The Dutch and Their Love of Dams
Amsterdam, Edam, Volendam, Rotterdam, Zaandam – if you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ‘-dam’ in The Netherlands, it’s because these places were named after dams that were built in the rivers Amstel, E/Ij, Rotte, and Zaan, respectively. Nearly a third of the country is below sea level. I remember my former boss, a Dutch national, told us that The Netherlands is a flat country. There’s nowhere to run to when it floods, hence the need for dams, dikes, windmills, and other barriers.
Anyway, this post will only be about Amsterdam and Zaandam since those are the only two places I’ve been to in The Netherlands.
Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is a city that needs no introductions. While it’s famous for its Red Light District and regulated use of weed, it’s far from what one would imagine as a sin city. In fact, it’s one of the cities with the highest concentrations of museums. Naturally, some of the most famous ones house masterpieces of the Dutch masters: Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. Too bad I’m not big on museums, so I didn’t go to one. In hindsight, I should have checked out the Rijksmuseum at least.
Damrak and Central Station
Amsterdam is considered as the “Venice of the North”. Understandably so because of the many canals and footbridges that connect the city. However, I find it easier to navigate than Venice. I think Giethoorn, however, can give the latter a run for its money.
Staying in the city center was just way out of my budget. But if I could do it again, I would’ve stayed there even for just a night. I mean, I just lose track of time looking at the houses along the canals. I would’ve biked to explore more neighborhoods, but it’s been more than two decades since I rode one. I’m not even sure if I know how to ride a bike anymore.
Netherlands’ metro is very clean and efficient. The tram was fun too! My hostel was in the Bijlmer Arena area, which is a bit outside the city but only 15 minutes away via Sprinter. I believe it takes the same amount of time to get to Zaanse Schans.
In terms of cuisine, Dutch food is not top of mind. Some even say it’s bland. But it wouldn’t hurt to try out a few, yes?
I’ve tried Poffertjes or Dutch mini/baby pancakes before. They’re fluffy and dusted with powdered sugar, so it’s mainly eaten as a snack or dessert. This time, I tried a Dutch pancake, which is flat and thin like a crepe and almost the size of a pizza. Pancakes Amsterdam have a variety of pancakes to choose from, but I stuck with bacon and cheese for brunch. Yummers! I believe I ordered a set which came with a cup of coffee, a glass of orange juice, and mini stroopwaffel. They even gave me a keychain after I paid.
By the way, they are a card-only restaurant, and they can only charge one card per table. No “going Dutch” here, I guess. 😀 Pun intended.
As mentioned, I used to work for a Dutch boss. And whenever he would go home to Holland, he would bring back souvenirs and snacks. I remember some were Dutch clogs or KLM keychains, a Delft windmill figurine, and stroopwafel! Of course, I had to buy stroopwafels for family and friends. You can easily find them in any supermarket or convenience store.
I was supposed to join a walking tour of the different neighborhoods in Amsterdam, but then my hostel also organized a free day tour to Zaanse Schans. I was in a bit of a pickle since I already reserved a slot for the city walking tour, but the windmills won. It was a good decision in the end because I went with the girls from the hostel, so I had someone taking my photos. LOL
The first thing that caught our attention approaching the village was the smell of chocolate! It’s as if we were entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. 😀 We also came across a number of cats which the girls couldn’t stop petting. A few more minutes of walking and we finally got a glimpse of the mighty windmills!
In the old days, green paint was made from copper. It was an expensive ingredient at the time, so painting one’s house green was a way to show off wealth.
As mentioned above, a large part of The Netherlands is below sea level. And initially, the windmills were invented to pump water through ditches and canals to control water levels. Most of these windmills are still functioning today and also serve as museums and/or souvenir shops. There’s a mill for spices, flour, paint, oil, and wood/saw.
Speaking of museums, my favorite is definitely the cheese hall! While we didn’t make it in time for the cheese-making demo, we were happy to try the plethora of cheeses in the shop. I still regret not bringing home a block to be honest.
Another popular attraction here is of course the clog-making demo. There was a group of Chinese tourists when we arrived, and I was amused that the Dutch clog-maker was doing the demo in Mandarin.
A day trip to Zaanse Schans was an educational one and what a great way to spend my last full day in Europe. I can’t wait to go back to the continent and visit new countries!