A flock of windmills walks into a bar… They had a good moment.*
You know how the Netherlands is supposedly the land of windmills, among other things? Well, you can actually go quite a while without seeing a windmill these days, so I decided to seek them out instead and my friend Eva and I took a water taxi from Rotterdam to Kinderdijk, the UNESCO World heritage village with traditional Dutch windmills.
Please don’t ask me how the village name is properly pronounced in Dutch, but I will tell you that these windmills are among one of the most iconic views in the Netherlands. Also, every time I go abroad for a longer period of time, Eva just happens to go as well, because that’s what friends do. When I went to Sweden for a year during my MSc, she also had her Erasmus exchange in Stockholm in the same semester, so when I went to do my Erasmus+ staff mobility as a visiting researcher in the Netherlands in April 2022, she decided to visit her Dutch friends during my work abroad month as well. Kinderdijk was just one of the places we visited, but we did try our best to become a windmill and hoped that Don Quixote would not come calling at that exact moment.
De windmill impersonation attempt
At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”
“It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat.”M. de Cervantes – Don Quixote
If you’ve never read Don Quixote before, consider it a long overdue #erraticbookwednesdays recommendation now, because it is fun. Literature aside, there are 19 windmills in total in Kinderdijk and they were built around 1740 to drain the water out of the Alblasserwaard polder on which they stand and prevent flooding. As you probably know, the Dutch are excellent at stealing land from their water bodies and their water management systems, both old and modern, are civil engineering marvels worth visiting. The lands they claim with their dams, dikes and canals are called polders, artificial hydrological entities, and the one in Kinderdijk has the largest concentration of traditional windmills in the Netherlands, which is why it has been a UNESCO site since 1997. Also, fun fact, most of the mills in Kinderdijk are inhabited by people with actual miller’s qualifications. Some of the miller families have lived there for 10 generations and they still use the mills for their original purpose, although they do need to have regular jobs too.
The name Kinderdijk comes from a 15th century folk tale about a cat, a cradle and of course a child (kinder), but I won’t spoil it for you here in case you decide to pay for the Kinderdijk ticket and watch the museum movie. We did not, but there are 3 museum windmills and a pump station that you can enter with the ticket and learn more about the windmills. The ticket also allows you to sail on the river in one of the small boats, but otherwise you can just stroll along the river to see the windmills and enjoy the views.
Impressions of Kinderdijk
Getting there: The easiest way to reach Kinderdijk is to take a bus or a waterbus from Rotterdam or Dordrecht. Since it is a big UNESCO attraction, the entrance centre with a cafe and a souvenir shop is easy to find, but the Kinderdijk station and the direct lines to there are usually quite crowded with tourists. If you want to enjoy the scenery for a bit and avoid the crowds like we did, you can get off at one of the other nearby stations and walk or cycle along the river to the windmills. There is a nice circular path through the surrounding area and you can just follow the windmill signs on the road to reach Kinderdijk.