Cycling the North Sea Coast (IV)

The Dutch North Sea Coast is a place of extraordinary beauty. Vast stretches of wide sandy beaches are backed by rolling dunes, large parts of which are protected areas or national parks. On a bad day, with wind and rain sweeping inland from the dull greyness of the North Sea, this can be one of the most inhospitable places imaginable; on a warm sunny day though it is transformed and makes for fantastic cycling.

I’ve slowly been exploring the coast north and south of The Hague by bike. The extensive network of cycle paths along this coastline takes you away from roads, traffic and towns, plunging you into nature. I got the train to Heemstede and headed through typical rural landscapes that slowly changed into a landscape of sand dunes near the coast close to Bloemendaal aan Zee, the last town before entering the truly wonderful Zuid-Kennemerland National Park.

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

My plan was to explore the park and the beaches before going onwards to the North Sea Canal, which connects Amsterdam with the open sea. Oceangoing ships of up to 90,000 tons sail down the canal to the Port of Amsterdam, and the locks that control the access are huge. After that the lovely city of Haarlem was my final destination for a well deserved glass of beer from Haarlem’s local Jopenkerk brewery.

I’d wanted to visit Zuid-Kennemerland National Park for a while. The remarkable mix of woods, dunes and lagoons are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, much of which is quite rare in the Netherlands. As well as over a hundred varieties of birds are joined by more than twenty types of butterfly. The park is also home to deer, red foxes, squirrels and, most excitingly, Highland Cattle, semi-feral Konik ponies and a small population of Wisents, the European Bison.

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

I didn’t get to see any Wisents, but I did get up close and personal with some Highland Cattle and Konik ponies. I have to admit it’s quite unnerving to have to cycle through a group of Highland Cattle that have wandered onto the cycle path. Those horns could do a lot of damage, even unintentionally; after a close run-in with a bull on a railway platform in India a few years ago I’ve become a little cautious around horned creatures.

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, North Sea Coast, Netherlands

Passing through a landscape of shrub-topped golden dunes, I cycled through a large group of Konik ponies on my way to the beach. When I came off the beach a while later the ponies had migrated to the bike park so I could get a close look at them. The Konik come from Poland and are one of the surviving descendants of Eastern European wild horses. They are lovely and inquisitive creatures, you have to remember that they are semi-feral. Don’t feed the animals!

Ship on the North Sea Canal, Netherlands

Ship on the North Sea Canal, Netherlands

Ship on the North Sea Canal, Netherlands

Ship on the North Sea Canal, Netherlands

Heading north I arrived at the North Sea Canal where it passes through the deeply uninspiring town of IJmuiden. It is quite an amazing sight, the giant locks allowing passage for even larger ships between Amsterdam and the North Sea. I cycled round the docks and locks, observing ships loading huge amounts of coal on the far shore of the canal, and then I was lucky enough to see a big ship arriving into one of the locks. I love this sort of thing, but time was getting on and a cold Jopen awaited me in Haarlem.

Along the Vecht to Weesp

For a small town, Weesp has seen its fair share of history. Sitting strategically on the River Vecht, a tributary of the Rhine, a Roman war fleet sailed down this river on their way to ‘conquer’ Germania, only to be destroyed by the barbarian hordes. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest became known as Rome’s worst ever defeat, and ended the Roman Empire’s attempts to extend its power east of the Rhine. In the 9th Century, Vikings sailed the other way up the Vecht to wreak havoc in the city of Utrecht.

To be fair, the Weesp area was little more than a peat bog at the time, and it wouldn’t be until the 14th Century that enough people lived here for it to be granted city rights. The 14th Century took a liberal attitude to what constituted a city, today it would be little more than a village. In later centuries the Vecht formed the defensive boundary of the County of Holland, and Weesp was at the centre of two important military defence lines: the Dutch Waterline and the Defence Line of Amsterdam.

Laurentius Church and canals, Weesp, Netherlands

Laurentius Church and canals, Weesp, Netherlands

Laurentius Church and bird sculpture, Weesp, Netherlands

Laurentius Church and bird sculpture, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmill near Weesp, Netherlands

Windmill near Weesp, Netherlands

Weesp was, and still is, a small place, but this didn’t stop it becoming a military stronghold. It had a garrison right up until World War II, when static lines of defence were rendered obsolete by airplanes and military tactics that were a bit more advanced than digging trenches. You can still see the legacy of this history dotted around the town and surrounding countryside.

