Zaanse Schans and dying arts

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After our first night on the boat Pete was feeling a bit coldy, so he did the right thing and confined himself to quarters while I went off on a cold, dank day for the scheduled excursion to Zaanse Schans, which is a kind of pioneer village like Sovereign Hill near Ballarat. People live there, and keep alive some of the activities dying away in our modern age, as well as being a sort of living museum. The site has several working windmills and presents demonstrations of clog making and cheese making. The name Zaanse Schans can be translated as ‘the bank of the Zaan’ so it’s fairly obvious the village is on the banks of the river Zaan.

First stop was the clog makers. We wandered past a collection of clogs for all seasons, from working wear with leather leggings to bridal clogs (true), some with beautiful, intricate carving, others with the familiar vivid painted designs. We sat down on logs to watch the craftsman do his stuff. He explained that to hand carve a basic clog would take about five hours, but with his machinery he could turn one out in five minutes. Which he proceeded to do. The machines are French (interesting). Essentially, a mould is fitted to one side of the device, and the other side whittles down a block of poplar wood to match the mould. The foot holes are made in the same way, copying an existing pattern. In five minutes the craftsman cut off the extra bits holding the block to the machine, and held up a rough clog. Now it had to dry. To show how wet it was, he squeezed the wood in his hands, and water dripped out like a slowly running tap. I was amazed. Drying is done without heat, just natural air, for about four weeks. Then the shoes can be decorated. Oh, and Australian Customs won’t let you take raw wood clogs into Australia, but it’s okay if they’re painted or lacquered. The shop is just through there.

The clog makers’ workshop
Making the foot holes
Decorated and ready to go

Next was the cheese shop. A lovely young man took us through the basics of cheese-making, separating the curds from the whey and then aging the product. Extra flavours are added last. They made cheese from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. We got to taste and the owners explained which cheese we could take into Australia, and which we couldn’t.

In the cheese shop
Wooden tulips

On the way to the village our guide had explained to us how windmills were used to reclaim land by pumping water out of the polders. The area we drove through was actually below sea level. The reclaimed land is used for sheep and cattle, not crops, since it’s never really dry. Now we got a chance to see how these machines worked, and how the miller could move either the whole windmill, or the windmill’s head, to take advantage of the wind. The mill we went into is one of the few remaining where pigment for paint was ground. Did you know Rembrandt couldn’t go to the art store and buy tubes of burnt umber? There you are. You’re a better person. For a bit more information about Dutch windmills, look here.

The tiny windmill pumps water out of the polder. Larger windmills do the heavy lifting
The mill wheel
Part of the village – which includes a bakery and a chocolate processor among others

Yes, it’s all a bit commercial, but the village provides a glimpse of a way of life fading into the past. I gather ‘new’ buildings are being added, as in re-located, here from time to time. It was a grey, cold, drizzly day so I was glad Pete had stayed in the cabin on the boat. Our bus took us to a lock on the Amsterdam – Rhine canal, where we rejoined the ship for our next stop in Germany.

Seen from the boat as we sailed past

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