Molen de Roos, exploring a Dutch windmill

I’m not sure its possible to avoid cliché when it comes to windmills and the Netherlands. They are amongst the top two or three things that the country is known for, perhaps only topped by tulips and cheese. Seen on countless chocolate boxes and t-towels, these idiosyncratic machines were a groundbreaking innovation. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, thousands of them were dotted along dykes all over the Netherlands. In 1850 there were more than ten thousand working windmills – which must have been an extraordinary sight.

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Windmills appeared in the 12th Century and were quickly adapted to grind corn, coffee beans and mustard seeds, saw wood, pump water, crush ore and stone, as well as countless other industrial applications. They revolutionised manufacturing and drove the economy. Without the windmill to pump water and reclaim land, the Netherlands itself wouldn’t have existed in the way that it did and does. Today there are around a thousand windmills left standing, and they are still a thrilling sight.

Views over Delft from the Molen de Roos, Netherlands

Views over Delft from the Molen de Roos, Netherlands

In such a low-lying country these iconic features of the Dutch landscape tower over the countryside. We may view them as quaint remnants of a bygone era, but these giants were the cutting-edge technology of their era. Quaint to look at maybe, but standing outside on the wooden ‘stage’ half way up the Molen de Roos in Delft, the noise and vibration as the huge sails swirl past at speed is quite alarming. Not to mention the sense of motion sickness induced by the constant rotation of the sails.

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

The Molen de Roos (the Rose Windmill) was an unexpected treat, open and free to explore thanks to the volunteers who maintain and run it. The original windmill on this site was first mentioned in 1352, and it was rebuilt in 1679 with a much higher tower on the top. This was made from wood and was later replaced by the current stone tower sometime before 1727. Although it fell into disuse and became dilapidated, the whole thing was gloriously restored in the 1990s.

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Doorway, Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Doorway, Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

There are several distinct types of windmill. Molen de Roos is a tower mill with stage, often shortened to stage mill due their most distinctive feature. It is a typical example of a corn mill. The wind was quite strong the day I was there, and the sails were only partial covered with cloth to prevent it from picking up too much speed. An out-of-control windmill can literally tear itself apart. Molen de Roos was used to produce flour, and the grinding mechanism is still working. The speed with which the mechanism rotates presumably makes it quite dangerous to operate.

Flour grinding mechanism, Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Flour grinding mechanism, Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Flour grinding mechanism, Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Emerging from the interior onto the stage the views over Delft were wonderful, although the massive rebuilding of the train station is a bit of a blot on the cityscape. While the sails are safely behind a rope preventing visitors from being decapitated, you can see the triangular ‘tail’ of the windmill with what looks like a steering wheel attached to it. This is used to rotate the top of the windmill and move the blades into the wind. There are various chains holding everything in place, and presumably preventing the whole building from taking flight.

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

Molen de Roos, Delft, Netherlands

The thing which struck me, other than the ridiculously steep steps, was the sheer size of the interior space. I hadn’t considered that they would be so large, but it was both home for the miller and his family, and a self contained factory accommodating a dozen or more people. I have to confess to being just a bit thrilled by my first windmill encounter, but life must have been pretty hard in the mills. The noise is overpowering, and going up and down the steep narrow stairs all day long can’t have been much fun.

Roaming the streets and canals of Delft (Part II)

I discovered this week that Delft has been voted as a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice 2014 Winner as a top destination. Thoroughly deserved in my opinion, and a reason to share a few more photos of the glorious old city.

Canal and bridge, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and bridge, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

While my visit to lovely Delft is still at the forefront of my mind, I’ve been learning a few critical Dutch lessons on the streets of The Hague as well. Moving to a new country always throws up a few mind-bending oddities, but things are done differently from country to country and I’d be disappointed if they weren’t. Different cultural practices, social norms, language and national traits are all there to be explored and investigated.

Still, there are some things which I think its reasonable to assume will be similar – after all, I’ve moved to the Netherlands, not to live with an isolated tribe in the Amazon. So it came as a surprise to discover the Dutch aversion to money. That is, the paper and coin money which you find in quite a few civilisations on the planet and which have been around for millennia.

Small square, Delft, Netherlands

Small square, Delft, Netherlands

Statue in Markt, Delft, Netherlands

Statue in Markt, Delft, Netherlands

Speciality beer, Delft, Netherlands

Speciality beer, Delft, Netherlands

My journey into a vaguely Kafkaesque world began when trying to secure a permanent apartment and had to pay the rent and agency fees. To have a Dutch bank account requires you to have a permanent Dutch residence, and since my UK account is in Sterling not Euro, transferring the money would incur a hefty fee. A branch of the bank used by my letting agent sits just around the corner from my office, so I did what I assumed any sane person might do, I withdrew hard cash and went to pay it into the bank. This, it turned out, was a school boy error.