The Dutch Waterline, built in the 17th Century, saw regular action over the centuries. Weesp was heavily involved in repelling Prussian troops in 1787, a fact that is celebrated at one of the fortifications on the fringe of town. By contrast, the Defence Line of Amsterdam, a Dutch version of the French Maginot Line, was only completed in 1920 and never actually saw military action.

River Vecht on the way to Weesp, Netherlands

River Vecht on the way to Weesp, Netherlands

Birthday clebration, Weesp, Netherlands

Birthday clebration, Weesp, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Weesp, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Weesp, Netherlands

It’s not so obvious today, but Amsterdam was encircled by a 135km ring of forts and garrison towns, including Weesp, constructed to defend the nation’s most important city. Today it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In front of the fortifications was an inundation zone, flooded to impede the advancing enemy but designed not to be too deep to allow boats to move on the water. This is the only thing I recall about the Netherlands’ military strategy from my school history lessons.

Remarkably, despite being obsolete from the moment it was completed, the Defence Line of Amsterdam was still in use right up until the 1960s, when presumably the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union was more of a concern.

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Canals and Dutch houses, Weesp, Netherlands

Canals and Dutch houses, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills and boats on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills and boats on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Boats on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Boats on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Modern-day Weesp is a picture-postcard-perfect town, with a compact historic centre that is unsurprisingly surrounded by water. On one side of the town is the River Vecht, dotted with windmills; on the other side of town is Europe’s busiest canal, the Rijnkanaal, built in the 1950s to improve trade between Germany and the North Sea. Weesp’s old town is criss-crossed by canals.

I cycled the short distance from Muiderslot castle along the banks of the River Vecht before arriving in the scenic centre of Weesp. On a hot day, I was happy to park the bike, get an ice cream and wander around the narrow streets and canals at leisure. There were lots of boats and boaters using the waterways either en route to or from the IJsselmeer, Utrecht and Germany. Weesp is clearly a hub for boats.

Grote Kerk, Weesp, Netherlands

Grote Kerk, Weesp, Netherlands

Houses, Weesp, Netherlands

Houses, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Working my way to the river I sat on top of the old fortifications and gazed out over the River Vecht; a small harbour and a couple of windmills added to the tranquil scene. At this very spot the Prussians were defeated by a combination of water and dogged determination nearly 230 years ago. If there is a more Dutch scene than this I don’t know what or where it might be.

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Explanation of the Defence Line, Weesp, Netherlands

Explanation of the Defence Line, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Windmills on the River Vecht, Weesp, Netherlands

Back on the bike again, I cycled through Weesp’s more modern suburbs and found my way to the Rijnkanaal. Heading back to Amsterdam it struck me that I was cycling through the military buffer zone that had protected the de facto capital of the Netherlands for centuries.

The Rijnkanaal near Weesp, Netherlands

The Rijnkanaal near Weesp, Netherlands

The Rijnkanaal near Weesp, Netherlands

The Rijnkanaal near Weesp, Netherlands

Cycling the Rijnkanaal to medieval Muiderslot

Think of international gateways to Amsterdam, and you might think of the trains that carry more than a quarter of a million people to and from Centraal Station each day from destinations across Europe; or, you might be one of the 55 million people from 296 destinations who passed through Schiphol Airport last year. Alternatively, you might decide to arrive in Amsterdam by boat as people have been doing for the last 800 years.

The European river system, and the canals that connect it all together, have been central to trade and transport for centuries. In an era of affordable aviation, high speed trains and road haulage, I had the idea that inland shipping was obsolete. It came as a bit of a surprise when I stood on a bridge over the Rijnkanaal, the Rhine Canal, to realise the size and importance of this 72km-long waterway. Connecting Europe’s most powerful economy with the North Sea via Amsterdam, this is the most heavily used canal in Western Europe.

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

The Rijnkanaal only opened in 1952, but its strategic importance cannot be underestimated. Thousands of 3,000-ton barges travel this waterway each year carrying goods to and from Amsterdam, where they connect with much larger ocean-going ships on the North Sea Canal. This traffic is added to in summer by hundreds of pleasure cruisers that sail for up to two weeks along these waterways.

Travel the Rijnkanaal from Amsterdam and you’ll eventually find yourself in Germany and, depending upon which river system you follow, you could find yourself in Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia or even Hungary a few days later. I was on two wheels and my plans were a little less ambitious: a day trip taking me to the medieval castle of Muiderslot, on the shores of the former Zuiderzee just south-east of Amsterdam, before heading inland to the lovely town of Weesp and back to the city.

