Europe 2008 (Edam, Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam) Day 12 – June 5

5 06 2008

Yesterday it was the area SOUTH of Amsterdam.  Today it was the North.  We planned to visit Edam, Zaanse Schans and if time allowed Alkmaar.  It turns out that we just have the wrong days for our visit.  Edam’s cheese market is on Thursdays and Alkmaar’s is on Friday (or something like that.  NOT the days that WE were visiting)

We arrived at around 0930 in Edam.  It was as if we had driven into a ghost town.  Most Edamites commute into Amsterdam during the week, so it’s pretty quiet during the weekdays.  The rain was on and off. Mostly off, thank God.  There were many cool buildings to shoot in this 17th century town and many of them had some "interesting" tilts due to the settling over the past 350 years.  The nicest thing was that there were NO tourists around.  Most excellent.  After walking around Edam for about an hour, we had taken our share of pictures and it was time to head out to Zaanse Schans.

I had plugged a point into the GPS and it dutifully led us towards Zaanse Schans.  As we approached the area we ran into a total traffic jam around 1230 on the highway.  I told Tom Tom to find me an alternate route and away we went off the highway onto bizarre little farm roads.  It was an interesting route – to say the least.  We went around various fields with the kestrels flying and some little shorebirds.  We stopped along the way and got a great shot of one of the shore birds that was buzzing a local farm cat.  It turned out to be a black tailed godwit.  After various circles around the farm fields we were directed right to the windmill area of Zaanse Schans.  Unfortunately it was the bike path.  Oops, we backed out and made our way back to something that at least resembled an actual road and told Tom Tom to try again.  This time we made it to the parking area.

Zaanse Schans is a TOTAL tourist trap.  They have a wooden shoe making demonstration, coupled with a wooden shoe shop, a Cheese demonstration, coupled with a cheese shop, a jewellery shop (Amsterdam – diamonds) and windmills (Oil, saw and pigment mill).  You could walk into each of the windmills for a price (around 3 euros).

We watched the shoe maker do a demo, and it’s mostly all done automatically with a "copy lathe".  In 5 minutes you can now churn out a pair of shoes.  Hmmm.  Not exactly terribly traditional.  If you felt so inclined, you could buy a pair of shoes in your size to wear.  Yes, we actually HAVE seen Dutch people wearing REAL wooden shoes.  It’s NOT just a tourist gimmick.  That being said, I have no need or space for a few pounds of wood in my luggage so we passed on that opportunity.

We wandered about to see the classic green and white houses of the 18th century that were typical of Holland.  The houses were authentic, but had been moved to the area from their original location.  They were still quite interesting.  Almost every house had a "museum" which you could go and see for a nominal fee of 10 euros or so… Yikes.

We went into the cheese farm next and it was wonderful to see all the cheeses and try the various flavours.  The girls behind the counter were dressed in traditional old Dutch costumes, making for some good photo ops.  We purchased a small wheel of Plain Gouda.  I was looking forward to having it already!!  We had a quick 2 euro Coke and it was off to walk down to the windmills.

We walked up the path all the way up to where we had previously driven.  It was nice.  Today, since there was wind, and the mills are "work" mills, the blades were turning.  Very nice, even WITH the cloudy day.  After walking up and down, we decided to go into one of the mills and chose the pigment mill.  Excellent choice.

The main core of the mill is two 6,000 kg stones  which grind previously mined chalk into the fine chalk dust that is used in various industrial uses, including the chalk they put down on baseball and football fields.  They had a secondary stone that grinds rocks into pigments, usually ferrous rock to get a red pigment.  These pigments are used in applications such as oil paints and other items that need colouring.  Last, but not least there was also a couple of chopping blades that chop up pigmented wood into powder to make dyes for clothing.  As the rocks are quite heavy they require a pretty stiff wind to work. The chopper is LOUD apparently,so they don’t run it during tourist hours 🙂

As interesting as it all was, we also asked the miller about how they go about changing the set up for grinding different rocks since everything in the pigment area was covered in the fine dust from grinding.  He explained that it takes him about 3 days of solid cleaning with a brush to get the rocks all clean.  For those three days he apparently could pass for a red person… especially if it was the summer and it was hot in the mill.  Then, he looked around and said that since it wasn’t busy he’d give us a back room tour.  Cool!  We went to the back to see the bulk chalk that arrives and learned that they have to leave it out to dry for a number of days because it arrives quite wet and wouldn’t grind very well if they put it under the stones wet.  He took us to the "pigment room" and showed us the shelves of probably 500+ pigments that they had.  They take orders from the Vatican for a particular green pigment which is used in paintings from old which no other place makes.  He brought out a piece of malachite green and one of lapis lazuli.  The piece of Lapis was worth 5000 euros!  Because of the price of this kind of stock material, they don’t grind it in the rocks – too much loss.  For that, they ship it out to specialty grinders that have 99.999% recovery.  It was a great back room tour and the young man (about 25) was super friendly.  He explained that the millers all rent the mill from owners and that the owners are usually rich older Dutch people that like to own a piece of history.  Maintaining the mills is quite expensive and apparently owning a mill is a losing proposition – kind of like owning a sports team. People do it for the love of it. 

Having completed our tour, I gave him a little Canada flag pin as thanks.  As a return he gave me a Holland pin from their little souvenir shop.  Very nice.  It seems we picked the right mill to go into.

We got back to to town and hit the laundromat which my FT friends had helped me find.  Finally: clean clothes!

Since it was our last full day in Amsterdam, we decided to head down by tram and have dinner in town and check out the red light district.  Well, what a bizarre place Amsterdam is.  We had to ask for directions.  Nothing like stopping a policeman and asking for directions to the red light district!   It was very much as expected with women sitting in little rooms waiting for customers to come by and procure their services.  Men openly walked up to the women, talked a bit, and then went into the little door which was the window and they disappeared out the back of the room with the girl to complete the "transaction".  There was a complete mix of girls.  Some very VERY good looking, others almost like they came off the street back in Vancouver.

The red light district is also home to many "coffee shops" so the smell of marijuana smoke was evident although not exactly overwhelming.  There were doormen trying to get us to come into "Live sex shows" with offers of "I can show you some new moves!"  LOL!!!  Amsterdam… interesting city.

We had a long day coming up so we didn’t stay until total darkness in the district.  We headed home around 2100.  We got back to the hotel around 2145 and after some more blogging I am calling it a night at 2300.

Tomorrow: Luxembourg!

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