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Traditional Dutch Life: Sailing the Zuiderzee to Marken


We visit the open-air Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuisen to learn about life in a Dutch fishing village in 1905 and see coopers, blacksmiths, and fishermen at work. We sail in a traditional fishing boat to the former fishing village of Marken, popular with tourists for its idyllic ambience.

Complete Video Script

With the comfort of knowing Dutch engineers are keeping the sea at bay, my favorite days in Holland are spent below sea level, in its quaint and picturesque corners. Here you can experience the landscape of Holland as it was back in the 17th century. Exploring villages that seem to be built on both land and water, you get a sense for what life must have been like for the Dutch centuries ago.

In the town of Enkhuizen is the Zuiderzee Museum. While the modern world threatens traditional ways of Dutch life, this creative museum strives to keep them alive for future generations to appreciate. Its sprawling layout allows visitors to travel through both time and culture.

In one corner, people are living as if still in a remote fishing village back in 1905.

Exploring the park, you enjoy intimate slices of life from old Holland. The coopers artfully make their barrels watertight. The coal furnace is stoked to run the belt-driven Laundromat — sudsing, agitating, and wringing. The sail maker stitches a sail. The blacksmith pounds his iron…in his wooden clogs. Fishermen are smoking their eels, and visitors devour the entire experience.

And here in the Netherlands, if you know where to look, you can also enjoy traditional experiences outside the museums.

We're sailing to the fishing village of Marken in a traditional fishing boat. A few of these venerable boats survive. This one earns its keep by hiring out to visitors…and, in the case of this motley crew, putting them to work.

Crewman: How are we doing, Captain?
Captain: Almost! One more pull.
Rick: OK.
Captain: Ja. That's it.
Rick: How old is this boat?
Captain: It's from 1904, yeah, it's 110 years old, this boat.
Rick: What was the purpose? What was the work it did?
Captain: The purpose is a fishing boat, it's a working boat. They just did fishing with it, nothing else.
Rick: Now, back then, this was salt water, right?
Captain: It was salt water, because there was no dike in the north, so it was salt water. So, they fished on herring, anchovies…
Rick: How many people would work on the boat when it went out?
Captain: Well, they were with one skipper and one mate, so they actually did it with two people.
Rick: Just two? Only two?
Captain: They sailed and worked the ship, with, uh — even did fishing with it, with two people.
Rick: So, they would go fishing for how many days?
Captain: At Sunday they went to church, of course, and they started on Monday morning, and they came back at Friday evening.
Rick: Five days out, two men in this ship?
Captain: Yeah, they were — this was the time of wooden ships and iron men.
Rick: Wooden ships and iron men — ha ha! Those were the days!
Captain: Ja!

Marken welcomes visitors with its charming harbor. It's a favorite with vacationing yachters who enjoy late sunsets with convivial happy hours. The oldest homes in the village were built on the highest ground. They huddle together, as if finding strength in numbers in the face of the next flood.

In the 19th century, this harbor was the thriving home to over a hundred fishing boats. But, along with fishing, devastating floods were a way of life here in Marken. When they walled off the sea with a massive dike 50 miles north of here, the salt water turned to fresh water, and the sea was controlled. It was tough on the fishing industry, but, overall, good for the people. No more floods.

While Marken remains both traditional and idyllic to this day, like much of the Netherlands, it's a place where the past and the present mingle comfortably.