Modern art, Delft, Netherlands

Modern art, Delft, Netherlands

Wooden shutters, Delft, Netherlands

Wooden shutters, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Generally speaking, I would expect banks to, you know, accept cash and maybe even dispense it. They did in Bolivia. Not in the Netherlands. I waited in the queue to speak to a nice woman behind a counter; I showed her my letter from the letting agent with the bank account details; I explained I needed to pay money into the bank account that day to secure the apartment. Not unreasonable requests, but the first sign that things were not all they seemed came when she looked at me like I might be an escaped lunatic.

She explained, as she might to a seven-year-old, that they didn’t have money on the premises; under no circumstances would she be able to accept a cash payment. Transactions are done electronically, or using machines which require a Dutch bank card to operate. I explained, again, that I didn’t have a Dutch bank account or card, not until I had a permanent address at least; what I did have was a lot Euros in my pocket that I wanted to pay to my letting agent who had an account with the bank I was stood inside.

Once I’d done that, I could open a Dutch bank account. She explained that I needed a Dutch bank account…

Statue of a woman making Delft pottery, Delft, Netherlands

Statue of a woman making Delft pottery, Delft, Netherlands

Speciality beer, Delft, Netherlands

Speciality beer, Delft, Netherlands

Poster of King Willem-Alexander in preparation for Kings Day festivities, Delft, Netherlands

Poster of King Willem-Alexander in preparation for Kings Day festivities, Delft, Netherlands

Stalemate. A colleague told me he once damaged his bank card and it stopped working in ATMs; he went into his local branch to withdraw money manually only to be told the same thing. No money in the bank, but please feel free to use the machine with your card. The Dutch banking system’s aversion to physical money is like something out of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.

I might not have given this a second thought, but then I tried to pay cash for something in a furniture store. I arrived at the checkout confident that I could manage a routine transaction and proffered some notes and a few coins. The woman behind the till literally recoiled from me. I assumed she was banknote-phobic, which raised questions about her suitability to be doing that particular job, but that’s not for me to judge. It turns out that while they accept cash she isn’t allowed to touch it. Instead I had to feed the money into a machine next to her. The reason: security.

Nun advertising, Delft, Netherlands

Nun advertising, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware chair, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware chair, Delft, Netherlands

Either the Netherlands is a crime infested hellhole (I’ve yet to see any evidence of this and am sure I’d have read about it before now), or the Dutch have an unreasonable fear of bank heists and furniture store holdups. Answers on a postcard…

Roaming the streets and canals of Delft

Delft is a glorious place to stroll around. Almost every street reveals yet more wonderful architecture, another small canal with quaint bridges or a site of historical significance. Quite often you get all three at the same time, and I have to admit to finding myself slightly beguiled by its wonderful and tranquil atmosphere. I imagine that my impression would have been different if it had been summer and the height of the tourist season. It is a small and compact city where the two or three tour groups I saw were very conspicuous.

Canal and church in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal and church in old Delft, Netherlands

Giant light, Delft, Netherlands

Giant light, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

It is pretty easy to lose your way amongst the narrow streets and canals of the historic centre; luckily there are a couple of giant landmarks which serve to orient you when you catch sight of them. The truly enormous spire of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) can probably be seen from space – in fact, at 108.75 m (356.79 ft) high, surprisingly it is only the second tallest church in the Netherlands. Nieuwe Kerk dates from the 14th Century, proving that ‘new’ is relative in a city as old as Delft. It is also the burial place for generations of the Dutch monarchy.

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

By comparison, at 75 metres in height the Oude Kerk (Old Church) can’t compete on size, but as the current building dates from the 13th Century and stands on the site of even earlier churches, it wins hands down on age. How much longer Oude Kerk, or Oude Jan (Old John) as it is affectionately known, stands is a matter of debate. It’s hulking tower leans at an angle which should give homeowners living across the road sleepless nights. It isn’t quite the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it tilts at a very alarming angle away from the rest of the church.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and building, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and building, Delft, Netherlands

Delft has several important historical connections beyond Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer, and Delft Pottery. This is a Royal city, home to the House of Orange. William of Orange, or William the Silent as he became known to posterity, took up residence in Delft in the 1570s. As one of the main leaders of Dutch resistance against Spanish control of the Netherlands, the large and solid city walls of Delft made it a good choice as a base.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

It was in Delft that Dutch leaders met to declare their rejection of Spanish control and sought foreign assistance against the Spanish armies roaming the country. The Eighty Years’ War against Spain, which would determine the future course of Dutch history, started in 1568, only ending in 1648. Which must have been a relief to everyone concerned. Dutch independence is bound up with the Protestant Reformation and a rejection, not just of Spanish control, but of Catholic Spain.

