Windmills have always been part of our images of the Netherlands so when we were planning this trip it seemed reasonable to include a visit to windmills. It seemed that the obvious place for that would be the Kinderdijk World Heritage site, about 130 km south. Today was our day for that excursion.
When we checked last night we had found that Kinderdijk opened at 9:00 am so we planned to leave at 7:30 am to allow 90 minutes for the trip. I was up soon after 6:00 am and we were all eating breakfast soon after 7:00 am but, with one thing and another, it took longer than we thought to get going and we left just before 8:00 am.
This was my first day driving the Cactus this time around so it took a while to get back into the groove of driving on the right and changing gears with my right hand. We made good time most of the way despite heavy traffic in some areas. As we drove south of Amsterdam my phone rang and a message appeared on the car screen indicating ‘private number’. Majella missed the button to hang up and hit suspend instead. Then she realised it was her father, Vince, calling on FaceTime and it took a while to get the call back on line and talk to him and Dulcie as we drove. As we continued, an interesting distraction along the way was the green conical structures seen in some service areas. Debate raged about whether they were for recycling (Majella) or some strange form of toilet (Virginia).
We arrived at Kinderdijk soon after 9:30 am, found the heritage site, parked, and bought our inclusive tickets for the multimedia presentation, mill museum entry and boat ride, either non-stop cruise or hop on and off. After some discussion we opted to watch the presentation first and then take the hop on and off boat to visit the museums and see the windmills from the water. We had opportunity to play a computerised game simulating the control of mills as we waited for the presentation. That was fun and instructive as we gained a sense of how the mills were managed to maintain satisfactory water levels.
Kinderdijk has 19 windmills in 2 major groups that pump excess water up a bit more than 2 metres through two stages so that it can be released into the nearby river. The multi-screen presentation had English subtitles so we could understand it and provided background about the history of the site and the development of methods to manage water. The core problem is that as water was removed from swampy soil to make it suitable for farming the soil compacted and fell below the level of the nearby rivers and sea. Dikes were built to keep the river water out but then it was necessary to pump excess water out of the polders (farmland). Windmills were built for that purpose and served until replaced by steam and eventually by electric or diesel pumps. There are 19 windmills in the Kinderdijk heritage area, with 2 set up as museums to show what life was like for mill families and most of the others are still used as living quarters by people who have a continuing obligation to operate the mills for a specified duration each year.
We spent about 3 hours at Kinderdijk. We visited the 2 mills set up as museums. The first shows how the last family to live there with parents and 13 children lived in the confined space. The second was actually operating and pumping water with a paddle wheel. The sails move at considerable speed and come close to the ground so it was not difficult to see how accidents might occur if somebody walked into the wrong area around the mill. Millers needed to be on call 24 hours a day to orient the mill to the wind and control operation so that excess water was removed but the area was not completely dried out. Because the moving parts were made of wood strong winds posed a danger of fire if the parts were allowed to move too quickly and generate heat from friction. When we returned to the information centre there was a bit of posing for photos with windmills in the background using the frame provided there.
From Kinderdijk I drove us to Delft where we parked near the city centre and walked into the Market Square. Today was market day so there was a lot of activity there with stalls selling cheese, bakery goods, fish, sausage, fabrics, leather goods, and more. The Nieuw Kerk has an impressively high spire but we decided not to spend the price of admission to see inside. Instead we set a rendezvous point for 30 minutes and went our somewhat separate ways to find some morsels for lunch and whatever else took our fancy. Majella bought bread for dinner and a foccacia for her, slice of pizza for Jane, and pecan pastry for me. I bought some peppery sausage to add to the dinner selection. Virginia and Margot found chips and raspberries for their lunches. After we met up again the women looked at Delft ware but doubted their ability to get it home safely in already overflowing baggage. Jane did later buy a small piece of china from one of the stalls and Virginia came away with a selection of interesting purchases.
On the way home a priority was to investigate the green conical structures. We did see some but I missed that turn and we missed our opportunity. The service station where we stopped to buy the fuel we needed to get home lacked any examples.
Back at Volendam after negotiating traffic snarls we enjoyed a relaxed dinner based on what we had brought home and what we had already, another in the tradition of last night meals based on whatever is available. We all except Virginia enjoyed some mushroom soup that Virginia had bought yesterday. That was followed by a selection of sausage, cold deli meats, tomato, cucumber, seeded bread, and cheese with a bottle of red wine or beer for those who wanted it.
Majella managed to persuade the others into a short game of five hundred after dinner. That did not go late because Virginia, Margot, and Jane were keen to get some sleep before their early start to the long flights home tomorrow morning.