Amsterdam had many similar sights to other places we had been on our cruise. There were old cathedrals, renaissance and baroque buildings, and interesting statues. But it also had something that the other countries did not have….windmills. So I am going to spend more time talking about these amazing, historic windmills than some of the other sights
Of the 10,000 windmills in use in the Netherlands around 1850, about 1000 are still standing. Most of these are being run by volunteers, though some grist mills are still operating commercially. Many of them have been moved into an area called Zaanse Schans. This is where we went on a tour after we got off the boat in Amsterdam.
Zaanse Schans is a neighborhood of windmills, similar to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Strawbery Banke in New Hampshire. It has a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses; from all over the Zaanstreek that were moved to this area. The Zaanse Schans is one of the popular tourist attractions of the region. The neighborhood attracts approximately 900,000 visitors every year.
Many of the windmills originally used for drainage are still used as a backup to the modern pumping stations. The Zaanse Schans district was the first industrialized region of the world with around 600 operating wind-powered industries by the end of the 18th century.
Economic fluctuations and the industrial revolution had a much greater impact on these industries than on grain and drainage mills so only very few are left. De Kat (cool name!) is the only remaining working windmill in the world which makes paint. The original mill “De Kat” was built in 1646 as an “Oil mill”, used to grind seeds for their oil.
In 1782 the mill was destroyed by fire but it was rapidly rebuilt again. It is one of the few windmills in the Zaanse Schans that is open for tours. So Jeff and I paid our admission fee and went inside. My first impression was that these windmills are very large when you actually get up close to them!
My son Patrick and I had recently gone on a tour of a modern windmill in western Massachusetts generating electric power from wind. The De Cat windmill was not as tall as the modern windmill, but it was much more massive at its base. This was to hold all of the gears that converted the wind from the sails into power for grinding.
The De Cat windmill was in use until 1904 and then was partially demolished. In 1960 the eight-sided paint mill was removed from its former position owing to urban development and placed on top of the old storehouse.
The mill is again grinding raw materials such as chalk to make pigments for paints in the traditional way.
There was also a wooden shoe factory in the Zaanse Schans.
There were interesting displays of the many, many types of wooden shoes that could be made in the factory. Some of the shoes were modern versions, and some were historic versions.I liked the “wooden shoe instruments” at the bottom of this display case.Wooden shoe factory
The factory machinery was pretty simple compared to the gears inside of the windmill. But it still makes a huge difference in the manufacturing of the shoes. It takes a good cobbler about 2-3 hours to make a pair of shoes. The machine can do it in five minutes.
I wish we had more time to look at all the shoes and shop. But we did not, as our tour was escorted into the next shop, which was an historic cheese factory.After a demonstration of the cheese making process, we got to wander around the factory store and sample cheese. So we did not take many photos, as we were too busy sampling!
After our tour of Zaanse Schans, we took a canal tour of Amsterdam. The Amsterdam canal system is the result of city planning In the early 17th century
A plan was developed that was based on four concentric half-circles of canals with their ends emerging at the bay. The canals served for defence, water management, and transport.The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam and the 19–20th century and the Defense Line of Amsterdam are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The canals are still used for water management, and for transportation. But they are also used for housing. There are many house boats tied up in the canals. These boats pay taxes for their spot, and they are all hooked up to water, sewage, and electricity.
I was fascinated by all of the leaning houses that we saw alongside the canals. The houses lean because they are all built on wooden posts sunk into the soft sand and mud of the Amsterdam area. Over time, the weight of the house above causes it to sink deeper on one side or the other. So then it leans.
In the 16th century, the Dutch rebelled against Philip II of Spain. The reasons for the uprising were the imposition of new taxes, and the religious persecution of Protestants by the Spanish Inquisition. This revolt escalated into the Eighty Years’ War, which ultimately led to Dutch independence. After this war, the Dutch Republic became known for its religious tolerance. Jews, and Protestants (remember the Pilgrims were here before they came to America) found safety in Amsterdam. It is still a very tolerant and diverse society that is fairly open to immigrants from all over the world.
Forty-five percent of the population of Amsterdam has non-Dutch parents. Large groups of immigrants come from Surinam, the Dutch Antilles, Morocco and Turkey. Although the saying “Leef en laat leven” or “Live and let live” summarizes the Amsterdam open and tolerant society, the increased influx of many races, religions, and cultures after the World War II has occasionally strained social relations. With 182 different nationalities, Amsterdam is home to one of the widest varieties of nationalities of any city in the world.
The 800 year old Oude Kerk (old church) is Amsterdam’s oldest building and oldest parish church, founded in 1213 with Saint Nicholas as its patron saint. After the Reformation in 1578 it became a Calvinist church, which it remains today. It stands in De Wallen, now Amsterdam’s main red-light district. As our tour guide joked, “the nuns and the prostitutes live side by side here.”
Amsterdam’s name derives from Amstelredamme, which means a dam in the river. It started as a small fishing village in the late 12th century. Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age as a result of its trade. During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds.
The 17th century is considered Amsterdam’s Golden Age, during which it became the wealthiest city in the world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, and Africa, as well as present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil in a worldwide trading network. Amsterdam’s merchants had the largest share in both the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company. These companies acquired overseas possessions that later became Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was Europe’s most important point for the shipment of goods and was the leading financial center of the world. In 1602, the Amsterdam office of the Dutch East India Company became the world’s first stock exchange by trading in its own shares.
Coffeeshops are establishments in the Netherlands where cannabis (marijuana) for personal consumption is available for sale. Dutch coffee houses not serving cannabis are called coffee houses, while a café is the equivalent of a bar. It might be less confusing if they didn’t all use coffee or cafe in their titles!
Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by licensed coffee shops. The majority of these coffee shops also serve drinks, coffee, and food. Coffee shops are not allowed to serve alcohol or other drugs, and risk closure if they are found to be selling drugs to minors. The idea of coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.In the Netherlands. This worked well until the Netherlands joined the EU. Now, many coffee shops at the country’s borders sell mostly to foreigners. A Dutch judge ruled that tourists can legally be banned from entering cannabis cafes, as part of restrictions that were implemented in 2012, to try to control the EU tourists who come just to visit the coffee shops.
I enjoyed the Netherlands, and was a little bit sad to be leaving northern Europe to return to China. I had a great time on my Baltic cruise, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone considering a cruise in Europe!