Extra Blond, Delft, Netherlands

Extra Blond, Delft, Netherlands

The fate of once proud bicycle, Delft, Netherlands

The fate of once proud bicycle, Delft, Netherlands

In this the Dutch were allied to newly Protestant England. After initial successes against the Spanish, by the 1580s Spain was reasserting control over the Netherlands. The assassination of William of Orange in 1584 was a major blow to Dutch aspirations and led to one of the more extraordinary acts during this period: the Dutch offered sovereignty over the country to Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth refused, instead sending a poorly equipped, and even more poorly led (by her favourite Robert Dudley), army to support the Dutch.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Historic Delft, Netherlands

Historic Delft, Netherlands

Despite this bungling, England probably did assist Dutch independence when, in 1588, the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada. This defeat was a real setback to Spanish power in Northern Europe, although the Dutch still had to contend with a large Spanish army which was marauding around modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands.

There were still 60 years of fighting left before the Dutch finally defeated the Spanish and, once and for all, banished tapas from their borders in favour of raw herring and bitterballen. A fact some modern residents of the Netherlands daily regret.

‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ overload, a trip to Delft

To call Johannes Vermeer’s birthplace a living museum is a little unfair. Delft has more life than most museums, and the buzz of activity late on a Sunday morning as people start populating the open air cafes, gives the town a well loved, lived-in feel. That doesn’t stop it being as picture postcard perfect as any town I think I’ve ever seen. Despite the trappings of 21st Century life, the town is so well preserved it really is possible to imagine what it might have been like when the 17th Century Dutch Master lived and worked here.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

The old city centre is bursting at the seams with beautiful historic buildings, including the amazing looking City Hall which stands on the opposite side of Markt, the large central square, from the towering steeple of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The whole vast space of Markt is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and tourism-themed shops, but it is the size of the square, coupled with the grandeur of the buildings that you’ll take away from wandering through it.

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft, Netherlands

Delft has a long and glorious history, something the modern tourism industry rarely loses an opportunity to remind you of as you stroll around. Images of Vermeer’s most famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, can be spotted almost everywhere, including when you arrive at the train and tram station. Some seem to be attempting to replicate the original, while others are clearly trying for a more Scarlett Johansson-style visage – not always with results that would please her agent.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

All this ‘Pearl Earring’ thing wouldn’t be quite so irritating if the actual painting was in Delft. Its not, its in The Hague, where you never see any giant paintings on the side of buildings or Delftware encrusted artworks on walls.

A town that attracts a large number of tourists, it isn’t surprising that the good townsfolk of Delft have pulled out all the stops and left few clichè unturned. There is at least one giant wooden clog, a shop selling an enormous number giant cheese rounds, and then there is Delftware. The town is equally famous for its pottery industry, the famous blue and white Delftware, with perhaps it’s most iconic symbol – two traditionally attired children kissing.

Giant clog, Delft, Netherlands

Giant clog, Delft, Netherlands

Another tourist photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Another tourist photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

A giant cheese photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

A giant cheese photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Tourism everywhere trades on clichè, but I think Europe is particularly guilty of pushing the boundaries. I actually saw several people walking the streets with one of those giant cheeses in their possession – something they’d presumably regret when they came to pack their suitcase only to realise Ryanair were going to rip them off for €50 to check it into the hold.

The town received city status in 1246, but it had been founded on the banks of a newly dug canal much earlier. Fittingly for a city which grew up around a canal, the historic centre of Delft is criss-crossed with canals, which themselves are criss-crossed with innumerable bridges. Strolling down the canal banks and exploring some of the small and intimate side streets is a real joy. Most of the city centre is traffic free but, in keeping with my experience in The Hague, there is very little traffic on most of the streets.

Street sign for 'Oude Delft', Delft, Netherlands

Street sign for ‘Oude Delft’, Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

It is also remarkably easy to reach Delft from The Hague. There is a tram that goes from city centre to city centre, it takes about 30 minutes and it costs about €2. A bargain by any standard. I didn’t have a huge amount of time to wander and wonder, although I did stay longer than intended; I was having a quick look around while on my way to a giant Ikea store. Despite needing a bed for my new apartment this was, it turned out, an extremely foolish thing to do on a Sunday.

Oude Kerk (Old Church), Delft, Netherlands

Oude Kerk (Old Church), Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

I’d conservatively estimate that half the population of the Netherlands, possibly more, were inside the store. Presumably the other half had visited in the morning before I got there. It made for an unpleasant experience which was made all the more stark by the contrast between lovely Delft old town and a low cost Swedish furniture store. I’ll definitely be back to Delft to explore some more and to visit some of the (I’m told) excellent museums and galleries.