Classic Dutch
Countryside-Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

Text & Photos by Farah S. Kamal

It was too much for my senses to handle, the view of windmills, the intoxicating fragrance of fresh emerald grass mixed with wet soil from the slight morning drizzle. The cool air kissed my face as I listened to the remote ding-a-ling of cow bells. I gasped for breath, not yet ready to move my eyes from this 17th Century scene. Caught by surprise, as my friend Komal held my hand and dragged me to the office of Zaanse Schans, where a friendly face greeted us and provided passes and a map to this picturesque Dutch village.

Zaanse Schans is located in the Zandaam region in the North of Holland by the river Zaan, which is half an hour ride from Amsterdam Central. It’s a well preserved residential village and an open-air living museum where there are Zaan-style wooden houses where people still reside. A number of buildings here are transported from Zaan region, bringing in rich history, colour and enchantment! Seeing the windmills, barns, merchant houses and workshops, I was transported to the lives of the Dutch in the 17th and 18th Century. There were lovely gardens, cattle grazing on green patches and people working around in traditional Dutch clothes. There were 38 different attractions including living museums, shops and workshops.

I ran first to the windmills because that is what Holland is famous for. There were 600 windmills during the 17th Century, making Holland one of the largest industrial areas of the time, explained Piet Kempenaar, the miller at The Cat which is a paint mill, milling all kind of minerals and substances for making paints and pigments. The Cat has the largest collection of paint ingredients in Netherlands. I, then, walked in The Huisman Spice Mill that was roaring, as it milled, filling the atmosphere with a lovely aroma of freshly milled spices. Once milled, the spices are then stored and displayed in antique spice storage containers. I left the mill with an excellent collection of spices.

A spectacular display of wooden clogs on the walls of a workshop and a huge pair on display at its doors led us to the most amazing workshop. This place was busy and displayed hundreds of Dutch wooden shoes painted brightly in traditional Dutch designs and colours. The artisanals were hollowing wooden logs into these wooden shoes called clogs. The shoes are then passed on to the next work station where artists would intricately hand carve them with traditional dutch patterns using specialised antique tools. I did not feel like leaving the workshop at all but the whiff of freshly baked breads was too difficult to resist, so we ventured to explore the bakery shop.

Dating back to 1658, this cosy little bakery was making delicious baked products in their authentic oven. Being a baker myself I was overjoyed to find antique baking equipment and little gadgets displayed in a real bakery setting at this small living museum. The tools are hand-crafted from good quality metal – no wonder they are in such good working condition even centuries later unlike the cheap plastic versions of them we use nowadays. After enjoying a cup of coffee and a hot crispy waffle at the tiny dining area, we made a quick stop at the Verkade factory. Here, we saw the production of chocolate and biscuits.

Next, we crossed a cute little hump-bridge to find ourselves standing in front of a wooden cart loaded with metal milk cans exactly like the ones milkmen use in Pakistan to deliver milk on bikes. This is the entrance of Catharina Hoeve farm, replica of a traditional farm from Oostzaan. As a cheese lover, I felt like I was in heaven; there were endless varieties of cheese being made and sold here – from gouda to goat and blue cheese. I had an interesting Dutch experience tasting many samples and learning the differences about how they are produced.

We also checked out the many different attractions as the day progressed, like artisans at work from pewter and copper foundary to blue Delft pottery. The weavers house was absolutely fascinating where Dutch women were weaving fabric on handlooms and stitching beautiful articles. It was a room of a traditional residential house, so I got to see the rest of the house too, a good example of cottage industry where women work and run their houses together. This day trip was the highlight of my trip to Netherlands, the windmills seemed to have turned the clock back to 17th Century, taking me on a historical Dutch ride. •