Spring has arrived, and so is May. Everyone in Belgium seems to be extra happy.
For sure it’s getting warmer again, but aside from that, it’s also in May that public holidays are most plentiful. And it starts right away on the first day – it’s Labor Day! Lucky we are too, it was on a Friday.
While many countries like Belgium observe May 1 as an official non-working holiday, in the Netherlands it is not. Perhaps due to the fact that days preceding it, the Dutch had already gone “orange mad” on their King’s Day. A day of such frenzy at that time of the year seems to be good enough already.
My trip to Amsterdam around four years ago wasn’t been enough for me though, so revisiting the city again (plus other nearby places) was a chance to dig deeper and see what this country called the Netherlands truly has.
Day 1: Castricum
What is Holland in my mind? It actually hadn’t changed much since I had that short visit.
Wooden shoes. Windmills. Tulips. Bikes.
Dams & canals. Red light district & coffee shops!
And tall, just very tall Dutch people…
…not until we came to visit Castricum.
Of course, without the North sea and the geomorphologic features of the Dutch coast, the Netherlands wouldn’t be as it is known today. There’d be no need for dams and windmills. Perhaps, no tulips and wooden shoes too.
For all we know, the Netherlands literally mean “Low Country,” attributed from its low land and flat geography. Before its dikes and dams, it was even used to be half of the country below sea level. After hundreds of years of its never-ending battle against floods, almost 75% of the Netherlands is now a meter above.
Approximately 400 kilometers long, the Dutch coast has over 40 beach resorts. Castricum aan Zee is amongst these, which is located at North Holland Dune Reserves.
For centuries, the Dutch sand dunes have been the steadiest protector against rising sea levels in the country. Since it is a low-lying delta, the Netherlands is very sensitive to climate change. Apart from protecting the old and existing ones, new dunes are being formed as well, up to now. Sand is dredged from the bottom of the North Sea bed and gathered up to create the dunes, broaden the beach and gain land territory from the sea. The more dunes, the less seawater can infiltrate.
Day 2: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands. It’s also the most populous as well; though the seat of the Dutch government is actually at The Hague.
Its name is derived from Amstelredamme, which refers to the city’s origin as a dam of the river Amstel. From its simple origins as a small fishing village in the 12th century, Amsterdam flourished as one of the most important ports during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.
Today, Amsterdam is the commercial and cultural capital of the Netherlands. The oldest stock exchange in the world is located in this city center, as well as top companies and institutions. Amsterdam attracts millions of visitors from all over, thanks to its historic canals and outstanding museums; and its ever-intriguing red light district and cannibis coffee shops.
We actually planned to visit the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum on that day. Four years ago, I wasn’t able to visit both. Especially the Rijksmuseum, because it was closed to the public for a ten-year-long renovation and it was only in 2013 that it reopened.
Despite that I was excitingly looking forward to that visit, we suddenly lost our interest after seeing long cues in both museums. Even the canal cruises were busier than we expected, so in the end, we opted to stroll along the canals and small streets.
Day 3: Windmill Museum
We’re lucky to get a sunny day in Amsterdam, but the next day, we got a cloudy and wet one. Luckily perhaps, we didn’t have to stay outside at most. On our last day in North Holland, we visited a windmill museum in Schermerhorn and a tourist’s favorite called Volendam.
The windmills are most closely associated with the Dutch. There are also traditional windmills in other places such as England, Germany, France, Belgium. Yet the windmills ideally characterize the Dutch landscape, such an impressive symbol of their innovativeness to keep their land out of the water.
Indeed, Holland and the windmills are inseparable.
Almost three centuries, from 1633 until 1929, the Schermer polder has been drained by the use of windmills. In total 52 windmills, in disciplined co-operation, had to bring the water in four stages from polder-level up to the circular canal level. Over three centuries large groups of windmills have dominated the suroundings of Schermerhorn and Driehuizen and also on various other places in the polder there were windmills at work.
Besides a tool to move water the Schermer windmills were also the official residence for the miller. Because rain and wind are unpredictable factors it was ideal that the miller lived at his work; he could set to work at any time of the day. When the water in the polder was not yet on the right level and the wind was good, the miller worked, irrespective of the time; sometimes even more than 24 hours continuously. – Museummolen.nl
Day 3: Volendam
After a visit to the windmill museum in the morning, off we went to Volendam. It is a very popular tourist destination because here you’ll find everything that speaks Dutch. You’ll see what I mean…
Sometimes called “the pearl of Zuidersee,” Volendam is a town in North Holland situated at the mouth of IJ Bay. It used to be the location of the harbor of its neighboring town, Edam, not until in 1357 when Edam dug a canal to Zuidersee to create its own harbor. A new community was formed soon after that when farmers and fishermen began to settle in the old harbor that was then dammed and used for land reclamation. It’s a “filled dam,” from which Volendam got its name. It gradually developed into a prosperous fishing village, with its fleet of 258 fishing vessels had become the largest along the old Zuidersee by 1892.
It’s been a popular tourist destination ever since the early 20th century. Volendam had captured the attention of renowned artists like Picasso and Renoir who possibly got captivated in this fishing village hardly touched by time. The town’s characteristics were captured in some of their artworks.
Up to now, Volendam remains a popular tourist spot, as it is well-known for its old fishing boats, cheeses and distinct country houses.
Yet most of it all, the traditional clothing (klederdracht) in Volendam is a head-turner, too. The woman’s costume of Volendam, with its highly pointed bonnets (kraplaps), is one of the most recognizable Dutch traditional costumes. A few of its residents (less than 50 elderly women as believed) still wear this dress as part of their daily lives.
And of course, I wouldn’t want to skip a chance eh?
WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
Have you been to other places in The Netherlands? What are the other places to visit and things to do in this interesting country of bikes, windmills, tulips and wooden shoes?