Episode 353 – Tilting At Windmills In Kinderdijk

The tour description below matches the tour we took here 9 years ago, but as always it’s the guide who makes all the difference. today our guide was a gentleman named Kees (pronounced like “case”), who lives in Kinderdijk.

We sailed in under dark, threatening skies, but didn’t get rained on – only thoroughly blown about by the winds upon which windmills depend.

None of these mills were used for grain or to generate power – those kinds of mills have shorter vanes and are usually located at higher elevations to take advantage of the wind above other buildings.

We walked along one of the dykes to our first stop at the Wisboom Pumping Station, which dates back to 1868 as a steam engine, converted in 1924 into an electric pumping station, effectively replacing the windmills that had kept this area from flooding for almost 700 years (the first windmills date to the 1200’s!)

Inside the pumping station are the original pumps used during the steam age, as well as a model demonstrating the way that windmills operate at different wind strengths and directions.

In the canal beside the pumping station is a statue of Beatrice’ Cradle, a legend which may explain Kinderdijk’s name (child or children’s dike). According to legend, during the 1421 St. Elisabeth’s Flood, the cradle of a young child named Beatrice washed up on the riverbank near the dyke in what is now Kinderdijk. In the cradle was the unharmed child, and the cat that had kept the cradle balanced by jumping back and forth as the water surged.

Our guide indicated that a sadder but more realistic explanation of the town’s name is that Count Flores V used children to build the dykes.

From the canal, we headed into a workshop where the construction of the windmills was explained. The Dutch in the 15th through 17th centuries were a naval powerhouse, exploring and colonizing on every continent. All their native wood was used for shipbuilding, so the wood used in the huge mechanical windmills came from other parts of the world: incredibly hard and self-lubricating ironwood from Southeastern Africa and Australia, oak for the huge central shafts from Spain and South America, greenwood for the tooth gears from Surinam, and woods like acacia for the scoop wheels that lifted the water.

Then it was time to cross the bridge to the opposite side of the canal onto the “polder” (reclaimed land) and enter Mill #2 for a peek into the life of a miller. This windmill dates to 1738, and at one time housed a miller with his wife and TEN children!

Windmill #2. Notice that not all of the sails are being used. Much like on a sailboat, the amount of sail used depends on wind intensity and speed.

The first thing we saw upon entering the windmill was the huge toothed wheel on the ground floor. The “scoop” wheel is lower down.

Much like a lighthouse keeper’s life, a miller’s life can be one of isolation, since the mill can never be left unattended; if wind conditions change, the vanes must be adjusted to prevent potential damage to the windmill – or flooding of the land.

Left: the living room/kitchen/bedroom (notice the bed inside the wall!) on the ground floor. The second floor had more “wall” bedrooms. The uppermost floor was the “smoking room” where smoke from the kitchen stove was captured and used to smoke eels and fish that the miller had caught in the canals. It was an incredibly small space, especially for the typically large families, and there was no “vacation time”, but millers were considered very fortunate. They had a home, food, a bit of land, and even a small salary in centuries when many did not.
Right: there are few windows, and this one looks directly out on the wings.

Kinderdijk, still only a town of about 800, remains very traditional; it is the “Bible belt” of the province of South Holland, with only 2 real industries: water management, and the building of dredging ships. Our guide shared that dredgers made near here not only helped create Dubai’s famous palm islands, but also rescued the ship stranded in the Suez Canal in 2021.

We were taken by bus back to our ship, which had relocated further along the Waal (this area’s branch of the Rhine) to Gorinchem while we were in Kinderdijk. No sooner were we on board getting ready to enjoy a light lunch than the Magni set sail (figuratively) for Köln, where we’ll arrive this evening.

The best part of lunch (Ted’s yummy cheesburger and my delicious salade niçoise nothwithstanding) was dessert: rice pudding with strawberry coulis, and chocolate mousse with a solid chocolate maple leaf on it! The Kölsch beer, given we’re headed to Köln, is self-explanatory.

And after an afternoon of cruising the Waal River, this evening we crossed into Germany, where the river is now called the Rhine. Dinner, as expected on a Viking ship, was delicious.

Clockwise from top left: Gouda salad, pan-seared perch with potatoes and beets, medium rare rib-eye steak with vegetables and fries, dampfnudel with vanilla sauce and sour cherry compote.

After enjoying piano music, after-dinner drinks, and conversation with fellow passengers in the lounge, it was time for bed. Ted and I are looking forward to our return visit to Köln tomorrow.

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