Cycle bridge over the Rijnkanaal, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cycle bridge over the Rijnkanaal, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cycle bridge over the Rijnkanaal, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cycle bridge over the Rijnkanaal, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycle route along the Rijnkanaal, Netherlands

Cycling along the Rijnkanaal you see lots of barges, heavily laden and sitting very low in the water. It is a beautiful route as you leave Amsterdam behind and emerge into the countryside. I was headed for Muiden Castle, or Muiderslot in Dutch (Muiden = rivermouth, slot = castle), which was built and destroyed in the 13th Century, and rebuilt in the 14th Century. It sits on a formerly vital trade route on the River Vecht, and while it protected trade it was also used to extract money from merchants trading along the river.

Zuiderzee fort near Muiden, Netherlands

Zuiderzee fort near Muiden, Netherlands

Harbour in Muiden near Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Harbour in Muiden near Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

The castle was built by the legendary Floris V, Count of Holland. Floris spent much of his life at war or entangled in various alliances with other European princes, and Muiderslot was probably a wise investment to defend his lands. Ironic then that he would be imprisoned in Muiderslot just prior to suffering a bloody death at the hands of his own nobles. It’s said that Floris was loved by his people, gaining the ironic nickname ‘God of the Peasants’ because he knighted several dozen of them, much to the displeasure of the nobility and church.

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

View over the Zuiderzee, Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

View over the Zuiderzee, Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

The Ridderzaal, one of the main buildings of the Binnenhof Houses of Parilament in The Hague is modelled on Muiderslot, and was also completed during the reign of Floris V.

Despite being quite small, Muiderslot is fabulously picturesque, dramatic fairytale towers surrounded by a protective moat. It comes straight out of a Disney animator’s imagination, and just needs a distressed princess with unnaturally long hair to complete the cliché. It’s been the backdrop for numerous films and is one of the most famous castles in the Netherlands. Being only a short day trip from Amsterdam I expected it to be busy, luckily it wasn’t too crowded and wandering around was fun.

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Muiderslot castle, Netherlands

Amsterdam, the world’s best small city?

Amsterdam has come a long way in the last 800 years. In the early 13th Century it was an insignificant fishing village, kept dry by a few dams and dykes; it grew larger and wealthier on the back of taxing the herring and beer trade, until it became one of the wealthiest ports in the world during the 17th Century Dutch Golden Age. After a period of decline, it expanded further during the 19th Century as the industrial revolution took hold, whole new districts were added and outlying villages were engulfed by urbanisation.

Amsterdam today is one of the world’s most vibrant and creative urban centres. Home to a diverse and multicultural population, it is regularly ranked as one of the world’s best to live in and has one of the highest qualities of life. The city attracts over 5 million visitors each year, drawn here by the combination of history and modernity. With a population of less than 1 million, 5 million tourists might make the place feel claustrophobic, but get away from the tourist centre and Amsterdam is a delightful city to explore.

Highland piper, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Highland piper, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The history of the village that grew to be Amsterdam could have been very different, had it not been for a series of storms during the 13th Century which opened the Zuiderzee to shipping from the North Sea. A particularly violent storm in 1282 destroyed much of the sand dunes which had been a barrier to ships. Suddenly, Amsterdam was ideally located for trade. It seized the opportunity and has yet to look back.

Despite its modern history, it is the Golden Age of the 17th Century that has perhaps left the most indelible mark on Amsterdam. The city had a majority share in the Dutch East India Company and soon trade, particularly in spices, with Indonesia, China, India and Japan was fuelling an enormous demographic, economic and cultural expansion. During this period of extraordinary prosperity many canals were constructed and the famous Jordaan district was built.

Tattoo advert, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Tattoo advert, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Walk the streets of Jordaan and reminders of this unique history are everywhere. It was a working class district that attracted immigrants fleeing persecution elsewhere in Europe: Jews from Spain and Portugal, Huguenots from France and other Protestants from Belgium and England. Even in the 17th Century, Dutch tolerance was renowned throughout Europe. In a city of great wealth, poverty and disease ran through the Jordaan, as did radical politics and a lack of respect for the law. The area saw numerous riots over the centuries, including the improbably named ‘Eel Riots’ of 1886.

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Church, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Church, Amsterdam, Netherlands

House sign, Amsterdam, Netherlands

House sign, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street book library, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street book library, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The noble sport of Eel Pulling was once widely practiced in Amsterdam. An eel was tied to a rope and dangled over a canal, on the canal below someone stood in a small boat and tried to pull the eel from the rope. Famously slippery, the eel regularly ‘won’ the competition while the eel puller ended up in the water. The sport was banned in the 19th Century, but in the Jordaan it was still played. In 1886, a bout of eel pulling attracted the attention of the police, sparking riots. The army was called and by the time calm returned 26 people were dead.

