Located a few short metro stops but hundreds of years away from the Amsterdam train station is Zaanse Schans, a village that's definitely THE image of Holland I had in my mind (old windmills, green fields, surround by water, you know...) before I arrived:
But wait, what's the deal with the whole Holland versus the Netherlands thing? Turns out that the Netherlands is what the whole country is called while Holland is (just/only) a region of western Netherlands made up of two provinces (North and South Holland). Most of the larger cities (Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam) and a majority of the population lives in the Hollands so it's somewhat understandable why people refer to the whole country as Holland. The problem is that the non-Holland folks get bummed when you refer to the whole country as Holland sort of like the rest of north and south America when you refer to only people from the United States as Americans.
Visiting Zaanse Schans is basically the Disney equivalent of a historic Holland-ish village, but it's real. And in some cases, the windmills are still producing product for sale like this one that grinds spices and makes oils using only the wind and honkin'-big stones:
The area around Zaanse Schans was home to many many mills but, over time, they started to close down as wind power was replaced with fossil fuels and electricity. Lots of the mills fell into disrepair or burned down and the ones that remain are reconstructions. Something about the old mills appealed to me. Thinking back, I think that it is a combination of the location (beautiful), the intersection of architecture and engineering, and the mini-businesses that operate inside each one. The mill owner/operator must have been (is still?) a Renaissance-style person where they could maintain the building and all the equipment as well as plan and run the business. I could definitely see myself in a role like that!
A couple of the mills allow you up on their decks (for a fee, of course) where you can check out the spinning blades up close. Diana's less than ten feet away from the rapidly whooshing-by blades. Between the sound of the (natural) wind and the sound that the blades make, it's quite noisy but in a nice, white-noise kinda' way. And, yes, again, Diana in her winter coat, and, no, it's not really that cold but we're "warm blooded" peeps!
As with all touristy spots, Zaanse Schans has some shops selling local goods. In this case, it was locally-milled spices, different cheeses, knick-knacks, and other food items. Diana did a good job sampling everything and we picked up some cookies to take back with us to Barcelona.
On our way back to the train station, we had just gotten about half-way across the bridge when a siren sounded and traffic came to a stop. We quickly figured out that the bridge was about to open to allow a boat to pass by. It took less than a minute for the road surface to go completely vertical right before our eyes. There was something Escher-esque about seeing the road, railings, signs, and lights in a vertical position. It's as if we got to see those scenes in Inception in person! (The road wasn't all the way up yet in this photo but it did end up completely vertical.)
One other note about the town. Zaanse Schans is also known as being a cacao-roasting area. There is at least one factory-roaster that was working the day we went. As soon as I stepped off the metro, I told Diana that I could smell chocolate roasting. She didn't smell it, or maybe recognize it, at first but as we walked past the factory, the smell was very obvious. There are a few smells that really make me happy and roasting cacao is one of them. (Another's roasting coffee.) I'm not sure how I'd feel living next to a chocolate factory or even a roaster but I'd be happy to give it a try while working my windmill!