Taking a tour when you travel is a great way to learn a little more about the history of the area you’re visiting, especially if your guide is a local. I think you get more of an inside view into the life and culture that you may not going it alone. This weekend, we hopped a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, met our tour group, jumped in the van, and sped off on our ten-hour excursion. We were a very diverse bunch; there were three people from Mexico and two from China, all anxious to see two cities and one humongous structure.
Let’s go back for sec. Riding the train for me is always a new and sometimes a stressful experience, because there was no train growing up in Detroit. Catching the bus or driving were your choices pretty much. I always feel like if I don’t get off at the right stop or miss my stop, I’m really screwed. I can’t get back!!! Twice during this trip, I questioned the stop at which we were getting off, but K, in her confident tone said, “What are you talking about?!? This IS right. Just get off!” With that said, our tour can begin.
STOP 1: ZAANSE SCHANS
Zaanse Schans is known as the “Windmill city.” It’s a small town less than an hour north of Amsterdam with both old world and new millennium style windmills (turbines). There are seven historic ones in this town, five of which line the shore of the river Zaan. In the middle of town, stands the oldest windmill in the area, not in use, but owned and managed by the city. It’s a cool stop where you can get great pics of the mills and see historical museums, like the first Albert Hein general store, which is a popular grocer in the country (we do our Sunday shopping there). Also, you can learn more about cheese making and see wooden clogs or “klompen” being made. The cheese tasting was interesting. I had no idea there were so many varieties, flavors, and sauces. Yep, some people dip their cheese in sauce or mustard as a snack. Lavender flavored goat cheese and coconut cheese are delicious.
We also got to see a live clog making demonstration. Now, they have a machine that can make a pair in about five minutes. Of course, the Dutch don’t wear them now, but when they did, they had every style you can think of. They had dressy ones, some specifically for all types of work, even some that looked like sandals. Currently, they make a more modern version that kinda looks like mules or a Birkenstock brand type. Overall, this was a good first stop.
STOP 2: AFSLUITDIJK
So, after another fifteen to twenty-minute drive, we viewed the largest dam in Europe. We got out, stretched our legs, and…umm…yeah.
STOP 3: GIETHOORN
We drove about another hour, hour and a half to the final stop: the “Venice of the Netherlands,” the city with no roads. Wait, there was one road, depending on which side of the canal you resided. That kinda spoiled my vision. But it was still a lovely place with beautiful homes. Mainly rich people live here now because of the high home maintenance cost. When you look at the pictures below, you can see the thatch-style roof, which is made from vegetation, straw, or something similar. It’s very expensive to manufacture. Once completed, they say it lasts forty years before it must be replaced.
Residents use “whisper” boats to get around mainly until the winter. They are electric powered and ride very smoothly. Once the canal freezes, they are able to ice skate around the town. That’s cool!!! Or they can take one of the 180 bridges to get across as needed. Giethoorn is a very touristy place with restaurants, shops, and plenty of Bed & Breakfast spots.
These were two great stops, with one we could’ve skipped, but overall, it was a great outing. Next up, Belgium.