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Friesland is the eastern side of the Netherlands and was once a country in its own right. A very old area, Romans mentioned the Friesian people in their writings two thousand years ago, and in the Middle Ages, Friesland extended from here as far as Denmark, through some of what is now Germany.

More than half of the people in this province speak Friesian as their normal, everyday language. Road signs are often in both Friesian and Dutch. People from Amsterdam who come to Friesland on vacation sometimes cannot understand the local language.

We met Robert and Petra, a Dutch couple from Friesland, while we waited for good weather in Cuxhaven, Germany. We saw them again several times in Lemmer, the city where they live. Robert took us for a driving tour of this area, and showed us several towns and the canal-crossed farmland. It is quite odd for Americans to drive through farmland that looks like Pennsylvania or Maryland, and to watch boats crossing what appears to be land, but is really the extensive canal system. It is not uncommon to see a farmhouse, back from the road, with a sailboat tied up alongside.

Many establishments fly Friesland's charming flag, shown on the left side of the photo. This hotel's facade is typical of the architecture we've seen since we arrived in the Netherlands. Note the shape of the top of the building, its intricate details, and the sculpture worked into the facade.

This canal is in Hindeloopen. It's hard to imagine the extent of the canal system, when it includes tiny canals through towns like this.

This bridge in Hindeloopen is typical of bridges in the Netherlands. The cantilever design makes it easier to manage. This bridge opens manually, using the chain on the winch at left.

 

This Frisian island, Oost Vlieland, reminded us of Block Island and Nantucket, with its beach dunes and scrubby foliage.

Oost Vlieland was so crowded the night we were there that the harbormaster closed the harbor to more boats. Even the large Dutch barges had to raft up seven deep.

Sloten is the smallest city in Friesland. While the town itself is very small, with proportionately small canals, it does have this well-preserved windmill.

The first windmills, at the turn of the 16th century, were used to grind grain. These replaced older methods such as manual efforts, horsepower, or water mills. By the 19th century, windmills were very common, used also for sawing logs, crushing seeds, and lifting water. Eventually windmills were a significant help in draining lakes and creating polders. Of the 9,000 windmills of the time, about 1,000 have been preserved. Because of the economics of energy in Europe, modern, streamlined windmills are a common sight in the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. But they don't have the charm of these old wooden mills, sometimes covered with thatched reeds, as this one is.