited a number of open air or living museums in the past half year but this features a uniquely Dutch approach to heritage. The site buildings are in such immaculate shape it is hard to believe that many of them are over 300 years old. Every building has been scrubbed and painted to the level of perfection that we rarely see in new construction in North America, let alone in historical sites. Aside from the well groomed grounds and polished buildings, the site has all the amenities and comforts that any tourist could think of. The whole place offers countless photo opportunities and you can walk the grounds for free. It was a sunny day and we were more than game for the scenery. Although the site was busy by our measure (we have been travelling off season up to this point), the parking lot showed that twice as many people can be found here on other days.
After a couple of hours of walking and snapping photos, we did finally venture into a tiny shop. The woman who ran it, was a fourth generation pewter smith, and the wares in the shop were made by her family. She did some pewter casting right on the premises. Some of the brass casting moulds she used were over four hundred years old. She doesn’t cast very many of the larger pieces from the golden age of pewterware since tourist are more apt to balk at the price and cannot accommodate the size and heft in their luggage. She now makes more scaled down pieces. To achieve the sooty grey look of antique pewter she hastens along the oxidation process (it takes at least 30 years for it so set in naturally) by dipping the final product in an acid bath. We would have loved to get an antique piece of pewter but found some of the pieces in the shop quite attractive and relatively affordable so we ended up buying a two thirds scale “Rembrandt Can,” the kind of water pitcher you see featured in his paintings. The pitcher purchase is a significant breech of our small or no souvenir policy. Up to now we have restricted ourselves to collecting pins for our travel mascot (Moe the Moose), a fridge magnets for each country (yes, we know that’s pretty kitchy) and thousands of photographs and countless memories. We will see who ends up with the challenge of having to find a space for it in their pack.
After Zaanse Schans we dropped off the kids at home and Muriel and I went to picturesque Haarlem for the afternoon. As we approached the historic centre of town we drove past a university. We were astounded by the amount of parked bicycles. There were thousands, and many were either parked vertically or stacked on two levels to save space. At a glance, the front of one building looked like a tidal wave had swept thousands of bicycles upon its doorstep. In Haarlem, as with many other Dutch cities, the bicycle is the primary mode of transportation.
The Dutch bicycle is all practicality and functionality. There are no glitzy bikes for in town use, lest it be stolen. Bikes for families are common. There are a quite a few bikes that have a wheelbarrow type middle where a couple of youngsters can sit or bags of groceries be placed. Such bikes may also have an additional seat behind the cyclist where another youngster can sit.
Muriel and I spent a few hours wandering along the canals and through the historic Grotmarket. I enjoyed watching the boating traffic in the canals and the wide variety of swing and draw bridges that were constantly moving in and out of position like a well choreographed dance that allowed equal sway to both the boat and automobile. During our stroll we were also wafted with the fragrance of cannabis shops which may have contributed to the laid back atmosphere we experienced on the streets. With the sun shining so brilliantly, few people were in the shops, most were soaking up some sun at a sidewalk table sipping a glass of beer or wine. Those who weren’t lounging were cruising the canals, or biking leisurely, or contently sauntering along the walkways near the canals.
Inspired by our visit to Haarlem, when I got home I donned shorts and a t-shirt and sat on the bench in front of our house overlooking the canal to enjoy a cold glass of beer. The day ended scrumptiously, with Abby preparing a Dutch Indonesian dinner topped off with pastries we bought in the Saturday market in a square in Bodegraven. By the time evening rolled around, I felt I had achieved an even better understanding of the Dutch word Gezelligheid.