We took the train today about 20 mins north of Amsterdam to see an open air museum called Zaanse Schans. It was like the Dutch version of Soverign Hill. It was very pretty with dykes and canals everywhere, old houses and shops, farm animals and staff in traditional Dutch costumes. The area used to have 2000 working windmills, manufacturing things such as paint dye and oil, and sawing wood. According to one of the tour guides, the industrial revolution began right here with these windmills which were operated by 5-10 men each. There are 15 working windmills that still remain, and you can go into lots of them to see how they work. Tim was feeling unwell, so the kids and I ventured into the one that pulverized wood chippings to make paint dye. We were able to climb right up inside the windmill and watch it working. It was fascinating to see albeit a bit tricky as Daniel had some difficulty negotiating the steep ladders with one hand! The huge wheels moved inches away from our noses. Climbing up we could see the old thatched roof and stand on a balcony and watch the windmill blades from up close. We went into some of the shops and saw some cheese being made and the machinery used to make wooden clogs. The kids had fun trying out some traditional Dutch children’s games such as throwing hoops and walking on stilts. It was such a lovely setting after the frenetic activity of Amsterdam. Lots of other people were at the museum also, so it is obviously a popular place. So far it seems that there are crowds everywhere we go. We thought we might have come up to the end of the holiday season, however the Dutch apparently have a staggered holiday system up until the middle of September.
We found a great restaurant on the banks of the river on our walk back to the train station, complete with sand for the kids to play in while we had a late lunch. The toasted sandwich and chicken soup I was served up were one of the best I have ever eaten. All through the town there was a pervasive smell of chocolate – nice at first but it became a bit sickly! We soon discovered why. The town is home to a large chocolate manufacturing plant. Unfortunately it was not open for tours. I am still in awe of the bicycle tracks here. I thought it might have just been good in Amsterdam, however even in this small town there are still lots of tracks for bikes. The train stations even have little grooves next to ramps so that you can wheel your bikes up and down, and everywhere you look there are bikes parked on bike racks. What a fantastic way to get around. I haven’t seen too many overweight people here either – I wonder how much of a difference it makes. Another easy train journey, and we were home. We may take another trip tomorrow to Haarlem from here as it is so close to Amsterdam.