It didn’t involve anything illegal but it did involve being picked up from our Amsterdam hotel at 2pm and windmills, cheese, eels, cocoa and clogs.
When I was at school, way back in the 1960s, the school atlas showed Holland with an enormous great bay called the Zuiderzee extending about 100km into the country. In truth the Zuiderzee’s entrance to the North Sea had been dammed off back in 1932 to form a freshwater lake called the Ijsselmeer, which just goes to show how old my school atlas was. Mind you my father’s school atlas (which I still have) from the 1940s, still showed half of Oklahoma as the Indian Territories!
Zaansee Schans is on the coast of this former inland sea and the reclaimed land around the town is famous for it’s lush grass which is the starting point for some really good cheese. Naturally our first stop on our excursion out of Amsterdam was a traditional cheese factory, complete with windmills and wandering sheep. Stepping off the bus though the first thing you notice is the overwhelming smell of chocolate. This is from the cocoa mills further up the coast. Incidentally it was a Dutchman, Coenraad Johannes van Houten who first discovered how to make cocoa powder in 1828.
At the cheese factory a young lady in traditional costume gave us a demonstration of how the cheese is traditionally made, including the pressing into traditional “plastic” cheese moulds. After that we enjoyed the opportunity to wolf down as many free samples of the tiny shavings of the cheeses on offer in the shop as we could , since the produce on sale was extremely expensive. Cheesed out we stepped outside to enjoy the windmills which in this locality were mostly used to pump ground water out of the reclaimed land and into the sea, except that these windmills and other traditional buildings have been brought here from all over Holland and include mustard, dye, oil and sawmills. Each windmill charges an entrance fee of about €1.50.
Back on the coach our next stop was Volendam. Now a lot of fuss had been made about how the local people in this former fishing village wear local traditional dress and how we would be taken to a local restaurant for the best fish and chip lunch in Holland (though not included in excursion price), even though it was by then mid-afternoon. On arrival the town was enjoying a local festival and every restaurant and pub on the front was packed with drunken revelers, not a clog in site.
I thought Volendam was rather like a British seaside town, similar to say Walton-on-the-Naze. There was even a seafood stall with smoked eels.
Given that by then it was about four in the afternoon and that we had lunch before being picked up,we declined the offer of fish and chips and made do with a couple of beers and some bitterbalen ( beer €2.40 half pint, bitterbalen €4.60),
in Le Pompadour Restaurant (Hotel Old Dutch, Haven 142, Volendam) on the front, before boarding the ferry to what used to be the island of Marken.
The trip across the IJssselmeer took about an hour and since the weather was so good we sat on the open deck enjoying the sunshine and more beer.
Marken, like Volendam used to be a fishing village. The damming of the Zuiderzee changed all that, now the fishermen are gone so the pretty little green and black clapperboard houses are mostly home to workers from Amsterdam and the local tourist industry. Speaking of which our final stop was a clog factory where we discovered how the traditional wooden shoes were made on a traditional modern pattern lathe.
Our return journey to Amsterdam took us across the dyke which now joins Marken to the Dutch mainland getting back to Amsterdam Centraal Station by about 6.30pm. All in all a fun afternoon out despite the odd ideas about having lunch in the mid afternoon.
Our excursion cost €34 from Tours and Tickets http://www.tours-tickets.com/home and included a free transfer from our hotel.