Cheesy grins and smoked eels in Volendam

You’ve seen the photos right? Of people dressed up in long black dresses and funny white bonnets that curve up at the ears? Or holding baskets of tulips or big round cheeses? Well, so have we. And … it’s gotta be done!!

For years, we’ve waited for the right moment. And now, with Karen and Taryn visiting from England, it was the right moment.

It doesn’t get more Dutch than in Volendam. (Although I wouldn’t say that too loudly in Urk). We park opposite the VVV tourist board to get a map and discover a delightful museum depicting traditional life. Worth a visit, it makes Volendam a whole bunch more interesting. Nostalgic black-and-white videos showing dancing, weddings, and other quaint moments from yesteryear. Painstakingly impressive is the room decorated with over 7 million(!) cigar bands.

We meander to the boardwalk and find a souvenir shop. Taryn wants some clogs. After doing battle in carved toe-breakers, she wisely opts for fluffy, soft white-and-blue slippers. I’ve owned four pairs of clogs … and am yet to master the art of getting around without blisters.

On our way out, we spot little Volendam outfits for barbies. Gosh, I didn’t know the Chinese knew about traditional Dutch clothing. However, the shopkeeper confesses that she and some friends make these delicate outfits during dark winter months. No mass-produced outfits here. A true labour of love. Even down to the little bead chokers and teensy clogs. Kudos!

Our next Dutch delicacy … to try some smoked eel. 10 years ago, I baulked at the idea. I imagined it was like eating snake and I love snakes. But slowly my mind’s eye sees them as fish, albeit rather slippery long ones. Marcel does the honours and hands it over. Karen and I are pleasantly surprised – actually more than that! Voor herhaling vatbaar (worth repeating!).

We find the photographer we had spied on the internet. Marcel gets changed with the gents, and we don our gear upstairs with the ladies. Very clever. Very efficient. Very Dutch. A production line for photography. Exactly the same outfit for everyone, just in different sizes. More walking in torture machines, we clomp our way to the chosen set. Marcel chooses an accordion. I get a big cheese. Karen gets a basket of Edam cheeses and Taryn, a bunch of tulips. “Say cheese!” I kid you not! The photographer takes a couple of snaps. We de-robe, pay the people and can come back in half an hour.

Past the boulevard we find a little sand beach on the lake. A gull seems as intrigued by us and we are by it. Sorry dude, no food. It hangs around a little longer. Cool man. We head back to the store, and are really chuffed with our photos. They are as cheesy as we hoped for … mission accomplished!

On our way back, we duck into the “doolhof” [maze] to get lost in the typical wooden houses, bridges and canals; recognising various spots from the videos. Very photogenic. Like Zaanse Schans, Volendam is a place to bring family and friends to; where you can dig a little deeper into this intriguing Dutch culture.

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