Day 20: Cheese, Clogs, and Windmills



June 13, 2019

Our day started with a great breakfast at our hotel. They even had a waffle machine with which you could make your own waffles! And they were so good. Emily was kind enough to give me half of hers 🙂  They also had baked beans, which I’ve seen several times on tour including our hotel in Germany…it’s supposedly a component of an English breakfast, which is surprising they have them here because our hostel has just a “continental” breakfast.  We then headed out on the Expat optional excursion to see the Dutch countryside!  

We first headed to a local clog and cheese making farm called Clara Maria.  First we got to see a demonstration of clog-making. We were told that clogs were commonly worn in the olden days to help walk through the lowlands, as there was so much mud to walk through, especially when it flooded. (This is why it’s called The Netherlands, which is translated to be “the lowlands.”) Obviously they are not worn much in modern times. The worker started with just a big block of Poplar wood and removed the bark from all sides. He demonstrated how they made clogs in the olden days–with a simple wood shaver mechanism about 2 feet long that resembled a sharp knife, with one end hooked to a wooden base to create leverage, and the other end in the hands of the sculptor. He mentioned that it would take about 3 hours to make a single clog that way!

Clog making: carving the initial shape


Thankfully due to modern machining, it takes much less time today. The worker put the de-barked block on a lathe machine which already had a clog mold inserted into it. It then automatically sculpted the poplar block to look exactly like the mold. Next came carving the hole in the clog. Again, there was a machine for this, which had a mold next to the actual Poplar block. The worker just had to follow the mold hole with the machine, which had a separate wood cutter on the actual clog to be cut. Amazing!  He showed us how he could not sand it now because the wood still had lots of water in it–enough to even blow bubbles out of it by blowing in it with pressure. They just have to dry for a few days before they use a belt sander to sand them down. The example he made didn’t have the front carved out, so I’m not sure if that part has to be done by hand or if he didn’t complete the sculpting in the lathe.

Clog making: hollowing out the block


A variety of clogs that are produced at Clara Maria

Next came the cheese-making explanation. Gouda is the specialty of this farm! The worker let us to a room that had a full-size vat for making cheese. It was probably 4 or 5 feet in diameter and 2 or 3 feet deep.  She mentioned that they would milk the cows and pour the milk directly into the vat via a pipe system. They would then start cooling the milk as quickly as possible with a coolant (cold water?) in the sides of the vat, as they were about 2 inches thick. They don’t add any preservatives or pasteurize the milk, so it can spoil quickly.  They then add a bacteria culture to the milk, which she explained can be homemade or bought. They use the bought version just for consistency’s sake. If you do the homemade method, there is much more variance in the culture, which will cause much more variance in the taste of the cheese. They also added another substance called rennet which naturally comes from a calf or goat stomach, but can also be made artificially. The rennet reacts with the bacteria culture and breaks down the milk into curds and whey. (On cheese packaging, if it uses the natural kind, it must indicate which animal the rennet comes from.) They then turn on a stirrer that moves large knife-blade stirrers through the curds and whey in order to break apart the large curds.  After some time, they separate the curds from the whey with strainers. Unfortunately, they have to pour the whey down the drain because they can’t find anyone to buy it. Sometimes people will buy the whey because it is an excellent source of protein. The curds are then pressed in a machine and condensed into a solid block. They have a special seal that they press into the cheese as well, since customs officials need this to identify cheeses taken back home by travelers. Each cheese gets its own serial number as well for tracking purposes. They mentioned that sometimes people will call requesting an 8-year-old Gouda. With their records, they can look up any inventory they have and find one for them relatively quickly. They then led us into the cheese tasting room and we tasted some fantastic Goudas, including plain, Italian herb, pepper, nut, and cumin flavors.  One of my favorites was the plain dipped in a special mustard sauce produced by the farm. Delicious!!! We browsed the gift shop (which featured quite the clog collection!) and headed to the next stop on our countryside tour.

Cheese Making
Cheese making in progress at Clara Maria. The 2 sets of “knives” rotate and break up the curds.


Gouda cheeses
Lots of varieties of Gouda cheese produced at Clara Maria

Next we headed to the small village of Volendam. It is located on the north sea (Nordsee), and featured beautiful views of the sea from many of the houses and shops.  The wind here was unrelenting, and the cold sea breeze made it extremely chilly. I was so glad that I brought my wind-breaking down jacket for this! We walked up and down the street exploring the shops and houses. There was another cheese factory here that had a fantastic Italian herb cheese!

