A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
If you are Dutch and reading this blog, you will surely already know about Volendam. On hearing that I visited, and that I partook in the famous activity that the non-Dutch readership are to learn about presently, you will probably groan and say “but Robyn, that is such a touristy thing to do”, as has been the response of most of my Dutch acquaintances thus far. Well, submit me to all the faintly disappointed looks you like; one of the best parts of being a foreign student is that it gives you licence to engage in all the cheesy, tourist-tailored experiences that you would sneer at derisively in your own country.
For those of you unfamiliar with Volendam, it is a fishing village situated near Edam, a mere hour and a half combined train and bus journey from Leiden. Interestingly, while the phrase ‘fishing village’ rightly conjures up images of seagulls, harbours, rubber-booted fishermen and every other conventional coastal stereotype, Volendam is not in point of fact a coastal location at all. It is actually located on the Western edge of the Markermeer, a 270 mile² lake found in the central Netherlands. Had I not double checked my flatmate’s assertion that this was true on googlemaps I might not have believed her – admiring a horizon in which water and sky melt into each other without a hint of harsh land to interrupt their embrace, one could quite easily be staring out across the ocean.
Volendam is characterised by the sporadic appearances of what can only be described as ostentatious hobbit houses, which pop up between extraordinarily pointy, but otherwise normal-sized buildings. These tiny domiciles are delightful to behold, all gabled frontage and terracotta tiling. Between these whimsical dwellings, the marina full of antiquated wooden ships and the skyline dominated by the slender spire of St. Vincentiuskerk, it is easy to understand why artists including Picasso and Renoir have used the town as a creative retreat.
Thus far into reading this blog, you are probably bemused by my introduction. I have painted a picture of a quaint, curious place that is a honeypot for tourism, but the tackiness I had led you to anticipate has been curiously absent. This is because Volendam in itself is not a tasteless place. Indeed, it is really quite picturesque and charming. But what I have so far neglected to mention is the activity that sees people come flocking in their thousands, a pastime so irredeemably kitschy that it has permanently tarnished the town’s reputation.
Essentially, Volendam is most famous as being the place where people go to dress up in traditional Dutch costume and have professional photographs taken of them in a series of offensively clichéd scenarios. I had been off the bus barely ten minutes before giving into temptation and rushing into the nearest joint where I could don a pair of clogs, grab a mackerel and live out my private dream of becoming a fish-wife.
A Dutch singer once sang “Anyone who wants to see the real beauty of Holland, should go to Volendam”.
At the very least, for anyone who wants to see the real beauty of their face when adorned with a Dutch bonnet, Volendam is a must-see.