Cruise Port: Amsterdam

Cheese, Clogs and Windmills

Because we had previously spent time exploring Amsterdam and its amazing network of canals, when we made a cruise port stopover at Amsterdam we elected for a tour to the nearby countryside in search of cheese, clogs and windmills.

After just 10 minutes of driving you are out of the city and into farmland seeing cows, canals and dykes. Less than 30 minutes from Amsterdam is Zaanse Schans once a thriving industrial area of Holland. It dates back to the 17th century when the invention of the “universal joint” made it possible to translate horizontal wind into a vertical drive shaft.

The Dutch promptly combined the concept with wind power to establish industry on a large scale – long before the industrial revolution. Windmills cut timber to build up to 150 ships a year leading to the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company. The windmills continued to generate huge wealth for Holland until the steam engine was introduced and the real industrial revolution loomed.

Where Zaanse Schans was once home to 650-700 commercial windmills, today only 5 or 6 remain. The one we visited grinds limestone and creates pigments for oil paint of the same type used by Rembrant, that has been proven to survive 350 years (compared to around 50 years for contemporary pigments).

After looking at a working windmill in what is essentially an outdoor museum, our tour visited a cheese factory for a presentation and free tastings and then moved to a clog factory. Wooden shoes are not unique to the Dutch. Many cultures have them. The Hollanders simply painted them yellow for marketing and called them “clogs”. A local admitted that the Dutch actually haven’t created much at all. Even the tulips were stolen from Turkey. Admittedly improved by the Dutch, but they didn’t originate in The Netherlands.

The final stop on our half-day tour was at the small town of Edam – the home of the famous cheese market. Being Sunday, the cheese market was closed. However, it was also boxed in with carnival rides and sideshows as our visit coincide with a special festival. Nevertheless, it was still interesting to see life in a smaller Dutch town and it was a good finish to our quest for cheese, clogs and windmills.

A word of caution to travellers…

When our ship docked in Amsterdam that morning, we stood on our verandah and tasted the balmy weather and declared short sleeves and no coats or umbrellas required. We forgot that the weather can change quickly and radically in Amsterdam! An hour later we were grateful that Jill had a couple of disposable ponchos in her pack. Try to avoid our mistake when you visit.