Are Dutch wooden clogs comfortable? According to the local students employed at Nelis’ Dutch Village family fun park in Holland, Mich., “Yes, as long as you wear a lot of socks!” Fully costumed staff, employed from mid-April to late September, when the park is open, wear from four to 10 pairs of socks to ensure their clogs fit comfortably and securely. Especially for the folk dancers who perform the klompendans (“clog dance”) to the park’s Golden Angel Street Organ tunes, it is important to have a close fit, so they don’t lose a shoe. During a recent visit, despite multiple socks, one young dancer’s enthusiastic kick flung a clog nearly into the canal.
Visit the Klompenmaker Wooden Shoe Carving building for a demonstration of how to shape a block of wood into a traditional wooden shoe using antique hand tools as well as antique automated machines. In this workshop area, the lightweight clogs are available to try on and determine your size (and then you can buy a souvenir pair in the gift shop). They have great arch support, absorb sweat and allow feet to breathe, and keep toes warm in winter and cool in summer. In lowland countries in the early 13th century, these shoes made from poplar or willow wood became widespread due to the scarcity of leather and the wood’s convenient protection from wet and soggy farmland.
More Netherlands culture and history can be found in the on-site reproduction of a 17th century waaggebouw (“weighhouse”), which was used to measure goods before going to market, and briefly used to weigh people to determine their guilt or innocence of witchcraft (it was thought that witches had to be ultra-lightweight to successfully fly a broomstick). Blue and white ceramic Delftware pottery dates back 400 years, and Nelis’ Dutch Village displays a collection for viewing, along with tips to identify factory markings and differentiate genuine antiques from cheap souvenirs. Visitors can also play sjoelen (“Dutch shuffleboard”) in a room equipped with three shuffleboard tables and wooden disks to slide behind scoring gates.
An abundance of activities can fill an afternoon at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Animals-lovers are drawn to the tent filled with adorable farm fauna. Pet the bunnies, sheep, and goats, giggle at the snorting llama, and cradle chickens in the “Chick-Inn” house. For a dizzying thrill, soar in circles on the zweefmolen (“Dutch chair swings”) to a carnival soundtrack as water misters cool you off from above. Take a spin on Harry’s Windmill Ride (Ferris wheel) or the restored 1924 draaimolen (“carousel”). Younger children are just the right size to operate the hand-powered Petal Pumper Cars (rehomed from the Chicago-area’s popular Kiddieland amusement park)—colorful ride-on train cars kids can self-propel around a track.
Climbing structures provide ample space for imaginative play—a standout is the giant wooden shoe house with a second-story balcony and wavy red slide. On a hot day, the park’s water-based activities are popular, especially the Pirate Balloon Battle—an epic face-off between the Black Tulip and Delft Princess wooden ships. Teams sling large water balloons toward each other’s bases, aiming for a roof-top target that triggers a deluge of water straight into the opposing cabins while emitting a loud cannonball-splash sound. Missing the target still results in a shower of water as balloons explode around the arena. Post-battle, a young seafarer reported, “Some of the water balloons would just splat in the air, and I also liked how you had to go all the way down to the floor to pull back the slingshot and aim the balloon.” Emerging with wet clothes, dripping faces, and huge smiles, kids and adults alike share their combat experiences and challenge each other to rematches.
There is plenty to eat at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Smaller appetites can munch on more than 20 imported cheese samples in the cheese house, buy freshly made Dutch cocoa fudge, sugared roasted nuts, and ice cream. Children can also bake homemade stroopwafel cookies in Oma’s Kitchen and then eat the gooey, caramel-filled treats while they are still fresh and warm from the waffle iron. Visitors “Eet Smakelijk” (“Eat Heartily and Enjoy”) at the Hungry Dutchman Café, which offers a full coffee bar and Dutch specialty dishes such as pigs in a blanket, split pea soup, pork sausage, beef croquettes, and almond pastries. Plenty of hot dogs, chicken tenders, and French fries are available for those reluctant to experiment. The Thirsty Dutchman Pub pours regional beers, wines, and ciders, and serves 4-beer samplers in yellow, clog-shaped holders.
Nelis’ Dutch Village gift shops are open during park hours, and the store location in downtown Holland is open year-round. Delftware, German beer steins and cuckoo clocks, small toys, Michigan t-shirts, Dutch hats, wooden bowls and painted tulips, Christmas and garden décor, and Dutch market treats fill the shelves.
During Tulip Time, a festival that runs for two weeks in May (and is timed according to the blooming of the tulips), Nelis’ Dutch Village plants more than 30,000 bulbs of more than 100 varieties of tulips throughout the park. Outside of tulip season, the grounds remain decorated with colorful plantings and flowerbeds, and feature statues and gardens, providing numerous photo opportunities. The landscape includes bridges over mini-canals housing duck families, a small-scale windmill, an old schoolhouse and chapel, and clusters of brick buildings with traditional orange roof tiles. The venue truly exudes a feeling of stepping back into an 1800’s Dutch village.
Four generations of the Nelis family (originally from Beverwyk, Netherlands) have operated Nelis’ Dutch Village since the first building on the current property site was constructed. Before this endeavor, generations of the Nelis family worked as vegetable farmers and then tulip farmers, later adding a souvenir shop and importing Dutch goods to be sold nationwide. The year 2022 marks a full century that the Nelis family has been in business in Holland, Mich.
For more information about Nelis’ Dutch Village, including park hours and admission rates, please visit dutchvillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Alison Ramsey.
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