Clogs, Cheese & Windmills

Monday, 26 March 2018

It is, undoubtedly, a bizarre experience waking up somewhere that isn't the town or city you are used to.

I have spent so long living in one place that I've grown depressingly accustomed to the same old sights and sounds; cars speeding, seagulls, drunkards staggering home after last orders, bin-men, cats fighting, women fighting - after twenty-three years, it all sort of blends into a plethora of gloomy white-noise.

Although the Netherlands isn't a lot different from England, it has taken a little while to adjust to all the new commotion; trams darting past my bedroom window in the early hours, people in the street shouting at each other in a peculiar language, even the police cars and ambulances screech differently over here.

However, the morning of my birthday I was awoken by a familiar, comforting occurrence: birds happily chirping from blossoming trees, and the sun beaming boldly through partly-drawn curtains, joyfully greeting the first day of Spring.

I was glad the sun had made an appearance for two reasons; the first being that my wardrobe has become very limited and I am more or less completely out of warm clothes, the second being that I had a ticket for the 'Dutch Countryside and Windmills Tour,' which I imagine would have been slightly shit if it was raining.

This tour promised a day 'off the beaten track' adventure, visiting the villages of Zaanse Schans and Marken, before heading on a boat trip across the IJsselmeer lake to the village of Volendam.

I was already pretty impressed with the itinerary, so when I discovered it also included cheese tasting at a cheese factory, a demonstration by a traditional clog maker and the opportunity to go inside one of the antique working windmills, I was totally sold...After all, it was the Dutch cliché that travel writing dreams are made of.

My train to Amsterdam was due to leave at 10.09am.

To a 'foreigner' like myself, Den Haag Centraal is a complicated place, with various escalators leading to trams, trains, buses and alternate universes; if you don't know where you are going beforehand, then you're pretty much doomed.

Luckily for me, the host I have been staying with jotted down the exact train I needed, the direction it was headed, the changes I needed to make, and the platforms I needed to be on, which was a immense relief, as directions are far from my strong point; ironic for someone trying to confidently travel Europe.

The public transportation service in the Netherlands is pretty outstanding, although I suppose when you're only comparison is Southern Rail, being pushed in a wheelbarrow by your Nan would seem innovative.

I hopped aboard a double-decker train to Schipol Airport, where I made a swift change to a carriage that took my directly to Amsterdam Central; it was a pretty massive relief when I arrived  unscathed, and more importantly, on time.

I had to check-in at the Tours and Tickets office in Dasmak for 11.45am ready for the 12.15pm departure, luckily, it was only a five-minute walk from the station, so I found time to settle down and relax with a vanilla latte, taking in the surroundings of the capital city.

When I arrived at the office, I was welcomed by a group of happy tour guides, this was a pleasant reassurance considering I was one of the few people partaking in the tour on my own. I used to work for a coach company that offered similar day excursions, so I already had in my mind an idea of what to expect from the day, and as I looked around at the different types of tourist; I wondered at what point it was that I missed the fanny-pack memo.

 One of the first things that I had been warned about prior to arriving in the Netherlands, was the fact there is simply no escaping the wind; this is correct. The flat landscape of the country makes it so that no matter whatever direction you are headed in, you are cursed to have half the features blown from your face; perhaps that explains why most people in Europe wear a permanent frown.

Getting off the bus at Zaanse Schans was like stepping off a time-machine into a forgotten land; a beautiful representation of how a living and working community in the Zaan district looked before the mid-19th century Industrial Revolution.

As we walked through the picturesque village, accompanied by views of farmsteads, wooden houses, paths, fields, warehouses and windmills; it was like walking across the pages of a fairytale. The village appeared unspoiled; in fact, I almost felt guilty using my phone to take photographs, like modern technology shouldn't tarnish such a place.

We were welcomed inside Het Jonge Schaap Sawmill (The young sheep) a replica of an original mill that was built in 1680 and demolished in 1942; this replacement mill was sunk into the ground in 2005, using computer technology and the drawings of some bloke named Anton Sipman, who it seemed, rather liked windmills.

Still in working use today, Het Jonge Schaap, saws and ships bespoke-sized wood such as larch, pine, oak and Elm, to businesses, particularly focusing on use for restoration projects.

"De molen gaat niet om met wind die voorbij is - the windmill doesn't care about the wind that came before."

