My absolute favorite thing about traveling as a family is the ability to visit the same destination but experience it through the lenses of our different and unique personalities. I (obviously) blog about what interests me in a new location, but I also enjoy hearing and sharing a different viewpoint every now and then.
So, I’m super excited to introduce a new feature on TTM – a series of Nerdy Travel Dad posts written by my husband, Doc Sci! If you’re looking for a cheat sheet on the educational aspect of the places we visit as a family or if you simply care more about how things work than how they look, this Nerdy Travel Dad series is for you.
Thanks to the popularity of WIRED magazine’s GEEKDAD and celebrities that not only embrace but promote their geekiness (hey, Adam Savage), it’s never been a better time to be a nerd.
I love traveling, but my fascination with new places differs significantly from that of my wife. Example.. while she ogled some ridiculous bunch of fluorescent flowers at Keukenhof, I calculated how many times the “flower engineers” had to cross breed the tulips to achieve such spectacular color.
But, on to Holland! When my wife told me we were going to a kitschy place outside Amsterdam to experience traditional Dutch culture, I’ll admit I was a tad bit skeptical. However, after pulling up to the parking lot and seeing all the gigantic, old school windmills and random people walking around in wooden clogs, I decided the Zaanse Schans could be a place where my kids might actually learn something as opposed to just stuffing their faces with Gouda. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
On the surface, the Zaanse Schans is a typical tourist destination where one can part with their euros in exchange for souvenirs and snacks. Shops making clogs and cheese, a bakery, a smattering of museums and several windmills dot the landscape.
But, look more closely and you’ll see that many of the buildings at the Zaanse Schans (hereafter known as ZS, because scientists like acronyms) have open areas where visitors can learn and observe the old ways. Educational opportunities abound.
However, before I get to the nerdy stuff, here are a few practicalities my wife is insisting I include..
- Admission to the park and many of the buildings is free, though some do charge a small fee (including all windmills). Choose your own adventure by only paying to go in one or two, or purchase a combination ticket covering all the Zaanse Schans attractions.
- Parking is 7,50 euro for the day.
- Strollers should be left behind if at all possible. It’s difficult to maneuver prams over the bridges, and many of the shops are too small to accommodate buggies.
- Toilets are NOT free. Each visit costs 50 cents, so go easy on the coffee! Bring coins, because change will be given in 50 cent increments. You don’t want to break a 20 here…
- Changing tables for babies are located in the restroom near the entrance, but not the one near the back of the park.
- The area is windy and chilly, so dress appropriately.
- Dining options include the pancake house (fun but pricey), the restaurant (outrageous), and quick snacks/drinks sold in the windmills.
The absolute highlight of ZS is the collection of windmills. All of the windmills charge an admission fee, but the spice mill has an area on the bottom floor that one can visit free of charge. Since we had already been up inside a windmill at Keukenhof, I decided to gauge the boys’ interest in the spice mill before coughing up the money to visit the rest of the mills.
The main thing I tried to communicate to T-Rex and Screech was the idea that wind can be used to help us do work. The spice mill interior is not set up to show how the big sails up top are connected and moving the cogs and wheels down below. It is my understanding that the windmill innards are visible from the admission area. Regardless, older children will be able to visualize the basic engineering principles of torque, rotation, and interconnection.
Get the wheels in little heads turning by asking questions such as… How can a vertically rotating rod can be connected in such a way to move things horizontally? Why are such big sails needed? Why do the small cogs move so much faster than the big cogs?
Unfortunately, Screech and T-Rex are a little too young (ages 3 and 5) to really engage in these topics. While in the mill, T-Rex was more interested in a spice trading map with a blinking light that moved along the worldwide routes. Still educational, but not exactly what I had in mind. I tried to give him a quick rundown regarding the technology of the LEDs that made that map possible… but to no avail. He just wanted to push the buttons.
We then moved on to something more up my boys’ alley – food. The ZS cheese shop offers a five-minute presentation on how cheese is made. Unfortunately, the man in costume talked WAY too fast, and we were herded like cattle into the store immediately after the talk.
(Tip: don’t buy your cheese at the Zaanse Schans. If you like a particular variety, jot down the name, and then search for it in a nearby supermarket. For more Dutch supermarket souvenirs, click here.)
Surprisingly, Screech and T-Rex were both quite interested in how one of their favorite snacks is made. Since I wasn’t able to answer all their questions during the presentation (and you won’t be able to either), here’s a quick version for the kiddos you can probably memorize or pull up on your smartphone. Oh and if you want to sound super smart, make sure to call it biotechnology.
In order to make cheese, you need milk. Then…
- Curdle the milk.
- Separate the whey (liquid).
- Press the solid curds into a mold.
- Bathe the cheese in brine (salty water).
- Mature for a period of time; the longer the wait, the more intense the flavor.
See here for more big words, and a few cheesy videos.
Moving on to fashionable footwear… A brief display lines the entrance to the Dutch wooden shoe shop, demonstrating the process of making a log into a clog. Don’t miss this! It’s an excellent way to introduce your children to low-tech tools and encourage them to look for new uses (clogs) for ordinary items (logs).
Parents of young children, take note! There is an open section in the clog shop that’s chock full of fascinating sharp objects that Screech thought were part of the experience. While we weren’t looking, he slipped under the loose rope and started making his own. Okay, not quite, but a few more seconds and he would’ve had new shoes.. or needed stitches.
Nerds, divas, introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between will enjoy trying on the various clogs for sale. A plethora of sizes and styles are available, just come prepared to pay in case your little one won’t part with his new fashion statement.
Despite my initial skepticism, I am giving the Zaanse Schans the Nerdy Travel Dad seal of approval. Should you and your posse find themselves in Amsterdam, take a short detour to the north for a dose of Dutch culture and historical technology. Or, just come for the windmill pictures. Whatever.