In Kinderdijk, it’s all about the windmills. Those windmills have been working since the Middle Ages to pump water from the lowlands keeping the area dry for farming, and today’s residents are rightly proud of them.
Any way you look at it, that’s impressive, but when the Dutch added modern pumping stations and automated systems to their thousand-year-old water wheels, the complex of 19 windmills in the province of South Holland gained UNESCO World Heritage site status. The world today is still impressed.
As a visitor to Kinderdijk, on your Viking River Cruise, you’ll be awed by the stories of early settlers determined to tame the marshland that lay between the sea and the river, inspired by the sight of the still-working windmills, and enthralled by daily life in the low country, characterized by the canals, the “polders” and the “donken,” or low hills, and the charming villages of the Alblasserwaard.
The history of this area is one of constant struggle to “keep their feet dry.” Daily life in this region is intertwined, as they say, with “wind, water and willpower.” Today, computers and electricity keep water levels under control, but the windmills are still very much in evidence.
The land reclaimed from the sea floor yields other treasures: the endangered purple heron, meadow birds, foxes, martens, frogs, and salamanders. The land itself looks as if it were lifted from a painting; you can’t help but smile as you realize that this was the inspiration for those famous Dutch masters’ paintings. A camera is a must here!
Spend your day in port enjoying life at a leisurely pace; hike or bicycle past the windmills, or enjoy a tour in a horse-drawn tram. Enroll in a milling class; children especially love donning the dark blue overalls and wooden clogs of a 1950s mill worker, and learning that it’s possible to stop the turning blades with only one hand!
The Dutch love fresh, tasty food as much as their windmills, so after a busy day of touring, take a break at a local gathering spot like Grand Cafe de Klok or Lunchroom het Cultuurhuis. Toast the day with a Heineken, or warm up with hot chocolate. Enjoy a simple sandwich on dark bread, along with tomato soup, or order perfectly fried eggs for lunch — it’s a traditional Dutch treat!
Of course, there’s seafood as well — shrimp and herring, eel and smoked salmon.
The Grand Cafe Buenaventura Vista occupies the former headquarters of the Nederwaard Water Board. You’ll find a French-influenced menu here in a building that dates to 1630. The adjacent patio is a great spot to sit and watch the passing scene with a very traditional Dutch treat — ice cream. Chocolate is great, of course, but so are any of the other flavors.
Nearby, metropolitan Rotterdam beckons; if you have time for the 30-minute Waterbus ride, you’ll find yourself transported to a modern urban center that is still rugged and quintessentially Dutch. Completely rebuilt after World War I I, this city is as modern as any city in the world, but it still oozes the spirit and culture of the ancient seafarers who settled it!
Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland, is also known as the city of a thousand monuments; it was here that William of Orange was able to unite the lords of 12 Dutch cities and put together the forces necessary to throw off the yoke of Spanish dominance.
Delft, known for its distinctive blue and white tile and pottery, and Gouda, known for its cheese, are also not far distant.
But it’s still the windmills of Kinderdijk that you’ll be seeing in your mind’s eye as you travel on. If it weren’t for the ingenuity and stubborn determination of a hardy band of people, this would still be ocean floor and surrounding land a peat bog!