Located in the municipality Waterland in the province North Holland, Marken is a peninsula in the IJsselmeer, a former island in the Zuiderzee and the namesake of the Markermeer, the body of water which surrounds it"

Despite the fact I had never heard of the place, it turns out Marken is quite the tourist attraction, renowned for it's characteristic wooden houses, and as a bit of a  relic of the traditional native culture that the world's modernisation, disappointingly, if not inevitably, destroyed.

We headed towards the next activity; a clog making demonstration. I contemplated that as someone whose least favourite element is wind, perhaps I had come to the wrong place.

The wooden shoes of the Netherlands: klompen, a beautiful, if not accidentally onomatopoeic, word evoking thoughts of the sound you would perhaps expect to hear from beneath your feet whilst sludging through dampened fields. Despite historians estimating this questionable footwear appearing over 850 years ago, there are still people in parts of Holland wearing them for everyday practical use, not to mention the six million souvenir clogs produced every year - that's a lot of feet!

We were shown the machines that now craft the clogs, rather than the traditional method by hand, and although incredibly impressed by the results, and offered the opportunity to try a pair on, I swiftly decided it was probably best to stick to my Dr Martens.

We took a short ferry ride to Volendam, entertained by a pathé film that showed, on loop, films of fisherman and families walking through the old village; it built up a rather particular expectation, that wasn't quite met when we stood back onto dry land.

I was so hungry by the time we got to the Cheese Factory Volendam, I was concerned that I may inhale a whole plate of Gouda; and I wouldn't have even been sorry about it.

Making cheese is not just a process for these people; it's an art.

I must admit, as we sat in the theatre-styled room just below the shop, I pondered how interesting learning about milk transforming into cheese really could be, on paper, it all sounds rather dull. However, the talk was delivered with such humour and passion, as well as being informative, keeping it pretty short and sweet, that actually, it was really interesting. If you find yourself in the Volendam area, and you're partial to the odd bit of kaas, I would recommend paying a visit.

For a place so small, there were plenty of dining choices, however, after recommendation by one of the tour guides, I opted to try out a fresh, seafood option; 'calzone gamba's' (King Prawn Calazone) served with fries at 'Fish and Chips restaurant' 

Being brought up in a seaside town, I find being near the smells and sounds of water relatively comforting, so Volendam quite quickly felt homely to me; even down to the bastard seagulls circling like Satan's accessories over our heads, slyly waiting for a fry to slip from someone's wooden fork.

It did make me realise, though, how easy it is to take the sea, lakes and fresh air for granted. I observed other members of the tour excitedly take photographs of things that, to me, seemed relatively mundane. I suppose, that's one of the joys of travelling, whilst you're out discovering new lands, you are also developing a fresh admiration for the ones you've left behind. 

It wasn't long after stuffing our faces that we were due to wander back to the bus that would take us back to the bustling city centre of Amsterdam; a place that now, seemed lightyears away.

Although pretty exhausted, I was was glad to have opted for the later tour, as we got to experience the beauty of the Dutch countryside at sundown; which was incredible.

Whatever people's pre-conceptions of these sorts of tours may be, I would highly recommend at least trying one. It really is the best possible way of not only seeing areas of a country you may not be able to access so easily on your own, but to gather the maximum knowledge of the area you are visiting. The tour guides are absolutely fantastic, and more than happy to answer any questions that they can, and if they can't, they will certainly point you in the direction of someone who can.

If you're visiting Holland, and fancy giving it a go, there's lots of last-minute discount opportunities as well, visit their website here.

'til next time.

Tot Ziens! xo


  1. This looks so beautiful! I have to admit, getting the hang of public transport is one of the things I really hate about travelling. Everything seems way more confusing! The comment about your nan and a wheelbarrow was far too accurate as well 😂 x


  2. This sounds like an amazing tour! And that food looks soooo good lol Looking forward to reading more of your adventures :)


  3. I loved reading this! I’ve actually been to Zaanse Schans a couple of years ago so this brought back good memories. Your comment about Dr. Martens made me laugh 😄. Your photography is fab and the food looks so tasty! Thank you for sharing your trip! 😘 xx

    Bexa |

  4. Wow 😮 what a beautiful country. I’d really love to visit. I’m totes jelly that you’re vebturing around Europe, sounds like such an awesome thing to do. Zaanse Schans sounds like a great place for historical sight seeing. Lol I’ve hobestly always wanted to try clogs, I found the concept of the shoe so mind boggling. Your photography is absolutely gorgeous and I think you’ve just given me some food cravings *walks briskly to the kitchen* 😂

    xx Lena |

  5. This is great stuff Elly - cant wait for the book !


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