Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dutch Countryside

What better way to spend my final day in the Netherlands than to go out to the Dutch Countryside.  I spent the morning walking Amsterdam again.  The city was much busier today, probably because it's now a weekend.  I took a few pictures, then got on a bus filled with people.  They ran out of seats, so I ended up in the front with our guide.  I had booked a five hour excursion into North Holland.  The bus tour had an audio guide as we went, and there were three stops.  I learned that there is no country called "Holland".  The IJ separates two Dutch provinces, North Holland to the north and South Holland to the south of the waterway, but there are ten other provinces in the country of the Netherlands.  Most of the country lies well below sea-level, which is why there's so much water everywhere.  It was a beautiful day today, clear skies, though bitterly cold.  Still, a good day to drive out of the city.

Zaanse Schans

Our first stop was my favorite.  We went to Zaanse Schans, a small town filled with actual Dutch windmills. There is also a massive cocoa factory on the edge of town, so the entire place smells like chocolate (smell was very strong and very good).  We had a demonstration at a local cheese farm on how they make cheese.  Dutch cheese is famous, from Gouda and Edam (both towns I've passed) to everything in between, it's one of the country's biggest exports.  We had free samples of many delicious cheeses, then some free time.  I went inside one of the windmills, climbing to the top and watching it grind chalk.

Dutch Countryside

Our next stop was Maarken, a small village built on an island on the IJsselmeer, the largest lake in Western Europe, and one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.  Maarken was a fishing village in the North Sea, until the creation of the IJsselmeer, so the town was forced to change a lot.  While there, we went to a clog-maker's and were given a demonstration in how they make clogs, before having free time in the village.  Our final stop was just after sunset in the small town of Volendam, also on the lake.  Volendam is supposed to be where people wear traditional Dutch clothes, although no one was out in any today, possibly because of the cold.  We had a dinner break, and I had weiner schnitzel, something I had heard of but never tried.  A nice Italian couple from the same tour ate dinner with me, but did not speak much English.  Back in Amsterdam, I watched a street performer for a while, then took some last photos before heading back to the hotel.  I've had a fun time in the Netherlands.

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