Visibility was so poor as my KLM flight landed in Amsterdam very early in the morning. It was cold and gray outside. A long layover in Schipol awaited me before my next flight but I wasn't too keen on spending it entirely inside this great airport terminal. Yotel and its comfy bed may have given me a great rest the last time but all I wanted was to get out. Even on a foggy day.
From the airport, Amsterdam's Central Station is a quick 15-minute ride via train. Despite the gloomy condition, I walked aimlessly outside until the frigid weather got me seeking solace in this coffee shop in nearby Nieuwendijk. With the weather seemingly not improving anytime soon, I was almost ready to give up on doing anything outside anymore.
|De Bleeke Dood|
As I was poring myself over a map I took from the airport, there was this little picture of a windmill that suddenly excited me. I realized I have passed through Schipol four times already yet the only windmill I ever saw were those souvenir replicas sold at the airport gift shops. There are some 1,200 surviving windmills all over the country. Perhaps I could just pass the time seeing real ones this time? It may be gray and dull outside but since I'm already in Dutch land, might as well go for it.
Windmills are of course emblematic of the Netherlands much as the Taj Mahal is of India or the Pyramids of Egypt. They came out of necessity. In order to keep water out of lands below sea level - which is an ongoing struggle - the Dutch harnessed the power of wind through a mill. Over the centuries, windmills have evolved into industrial and agricultural uses. To this day, the windmills are pretty much still working mills - with a museum appeal thrown in.
A quick check on my iPod (connected to free WiFi) and I got just the right info needed. It turns out there are windmills at Zaanse Schans - a little town on the banks of Zaan river - just 17 minutes by train from Central Station. This got me so revved up I walked back to the train station to buy myself a "same day return" ticket for € 10.00. A very helpful agent tried to reassure me: "it may not be the clearest day to see them today but you'll see at least one if you get close enough".
There was hardly anything visible as the train pulled away from Amsterdam and into the flat, almost featureless terrain that pretty much defines all of the Netherlands. 26% of the country is under water while its highest point is Mt. Vaals at a meager 322-meters. If God didn't give them towering peaks, the Dutch are blessed with a statuesque height: they're considered the tallest. Standing next to them makes me feel like a dwarf. But I digress.
After getting off at the Koog-Zaandijk train station, I walked in the direction showed by the map. Friendly locals (who spoke fluent English) were around to confirm I was headed correctly. It got even colder as I moved closer to the river so I walked faster to generate more heat. About 10 minutes later, there I was, facing my first windmill: De Bleeke Dood ("pale death"). It was built in 1656, was used as a flour mill, and lay in disrepair for a time until it was restored.
More windmills lay across the river - or at least that's what the map told me. With the fog, there was nothing to see as I walked over the bridge (which would have given me a panoramic view of them all). I spotted some people carrying a map who were actually on their way to see the windmills as well. Following their lead, I passed through this quaint village lined with traditional Dutch houses.
The second windmill I saw was De Huisman ("the homemaker"), standing like a ghostly apparition next to the river. It was built accordingly sometime in 1786 and currently used in the production of mustard. Unlike some of the other windmills, this is not open to the public. To my disappointment however, visiting the other Zaanse Schans windmills only take place between April and September.
A path led to more Dutch houses until I reached this parking lot used by tour buses. Wanting some respite from the cold, I went inside one of the souvenir shops. Even taking a pee has a fee but I guess that's the reality in Europe. I then walked along the road leading back to the railroad station in Zaandijk where after a short wait, a train whisked me away back to Amsterdam's Central Station.