Saturday, December 29, 2007

Marken and 52 Beautiful Villages in the Netherlands

After procrastinating for so long (aren’t we all guilty of this sometimes?), today I finally bought the book I have been eyeing on.

52 mooie dorpen – lunchen, wandelen, en winkelen. In English: 52 beautiful villages – luncheons, walks, and shopping.

The book offers a synopsis of each featured village, things to do and see, a suggested walking route with a map, and cafes and restaurants for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.

Foto on the cover is Marken, a quaint and pretty fishing village situated in a small island that is part of the Waterland municipality in the North Holland province. Marken is characteristically famous for its charming green and black painted old wooden houses attracting lots of tourists each year. The village also has its own cheese and clog-making factories. The book is perfect for 1-day weekend trips and my feet are now itchy to discover new places in Holland again!

Note: Book can be bought at any ANWB shop/offices in the Netherlands or online.

This little island town facing the Markermeer is connected to mainland Holland by a dike that stretches to a good 2 kilometers. This dike also functions as a causeway.

Marken Island - I grabbed this aerial foto from Google Earth. You can see clearly the thin white line, the causeway that connects Marken to mainland Holland.

I can still vividly remember this long highway strip. It was during my first visit in the Netherlands in early 2001. Dutchman, being the hospitable host was touring me around the charming fishing villages of North Holland. When we crossed the threshold of the dike going towards Marken, I was caught by surprise and in awe of my surroundings. Wow, we are driving on a thin land bridge?! As far as my eyes can see on each side of the road, there is only water. Water, water, water everywhere! Just imagine a highway, like an airport landing strip, in the middle of the sea. That’s what the highway looked like.

Clearly enough, passing through the dike was a marvelous first time experience, and I have not even reached Marken yet, lol. This is the kind of vistas tourists encounter in the low and flatlands when they get out of Amsterdam. I have to say driving on the dike with the water around me gave this strong feeling of absolute freedom; perhaps because of the space, the water, and the endless horizon before us. It appears as if the world is so flat going to Marken.

I managed to dig out some old fotos of me in Marken, taken at the end of winter 2001. This one I think is by the haven near the Kerkbuurt Centrum.

My convincing romanticism of this experience brought me to ponder quietly today. Hmm, perhaps my impressions now will be different? Having been so used to the numerous and ubiquitous dikes, and the plenteous water in this country, my speculation would be that the charm and magic that once struck me must have faded away. I suppose I will only know once I go back.

Many tourists arrive in Marken by boat either coming from nearby Volendam or Amsterdam. However, if you are a first timer here or someone who has not seen a dike that functions as a causeway, I would strongly suggest going by car or bus to experience this.

Aside from the main attraction of being a traditionally preserved picturesque and charming village, the other major reason that draws many people to come here is the locals themselves. They are a mystery on their own, like they belong to an exclusive island club. Dutch people outside Marken and nearby fishing villages, even find them exotic. I’m thinking that exotic might not be the appropriate word, peculiar would be best to describe.

This is by the Wilhelminabrug (Wilhelmina Bridge - a manual draw bridge) near the Kerkbuurt Centrum too.

The people of Marken speak their own dialect called Markers. They are strict followers of the ascetic Dutch Reformed Protestant Church. It is no secret that the influence of religion in the Netherlands in the 21st century has lost its flavor - but, alas, in this little once fishing village, quite near to Amsterdam, religion is fervently practiced as a way of life.

Some of the women here can be found dressed in Dutch traditional costumes, while the rest wear long dresses in basic designs and glum colors, and accentuated with black stockings. These black stockings represent the somber outlook and Spartan way of life in the reformed church community. I was also told that the women here would never wear pants, and would never show a generous amount of skin.

In the early evenings, sometime after 6PM, locals stay inside their homes to observe the silence. We wandered quite a bit in the narrow streets and it was nothing surprising really as there was no one outside to be found, lol. I remember we heard sounds from a nearby café. It looked open, but when we peered through the door, it was empty. The place is dead in the evenings! Well, what can you expect in a highly religious tightly knit little island?

But, Marken by day is surely lovely. I should plan another trip there soon.

Travel Period: March 2001
Destination: Marken (Waterland), The Netherlands

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