Michiel is at the corner to meet us promptly at 10:00 and we drive over to the Leidseplein and grab a coffee, get caught up and plan the day. It is a typical Monday morning – garbage trucks picking up from the week-end’s revelries, late workers hurrying to work, cafés rolling out their awnings for the day. There is talk of rain today but all we see at this point is the sunlight streaming through the enormous trees of the Leidseplein.
On the Zaan River
Our plans made, we start out of the city and into the countryside. Our first stop is the quaint rural area outside of Amsterdam known as the Zaanse Schans, an historic Dutch village on the Zaan river with several working windmills. We explore the cobbled streets and climb De Kat (the Cat) windmill, a famous dye mill on the Kalverringdijk. John and I both laugh at the sign that says “Your visit to this windmill is at your own risk” until we get inside and feel the rumble and shuddering of the ancient building, the souvenirs for sale rattling and shaking on the walls as the big sails make their passes overhead. We climb up past the gear mechanisms and step out onto the balcony as one of the four huge blades swoops past. I lurch back as the next sail comes hurtling by me. The area is gated off but I can see how easy it is to get hurt by one of the passing blades. You don’t realize how big and powerful these mills are until you are standing underneath one.
Lunch on a North Sea Beach
The rain continues to hold off as we drive towards the north-west and lunch in Egmond aan Zee, a small village on the North Sea. We stop at a small restaurant right on the beach, small children, kite flyers and us, daring the gusty winds. We start outside on the terrace but it becomes quickly evident that a storm is blowing in, the rain that had been predicted all day; so we head into the restaurant for cover and the rest of our lunch. We watch the big black clouds and the pounding rain for about half an hour. We finish our lunch and beer in time for the sun to peek out and dry the footpath back to the car.
Some Dutch Souvenirs
We point the car east towards Volendam, a fishing village perched on the dike, just south of Edam and sitting on the man-made, fresh water lake that was created in the 1930s when the Zuider Zee was dammed. We stroll the boardwalk and laugh at the stereotypical Dutch souvenirs: personalized wooden shoes, tacky photos of your family and friends in traditional Dutch costume holding herring and wheels of cheese. Tulips and more tulips everywhere: Wooden, silk, plastic. Some that light up, some that squirt water, glass ones, hand painted ones, fake-Delft ones, every variety known to man. We follow Michiel to one of the local fish mongers to buy pickled herring and smoked eel, which Volendam is renowned for. Across the water is the small island of Marten, a Dutch village known for its wooden houses and traditional costume. We make the fifteen minute drive around the lake to the parking lot outside of town (no cars are allowed in the centrum), where we realize that we are all toured and “kitched” out and decide to return to Amsterdam.
Bitter Ballens: Served by Dutch Royalty
Michiel and Fred have invited us to dinner at their house with friends Ron and Damien. Hors d’oeuvres are, of course, herring with onion and pickle, smoked eel and bitter ballens. Typical Dutch delicacies we are told, that are served by royalty and at official state functions.
Of course, we politely taste everything.