Any place you go to, anywhere in the world, there is always a symbolic identity that is associated with it, which is also the very basis of its history, culture, or tradition. When you think of the Netherlands, there are tulips and canals, bicycles and stroopwafels, and then there are the quintessential windmills. So where do we head to when we want to see the famous classic Dutch windmills? We head to Zaanse Schans. In less than an hour from the central station of Amsterdam, you can arrive at the station of Koog Zaandijk, from where on you take a pleasant walk to the village of Zaanse Schans.
As you exit the station, a huge board stands on display, with a map of the entire area that highlights the attractions of this scenic village. As a welcome gesture, we were greeted by four little girls who were selling juice. Bikes are available on rent too at this point. As you walk along, the aroma of cocoa that comes from the chocolate factory nearby completely dominates the air. And sometimes it’s a little too strong. A nearby windmill plays peek-a-boo, and photo enthusiasts instantly pose for selfies. Relax! There are more coming up. It is interesting to watch the movable bridge, over the river Zaans, open up every time a larger boat has to sail by. From this bridge, the view of the blue sunny sky, the green painted houses, and the distant windmills are picture perfect and a recommended photo stop.
Very few steps downward and you arrive at a tiny garden with the statue of an angel and a souvenir shop and this is where your actual tour of the village begins. Being a sunny day and weekend at the same time, there are hordes of people exploring the place which makes photography a little challenging for an enthusiast like me. The first Albert Heijn, a very popular chain of supermarkets here in Netherlands, is right in this spot. Most of the architecture in this village is characterized by shades of dark green walls, and white door-window frames, on ethnic wooden houses. While most of the buildings are preserved for historical purposes, there are some residences too that locals still inhabit. There are cafes along the road that leads to the classic windmills. Bike renting is available inside the village as well. We head to one of the windmills and buy tickets for a little tour of the mill. A wooden ladder-looking staircase leads to the upper floor and only those who are confident about using it should buy a ticket. The view from the top is amazing and goes as far as the horizon.
There is a significant variety of souvenirs in the shops inside the village. Magnets, traditional Dutch clogs, Delft blue pottery, wooden tulips, posters, t-shirts, just about everything. There is a wooden shoe workshop, where we were headed to, that offers a free demonstration of making these wooden clogs. It is worth a visit and takes just a few minutes. Clogs of different sizes, designs, and colors are on display for sale here, on walls ceilings, everywhere. There is a museum called Zaans Museum that we did not visit, but I intend to, on my next visit. There are more museums and places of historical interest and workshops that give good glimpses of the old traditional Dutch life. For example, for cheese lovers, there is a cheese farm too for cheese tasting. If you plan to not miss out on anything here, then be sure to have a good amount of time in hand. At best, start your tour in the morning.
A coffee stop is a must for us anywhere we go. We had our afternoon coffee and snacks at the ‘De Kraai’, which is very close to the wooden shoe workshop. It is a self-service restaurant and offers different varieties of pancakes. For those with a sweet tooth, dig into the traditional Dutch apple pie.What interested me here was that we saw a group of older ladies gathered in traditional fashionable medieval-like attire. It was like going back in time.
Whether or not you visit the museums and the workshops, or other things of interest, a long walk or a bicycle ride around this place is in itself a beautiful experience. Where on one hand there are pretty little footbridges over the canals, and lush green patches of fields, where the sheep graze endlessly, quite oblivious to the world around them, on the other hand, there are a bunch of activities that visitors can indulge in. For the perfect blend of delving into traditional Dutch countryside and the windmills, Zaanse Schans is a must visit when in the Netherlands.