Townhouses in Volendam
Beautiful townhouses in Volendam overlooking the North Sea

In search of lunch, we found ourselves out of luck at 2 restaurants, as it wasn’t noon yet so they were still closed.  We eventually found a place that had what we were looking for–croquettes!! Apparently the Dutch have these things everywhere, just like in Spain! That was the one Spanish food that Emily and I longed for after visiting it previously on the trip. And they were so good! They were bigger than the Tapas version in Spain and I think meant to be put on a sandwich (we were given 2 slices of bread and a small salad on our plate), but just as tasty!  The restaurant was apparently hosting a ton of visitors. We came in and were probably the first people at the restaurant, but in the next five minutes about 50 tourists came in and literally filled the place up! We suspect another coach tour or one of the ferries just came in. Funny though!

Lunch in Volendam: Croquettes!!

Last on our countryside tour was the village of Zaanse Schans.  This area used to be a small village, but it eventually became a tourist destination. Many of the windmills throughout the area were moved here, which increased its popularity. Getting off the coach ,we saw probably around 4 or 5 windmills, all turning pretty quickly due to the constant wind.

It was a neat place with cheese shops, chocolate shops, and windmills which you could go inside (it cost though). We saw into one of them and saw how it was actually a sawmill inside with the sawblades moving back and forth.  After walking around, getting some pictures, and visiting a few shops, we headed back to the coach. That wrapped up our countryside tour. We really enjoyed getting out of the craziness of the city to a much more peaceful and open area!

The many windmills of Zaanse Schans
The many windmills of Zaanse Schans

After the official countryside tour was over, we got dropped off just across the canal from the main central train station in Amsterdam and had about 2.5 hours of free time in the city.  We set out on foot for our main mission in Amsterdam–to get some stroopwafels! They were surprisingly hard to find. I expected there to be roadside stands all over the place selling these, since Amsterdam is known for them, but that was not the case. We made our way to the Original Stroopwafels stand which was about a 35 minute walk from the drop-off point.  It ended up raining on us near Dam Square, so we entered the shopping mall we visited yesterday to get a break from the rain. Everyone else was doing the same thing so it was like a madhouse in the lobby. It eventually calmed down a bit and we continued onward. We passed by so many neat cafes and shops, and of course so many Dutch homes that were leaning towards the street or side-to-side. We couldn’t believe how nobody has fixed them or tried to repair their foundation to stop them from leaning, and wondered if there have ever been any buildings that have fallen into the street!  

We finally reached the area where the stroopwafels stand was–it was on a market street with lots of vendors and food trucks on either side. There was a large line to the stroopwafel truck–probably about 20 people in front of us!  We got to the front and put in our order. The smell was overwhelming. “The smell!” I exclaimed. “Yeah, but they don’t taste very good” the worker replied, jokingly. Boy were they amazing! And fresh baked–he through dough in the waffle press before our eyes, and took it out steaming.  What we were handed was actually two thin waffles with a layer of caramel between them. I got a chocolate one, which had chocolate on half of it, and Emily went for the original. He even told me to start on the “original” side which had no chocolate. Good decision, as it offered a gradual crescendo of taste. It was amazing, well worth the 35 minute walk (and 35 minutes back)!


We retraced our steps back to the shopping mall to hang out and sit for a bit before the coach arrived. At this point, we were pretty exhausted and were ready to go home! Sitting and hanging out sounded great. The nice thing about the mall was that they had free bathrooms, as well as a nice cafe on the 5th floor that had virtually every food you could think of. I got a cappuccino, which was great! It was odd though because the barista asked if I wanted chocolate to go along with it. I said “sure,” but made me wonder if it’s a usual thing to have chocolate with a cappuccino here?  We looked around the mall a bit but then continued on back to the meeting point to get on the coach. We had to dodge getting hit by several bikes while heading to our coach, as another big group was getting off near us. The people on the bikes had to yell and whistle to alert them to get out of the way! Yikes! Most people rode bikes that were not mountain bikes, but the kind you can sit up straight in with the high handles. They all had bells also. I’ll always remember that about Amsterdam–beware the bikes!

Look at all the bikes! Plus the jokester… 🙂

After dropping off a few things at the hotel and renewing our room key (our whole group’s keys had mistakenly expired), we set out to go to our farewell dinner on foot, about a 20 minute walk. It was a nice place inside, though it looked a bit sketchy from the outside. We started off with a delicious lentil soup, followed by chicken legs with a good sauce and fries, followed by a chocolate mousse for dessert. Emily had salmon for her entree, and it was great! It was a bittersweet time as we had to say goodbye to several people in our group who stayed behind in Amsterdam. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to say farewell to a few of them, but hopefully we’ll see them on Facebook.  We headed back to our hotel to get a good night’s rest before our busy travel day tomorrow!

Chocolate mousse
Dessert of our farewell dinner: chocolate mousse!


Tour leader
Our Expat Explore tour leader Emma! She was awesome!


