Wonderful World of Windmills: Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands

I utilised the 18 hour layover with a quick visit to windmills of Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam, The Netherlands and had a great time!

What do you do when you have about 18 hour layover at Amsterdam? Well, you get the hell out of the airport and explore. That’s what I did. I went to the see how the centuries-old windmills worked. After all, it’s The Netherlands, a country famous for its waterways, Dutch cheese, bicycles, and windmills. I would have loved to see the city of Amsterdam itself but unfortunately some of the places were closed as it was weekend, and I really wanted to see windmills. So I had to go a little outside of the city. I visited Zaanse Schans, a tiny little village famous for windmills just half an hour train ride away.

This signboard welcomed me on arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol airport
This signboard welcomed me on arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol airport
Fun fact #1
Nearly 30% of the territory of this country is below sea level. They use a complex system of dikes, pumps, and sand dunes along the coast to prevent flooding. The Netherlands has the most sophisticated anti-flood systems in the world. Since they have been doing this for many centuries, the Netherlands also has world class institutes and universities that study geosciences and hydraulic engineering.
I was in love with the spacious and beautiful Dutch intercity trains
I was in love with the spacious and beautiful Dutch intercity trains

Windmills of Zaanse Schans

The windmills of Zaanse Schans are very popular. The village derives its name from the river Zaan where it is located. The Schans in its name refers to the historic protective fortifications at this location. These fotifications from 16th century do not exist any more but have remained only in the name of the place. When I visited, the weather was not great and it was constantly raining. Fortunately that meant the touristy spot would be much less crowded and unfortunately also meant I had limited opportunities to draw my camera.

Zaanse Schans, a tiny village famous for historic windmills on the banks of river Zaan
Zaanse Schans, a tiny village famous for historic windmills on the banks of river Zaan

Zaanse Schans is an important European industrial heritage site. Using wind power, the windmills of Zaanse Schans produced various poducts and became an economic powerhouse five centuries ago. While the world has changed a lot since then, it’s a wonder some of the last remaining mills are still turning.

The Windmill Village

At one point of time there were thousands of windmills in this area and had significant impact on Holland’s economy. Today there are only 13 windmills in this village, and not all are functional all the time. Apart from the spices, wood, oil, and other types of mills, there are workshops, handicraft shops, and museums in the village. The village also has beautiful traditional houses.

Beautiful tradional houses in Zaanse Schans
Beautiful tradional houses in Zaanse Schans
One of the windmills, with its sails taken down since there's no wind
One of the windmills, with its sails taken down since there’s no wind
Windmills of Zaanse Schans have been here for over four centuries
Windmills of Zaanse Schans have been here for over four centuries

De Kat, the Paint and Dye Mill

One of the most fascinating of all the windmills here, De Kat was a prime attraction for me. It’s a windmill that crushes the chalk mineral brought from French Ardennes region and pigments from all over the world to produce dyes to make artists’ crayons and paints. Thankfully, when I was there it was open. The wind powered mill has huge wooden gear system which drives the heavy grinding wheel. The wheel grinds the chalk to produce dyes of various colours. The sails of windmill turn when there’s sufficient wind but if wind dies, they are taken out of service. If you ask nicely, the mill owners explain the entire process.

Wooden gears of De Kat
Wooden gears of De Kat
The grinding wheel of De Kat
The grinding wheel of De Kat
Display of colour dyes produced by De Kat, the chalk crushing windmill
Display of colour dyes produced by De Kat, the chalk crushing windmill

I spent hours in De Kat in fascination while it continued to rain outside. Among others, the sawmill was initially open but due the storm, they closed most other windmills so I decided to return to Amsterdam.

Fun fact #2
Claude Monet, the French impressionist painter visited Zaanse Schans in 1870s. He was so impressed by the landscape and the windmills that he made over 25 paintings and sketches here.

Just a bit of Amsterdam

I imagine Amsterdam looks prettier in summer. On this particular day, it was so rainy it was not enjoyable to walk for long. I just had a quick walk around the canals near the Amsterdam Centraal Station before deciding to return to airport to catch my next flight. I really wanted to ride a bicycle but it was not a great weather to be outside. Besides spending hours outdoors I was getting cold; the coffee did not help much.

Apparently, they take out hundreds of discarded/stolen bicycles from Amsterdam's canals every year!
Apparently, they take out hundreds of discarded/stolen bicycles from Amsterdam’s canals every year!
Amsterdam aka the Venice of the North has so many canals they make over 90 islands connected by over 1500 bridges.
Amsterdam aka the Venice of the North has so many canals they make over 90 islands connected by over 1500 bridges.
Back to airport now
Back to airport now

Hopefully, I will be able to visit this beautiful country again some day with much time on hand to explore. I left for Munich the same evening and explored parts of Bavaria the following weekend. Read about it in my earlier blog where I explore salt mines.

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