Windmills of Zannse Schans

OFF TRACK

Windmills of Zannse Schans

The windmills of Holland have always stood as a symbol of this exciting country and naturally when a visit to Amsterdam was planned it was more for an excursion to the villages with windmills rather than the city beats. From De Pinte in Belgium I set off one Saturday morning to the amorous city of Amsterdam.

It was a sunny afternoon as I came out of the central station and headed straight into the tourist office. Collecting a city map and armed with a daypass for the trams, which incidentally is the best way to go around here, if not on bicycles, I traced my way to the Flying Pig hostel, one of the many inexpensive B&Bs. At just 16 Euros for a bed & breakfast plus a locker it could not have been more alluring for a backpacker on a budget.

Walking tour

Keeping the more interesting excursion to windmills for the morrow I planned my own walking tour of sorts. The city with a labyrinth of canals and a multitude of  bridges was bustling with numerous cyclists, pedestrians, trams and vehicles. Still nothing seemed out of place. Crossing one of the bridges I came to the Oude Kerk (the old church). The structure built in a Roman  style in 1880 has survived a few infernos as well as religious clashes.

This locality is called the Redlight district and it indeed is a red light area where pimps and drug peddlers haunt. The buildings also have the famed red lit windows with barely clad women. In ancient times when sailors came ashore the women used to entice them with red lanterns and the tradition has continued to this day albeit in a modern version. Today, the Dutch people are tolerant to this attitude and do not mind the openness.

The street leading southwards passed by rows of shops for souvenirs, bars and the infamous coffeeshops. By the way a coffeeshop in Amsterdam does not offer the beverage but deals in grass and marijuana! Having been warned of this, I kept clear of them and opted for a coffeehouse for a cup of the brew.

Walking further down I reached the Dam square, the central place with a few monuments flocked by tourists. Here are some important sights like the Royal Palace though the Royalty does not stay here anymore. Immediately to its side is the Nieuw  Kerk (the new church), a Parish church with tall attractive spires.

On the other side of Dam square is the National Monument, a tall pillar built in honour of martyrs and decorated with urns. On the southern side are the  Madame Tussauds wax museum (similar to the one in London) and a showroom for diamond jewellery.

I gave a go by to both and chose to visit instead the Anne Frank Huis a few streets away. During the Nazi attack in 1942, a group of eight Jews hid in this house and lived for two years incognito. Anne Frank, a young girl of 12, who had an ambition to become a writer, scribbled in a diary the events of each day for two years, which was later published as The Diary of Anne Frank.

Museumsplein is an area where most of the famous museums of Amsterdam are located. The Rijks Museum whose appearance itself is artistic has many paintings of famous artistes like Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The next morning I was all geared up to visit the windmills. Though package tours with multiple sights were available, I preferred to go independently to spend enough time without being hurried upon. Boarding a train towards Alkmaar, north of Amsterdam, I reached the station of Koog-Zaandijk. I joined a small group of tourists walking to the village by Zaanse Schans river. I did not have to ask anyone to know about the chocolate factory on the right as its fragrant flavour filled the air. As I walked the long bridge over the Zaanse river a series of windmills came into view  at once.

The view of the river from the bridge is fantastic with colourful cottages and boats on the left and the picturesque windmills on the other side. At the end of the bridge I followed the narrow path dotted with shops selling souvenirs, cheese and shoes. Being a land beneath the sea, Netherlands gets a good sea breeze all the time and this must have been the reason for erecting so many windmills. It is said that once upon a time there were about 1000 windmills here.

Now we can see quite a few. Zaanse Schans was developed as a replica village by actually translocating some of the houses and windmills which is why it is called an open air museum. Each of them has a name and also a specific purpose. Still working they are used to produce oil, cheese, paints and dyes.

Stepping into one of them I climbed up the squeaking ladder to see how it worked. A gentle stroll along the river bank lined with the lovely windmills was a delightful experience. Though most visitors bought cheese, I picked up a miniature windmill to carry home the sweet memories of my visit to Zaanse Schans.

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