After experiencing the wonders of Dutch tulips, we were all geared up for their next piece of history — windmills! Where else but to visit Zaanse Schans. If you want to avoid the hassle of planning your own, or if you prefer to have a day trip, you could do so with any travel company. But we prefer to go on our own pace and it was not too hard to do so.
Buy return train tickets to Koog-Zaandijk station and look for the hand-cranked map machine at the exit
Taking the train was easy, since we were practically living next door to the Amsterdam Centraal station. Bought return tickets to Koog Zaandijk station. This is the nearest train station and the easiest route. It took us around 20 minutes of train travel plus probably another 5 minutes of waiting for the train to arrive. If you are worried about getting lost once you’re outside the train station, worry no more. Someone had already figured out the possibility of getting lost and had already installed a hand-cranked map machine right outside the station’s exit. A real big map of the whole area including Zaanse Schans.
We woke up early for this trip, so we arrived just when businesses were about to open and Dutch children were on their way to school, in bikes! How cool is that? No such thing here even though my secondary school was like 4km away, would not even dared to venture out on a bike since we do not have cyclist lanes here in Malaysia. So it was fun to see the Dutch enjoying the ride to school in groups without a worry.
The smell of chocolate permeated the air as there is a huge chocolate or cocoa factory right across Zaanse Schans. The walk took us around 10-15 minutes without feeling out of breathe. Although it was really windy when we were on the Julianabrug across the river.
This whole area around Zaandijk and Zaandam, or is it Zaandijk in Zaanstad, was quite famous back in the days of the windmills. It was noted that there could have been 1000+ windmills back then! Now only a few are left in working condition and they are now kept as a conservatory and as Dutch heritage.
Tip: Make sure you pack a windbreaker, it sure is windy (pun intended) here!
There is no specific entrance and you could even enter right after the bridge, but we decided to hike all the way to the modern looking Zaans Museum entrance, which would also be the main entrance (drop-off area) for all tour buses and tourists.
As with all tourist areas, you will be greeted by giftshops, 2 of them in near proximity. If I am not mistaken, for those who took the day trips to see the clogs-maker would also be dropped off here. Since one of the free museums offered is the Wooden Shoe Workshop and the other one is the Craft Centre De Saense Lelie.
You can stay at one of the traditional Zaan houses located inside Zaanse Schans
Take the path on the left, known as the Zonnewijzerspad, this small lane will take you to a collection of Dutch houses that dates back to the time of the windmills era. You could even marvel at their small yards and peek in through the windows!
If I am not mistaken (I just used it in the last paragraph), you could even put up for the night here, if you book in advance.
Tip: Depending on the day that you arrive, certain windmills will be open for visiting while some would be shut. So get online and do the research first.
The first windmill that you will encounter is De Huisman, a mustard/spice mill. Unfortunately, it was one of those that was close for the day. Take a little detour to the lane on your right of the windmill, onto the path known as Zeilenmakerspad. This will bring you to the Bakkerijmuseum (Bakery Museum) and also the Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm.
The cheese farm will demonstrate to you how cheese was made and you could purchase some of it to bring back home as souvenirs. Whilst we were there, the cheese farm was ‘attacked’ by a bunch of mainland China tourists. I used the term because they were all jostling to buy cheese! Shouting in Mandarin expecting the Dutch ladies manning the counter to be able to understand them.
“I want my cheese cut exactly 2 x 4cm!” (In Mandarin)
“No! No! No! Not this one, that one!” (In Mandarin)
I admire the ladies for their patience as the wife and I quickly made our exit before they start to hog the other windmills. They were very loud and noisy.
“We need to get out pronto! Otherwise they would mistake us for them,” hollered the wife over the din. “Of course!”
The next 2 windmills were close too, they were the paint mill of De Kat and the sawmill of De Gekroonde Poelenburg. We finally found ourselves a windmill to explore at De Zoeker, an oil mill. Not the petroleum kind, but the peanut version. If the mill is open, you would have to pay to enter, usually around €3 per person, but it is all free with the iAmsterdam card.
Do we get to see them in action? Oh yes we will!
Exploring a windmill is fun as long as you watch where you are going. The mills here at Zaanse Schans are famous because they are still functioning, meaning that they still do some work to generate income to maintain them.
“Meaning we will get to see them in action?” asked the wife. “Obviously.”
There will be workers in the mills, as long as you are not in their way and if you are eager to learn, they will be proud to show you how the Dutch use the wind to work for them. You could also climb up to the top of the windmill to enjoy the view, either across the Zaan River or towards the plains.
Next to it is the sawmill — Het Jonge Schaap. This sawmill is unique a replica of the original sawmill that was torn down in the 1940s. The Dutch managed to find the plans for the mill and started construction using modern techniques, even so, it took them about 2 years to get it done. Guess what? It was open for the day and we were the only 2 visitors that they had. First, they allow you to view the history and the construction process of the windmill, then you are allowed to visit it.
The workers were getting some planks sawn according to the purchaser’s liking. According to the head honcho, they were for a niche market of sawn wood. The windmill made the whole process easy. All the workers need to do is to align the saws according to the sizes they wanted, haul the logs (using the wind too), lock them down nicely and let the wind continue with the hauling and the sawing.
“Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” said the wife. “Hey, that’s my line!”
After all the walking, we decided that we have seen enough of windmills to last us a lifetime, so it was off to get ourselves some brunch. There were only 2 places at Zaanse Schans that catered for food, one of them is De Kraai. And if we were to believe the comments, their pancakes are the best. Well, since we were on the hungry side, the pancakes tasted good. Sweet in fact.
Zaanse Schans Verdict
This is a made-for-tourist area, no doubt about it. Don’t believe me? Even the toilets costs €0.50 per entry. Each windmill require an entrance fee and for those which offer free entrance, they will entice you with their wares. But if you are looking for a windmill experience, I think this it, although only half of the windmills were open, it was more like after seeing one, you have seen them all.
The best windmill would no doubt be the Het Jonge Schaap sawmill. How mankind overcame the heavy-duty log cutting work, to just simple physics and mechanics. It was definitely an eye-opener and a sight to behold.
With the iAmsterdam card, all the entrances were free. This was also one of the main reasons why we bought the iAmsterdam card. However, transport was not, as it involved going out of Amsterdam.
Visit during the summer months and a ferry will bring you across to the town of Zaandijk
Another tip would be to visit during the summer months, as they will offer a ferry ride across the river at the end of the last windmill — De Bonte Hen. This ferry ride will bring you to the town of Zaandijk, which you could explore by foot. Instead of turning around like we did and walk all the way back to where we came from.
There is a Molenmuseum located near the train station, which you could explore on your way back and it is covered by the iAmsterdam card. However, besides telling the history of the windmills, this museum is more suited for school-going children and for those who are doing a research on windmills.
(to be continued)