The One with the Cow Clogs

January 3: Today was our first day to travel and visit sites as a group. After we enjoyed yet another breakfast, we loaded the bus and started our busy day. Our tour guide, Anika, talked nonstop about the architecture, history, uses, and little-did-you-know facts about the different neighborhoods and buildings in Amsterdam. The city itself almost resembles a NYC atmosphere, where the different areas maintain their own styles and personas. The outskirts of the city are house all the cool looking buildings. The modern architecture of each new establishment seems to get more cutting-edge than the previous.

After a quick bus tour of the city, we drove about 20 minutes to find ourselves in Zaanstad, an open museum containing windmills and small Dutch houses. This museum was created to educate visitors on why the windmill is so important to the Netherlands. In essence, these buildings would help craftsmen cut wood, make mustard, and countless other tasks. Today, approximately 1,000 windmills still exist in the Netherlands. Although they are not the primary source of energy used today (natural gas is), residents and volunteers who care for the windmills, by law, must turn the wings at least once a month to maintain the mechanism.

Zaanstad is also home to cheese making and wooden clog making demonstration sites. We learned about how the cheese is made and how long it takes for each kind to mature. It was ok, but the best parts were seeing the ladies in their traditional garb and the taste tests. The Dutch make great cheese! We also saw the wooden glob demonstration. Back in the old days, single clog could be whittled in 3-5 hours. Today, it can be made in 5 minutes, with the help of French and German machinery. Why are wooden clogs such an important part of the Dutch tradition? It goes back to the material of the clog. These clogs are made from two different kinds of wood. One escapes me, but the other is Willow. These types of woods are incredibly durable and are naturally waterproof, making for a great pair of working shoes. They had a cow print pair of clogs in the gift shop that would have been perfect for Dad, but seeing that I still don’t have luggage, I didn’t feel in the mood to deal with the “Why is that girl carrying cow clogs” stares at the airport. Sorry Pops, next time!

After we visited Zaanstad, we went back on the bus for our walking tour of Amsterdam. We began in the Jewish neighborhood (home of where their ghetto was) and explored the city for a couple hours. Amsterdam was pretty easy to navigate, however the masses of people and the constant fear that a bike or tram would run you over was a little distracting.

After the walking tour concluded, my roommate, Becca, and I grabbed some lunch and headed to what I like to refer to the museum from heaven:the Hermitage. Their current collections included the works from Impressionists painters, like Renoir and Monet, as well as a vast collection of Van Gogh. I actively had to keep my mouth from dropping to the floor with every new painting that I saw. Amazing!

Tomorrow we are starting to get into our more Holocaust-focused site visits, so I am glad that I we had the opportunity to experience the city in a more unstructured way.

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