My Favorite Part of Amsterdam: Zaanse Schans.
When in Rome see the Colloseum and when in the Netherlands, see the windmills! This was our main destination when returning to Amsterdam and we made sure we had a lot more time for sightseeing in this city as well as in Den Haag. We were staying in Zandam, a town outside the central city, but closer to Zaanse Schans. It is an open area with traditional windmills (which are still functioning by the way), craftsman’s workshops, clogs and cheese workshop and the Zaans Museum, all opened to visitors.
How to get to Zaanse Schans from Zandam.
We took the train to Koog-Zandjik (Euro 8.40 both ways) and once we arrived, we followed the information board from the station all the way to the windmills. As we walked, the rain fell yet we pursued on, determined to see the architecture and wooden green houses. There were other groups ahead of us and we followed them all the way to the bridge, excited that we could see the windmills as we crossed over.
Places to visit inside Zaanse Schans.
Surprisingly, there were no fees when entering the compound. We got our map from a machine by depositing a few coins. Then we walked down to the first house and saw a row of similar looking cottages built from wood. The street design in Zaanse Schans is typical of the merchant’s urban planning until the late 19th century with wealthy merchant houses along the dike and labourers’ cottages set at right angles along water drainage channels, made accessible by small bridges. We walked by the clock museum, Zaanse museum, them and came to a restaurant, contemplating whether to take cover from the rain or to venture on. We decided on the latter and continued on until we saw a museum.
1. Homes in Zaanse Schans.
Mimicking the wealthy, the labourer’s laid out their own ‘over-gardens’. These gardens were usually situated on the other side of a path and were used as drying and bleaching grounds, for animals and as a place to keep the woods. An open square named t’Glop allows access to the river where goods can be unloaded. On the opposite bank is a protected area known as the Gortershoek, where dozens of wealthy merchant houses can be seen. One of the houses (number 80), the Honig Breethuis with its charming 18th century interior can be viewed by the public. Most of the houses were wooden, painted in green or white, gables decorated and the front door known as the ‘deaths door’ was used for weddings and burials.
The mustard mill is one of the mills that can be seen in Zaanse Schanse. Visitors are allowed to wander inside, to watch the demo and learn more about the milling process. We entered one of it called De Huism which is above the spice mill warehouse. Inside, we could smell the freshly-grounded spices and feel the machine that processes it. On one corner is a video with a brief information on the mills and a grocery shop sits beside it. There were spices for sale, windmill souvenirs such as magnets, keychains, postcards and bags.
3. Zans Gedaan, the cocoa lab.
We could smell chocolates in the air after the saw mill and turned to the back of a green cottage where we saw a signboard that said “Free Entrance. Chocolate Laboratory. The real chocolate milk. Hot & Cold.” A chocolate weighing machine was placed outdoors on a chair and when we saw another chalkboard sign that said “demonstration”, we knew we had to walk in there. On the left was a cashier table where a display of unique looking chocolates in the shape of tools (hammer, pliers, saw) and wrapped chocolates can be purchased. At one corner is the table with chocolate ingredients which we could mix ourselves as a warm or cold drink, costing only Euro 2 per cup. We mixed the cocoa with milk, sugar and warmed ourselves up with a cup. Bart then got a chocolate which he ate on the spot, all the while both of us were trying to buy more time from the rain outside.
4. Cheese Farm and shop.
We stumbled into this cheese farm shop and didn’t realize that a workshop was next to it until we heard the host inviting us over for a demonstration. The lady showed us how the cheese was pasteurized and then placed in a wooden mold to keep its’ round shape. The final product is a conveniently sized format of the cheese in various flavors. There’s the Gouda, goat’s cheese and herb cheese, which we could test in the shop as well as the buy them as souvenirs. I could never eat goat’s cheese even when it’s mixed in salads or eaten with bread because the smell is just too strong for me. We didn’t get any cheese though for fear that it may cause some unwanted smell at the airport check-in but so many other people, especially the tour groups were seen filling their baskets to the brim!
5. Clogs Museum and Workshop.
We came just in time to see the clog demonstration from one of the staff here at the workshop where he showed us how the wood were chopped, sanded and then drilled to create a hole (where your feet goes in). They are also able to make different sizes based on the measurements on the machines. He was so experienced that he didn’t need the reference when he chopped off the edge and the bottom with ease. Most of these clogs have the standard windmill image on them and they cost around Euro35 per pair. There were so many colors, so many designs to choose from and it almost made me go blind. We got a few keychain souvenirs instead, which was easier to bring home compared to the actual version (they felt heavy!).
6. Jagershuis: Trash & Treasures and Other Shops.
There were a few other shops, crafts and museum that we missed out on due to the drizzling rain. One of them was the Jagershuis or the Trash & Treasures shops which had antique items out on the yard. A little gate opened into the yard and inside was a museum of vintage finds. There’s also the Bakery Museum, built in 1658 with bread making demonstration and a local sweet bread that visitors could try.
7. Photography and Windmill Shop.
At the end of the Zaanse Schans walk was a photography and windmill shop that sells plenty of Dutch souvenir items for one to bring home. You could even get your photo taken and have them printed on a cover of a calendar filled with tulips or clogs. We saw a few cute postcards, got a few of them and bought stamps from the cashier to send out to friends back home. It was convenient because we could straight away drop the postcards in the mailbox right outside the shop once we’ve complete it.
Don’t skip this place if you’re in Amsterdam!
I truly recommend Zaanse Schans for those who plan to go to Amsterdam for the first time as it gives you an insight and experiences on the Dutch culture. It’s also easy to go there by train and you just need to know when the place opens. You could also check if the boat goes there from Zandam during spring or summer as that would be another option to visit Zaanse Schans. Otherwise, just show up, go into all the shops, museums, crafts and bring home good memories.
Location: Zaanse Schans Information Center, Schansend 7, Zandam | Opening Hours: 8:30am – 5pm | Admission: Free
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.