A day out from Amsterdam
Zaanse Schans is a cross between an open-air museum and a functioning hamlet. The tiny settlement, a fifteen-minute walk from the Zaandam railway station, is made up of picturesque green wooden houses and windmills; three windmills and some of the houses are open to visitors. Its wooden shoe workshop, cheese store, pewter making shop and pancake restaurant are usually thronged, giving Zaanse Schans an undeniably touristic aspect. But it’s equally undeniable that a visit offers a unique glimpse of picture post card Holland. For an overview that can be printed out as a guide to the houses: www.diza.nl.
In the days before steam, Zaanse Schans was Holland’s first industrial centre. In the 17th and 18th century, energy was supplied by thousands of windmills on the banks of the dykes. A regional museum in a contemporary building overlooking the entrance to Zaanse Schans tells the history of the area and, in a separate pavilion, the story of the Verkade chocolate company.
It takes 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam’s Central Station to reach Koog-Zaandijk in Zaandam. Zaanse Schans is a 15-minute walk from there.
MONET, MILLS AND CZAR PETER
Zaandam is not a pretty town. Its main asset is proximity to Zaanse Schans. But if you have time to spare in Zaandam, visit the Zaandam Molen Museum, a five- minute walk from the station. All you’d want to know about windmills plus fascinating working models and a museum shop. (Closed Mondays. http://www.zaanschemolen.nl).
Or follow the Monet Tour that begins near the station. Tiles set in the pavement mark it out. In 1871, Monet and his family stayed in Zaandam for six months during which time Monet produced 24 paintings including the ‘Blue House’ and the windmills of Zaanse Schans.
You might visit the ‘Tsar Peter House’ – not a mansion as you might expect but the rustic wooden cottage of a local blacksmith with whom Peter the Great lodged for eight days in 1697. The Tsar arrived in Zaandam to study the shipbuilding industry ‘incognito’; when his identity became known he retreated to Amsterdam. The blacksmith’s house is now a National Monument, preserved under a brick shelter. It reopened in March of this year after extensive renovations. (Closed Mondays. http://www.zaansmuseum.nl).