DAY 23 in Zaanse Schans, Zaandam:
Zaanse Schans (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈzaːnsə ˈsxɑns]) seemed a little unknown to the locals. Whoever we asked about it, no one seemed to not know what we were talking about, but we realised soon enough that it was a mere incorrect pronunciation of it on our part. It wasn’t “ZAAANS SHANS”, but rather “ZAAANSUH SHAONS”… Dutch was difficult to grasp despite its similarity to German.
After 2 futile attempts at locating our bus to Zaanse Schans, we finally hit the jackpot at a ‘hidden’ bus interchange at the opposite end of Amsterdam Centraal. 43 minutes and a parents FaceTime session later, we alighted our bus and *bam!* it hit us: the most divine smell of CHOCOLATE!!! I’m not a fan of chocolate (a sin, I’ve been told) but man, I loved it there. “We mustn’t leave without chocolate!”, exclaimed Miriam.
Zaanse Schans, a unique part of the Netherlands, is a neighbourhood of Zaandam, near Zaandijk in the Netherlands. The Zaanse Schans derived its name of the river Zaan and its original function was as a sconce (schans in Dutch) against the Spanish troops during the Eighty Years’ War of Dutch independence.
It looks like an open-air museum, but in reality, the Zaanse Schans is a residential area in which the 18th and 19th centuries are brought to life. It has a collection of well-preserved historic windmills, wooden houses, mills, barns, and workshops. The Zaanse Schans houses seven museums: The Weavers House, the Cooperage, the Jisper House, the Zaan Time Museum, the Albert Heijn Museum shop (the first of many Albert Heijn supermarkets all over Holland today — the biggest supermarket chain in Holland!), and the Bakery Museum.
Albert Heijn (1865 – 1945) began the business in 1887 in a tiny grocery store in Oostzaan. While his wife stood behind the counter, Albert would deliver his orders by bicycle. By 1899, he had set up several branches of his store in North Holland which he kept stocked from a central warehouse in Zaandam. Subsequently, the business continued under the leadership of his sons and grandsons.
At the Zaanse Museum, where we were absorbed into the 400 odd years of folk culture and industrial history that made Zaanse Schans into the trading hub that it was and is still today. We learned about the ‘Zaans Green’, which is a proud symbol of Zaans identity. The building of the Zaanse Schans has presented the iconic image of Zaans green houses, but research has shown that they were originally more colourful. It seems that locals in the 1870s were ashamed of their appearance and replaced the bright colours with green and carvings with plain reliefs.
In the exhibition, ‘De Zaanstreek maakt het!’ (Made in the Zaan!), we learned that the Zaan region was known as the ‘larder of the Netherlands’ — cocoa beans were processed to semi-finished butter and powder, rice was de-husked and processed, starch was extracted from wheat or corn, oil was extracted from seeds and nuts, planks were sawn from trees, and paper which was made from rags or wood. Funny story: Rice porridge’s huge success came after it was marketed as a wonder food for babies, ‘Molenaaar’s Kindermeel‘!
We followed ‘indoor bridges’ and moved seamlessly into the Verkade Paviljoen, a 20th-century Verkade chocolate and cookie factory-turned-museum. 100 y/o Verkade produced more than 48 different types of chocolates, toffees, cookies, bonbons (sweets!), cakes, waffles and even candles! A tasty mistake: The original dough recipe was taken from an English Trade Journal, but a mistake was made during its recreation in the laboratory. It was due to this mistake that the ‘San Francisco biscuit’ got its particular flavour!
The ‘Verkade Girls’, aka. ‘Meisjes van Verkade’, were celebrated because Verkade was one of the first companies to employ women at the end of the 19th Century. Reading about their reflections of their time in Verkade, the Girls thoroughly enjoyed their time, enjoying cooking and sewing classes after work hours. Uncle Anton Verkade went to an international congress in Paris to lobby a reduction in labour hours. His efforts led him to be awarded the ‘Order of the Dutch Lion’. ‘The care of employees had always been a standard for us. We always looked for the right way.’
During one of their three golden periods, 1720 – 1750, there were at least 650 mills in operation, but now, only 8 are left, namely…
- De Huisman (The Houseman), a mustard mill
- De Gekroonde Poelenburg (The Crowned Poelenburg), a saw mill
- De Kat (The Cat), a dye mill (where pigment is ground into paint powder) << the one we visited!
- Het Jonge Schaap (The Young Sheep), a sawmill
- De Os (The Ox), an oil mill
- De Zoeker (The Seeker), an oil mill
- Het Klaverblad (The Cloverleaf), a saw mill
- De Bonte Hen (The Spotted Hen), an oil mill
On this day, having been the last day in Amsterdam, we chose to slow down and be a typical foodie tourist in Amsterdam: EAT PANCAKES, and not just any pancakes… MOOK PANCAKES, which Miriam found by chance as she fervently googled ‘Vegan pancakes in Amsterdam’. Most of what was on their menu wasn’t originally Vegan, but they certainly were Veganiz-able. We shared 2 pancakes — The Blue Magic & The Heavy Mama (swapped honey for maple syrup). The waitress was soooo generous with maple syrup and drenched both our plates with syrup, syrup and more syrup! We left with serious cases of ‘sugar high’s… but no regrets whatsoever, those were the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life.
We posted postcards, used a police station’s restroom, collected our carry-ons from the luggage storage office, and boarded a tram to the Zuiderzeeweg bus park, where we were to catch our bus to the UK. We missed our tram stop but settled that quickly, thinking that we could relax after having reached the bus park 1 hour early. But we were so wrong. One, there wasn’t anyone else there, and two, none of the buses were from our bus company. I thought something was wrong (especially because we knew there was another bus to England at 9.30pm before ours at 10.30pm) and asked Miriam to check the ticket again — we realised that an honest mistake led us to the wrong bus park! We had to be at Duivendrecht, which was all the way in the southern part of Amsterdam (we were slightly off the northern part of Amsterdam)!
After this, my anxiety took over and, as with any panic attack from the past, I gave in to it. 😦 I admired how Miriam could stay so calm and composed. I was simply a mess… I was so thankful that Miriam was there for me when I needed someone most.
Thank You for telling me that there would always be a way out regardless of what happens, that we had Vera, that we had each other. I suppose it was a survival mechanism, but my mind detached myself from reality and the ticking of time. Before I knew it, we were standing in front of the correct bus, our bus.
I had Medjool dates for dinner-supper, closed my eyes, and that was all I could remember from that day…