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Contemporary, well-to-do  Jordaan gives little of that history away. It is the epitome of modern Amsterdam, a trendy area with a lot of young people and young families, mixing modernity and history, and popular with artists. In London, an area like this would by now be the preserve of the rich; rent control means that the Jordaan has retained a more traditional mix of inhabitants. There are no major tourist sites but the area is fascinating to wander, and there are plenty of good bars and restaurants to break the journey.

Shops, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Shops, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

If the Jordaan is one manifestation of the Dutch Golden Age, a short distance away the Rijksmuseum presents a very different cultural legacy. Vermeer, van Dyck, Jan Steen and Frans Hals are some of the Dutch masters on display, while Rembrandt steals the show. The vast profits from global trade made all this artistic endeavour possible. The great irony is that the same economic forces that made the Jordaan a poverty stricken immigrant ghetto, produced some of the finest artists of all time.

Amsterdam, defying stereotypes while playing to the crowd

They’re building a new bridge in Amsterdam, no ordinary bridge, one built by robots using 3D printing technology. It will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and when completed it will span one of the city’s many canals. In this city of water, it will take its place amongst nearly 1,300 other bridges that are still in use today, the oldest of which dates to the mid-17th Century. Cutting-edge modernity will merge seamlessly with centuries of history.

The 3D bridge is the perfect symbol of the nature of the Netherlands’ most iconic and vibrant city: defying convention, dodging stereotypes and constantly reinventing itself as a modern urban creative hub. It is this spirit of inventiveness that makes Amsterdam a magnet for people from all over the world, and the reason I’ve repeatedly explored its fascinating streets.

Traditional Dutch houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Iamsterdam sign, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Iamsterdam sign, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I came across the 3D bridge while reading a news article about how Amsterdam was ranked the 5th most innovative city in the world earlier this year. The only surprising thing about this is that there are four cities more innovative. What Amsterdam seems to do so well, is to merge this creative streak brilliantly with its long and glorious history, and its incredible cultural wealth.

Arrive at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station on a sunny Saturday afternoon though and this is unlikely to be the first impression you get of the city. Stag parties compete for attention with hen parties, bewildered tour groups vie for space with maniacal cyclists, and crowds of tourists from around the world do what crowds of tourists do everywhere, make the place look untidy. This city is a heady mix of serious culture seekers, hedonistic party goers and people eager to experience one of Europe’s truly great cities.

Centraal Station, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Centraal Station, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Centraal Station, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Centraal Station, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hen Night, Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hen Night, Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The city’s legendary drug and sex scene is high on many people’s agenda, and you don’t have to wander too far from Centraal Station to encounter windows illuminated with red light and graced by underwear wearing women, less than 5 percent of whom are actually Dutch. These streets are filled with curious tourists, almost like an open air museum for the prurient and voyeuristic. They should charge a fee to walk around here, and the proceeds should go to the women in the windows.

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Drug shop, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Drug shop, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Coffee House, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Coffee House, Amsterdam, Netherlands

A stroll down these streets is almost obligatory and if offers an insight into a part of the city’s life that locals rarely engage with. Many people think that legalised prostitution is a result of the famed Dutch liberalism, an anything goes attitude that also takes a laid-back approach to soft drugs. In reality nothing could be further from the truth. The Dutch are a pretty conservative bunch – Calvinism runs through society like a giant kill-joy – but they’re also practical and pragmatic. Prostitution is going to happen, best to control and tax it, seems to be the general attitude.

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Shop window, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Shop window, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and party boat, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and party boat, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This area is definitely the seedy side of Amsterdam, but if you can ignore the boat loads of drunks acting out cliché after cliché, it can be entertaining. There are some good bars and cafes (the non-coffee shop variety), and pulling up a window seat to watch the world go by is a lot of fun. Amsterdam is a small place, walk a few blocks away from the red light district and you could be in a different city altogether. Tranquil residential streets with historic houses and canals, no tourists hoards, no red lights and definitely no stag parties.

Statue on edge of Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Statue on edge of Red Light District, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional bar, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional bar, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Keeping cool, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Keeping cool, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Canals and boats, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Despite the ever present bicycles, for me the best way to get to know the city is to head off on foot and explore the different neighbourhoods at leisure. From Zeeheldenbuurt and Westerpark in the north to De Pijp and Beatrixpark in the south, it’s amazing what Amsterdam has to offer.

