When I realised that I'd have a few days spare in the Netherlands following a meeting at the University of Amsterdam, it didn't take me long to ask Charlotte English whether she'd be available to meet up. Charlotte is one of my all-time favourite fantasy authors, and she writes a lovely blog about her life in Holland, so I was excited to meet her and see if she's as friendly in person as online (unsurprisingly, she is - and her partner is also great company).
I suggested she should pick something fun for us to do, since I don't know the area, and so it was that we came to meet up at Zaanse Schans, an outdoor museum of working windmills and preserved historic houses just north of Amsterdam. It's a fantastic area to explore, and we had a great day despite the gathering stormclouds (and oh, how it rained the next day).
Zaanse Schans lays claim to having had, at one stage, the highest density of windmills in the Netherlands. And although most of them are long gone, the few that remain in working order are still an impressive site, lined up like sentinels along the bank of the river.
Like the windmills, the houses have also been moved to this designated area for preservation purposes. Amazingly, a lot of the houses are still privately occupied, and it must be very strange for them to have tourists wandering around and peering in through their windows every day. Charlotte's partner grew up nearby, and told us loads of interesting facts - of which, the one that really sticks is this: at the time these houses were built, the colour of your paint gave away how wealthy you were, as the richer merchants could afford more pigment. How's that for showing off?
This was a great find, and I'm not sure I would have discovered it by myself. It's free to wander around the outside areas, although of course there's an admission charge for the museums. We went into one of the working windmills to have a look around - but that's a story for another day.