Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, near Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons

Enchanting peep into fishy past

"WHERE is the sweet shop? I really want to show it to you."

There's a hint of anxiety in Jopie's voice as she casts about for her favourite store. Another look at the map, a few turns and we find the snoepwinkel, tucked in beside the basket-maker.

Inside, the counter is almost collapsing under the weight of huge jars filled with bulls-eyes, toffees and sticks of rock. There are shelves filled with jars of pulses, spices, sugar, soap and coffee, and the queue for little paper bags of sweets stretches out the door.

We are at the outdoor Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, near Amsterdam, on one of the few really sunny days during a rather dismal month. Friends (and relatives by marriage) Jopie and Henk Blom have whisked us away from our hotel in Weesp to show us their favourite tourist destination.

The museum opened in 1981, the culmination of 50 years of work to recreate a village around a fishing harbour, to show what it was like to work and live in such a place during the period 1850-1930, before the Zuiderzee was cut off from the North Sea and transformed into an inland sea.

About 130 historical buildings are included in the museum, helping to make it a convincing recreation. If you didn't know, you'd think you had wandered back in time to an original village.

All sorts of small fishing industries came with the buildings. The smokehouse, which still runs and offers the most delicious smoked eel and kippers for sale, sits near the rope-makers, the coopery (which made barrels for storing fish) and the sail-maker.

An old man sits in the sun mending nets the traditional way with string and needle. A basket-maker weaves baskets for garden produce and makes traps for eel fishing. Here is a hairdresser, there a post office, over there the schoolroom and the photography shop, for recording the important occasions and self-important residents.

Children, some in traditional costume, tell stories about an imaginary childhood in such a fishing village. Others, clearly tourists like us, bend over benches in the woodcraft workshop, making little sailing boats out of old clogs. It's all quite enchanting.

We lunch at the outdoor cafe (more of that delicious smoked eel and a glass of local beer) and wander around the streets again.

Across the canal and along the street is the old Peperhuis, or Pepper House, built in 1625. The upper storey overhangs the street, appearing on the point of collapse, but, in fact, is in perfectly good repair. Henk explains that many Dutch houses were built this way, so that a block and tackle could be used to raise goods from street level to upper-level storage spaces in one straight lift, without the need for long booms.

The Peperhuis once stored spices, tea and seed, but now houses the indoor part of the museum. The interior of the building has been extensively renovated to provide a home for a remarkable collection of wooden ships.

There is an ice scow and two tjotters (small sailing vessels), the Wilhemina with her centreboard, a Marken smack, a larboard smack and a duck-hunting boat. The boats were restored and placed in their present positions before the new roof was built, which is why the mast tops stretch precisely up to the roof, 14m high.

The indoor museum also allows space for collections of traditional costumes, footwear and jewellery, as well as exhibition space for modern examples of crafts such as furniture-making, and an excellent collection of photographs of present-day fishermen.

Once you have looked at the glories of Amsterdam itself, your next stop should be the Zuiderzee Museum.

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