Wandering the Waterland, Broek in Waterland

I felt compelled to visit Broek in Waterland. Not because travel guides insist it’s not to be missed, not because of its beauty or history, not even because Napoleon visited with Empress Marie Louise in 1811. I had to visit Broek in Waterland because Google Translate told me that the name in English meant ‘Pants in Waterland’. The translation of a Dutch newspaper article claimed, “Pants is a crazy town, with amazing characteristic houses. It used to be quite a carnival of colors.” ‘Crazy’, ‘amazing’ and ‘carnival’, ‘Pants in Waterland’ seemed like my kind of town.

‘Broek’ in Dutch has a number of meanings, mostly related to things that cover the legs. According to Google Translate these include ‘pants, trousers, leggings and trews’, and I’m not sure ‘trews’ has been used since the 18th Century. Broek also means ‘swamp’ and ‘marsh’. ‘Marsh in Waterland’ makes a lot more sense in this waterlogged region.

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling from Monnickendam to Broek the landscape is dominated by polders, criss-crossed with narrow channels of water, all well below sea level. Given a chance, the North Sea and the former Zuiderzee would rush in and submerge the region, as they’ve done numerous times over the centuries. Modern engineering and a dogged determination to tame nature keep the waters at bay. Which is just as well for the thousands of dairy cows that are as much a feature of the landscape as the polders.

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

In this relentlessly flat landscape I spotted the spire of one of Broek’s churches long before I arrived. The village is very pretty, large houses hint at its history and former prosperity. Not that it isn’t prosperous today, it definitely is, enough not to need tour bus-style tourism. In fact, it’s actively discouraged, which probably makes Broek a bit snooty. In the 18th Century foreign visitors frequently remarked on Broek’s cleanliness, the denizens of the village clearly take pride in maintaining that tradition. Definitely snooty.

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Cycling in the Waterland near Broek in Waterland, Netherlands

Originally Broek was a small fishing village, but the 17th and 18th Centuries saw a steady flow of wealthy Amsterdam ship owners and merchants moving out of the city and building grandiose houses here. It’s only 10 kilometres to central Amsterdam, and what self respecting wealthy person wouldn’t want a country retreat? There were a few interruptions to its growth – the Spanish burned it to the ground during the Eighty Years War – but it went on to thrive.

After a short wander around the village, and a quick drink in the De Witte Swaen, I was on my way again. After a day of cycling I was headed to Amsterdam only a few kilometres away – but which could be another country altogether. Returning to the urban environment I popped into one last village.

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang – which if Google Translate is to be believed, means waterway or watercourse – is a very literal name for a village in the Netherlands. It’s a tiny place of around 300 people that dates back to the late 16th Century, with a church originally built in 1642 that is a registered national monument.

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang, Netherlands

Watergang sits on the Noordhollandsch Kanaal, a canal stretching 75km from Den Helder on the North Sea to North Amsterdam. It was built in 1824 to shorten the route ships had to travel to reach Amsterdam, and because Amsterdam’s harbour on the Zuiderzee was beginning to silt up. The canal only proved economical for around 50 years; too small for bigger ships it became obsolete when the North Sea Canal opened in 1876. It provides pleasant cycling though, and I followed the route all the way into Amsterdam.

Wandering the Waterland, Monnickendam

The brash tourism of Volendam came as a surprise after tranquil Edam, as if Amsterdam’s tawdry Martelaarsgracht had been transplanted to the lakeside. The crowds of day-trippers seemed like a good reason for taking the easy way out, and I headed for the exit. Leaving behind the ‘I Love Volendam’ t-shirts, giant wooden clogs and multiple opportunities to have a photograph in traditional Dutch costume, I cycled the few kilometres to Monnickendam, somewhere I’d seen described as ‘a small town where all is history’.

Day tripping in Volendam, Netherlands

Day tripping in Volendam, Netherlands

Cycling along the IJsselmeer near Volendam, Netherlands

Cycling along the IJsselmeer near Volendam, Netherlands

De Speeltoren, Monnickendam, Netherlands

De Speeltoren, Monnickendam, Netherlands

De Speeltoren and Waag, Monnickendam, Netherlands

De Speeltoren and Waag, Monnickendam, Netherlands

The once proud Zuiderzee fishing fleet that was the backbone of Monnickendam’s economy is long gone; if you’re a whale that’s probably a good thing. In the 17th Century the town grew into one of the most important Dutch whaling centres. The Dutch led the world in whaling, killing over 30,000 whales in the 17th and 18th Centuries alone, and making vast profits along the way. The town retains traces of the industries, such as soap making, that relied upon whaling; unsurprisingly, it isn’t something that features prominently in tourist literature.

