Travel: Going Dutch

A visit to Enkhuizen - a small town of 16,000 - is a must when traveling to the Netherlands

Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2004

Months before my husband, Don, and I left Juneau for our PFD Old World adventure in the Netherlands, we planned to visit the Zuiderzee open-air museum in Enkhuizen, a small town northeast of Amsterdam. However, our arrival in Enkhuizen was not auspicious.

The tourist information office is just yards from the train station, but we arrived two hours before the tourist office opened. Luckily, a nearby shopkeeper saw our dilemma and directed us to the Hotel Driebanen. A lady who was walking her dog recognized lost tourists and led us to the street where the hotel was located.

We panicked when the small hotel's credit card machine refused to accept our card. We rushed off to a bank machine. Fortunately, the machine didn't have a problem with the card. We were able to get euros, but the transfer fees would be costly.

After our success with the cash machine, we relaxed over lunch at the Van Bleiswijk Grand Café Restaurant. The service was so excellent - and the food so grand - we returned and ate two dinners there.

We were disappointed to learn that the open-air museum was closed until Easter. Don worried a bit about what we would do for two days in this small town of 16,000. After lunch, we visited the tourist information and bought a walking map of the town.

Cafés & coffee shops

Café and restaurant may seem redundant in the name Van Bleiswijk Grand Café Restaurant. The two words actually tell diners what kinds of meals are served. According to Lonely Planet's guidebook, "Netherlands," there are two kinds of cafés.

Brown cafés are pubs, and they are brown because of the smoke stained walls. Brown cafés serve pub food as well as beer, wine and other beverages.

Grand cafés are spacious with comfortable furniture. In our experience, the addition of the word restaurant indicates that the food served is as grand as the spacious establishment.

Lonely Planet also explains what a coffee shop means in the Netherlands. A koffieshop is in the cannabis business. Coffee shops serve coffee as well.

A koffiehuis serves espresso but not cannabis. Coffee houses greatly outnumber coffee shops.

We spent a wonderful afternoon following the map's directions. We got a kick out of the two-piece statue of Paulus Potter (a painter of animals and landscapes) supposedly painting the portrait of a separate goat statue that little kids loved sitting on. The Drommedaris, (the South Gate) built between 1540 and 1648, overlooks the harbor and has a beautiful chiming clock.

The town's many gabled brick houses and buildings are narrow and three to four stories tall, because in previous centuries the Dutch were taxed on the width but not the height of a building.

Still standing are the warehouses of the United East India Company, which dominated colonial trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. We walked past the closed open-air museum and watched the frolicking baby goats and lambs. We have never seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but we saw "The Leaning Prison of Enkhuizen." We crossed over many canal bridges on the walking tour.

The next morning, when we went down to breakfast, our hostess told us that our credit card was rejected the previous day because she forgot to set her credit card machine on "summer time." Our card was accepted after the adjustment.

The indoor Zuiderzeemuseum is housed in the former United East India Company's warehouses. Displays and an amusing and informative cartoon in Dutch showed how sea storms flooded and ate away land and homes, and how the Dutch built dikes and wind mills to protect and reclaim the land.

Other Zuiderzeemuseum galleries displayed typical early tourist views of the Dutch, the history of herring fishing, ice fishing, an extremely large gallery filled with different types of boats, a recreated East India Company warehouse and typical country kitchens tiled with delft. We learned a great deal about Dutch history and daily life up to the 20th century.

After lunch in the museum's café, we finished the walking tour of the town. We followed the route to the beach. What an amazing sight! The sky was filled with brightly colored sails. At least 30 men in wet suits were kite surfing with short water skis that skimmed over the water. Some of the flying surfers performed stunts similar to the stunts of skate boarders.

We fell in love with Enkhuizen and agreed we would do a day trip to see the outdoor museum before we returned to Juneau. We toured the open-air Zuiderzeemuseum on our last day in the Netherlands. More than 130 buildings, situated along canals, make up the open-air museum.

We visited the former homes and shops of businessmen and women, fishermen's houses, farms and the homes of the rich, the middle class and the tiny houses of the poor. We admired vintage shops, including a candy shop, a bakery, a coffee shop with hand-painted tiles and a steam laundry.

In many of the houses, the interpreters dressed in early 1900s-period costumes and worked at tasks such as cooking, sewing, gardening and washing clothes. A windmill kept the Zuiderzee (Zuider Sea) at bay. Children visiting the museum can dress up in the traditional costumes of the area. The youngsters also assist the museum's interpreters. On the day we visited, children helped an interpreter make rope. The children's reward for their hard work was a jump rope to take home.

From the early 20th century, we "returned" to the Bronze Age. For thousands of years, people have lived in the Enkhuizen area. A fire burned in a stone circle in the middle of a recreated Bronze Age farmhouse. The interpreter, who was weaving on a primitive loom, took us outside to see a livestock corral, a pottery kiln and a garden of bitter herbs.

We spent five hours at the museum and toured most of the buildings. We learned a great deal about the daily life of the Dutch from the Bronze Age through the 1930s. The first time we visited Enkhuizen, we saw how life is lived by the locals in the 21st century, and we learned a great deal of history about the Netherlands in the Zuiderzee indoor museum that prepared us for our open-air museum experience. Enkhuizen is a must visit town.

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