It’s been four weeks now since I first set foot on Dutch soil and what a fantastic first month it has been so far; making new friends, exploring Dutch culture, beginning class and adventuring around different parts of The Netherlands! Adding to this, we spent the weekend with our class on a ‘Tour to the West’ which was organised for us by the university as part of our programme.
We left on Thursday morning and travelled westwards making our first stop at Zaanse Schans, a quaint little village on the banks of the river Zaan. On arrival most of us were pleasantly surprised as this was our first experience of the typically Dutch windmills. This is a very beautiful place portraying what a Zaanse village would have looked liked in the 16th and 17th century. In the village there were charming green wooden houses, small humped backed bridges at the entrance of the houses, tradesmen’s workshops and at the heart of village were the windmills that are still fully functional today. We had the opportunity to take a tour inside the sawmill windmill where we were able to see the very detail of its construction in mastering many tasks yet using only wind as its source of power.
Given the century these windmills were originally constructed in made me ponder upon the innovation of their creation and the length of time it would have taken to construct and assemble each piece necessary to make it function inside and out with only the hands of talented and skilled labourers.
From here we travelled through the flat countryside to The Hague where we stayed in a hostel for the weekend. On the following day we had a tour of the city with a difference which was a lot more fun than a guided tour. We were split into groups of 4 with each group being given 11 envelopes and a map. Basically we had to find our way to various pieces of architecture, monuments and museums around the city based on the information in the envelopes. At each place we were able to read about its historical significance as well as finding an answer to a question in order to win a prize at the end if we got the most right. We also visited the parliament buildings and the Escher museum both of which have fascinating architecture and history.
Despite the fact it was a bitterly cold day, I learned a lot about the rich cultural heritage of The Hague and would recommend a visit to this beautiful city.
On Saturday we took a trip to the nearby city of Delft the home of the famous artist Johannes Vermeer as well as the place where William of Orange resided during the time he fought against his Spanish occupier. We visited The Old Church and The New Church which is the burial place of William of Orange. Personally it was an enriching experience to see the stark contrasts in the places of worship between the Protestant and Catholic denominations. Although I have been in Catholic places of worship before I was surprised by the sheer amount of lavishness and decoration in this church. In my opinion it was overdone and took away from the very heart of what a church is for. Being a Christian, it was somewhat disheartening to see idols of Mary being worshipped as well as images of The Trinity being portrayed given that nowhere do we know what God looks like physically.
Each city that I have visited so far in the Netherlands has a market day and so was the case in Delft on Saturday. At these markets you can find almost anything yet the most prominent stalls seem to be flowers, cheese, fruit and vegetables and fish. After a little dander around the Delft market I must admit the highlight was seeing Stroopwafels actually being made. These are a type of wafel that are typically Dutch, made with two thin layers of biscuits and a layer of caramel in the middle. Well worth a taste!
We left the hostel on Sunday morning and on our journey home we visited Kinderdijk. This is another village in the Netherlands famous for its windmills, 19 in total. It is set on a polder and the windmills were used to pump the water when it gets too high out to the sea. Although this is done with electric powered engines now, the windmills are still functional and are used when water levels rise very high. Given that the windmills can only pump water a certain distance they are all at different levels working together to pump the water up.
Kinderdijk is a very picturesque place with much wildlife and habitation. As Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands once said “Nature is under control but not disturbed”, this can be seen at Kinderdijk.Without being able to control the water levels it is evident that much of the surrounding areas which accommodate a lot of industry would be under threat.
In all it was a fantastic weekend spent with great people but also one in which I learned a lot and was able to see where traditions of Dutch culture originated from. As Pavlov (1935) once said, don’t become a mere recorder of facts but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.
This experience has made me consider my knowledge of my own culture back home in Ireland. We've had the experience of telling our classmates about our countries and the culture we have but truthfully I feel I don't know very much about the deep rooted historical origins of our culture and heritage, something of which I am now inquisitive about.