Friday, July 24, 2009

EU trip (Holland), Days 16-17

DAY 16 and 17 - A Country of Windmills and Canals

Despite we slept almost closer to the morning light, we got up fairly early to explore Amsterdam and around. We were staying in Zaandam area and had no idea at nighttime where it was. Later we found out that it was the main place to see the famous windmills.

Once ready we drove to the city center of Zaandam, which was on the river. It was a nice walk there however we couldn’t find any information center to get some maps and stuff. One travel agent gave us some information but also sent us to the main station Amsterdam for further info. The drive was about 15 minutes through some under construction roads and a lot of zig zags. When we reached our destination it was hard to find the parking but finally we managed to find one but it was quite an expensive one.

We walked to the station for info and received all necessary advise from the young lady along with the direction maps. We decided to go to the fishing and picturesque villages before exploring the main city. Therefore after walking back to the car we drove off to the first place right on the shores of Sea named as Volendam. This was a very beautiful old village sitting right on the shores; the walk in the tourist village was very interesting. There were several shops and restaurants dotted on the Oceanside some having the sea view, selling either eateries or things for the tourists. The arrangements in the stores were very pretty and village like. The stuff that they sell were mostly different types of windmills, famous Dutch shoes models, models of cows etc. The birds here were very friendly and we all played with the little sparrows, seagulls etc. for a long time. There were small houses in the whole village joined together like artificial Lego houses. The designs did not look different from each other but pretty colors used for the finish gave them a unique look. There were canals everywhere in Holland including these small villages on the sea. Boats looked like a major mean of transport here or at least was one of the major means of transport earlier. We really like Volendam and this few hour’s trips was a memorable one.

We left Volendam and drove towards Edam another beautiful village through the smaller roads. It was a green country but in another manner. I couldn’t really compare Switzerland with Holland, as these are two distinct countries with two entirely different landscapes.  The roads other than the highways were really small but maintained.

Most of the area in this country is well below the sea level and how it has survived centuries is because of the system that they have developed to channelize the water.

Edam was also a wonderful village but different from Volendam as it had the big canal dissecting the town and then smaller canals in few streets. It seemed like a village of medieval time. Very quite and elegant but still people living in it. A few shops here and there but with a great décor. We first drove through the streets wherever we could go and then parked our car to have a walking tour that was worth the effort from tired bodies. We saw the old buildings and streets, stroll on the canal banks and enjoyed the fresh air. Luckily today was the sunny day and we could really enjoy the walks, as when we started the day in the morning it was raining but it stopped by noon since when we started walking.

The first infamous round cheeses were exported from Edam to all corners of the world many centuries ago. Traditional cheese markets take place every week during the high season, and the few remaining cheese warehouses keep the memory of this colorful past alive. Edam is a town rich with history, monumental buildings, beautiful squares, shopping streets and outdoor cafés.

It was 5pm and the shops were closing already like rest of the EU. So we drove off to go to Merken another fishing village.
Let me briefly put some more info about these villages. The historic fishing villages of Volendam and Marken are best known for their characteristic wooden houses, water sports, traditional costumes and fresh fish. Tucked away on the coast of the former Zuiderzee (a North Sea inlet), now the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel), these villages have preserved their character for many centuries. The quaint houses, winding canals and drawbridges create a truly romantic, winsome atmosphere.
These old villages still have life in them and a very well preserved one. These people really respect their assets and in this case their history and the buildings. You could still see centuries old houses in good shape and livable condition. I found people quite simple here.

After Merken we continued driving to another village, which is on the island joined via road. Here we had to park outside the village in designated parking lots for 10 Euros as there were no visitor cars allowed in the village. The gardens here were one the most beautiful ones as we saw in Swiss but here the difference was that they have converted their small gardens into pieces of art by putting so many different kind of plants in a very artistic manner. It was one amazing sight for us. We walked around and enjoyed the village tour thoroughly. Evening was falling in so we started walking back to the car although we wanted to stay here for more time.

We were staying at one of Waseem’s friends from today for the next two nights. So we drove back to their place that was about 45 minutes from here. GPS took us straight to their location and found that they were out for groceries, usually people don’t come in time when they give a particular time but that’s not us, we are always in time, so we had to wait for 30-40 minutes for them to reach back. They were a very nice family of husband and wife with their three children. I sincerely thank them for their hospitality and for having us at their place.

The evening was spent chatting with our hosts and late at night we crashed into our beds. It was a semi camping kind of a thing as we were using our camping mats and sleeping bags on the floor.

We got up in the morning, got ready, had breakfast and left for Amsterdam on a train for which we had bought tickets the day before when we visited the station information center. Today we were planning to cover Amsterdam as much as we could despite being the rainy day. It started to rain early morning and even when we left for the station that was not too far it was still raining. We used our raincoats and continued. Train took 40 minutes to reach the main station right in the heart of the city. We had bought the full day tickets for the buses or trains for today. Rain didn’t stop at all so we came out and started our walk according to the city walking tour guide from one place to another and from one square to another.

Amsterdam was built several years ago as a fishing village and then rose to the level of one of the modern and important cities of the world. Today I see it as a run down city. This city has big networks of canals in a grid system. Must be an elegantly lay out once but now with time and age it is all getting dirty and is breaking down. There was lot of maintenance and construction going on but my views are according to what I saw and felt about the city. It’s a youngster’s city as smoking of even pot and other stuff is allowed here. So it’s a heaven for drinkers and smokers, as I would call it. Another business is thriving in this town is the sex business, as this business is rated as a trade here. We walked quite a bit in rain when we decided to have a break and for that the best thing to do was to hop on to a bus and enjoy the city while drying the cloths, so we did the same. The bus conductor suggested us a couple of places to see and dropped us off at one point where there was a flea market going on. It was pathetic by the way so we had a coffee break instead and used their bathrooms instead of paying euro a person elsewhere, we used this Euro per person towards our cofee.

We came out and started walking when the rain started off again at great pace. We kept walking in different streets, along the canals and crossed several monuments and squares. It was by afternoon when we decided to go back and get the car for further exploration. We had yet to see the famous windmills. The train came right after we entered the station so after 45 minutes we were driving our car and going towards Zaandam where the famous old-fashioned windmills were located.

We stopped just before a bridge where construction was going on and parked our car on the road and walked across. There were several windmills here making beautiful scenery. The houses were along the water and on the other side few more houses and many wind mills. We took a walk in the pretty village along the water and then through the village. There were a couple of small windmills with in the village as well. And no need to mention that there are smaller sized canals everywhere and the birds of so many kinds were in abundance all over Holland. Rain stopped and gave us a chance to explore this village and enjoy the nature. Green pastures looked absolutely amazing with cows grazing in them. On our return we saw the bridge opened up fully to let one ship go under it and that made kids very excited as well because they had not seen this before. Walk to the car took us 10 minutes and then we headed home.

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