The Charms of Holland with City Discovery tours
City Discovery and their Charms of Holland Tour gave us the perfect opportunity to experience a sampler of The Netherlands when we were visiting Amsterdam. Amsterdam is easy to navigate but getting out into the countryside on our own had a degree of difficulty that didn’t appeal to us. A coach tour with a private guide was perfect.
First stop: Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans is not far from Amsterdam – about half an hour – but it quickly gets your mind out of a city mentality to a countryside one.
We visited a working windmill that is used to saw wood. The handsome, fit man explaining how it all worked seemed like he might be why this day trip is called The Charms of Holland. On our visit, there wasn’t enough wind for him to be able to do the sawing but he explained how the process worked. There was so little wind that day that he had rigged sails on the windmill just so it would go around. If you look in the top picture the orange and white colors are the sails.
Other windmills at Zaanse Schans were making linseed oil and color for paints. The paint colors are made from rocks the windmill grinds into powder.
Elsewhere in Zaanse Schans there are stores, a bakery, workshops and a pricey, sought-after residential area of reconstructed 18th and 19th-century homes.
Next stop – Volendam
Holland is the largest cheese exporter in the world. It got its start as a cheese producing nation in an unusual way. Much of The Netherlands was swampy land that had to be reclaimed by digging canals and using windmills to drain the bogs. This land, known as “polder”, was protected from further flooding by dikes. The result was rich, moist grass perfect for grazing cows who would then produce high-quality dairy products.
The Cheese Factory in Volendam provided an overview of the steps involved in producing cheese. After we tried samples we had a major desire to purchase cheese. Knowing that we would have to bring the cheese back with us when we returned to the States the following day was the only thing that kept us under control. We settled for buying cute cheese slicers and graters. (And Blonde has a large chunk of locally acquired Dutch cheese in her refrigerator calling out to her as she writes this post.)
The “Marken Express” boat ride on the Ijssel Lake
After the cheese factory we rode on an open-air (or enclosed if that’s your preference) boat across Ijssel Lake to the picturesque town of Marken where we had lunch at a local restaurant.
Our guide then took us on a walk through the small streets and over the little bridges of Marken until we came to a wooden shoe factory. The entertaining young man who operates the factory showed us how he drills the forms and creates the shoes. The process was once a very time-consuming one done by hand but machinery has made it more efficient.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone really wears wooden shoes but apparently farmers do to protect their feet from injury from clumsy or aggressive animals. It seems easier to avoid clumsy or aggressive animals but we digress….
Last of the charms of Holland: Edam
Before heading back to Amsterdam we stopped for a walk around Edam, the city of Edam cheese fame. Edam was founded in the 12th century and for many years was a center of shipbuilding. At one time there were 33 major shipbuilding companies here. Edam was also one of the most important commercial towns in Holland.
Today Edam is a town with authentic 17th century architecture. When walking along the old streets and quiet canals you can imagine how it was centuries ago.
Edam was quiet in the late afternoon on the day we were there which gave us a chance to take it in without distractions. It was a lovely place to end our tour of the Charms of Holland.
Things to keep in mind if you take the Charms of Holland Tour
The trip leaves from near the Central Station in Amsterdam. When walking to the office pay attention to the address as the storefront will not say City Discovery Tours. It’s a big storefront advertising a lot of tours and is painted red and says “Tickets and Tours”.
Take the voucher from your reservation to the counter and let them know you’re there.
Lunch is included so you won’t need any money unless you plan to buy a bottle of water or a couple pounds of cheese. Do have some small bills to tip your guide and bus driver at the conclusion of the day.
And make sure there’s room on your memory card – both in your camera and in your brain – so you can truly capture the charms of Holland.
Disclosure: We were the guests of City Discovery Tours on the Charms of Holland day trip.