Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Milling About

Tuesday, August 25

Today we took the train to visit a working windmill in the countryside on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The train ride was about 45 minutes through the less touristy parts of the city out to the "suburbs" of Holland.

When we stepped off the train, we got a little turned around and ended up walking through a small village full of the most adorable houses with the most beautiful gardens. A quite acceptable detour, really.

The windmill we chose to visit was Molen van Sloten. This mill is actually a water mill (as opposed to a grain mill) meaning it's sole purpose is to pull water from the lower lying areas so Amsterdam doesn't flood. Much of Holland is below sea level, which is why windmills are so prevalent in The Netherlands.

Our tour guide knew everything about windmills, and was enthusiastic about sharing. We were the only people in our tour group, so we had the opportunity to ask lots of questions. Apparently, windmills can be turned so that the vanes face into the wind for maximum efficiency. While that makes perfectly logical sense, we had never considered that wind changes, and were therefore utterly enthralled by this. Some entire windmills turn, on Molen van Sloten the cap of the windmill rotates when the miller turns a giant wheel. In keeping with our supreme ignorance regarding aerodynamics, we were equally surprised to learn that the entire cap of the mill can be ripped off by the wind if the miller doesn't pay careful attention to the changing weather conditions.

After our tour, we walked across the street to a small cafe (with a view of the windmill) for lunch. I told our waitress that I wanted the most traditional Dutch meal they offered. She returned with kroketten, which is basically deep fried minced meat. Now if that sounds gross then think of it as pre-chewed chicken fried steak with the mashed potatoes already mixed in. That's exactly what it tasted like. Plus, it was deep fried! That's the Southern stamp of approval!

After lunch, we took the train back into town and walked to the Bloemenmarkt - the world's only floating flower market. It was simply beautiful. The shops offered a huge variety of not only fresh cut flowers, but of seeds and tulip bulbs as well. Thousands of bulbs in every color and every species. We bought some bulbs (with the necessary health certificate for the US) to take home and plant all around our house.

We visited a few more souvenir shops on the way back to our hotel and finally saw some wooden shoes. We'd been on the lookout since our arrival, and had only seen a few pairs here and there. This particular shop was obviously designed to lure in tourists. It totally worked.

We also saw a brand of fast food particular to Europe; the wall of hamburgers. Though we were not brave enough to try it, the idea of a hot meal from an almost-vending-machine was interesting. Apparently, I draw the line somewhere between pre-chewed chicken fried steak and wall-burgers.

I couldn't resist just a few more shots of the beautiful canals and row houses on our way to dinner. Today was our last day in this beautiful city. We have had an amazing vacation and we will miss the weather, the history and the adventure when we return home. But, we take with us fond memories and some wooden shoes!

Tomorrow: Heading Home to Houston

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