I lived in The Netherlands for almost three years, and spent a considerable amount of time in the country before permanently moving there. While I am not sure if permanently living in the land of cheese and stroopwafels is ever going to be in the cards for me, it is without a doubt still a large part of my life. We have, of course, the Dutchman- who is now my husband. But there is also my daughter, who we raise in a tri-culture household. Every night she is read bedtime stories in Dutch, which even I have a hand in. (I read like a 5 year old, but it still works- she is four.) I miss a lot of things about The Netherlands, and though we tend to visit a few times a year, it is hard not to long for a stroll along a canal here and there. My absolute favorite place is Volendam, (cue mockery from all Dutch people) a small village on the seaside where locals once donned the traditional outfits you’d recognize today.
Looking at the pictures, it is easy to see why I love it. I have visited more times than I can remember, which is why I have been the laughing stock of a room many a time. Volendam in The Netherlands is comparable to an American roadside tourist trap. I actually probably wouldn’t go that far, but in the smack middle of tourist season, the town can feel awfully similar. The secret is to visit in the early morning or evenings in the summers, before and after the hoards of tourist buses come through via Amsterdam. Volendam is a normal, lively, working town. Tourism is a major part of the town’s income, but when the tourists are gone- the town is still very much full of life. My favorite time to visit is in the dead of winter on a sunny day. Bundled up, the sea breeze against your face, the ice slowly creeping over the harbour. Locals still out and about, purchasing potted herring for their next dinner party; saying hello to a familiar face. Volendam is as friendly as it is beautiful.
I’d be lying if I said the stereotypes found in Volendam aren’t part of the appeal. What many people don’t realize though, is that Volendamers were wearing the traditional Dutch garb up until the 1950’s. That is fairly recent in the scheme of things, as many of the older generations still living in Volendam would have worn the costume in their youth. There are several photography studios on the main road opposite the harbour where you can get your picture done wearing the traditional Volendam clothing- head to toe. They even do group shots, and I am ashamed to admit this from personal knowledge, but you can also put your baby in a costume and stuff them in a wooden shoe.
A ferry leaves from Volendam every 30 minutes or so which will take you on a short journey to Marken. Marken is a very small town, that was once extremely isolated from modern Holland. Anthropologists visited the town in the early 20th Century to study the traditional fishing culture of the people who lived there. There is nothing to ‘see’ over in Marken exactly, but you can walk along the old streets and see the traditional wooden houses which are still used today. Marken was once on an island, but is now connected by road to the mainland. The round trip doesn’t take more than an hour and a half, including walking around when you get there, so it is easy to combine with a day-trip in Volendam.
Volendam is nearby Amsterdam and just about all the tour companies do day-trips to the area. If you can, I would recommend driving and avoiding the crowds. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous, stocked full of old Dutch farmhouses and windmills if you are into that kind of thing. For a true tourist trap experience, stop in at the Simonehoeve cheese and clogs factory. I had a blast taking visitors to see this Dutch style hole in the wall- a few times. Expect to learn about the art of making a good wheel of Gouda, how to carve the perfect wooden shoe, and to be not so subtlety dropped off in the souvenir store as part of the tour. On the plus side, the tours are led by a super creepy Dutch girl in full costume, the visit is free, and you get a ton of teeny tiny cheese samples at the end. (The cumin is delicous.)
That’s all for now folks. I leave you with the following photo to brighten your day (terrify you).