Tourism is important to Monnickendam’s economy, but retains it’s seafaring traditions as one of the largest harbours for yachts and other leisure craft on the Markermeer. It’s also a working shipyard, centuries of shipbuilding tradition being put to good use repairing and building boats. This includes numerous old trawlers, which picturesquely dot the old and new harbours.

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Things might have been very different had plans to reclaim the land that sits beneath the waters of the Markermeer been completed. When, in 1932, the government built the Afsluitdijk to tame the Zuiderzee, it heralded an ambitious land reclamation project. This included the area around Monnickendam. In 1976 a second dam, linking Enkhuizen with Lelystad, was constructed, splitting the Zuiderzee in two and creating the Markermeer – which was to be drained to create agricultural land.

It’s hard to imagine, but Monnickendam would have been left high and dry. Instead of standing on the old harbour and looking out over the waters of the Markermeer, I might have been looking out over fields scattered with cows. This ancient fishing village could have become an agricultural town. I might not have minded if Volendam had been reclaimed, but Monnickendam would have been a tragedy.

The view to the Markermeer, Monnickendam, Netherlands

The view to the Markermeer, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Traditional boats in the old harbour, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Eel fishing statue, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Eel fishing statue, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Cycling into town I found the old harbour and a cluster of cafes and restaurants overlooking the water. Sitting at one of the outdoor tables in the middle of this lovely town the past surrounds you, the old boats in the harbour reflecting centuries of maritime history. For a sign of the community of monks who gave Monnickendam its name you have to head to the enormous St. Nicholas church; the only other sign of the town’s founders is an alarming statue of a monk holding a large wooden club. Not exactly a recruiting poster for the monastic way of life.

Alarming monk, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Alarming monk, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Monnickendam, Netherlands

Monnickendam, Netherlands

Lutheran Church, Monnickendam, Netherlands

Lutheran Church, Monnickendam, Netherlands

The harbour is Monnickendam’s centre, and walking around the atmospheric narrow streets, beautiful old Dutch houses tilting at alarming angles above, inevitably brings you back here. The old town isn’t very large and doesn’t take much time to explore. I had a stroll then cycled into the interior of the Waterland region, just to see what Monnickendam might have looked like if the Markermeer had been drained.

Wandering the Waterland to the Big Cheese

Edam cheese is one of the world’s most famous; famous enough to be an iconic symbol of the Netherlands. Big wheels of the stuff, coated in red or orange wax, can be found on tourist literature from Amsterdam to Timbuktu. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Edam itself is an unpretentious traditional Dutch town of a few thousand people. Tourism hasn’t left it untouched, but it’s pretty low key. It’s a world away from the grotesque brashness of nearby Volendam, which is only worth visiting if you’re a social scientist studying what happens ‘when tourism goes bad’.

The ships that once sailed from Edam and other Zuiderzee ports carried Edam cheese with them around the world. It’s claimed that by the 18th Century it was the most popular cheese in the world; it’s safe to say that it helped put the ‘golden’ into the Dutch Golden Age. Preserved inside its waxy coat, it served as both food for a ship’s crew and something to barter with when ships reached the fabled spice islands of Indonesia. Quite what 17th Century Indonesians made of the rubbery yellow stuff (the cheese not the wax) has gone unrecorded.

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

One of the cheese makers, Edam, Netherlands

One of the cheese makers, Edam, Netherlands

Cheese or munitions? Edam, Netherlands

Cheese or munitions? Edam, Netherlands

I read somewhere that the round, hard balls of Edam could, in an emergency, double as cannon balls. It must have been a bit of a surprise, not to mention confusing, if you were an English or French sailor and mid-battle Dutch ships started bombarding you with lunch. Although I’m not sure Edam is considered to be food in France. The round wooden cheese moulds that Edam was made in also had a martial role, during riots they doubled as helmets. This, not unfairly, earned the Dutch the nickname of ‘cheese heads’.

I’d arrived by train in the eminently forgettable town of Purmerend, the nearest station to Edam, and cycled out into the surrounding polders. On a warm sunny day, the landscape was was alive with colourful flowers and it was a pleasure to explore more of the Waterland region.