Our whole Expat Explore tour group at the farewell dinner


Step Metrics: 22,419 steps; 10 miles; 1001 cal; 3h 54m time


Self Q&A

Q: How much wind power does The Netherlands produce?

A: At the end of 2015 there were at least 2,525 onshore wind turbines, generating a total of 3,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. This is around 5% of the Netherlands’ total requirement. By 2020 the Netherlands is targeting to have an onshore wind capacity of 6,000 MW. This means capacity must be increased by over 3,000 MW. An average wind turbine has a capacity of 2 to 3 MW, so the Netherlands needs roughly 1,000 to 1,500 new onshore wind turbines. 

In 2015, offshore wind turbines generated 357 megawatts (MW) of electricity. At least 4,450 megawatts will be needed by 2023. By 2023, offshore wind turbines will supply electricity to about 5 million households. (from the Government of the Netherlands)


Q: When did the windmills get moved to Zaanse Schans? Was it before or after it became a tourist spot?

A: The Zaanse Schans foundation was founded on September 12, 1961 with the aim of creating and promoting a typical Zaans residential area. From 1961 to 1974 old buildings and windmills from all over the Zaanstreek were transported there by truck and trailer, as well as ferry.  What people see today on the Zaanse Schans is how a living and working community in the Zaan district looked back then: farmsteads, paths, wooden houses, warehouses and windmills, ditches and fields. It wasn’t until 1967 when tourist buses started visiting Zaanse Schans. In 1968, the number of annual annual visitors increased to 250,000. In 2014, the neighborhood attracted 1.4 million visitors.


Q: Have there been any Dutch buildings that have fallen into the street because of the slant? Why are they so slanted and crooked?

A: Not that I could find. But there are reasons why Dutch buildings are leaning forward:

  • In Medieval Europe, all houses were made of wood and had an upper floor larger than the floor below (called jettying). An advantage of this is that when it rains, the water doesn’t enter into the floor below. Additionally, it allows a bigger upper floor without taking too much space in the street. Even new houses are built leaning because it looks better to match.
  • Goods like cotton, spices, and cacao were stored in special warehouses, but also in the attics of merchants’ canal houses in Amsterdam. The goods were hoisted up from the street using the hook on the beam sticking out at the top floor. A leaning facade meant it was less likely that the goods would hit the wall or break a window.
  • It’s also quite probable that some houses in Amsterdam lean forward because their owners wanted to show off their fancy facades. The wealth and glory of Amsterdam canal houses can mostly be found in the upper part of the facade.

There are also reasons why Dutch buildings are crooked:

  • In many cases, the wooden poles drilled into the 11m of soft peat and clay soil of Amsterdam were of a lesser quality, not long enough or not thick enough. Safe to say, the builders did not give out a 300-year guarantee. The old age and quality of the wooden piles make the buildings in Amsterdam sink unevenly in the ground, making Amsterdam’s houses appear skewed.
  • As long as the houses are tightly packed together, holding each other, everything’s fine. But when one of the houses in the row gets a makeover or starts moving and the poles are not in the best condition, you get the famous crooked images of rows of Amsterdam canal houses.
  • The rotting of the wooden poles. The water level in the city is controlled by a special governmental agency, called Waterschap. When the Waterschap agency decides the water level may be lowered, the poles are exposed to oxygen and start to rot. And when the foundation is slowly decaying, the entire Amsterdam house starts to lean to one side.
  • Many houses start to sink into the ground when an extra floor on top is added. The weight of the house becomes bigger than the old builders had calculated all those centuries ago. The result: a crooked Amsterdam facade. (From Expatica)


Q: Is it normal to have piece of chocolate with a cappuccino in The Netherlands?

A: I wasn’t able to find a great answer to this, but a Quora user speculates that this is the tradition in Austria, France, and many other places. Because coffee and chocolate go nicely together, one can place the chocolate on the tongue and sip coffee across it to add depth and hint of sweet to the coffee.


Q: Why do Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands not have toll highways?

A: Rather than a kilometer-based toll, Switzerland charges motorists an annual flat fee for the use of its autobahn network. A sticker must be displayed on a car’s windshield for proof of purchase.

Germany began charging an autobahn toll for trucks in 2003, but passenger car drivers can still drive on the Autobahn without any extra charges. There has been recent talk of implementing passenger car tolls, but it seems for now it will be free.

All roads are free of charge in The Netherlands, it is just two tunnels that require drivers to pay a toll. The lack of toll could be the result of high taxes in the country. The brackets are as follows:

  • €0 – € 20,384: 36.65% (27.5% added for social security)
  • €20,384 – € 34,300: 38.1% (27.65% added for social security)
  • €34,300 – € 68,507: 38.1%
  • Greater than €68,507: 51.75%


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