Day 15 – Touring Outside of Amsterdam

Today, we walked to a meeting point to join a group on a bus going to Marken, Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam, and an area that still has windmills (although they are not functioning as they were used originally). As we drive to these towns, we go through an area in a relatively new part of what is called north Amsterdam, where once there were only farms that stretched for miles, but now have many housing options. Amsterdam, it seems, is too expensive so living just north of the city, a 10-minute train ride away, is an excellent option.

First, we stopped in Marken, a former island that is now connected via a short causeway. It is a charming town with neat, well-maintained homes and row houses. The people in this town are all Protestant for some reason, whereas the main religion throughout the Netherlands is Catholic.

We enjoyed meandering through the streets, with fewer bicycles to avoid. Next, we went to Zaanse Schans, where we visited a farm that raises mainly Jersey cattle, but also goats and sheep. The Henri Willig Cheese Farm is known for its amazing quality and variety of cheeses. The most amazing part of the visit was seeing how automated the farm is.

The cows can go in and out of the stables whenever they want, eating the various plants and grasses, then going to the milking station on their own when they need to. The pastures are not treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In the barn, the floor is maintained by use of a giant iRobot that removes the manure constantly, without disturbing the cows. The Jersey breed is more productive in milk (and also has more fat and protein naturally), needs less food and produces significantly less manure. That is a good thing!

The cows also have a sensor tag around their neck that reports the amount of milk they produce when they go to the milking machines. Their stables has transparent sides and roof for more sunlight and a foot of fresh straw so the cows will be warm and comfortable. Rain water is collected and goes into troughs as drinking water, the cows can go to a large brush (like those in an automated car wash) to get a massage, which they apparently love. There is even a feeding robot so each cow can get a dose of concentrated food while they are in the milking robot (yes, there is such a thing), with a formula specifically for that cow based on the sensor on their collar.

This is definitely more information than you ever wanted to know about raising cattle for cheese-making but it was an eye-opening experience for us to see how automated this process can be.

When it comes to making the cheese, it is strictly hands-on. They have hundreds of varieties to select, from typical garlic and herb to black garlic, whisky, red or green pesto, beer, and lavender. If you are interested, they ship their cheeses worldwide. Go to for all the information. By the way, the cheese tasting was amazing!

We then went to Edam, where this type of cheese is ubiquitous. No tasting here but a cute town. Volendam, on the sea across from Marken, was our next stop. It is a fun town where we had lunch and a stroll through the many shops. The food was delicious and the people-watching enjoyable!

Finally, we went to an almost extinct place to see the traditional windmills that used to grind grain, chocolate, and more. It had a Disney-like feel and was filled with tourists. For only 6 Euros, you can go into a windmill and climb to the top!

Back into town where we wandered across the street to have a wonderful Mediterranean dinner. All in all, it was a good day!

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