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Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

Cycling through Waterland to Edam, Netherlands

A large canal, the Purmerringvaart, connects the two towns and cycling its raised banks offered wonderful views over the countryside. I was enjoying myself so much the dozen or so kilometres whizzed past and I was suddenly in Edam. I knew I was in Edam because there was a life-size wooden cut out of a woman in traditional dress and clogs holding a large Edam cheese. Nothing says you’ve arrived in a Dutch cheese town more than that.

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam’s centre is small and compact, perfect for strolling. I stopped at an outdoor cafe next to a canal for some breakfast (resisting the urge to order cheese) and had a reviving coffee, before heading off on foot to unearth more cheesy delights. Come here on a Wednesday in July or August and you’ll be treated to a traditional cheese market with people dressed in costumes, a cheesy tourist spectacle no doubt! I was here on a Saturday and decided the next best thing was to make my way to the kaaswaag, or cheese weighing house.

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

The area outside the kaaswaag is where Edam’s cheese market has been held since the 16th Century. It was closed down in 1922 before being revived by volunteers as a tourist attraction. On a non-market day the kaaswaag is open as a cheese shop, with mounds of Edam on display and cheese tasting if you venture inside. The rest of the town takes little time to visit, I spent an hour or so wandering around, up and down canals and exploring narrow side streets.

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands

Cycling along the IJsselmeer, Waterland to Volendam, Netherlands

Cycling along the IJsselmeer, Waterland to Volendam, Netherlands

Leaving peaceful Edam behind, I rejoined my bike and set off towards the former Zuiderzee, now the IJsselmeer lake, from where I followed the shoreline to Volendam. I didn’t know much about Volendam, but the ranks of tour buses that greeted me as I arrived in the town were an indication that all was not well. The town’s once picturesque waterfront was mobbed by day-trippers; the smell of frites and kibberling accompanied me as I pushed my bike through the crowds along the front.

I’d planned to have lunch in Volendam, but everywhere was overcrowded. I decided I wasn’t in the mood for mass tourism and continued out the other side of town towards Monnickendam.

Preserving the traditions of the herring fleet

Fish and fishing have been central to the history and culture of the communities that for centuries have lived and worked along the shores of the Zuiderzee. In the 17th Century, Zuiderzee towns got rich from the trade in spice, gold and silk that flowed to these waters all the way to India, Japan, China and Indonesia. The wealth it generated was so enormous it launched the Dutch Golden Age. The towns of Hoorn and Enkhuizen were founding members of the Dutch East India Company, and trade with the East saw them flourish for a century or more.

It was fish and fishing that was the mainstay for most communities in this region though. North Sea herring, supplemented by whaling, formed the backbone of their economies until the 18th Century, by which time many harbours had silted up and ocean-going boats couldn’t reach the open sea. The Zuiderzee continued to provide a living for many communities, and eel became an important catch. It is the history of these communities that is preserved at the open air Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen.

Drying fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Drying fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Known as the Southern Sea in English, the Zuiderzee was really a large bay of the North Sea. It was created in the 13th Century by rising sea levels that flooded the land, and a series of ferocious storms which destroyed the dunes and marshlands that formed a natural barrier to the sea. Although it extended 100km inland, had a coastline of around 300km and covered a vast 3,200 square kilometres, the water was rarely more than 4 metres deep. This gave rise to the iconic flat-bottomed boats with keels attached to their sides that remain a feature of the former Zuiderzee.

Over the centuries North Sea storms, similar to those that helped form the Zuiderzee, regularly brought death and destruction to this region. The St. Elizabeth’s Day Flood of 1421 was one of the worst; it caused massive damage and left up to 10,000 people dead across the country. There were dozens of smaller floods over the centuries, but also some much bigger natural disasters, including the Great Storm of 1703, one of the the worst ever recorded in northern Europe.

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The idea of damming the Zuiderzee to prevent these disasters had first been mooted in the 17th Century, but it was the vicious floods of 1916 that finally pushed the Dutch government into action. It took nearly two decades more, but eventually the Afsluitdijk, a 32km dyke sealing the Zuiderzee off from the North Sea, was completed and the Zuiderzee became the IJsselmeer, Western Europe’s largest lake.

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

School room, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

School room, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Gapers, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Gapers, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Gapers, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Gapers, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

This was little short of a disaster for the communities of the Zuiderzee, the fishing fleet became redundant as the salt water of the Zuiderzee turned into the fresh water of the IJsselmeer. Villages and towns lost the mainstay of their livelihoods and most communities went into a spiral of decline. Centuries old traditions began to be lost and an entire part of Dutch history appeared to be on the verge of extinction.

