Most folks traveling to Holland might not have the privilege of driving the length and breadth of the country. There are a lot more outside of the cities than is widely known. Of course if you are local or living locally it should make perfect sense that you know…got that? Never mind.
Anyway, this story is about how we discovered the ‘rural’ dimension of Holland.
During our weekends living in Amsterdam, aside from shopping along Kalverstraat in Amsterdam, our favourite activity would be driving to the flower fields (read here) in spring and early summer. Alternately in the height of summer it would be pleasant to get out in the sun and stroll at Marken and Volendam (see below), enjoying the freshly caught herring garnished with onion and pickles, raw. You can eat them in cut slices and not the whole fish as you might have seen in pictures…
Inland sea of Holland
If you look at the map of Holland, you will take note of a large body of water in the north central part of the country. Before 1932, this body of water was connected to the North sea and is known by its Dutch name “zuidersee” – south sea.
As you can imagine, the tidal changes from the North sea can cause havoc to the Dutch inland provinces. Since 1932, the Afsluitdijk has closed off the entrance to the Zuidersee and it has become an inland lake.
Well two lakes. It was further ‘split’ in two by another dyke in 1976 turning the northern part into the Ijselmeer and the southern part into the Markermeer. This was quite a feat of engineering. Now the dykes do not serve just as sea walls and highways run over it. One of the fastest way to get to the north of the country (Friesland) is via the motor ways on the Afsluitdijk.
Because the road is running along the sea on the dyke, you will feel the wind shear due to the strong winds coming in from the North sea (more accurately Wadden sea). During winter, it can be rather shaky drive! Such is the exhilaration of driving on the roads that run on top of the dykes.
There is more. If you look at the older maps of Holland we lifted from the web, you will also notice that the Zuidersee was larger. You can see on the map the town Muiden, site of the Muiderslot castle (read here) and located precisely at the mouth of the Vecht river to – remember? Collect toll on the river trade.
See how it has transformed to a smaller lake because of land reclamation works. The new land that has been claimed from the sea are called polders for geographically inclined folks.
Towns on the Markermeer
Being closer to Amsterdam, the Markermeer has more towns and villages lining its shores. It also receives more than its fair share of visitors due to this proximity.
One such town is Volendam.
As you will imagine as we did, Volendam was a port on the shores of the then Zuidersee that used to serve the city of Edam until it dug a canal to the Zuidersee. While today it is still possible to access the North sea via locks in the dykes, it is not fishing that powers the economy. Rather, it is tourism. Every weekend when we drove there, it would be packed with coach buses. Mix in Dutch folks coming in from other parts and parking becomes rather scarce.
Boats still line the port, but they are passenger vessels that take tourists out on a cruise in the lake. A favourite destination for us was Marken island. It has homes that are all painted in green, very picturesque. Spend 2-3 hours strolling around, just don’t walk into the homes of the local people. Read more here.
Further afield, we had driven on the Houtribdijk that separates the two lakes. It is a pleasant drive along the coast, stopping along small towns such as Warder. Bounded on the east by the lake, towns like this are buffeted by farms on the land. As we proceed further, we came up to locks. Lovely Enkuizen sits just on this area and on a sunny day makes for a fantastic place for a picnic. Read more here.
Ijselmeer, drive here to Friesland
But it does not mean that the Ijselmeer is just a lifeless inland lake. We have driven over the Afsluitdijk on the way to Sneek (pronounced ‘snake”) in Friesland. Unfortunately this is a part of Holland that we had not explored extensively. Mel had only on occasions traveled for work to the factory located there.
Friesland is somewhat of a paradox to us and we would like to come back some day. The local language differs from standard Dutch. There was once when we heard Frieslanders speaking and from a distance it sounded a little like English but then not…profound and perhaps something to read about for Mel.