Amsterdam to Budapest - part 2

Words and photography by Peter Thorpe

We visit one of the few places you can still see working windmills

After boarding our river ship the AmaBella and settling in, we spend the first night on board in Amsterdam and the next day, we join our first coach tour to the Dutch village of Zaanse Schans, in the north of Amsterdam. The Zaanse Schans is one of the Netherlands’ best-loved attractions and it attracts nearly a million visitors every year.

The village offers a glimpse into the Netherlands’ industrial past, with its perfectly preserved 18th and 19th-century traditional wooden houses, windmills, warehouses and workshops. In its heyday, the Zaan region was an important industrial area, featuring hundreds of windmills producing flour, linseed oil, paint, snuff, mustard, paper and other products. Many of the quaint little houses in the village are now museums or gift shops. Some still operate as workshops with artisans producing pewter castings and handicrafts, while others are still used as private dwellings.

The Zaanse Schans village offers a glimpse of the Netherlands' past

Here we saw lots of the classic Dutch windmills of the type you expect to see everywhere in the Netherlands but unfortunately, this is no longer the case. They used to have thousands of windmills but then they discovered oil and electricity were more efficient, so they burned most of them down! OMG – what a travesty! Fortunately, in 1935 the government passed a law to preserve those that were left, for historical value and there are now around 1,200 or so still standing. Many of them still working, like the one we visited.

A clog maker makes clogs using traditional machinery

We also visited a clog making factory. It was quite fascinating to watch our clog maker take a big chunk of wood and, using machines that have been used for centuries for this purpose, fashion a pair of wearable clogs. Lots of Dutch people still wear clogs – mainly in the garden, etc., although I still can’t work out why anyone would want to wear a pair of shoes made out of wood. Think I’ll stick to my gumboots thanks.

My wife Patsy tries on a pair of clogs for size...

We also got to see (and taste – yummy) cheese being made. The Dutch make a vast variety of delicious cheeses and we got to taste many of them. We’ll be on lettuce leaves and water for a month when we get back! It’s a wonder they don’t have a massive obesity problem in Holland. Great cheese, beer, sausages, pancakes, waffles, bread, etc. Maybe they lose the extra kilos riding their bicycles everywhere?

We get to see and taste yummy Dutch cheese being made

We really enjoyed our afternoon spent exploring the village and learning about Dutch history and culture. Then, it’s back to the ship and we start our journey down the Rhine.

The green and orange buildings above were built in 1235

The next day, we are in Germany and visit the city of Cologne (as in eau de Cologne – the perfume). A beautiful city with very old buildings. During WW2 a lot of the city was destroyed by bombs, but a surprising number of the older buildings are still standing. In the photo above, you will see a green and orange building on the left with the numbers 1235 on it. That is the year the building was built!!! Still standing and being used as a residence. Good German building – yah!

The Cologne Cathedral was started in 1248 and completed in 1880

The highlight of the city is the Cologne Cathedral, which started being built in 1248 and was finally completed, to the original plan, in 1880. I’ve heard that builders in Oz usually take twice as long and charge twice as much as their original quote but that’s ridiculous! The cathedral itself though is magnificent!

The people who live across the river are called the cross-eyed people

We also met a couple of local characters (in brass – see above). They represent a typical working-class man and a gentleman spiv from the other side of the river. The local people call people who live across the river – the cross-eyed people – because they are considered beneath them! It’s now more of a local joke and our guide (who is a young university student) explains she lives on the other side of the river, because the rents are cheaper, and she often gets ribbed about it by the locals.

German tapas - hamburgers, black pudding, pate, cheese, breads

We also visited the oldest tavern in Cologne and had some German tapas. If you’ve never experienced German tapas – you are in for a big treat. They keep bringing out plates of – hamburgers, black pudding, pate, cheese, German breads, etc., along with copious pints of home-brewed beers. In Germany, many of the local pubs brew their own beers. Ah well – there goes another kilo!

Take a tram ride through Cologne 100 years ago

Here’s an interesting concept – see the people on the tram above. It’s stationary and fixed to the ground so it can’t move. The passengers are wearing virtual reality goggles. The tram doesn’t go anywhere but they see what the tram ride through Cologne was like 100 years ago. What a great idea. Someone could do this in Australia – there’s a million-dollar idea for somebody!
Then, it’s back to the ship for an ice cream party (there goes another kilo – groan) and we need to get ready for dinner at the palace tonight with the Princess! Patsy is polishing her glass slippers now…

Click here for the next stage of our trip down the river…