After taking two days to tour the fields where tulips are cultivated, and to revel in the show of spring flowers at Keukenhof Gardens, it was time to make our way to the village of Zaanse Schans to view the large collection of windmills that still stand there in the Netherlands. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, Holland had over 10,000 windmills; today, that number has dwindled to near 1,000. Most of the 10,000 original windmills were used to power industries, but that ended with the industrial revolution. Those that survived were either grinding grain or draining fields out in the country.
We were thrilled to catch sight of our first windmill on a small farm near the community of Akersloot.
Windmills were once a major part of the Dutch landscape, however today, they are a rare thing to see as you drive around The Netherlands. For that reason, Bob and I decided that we just had to get a closer look and thus took a local ferry across a canal to observe the windmill in action.
Another beautiful specimen of a windmill that has stood the test of time, this one near Alkmaar.
Our next stop was the village of Zaanse Schans, a cultural and heritage village that, in many ways, made us feel as though we had stepped back in time. The village consists of private homes and gardens, hobby farms, businesses, and working windmills.
We were free to wander at will, with bridges and walkways crisscrossing the village. Some of the homes were open to the public, while other buildings were outfitted for the purposes of demonstrating skills and practices from an earlier era.
It was fascinating to see how Dutch wooden shoes (clogs) are made. Poplar is the preferred wood, but the wood is so saturated with water that the artisan was literally able to blow air into the finished shoe, which resulted in water spewing every which way from the wooden shoe.
One elderly lady who actually lives in the village, in one of the heritage homes, operated a quaint “Antick” shop filled with oddities and whimsical antiques.
In another building, a demonstration was ongoing on the technique of painting Delftware.
The village, complete with windmills, is on the River Zaan. Two hundred windmills were once situated around Zaanse Schans, but today only eight remain. Some of those eight were brought here from elsewhere to protect them.
A winter’s day on the River Zaan many, many decades ago. A frozen canal, ice skates, hearty people wearing “winter shorts”, and yes, a windmill all confirm my preconceived image of Holland.
These were two of the windmills that we toured on the River Zaan. One windmill was setup with a large saw driven by wind power to cut wood. The other was using wind power to drive a threshing machine to grind grains. As we saw inside the mills, large gears convey the power from the spinning motion of the sails to the devices that cut the wood and grind the grain.
Now talk about being ahead of the times. Today, cities and communities around the world argue over the creation of power generating windmills, and meanwhile, as we saw along the Dutch coastline, the Dutch have not given up on using the wind. Yes, the old windmills are going the way of the horse and buggy, but the modern versions are found everywhere that the wind blows.
Looking across River Zaan from Zaanse Schans…
It was so nice to witness an earlier way of life when the ingenuity of the windmill contributed to the success and survival of past generations.
Windmills are driven by the wind, much like a sailboat with sails, and in this case, the sails are attached to a wooden lattice framework. In that part of Holland, because of milder temperatures, cloth sails are used on the windmills, but in places where it’s much colder, the cloth is replaced with wooden slats. The wood prevents the windmill from freezing up and coming to a standstill.
As Bob and I toured around the village, we were constantly aware of the working windmills. The pervasive sound of the sails swooshing in the breeze was always within earshot.
Constant breezes guaranteed that these windmills were almost always operational.
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