Our next and final port of call before arrival and disembarkation in Amsterdam, was the windmill village of Kinderdijk in The Netherlands.
Before telling you of our visit, here are a few facts about the country of The Netherlands. Most people know it as Holland, but this is, apparently, not correct if you ask the residents of the country. They will say, “the country is Die Nederlands, we are Nederlanders and we speak Nederlands.” So, from where do the names Holland, for the country, and Dutch, for the language, come. In The Netherlands there are 12 provinces of which two include the name Holland. North and South Holland, the most populated, are found along the North Sea coast each with their own capitals, Amsterdam and The Hague respectively. Amsterdam is also the country’s capital. Dutch is a modern translation of Dietsch, a Germanic language which was spoken by people in the areas of Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Lichtenstein. Today, it is only spoken by the Amish in Pennsylvania, USA who emigrated from these countries.
We had never heard of Kinderdijk, but it was a very special place to visit and learn about. As with many sites in Europe, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well maintained. Every person who works there is a volunteer and there are 220. The village is situated in the Province of South Holland, in the Alblasserwaard polder, at the confluence of the Lek and Noord Rivers. A polder is a low-lying tract of land forming a flood plain and is enclosed by dikes.
Getting to the village, where all residences are windmills, was very easy as we only had to cross the road. We were met by a guide at the entrance to the village who taught us a lot. The first 3 windmills were built here in 1420 and they were built to pump water away from the polder into an elevated reservoir. At low tide the sluice gates were opened and excess water drained into the river. After 300 years it was realised that the land was sinking and was, by then, 7 feet below the level of the river. The first windmills that were built, were built of stone, as the people did not realise that the ground of the polder was peat which resulted in the sinking of the buildings due to their weight and the drying of the peat.
To help correct this a further 16 windmills were built between 1738 and 1780 bringing the total to 19 which still stand today. Two of these are now museums but the rest are still occupied by millers and their families. Some of them have been adjusted to prevent further slippage and newer windmills are built of wood. Today there is a modern pump station which has very large Archimedes screws to pump the water but, if necessary or for demonstration purposes, the windmills can still be operated.
We were taken to one of the museum windmills which had been built in 1777. It was as it had been in the 18th century and it did not appear to be the most comfortable place to reside. Even more so when we learnt that 12generations of one family had lived there. The kitchen, lounge and bedroom were all in one small room. The bed was very small and, apparently, they slept upright because it was believed that only the dead lay flat. The rest of the windmill comprised the fittings for its working and to access these one had to climb a very steep set of stairs. Ablution facilities were outside. It surprised us to learn that there is a waiting list of over 200 families who would like to come and live in a windmill in Kinderdijk and the buildings have been modernised inside. Children from here attend schools in the town of Rhenen which can be seen from the village.
The second windmill museum can only be accessed via a barge and there was a group from the ship which went on this tour.
How did Kinderdijk, Child Dike in English, get its name? There are 2 stories about this. The most accepted is that, following the major flood in 1421, known as the St Elizabeth’s Flood, a young boy found a baby girl in a cradle floating down the swollen river and on the cradle was a black cat leaping around to keep the cradle steady. It had been successful as the little girl was warm and dry. The other legend is pre-Christian, when a woman could prevent her poor daughter-in-law from feeding a girl baby to preserve resources. Tribal law held that if a starving baby tasted honey it would survive. A midwife dropped a little honey on to one such baby’s lips and then hid the little girl whom she called Honigje or Little Honey, who was often watched over by a cat called Dubbletjie. It was this cat which jumped on to the cradle.
Writing about babies, reminded me of something fun that we saw. Outside one of the homes was a wooden stork and we were told that it meant that a baby had been born to that family.
At the end of our tour we were taken to one of the workshops which had been cleared so that we could sit and listen to our guide as he explained the layout of Kinderdijk and its location within The Netherlands on a large wall map. He also showed us wooden implements and fittings made by volunteer carpenters and mechanics.
We really enjoyed our visit to Kinderdijk which the two of us visited again on our second cruise a week later. This time we didn’t join a group but enjoyed visiting the shop, looking closer at the Archimedes screws and watching the workers fix and plant.
At dinner that evening we had to say goodbye to friends we had met but also, sadly, to the best 2 waiters we have ever met, Sergio from Spain and Branislav from Serbia.