Until, that is, the idea of the Zuiderzee Museum took shape. Recreating a traditional fishing village, original historic buildings from across the region were brought to Enkhuizen and turned into a late 19th, early 20th Century Zuiderzee fishing village. There are 130 buildings in the museum-cum-village, many of them are inhabited by people who dress in traditional clothing and continue traditional trades, such as smoking fish, to recreate the lives of typical villagers. It is a brilliant and atmospheric place to visit, and offers a unique insight into a way of life that has all but vanished.

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Hand washing, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Hand washing, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

As a footnote, the construction of the Afsluitdijk wasn’t just about preventing natural disasters; it was part of a larger plan to reclaim more land from the water. By 1968 three large areas of over 1,300 square kilometres of ‘new’ land had been created. Villages like Elburg which had once been on the coast found themselves inland, and new towns like Lelystad and Almere were constructed on the new land.

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Villagers in costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Toilet door, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Toilet door, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

A new dam linking Enkhuizen with Lelystad was constructed in 1976 as a prelude to a fourth reclamation project, but rising environmental concerns put an end to this and any further projects to reduce the former Zuiderzee in size.

Taming nature at the Zuiderzee Museum

Being at the mercy of violent, catastrophic storms has been one of the defining features of Dutch life over the last thousand years; and for all that time the people of the Netherlands have responded by trying to tame nature. The struggle to contain water is ingrained in society and etched into a landscape of polders. I’m not sure if those ‘rumours’ about webbed feet are true, but given the history there’s a reasonable evolutionary chance…

In 1932 the Dutch government took a momentous decision: they built a dyke. Dyke building being something of a national pastime this shouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but the Afsluitdijk was no ordinary dyke. Stretching for 32km it was designed to seal off the Zuiderzee from the North Sea, bringing to an end centuries of frequent, vicious floods. The decision to build the Afsluitdijk came after a hugely destructive storm in 1916 that smashed dykes, flooded vast tracts of land and left many dead.

Traditional Dutch costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Fishing nets, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Fishing nets, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Smoking fish, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Afsluitdijk was built to prevent this from ever happening again, but taming nature came at a heavy price for the fishing villages and towns that relied upon the Zuiderzee for their livelihoods. Constructing the Afsluitdijk destroyed a way of life that had existed around the shores of the Zuiderzee for centuries. The communities and traditions that had been built on fishing and seafaring began to wither and die.

The fishing fleets that once sailed from the towns of the Zuiderzee caught herring, a cash crop that made the region wealthy. The Afsluitdijk prevented the fish from coming in, and the boats from going out, a calamity for dozens of communities. The Dutch relationship with herring continues unabated though – seeing someone eat pickled herring early in the morning still sends a shiver down my spine. One of my Dutch friends considers it a hangover cure; I consider pickled herring an incentive to never be hungover.

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Enkhuizen is known as Haringstad, or Herring Town. Its relationship with the oily fish is emphasised on its coat of arms, which incorporates three herring, each wearing a crown of gold, on a shield being held by a woman. It is fitting then that here in 1948 the Dutch government took steps to preserve the traditions and way of life of the Zuiderzee fishing communities. A plan was concocted for an open air museum constructed as an archetypal fishing village on the shores of the former Zuiderzee.

The museum is split in two, an indoor and an outdoor museum, the latter recreating a traditional fishing village. They didn’t just build replicas of buildings, they brought the original buildings from across the region to Enkhuizen. There is a fascinating black and white short film in one of Enkhuizen’s restored houses, including the surreal sight of huge buildings being transported along roads and canals. It took 35 years for the outdoor museum to be opened to the public, but it was worth the wait.

Traditional Dutch costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch costume, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

There are 130 buildings in the museum-cum-village and many of them are inhabited which, when you think about it, is a bit weird. A museum that is a reconstructed 19th Century fishing village is inhabited by 21st Century humans; not only that, the inhabitants wear traditional clothes, shops are actually shops selling things, workshops continue long lost crafts, and herring is smoked in the traditional manner to be bought and eaten by visitors.

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Fishing nets, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Fishing nets, the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands

The residents role play being late 19th or early 20th Century villagers, going about their business largely ignoring the throngs of tourists snapping photos of them. Traditional clothes, and particularly traditional hats, from across the region are worn and there are plenty of clogs on display. The general rule in the village is, if a door to a building is open you can look inside. It’s a fascinating and illuminating experience, but it must be a truly odd existence for the handful of inhabitants.