Make sturdy clogs to woo her? No diamond?

Marken boys proposed to girls with shoes, not rings!

If you’re looking for quaint cultural experience of a different kind, venture just half an hour from Amsterdam to Volendam. Then, if you can tear your eyes away from the picturesque waterfront, board a ferry across the lake to Marken, an island surrounded by a dyke, where a tiny population of 2000 lives on reclaimed land.

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The fairytale village of Marken is almost too perfect to be true

Amble around the adorable village, and get enamoured by the houses surrounded by lovely gardens…many of which are listed as National Heritage Sites. Serenity now. Just the chatter of childrens’ voices and the sight of sheep, cows and green grass. Houses resting on dikes showing off their original character…in all imaginable shades of greens…olive green, bottle green, pea green, and apple green painted houses with white trims topped with pagoda-like red roof-tiles…their weathered paint declaring their true lineage. Little pathways meandering in and around the charming dwellings and canals slicing through the landscape adding pitcherfuls of beauty.

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Love these pretty houses

Reflect a little on the background. Once livelihood had depended heavily upon the sea, but when dams were created to save them from periodic flooding, the fishing and shipbuilding industries were swept away forever. Marken, like many other villages, reinvented itself with tourism, freshwater fishing, and cheese production.

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I’m green with envy

And now for the cultural experience. I highly recommend that you go for a live demonstration at one of Marken’s famous traditional wooden shoe factories. Wooden shoes, apparently, are a true symbol for Netherlands, just as much as windmills, tulips and cheese. You will be informed that the oldest wooden shoe ever found in the Netherlands dates from 1230 AD…now that’s heritage!

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Wooden clog demonstration at a local factory…still a rough stage

Would you believe if I told you that in the olden days, a local fisher boy was expected to propose to a girl by decorating a pair of wooden shoes for her and if she was ‘floored’, they got married and the shoes became a lifelong memento. Picture the scene…a young man down on his knees, offering not a diamond ring, but a pair of hand-painted shoes. Clearly, those were days of modesty and practicality!

Wooden shoes gained popularity in the 16th century and until after World War II, almost every village in Netherlands had its own signature wooden shoemaker, who created his own brand of style with unusual colours, carvings and decorations. There were plain wooden shoes for working days and painted ones for Sundays. Even now, gardeners, farmers, blacksmiths, fishermen, masons and road workers sport sturdy wooden shoes in the rugged countryside.

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The final wooden clog painted with flowers

Though the clogs are now machine-made and a pair can be created in less than five minutes; the process of drying, polishing and treating the shoe takes an additional few weeks. However, the shoes continue to be hand-painted and that’s where the traditional craft comes in. Clog souvenirs are very popular, not to wear, but to store stationery, loose change, or even use as flower-pots! Our choice was a pair of tiny red wooden clogs attached to a key chain…easy to carry and close enough to the real thing.

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Vibrant and cheerful clogs to woo the girls 😉

In the comfort of my seat on the bus, I looked down at my shoes, and wondered about the disregard even contempt associated with footwear in our country…its lowly to point your shoes at someone or walk into a holy place with shoes. Back in the Middle Ages, people used to walk bare feet and shoes were worn only by the elite…what a contrast in belief systems!

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68 thoughts on “Make sturdy clogs to woo her? No diamond?

  1. This is amazing! If my husband had proposed with painted clogs instead of a ring, I’d probably have been so impressed I’d have said yes too! Plus, seriously, very practical. Sturdy shoes are hard to come by.

    Great blog post! I loved looking through the photos. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This article is so cute. I’d much rather have a labor of love than a diamond. I recently eloped though lol so that shows how traditional I am. When I was in Holland I didn’t make it past Amsterdam makes me want to take a trip back.

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  3. I would love to visit the clogs factory from Marken. It’s great to know that even if the clogs are made in 5 minuets, they are still hand painted so that the tradition goes on. Have you tried one of these clogs? I wonder how difficult it would be to walk in them. And the story about men proposing to their fiances with clogs is hilarious! They must have been very good at painting if they didn’t want to be left without a wife 🙂

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  4. I must complement you on starting your article by telling us where the area is that you’ll be talking about. So many articles are titled “Our weekend on the island of Maratoba” for example and one reads the entire article wondering where the heck “Maratoba” is. I knew straight off because you told us and I was able to enjoy this delightful article. Really nice job and a creative topic.

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  5. I loved Volendam, it was included on a tour of the Netherlands I took. A quaint fishing village full of character. I loved going to the clog factory! I brought home a pair too 🙂 Mine look a little more modern than the traditional.

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  6. I’ve always wanted to go to this part of the Netherlands to see where those clogs are being made and to try (or maybe buy) one! In the Philippines, our version was called “the BAKYA” it is a wooden sandals with painted, beaded or embroidered straps. It’s what women used to wear back in the days coupled with the “saya” our traditional dress. It’s so hard to walk in them!

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    1. The history of footwear is really amazing. Interesting to know about the Philippines wooden sandals. In India, we used to have something even more impractical…a flat wooden sole with a single knob between the big toe and the first finger!

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  7. What a cute place! The Marken village looks enchanting! 🙂 The story about how men used to propose with shoes instead of engagement rings is really something else! I wouldn’t mind if that still happens nowadays. To be honest, I find shoes more useful than rings. Haha!

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  8. Haha, this is hilarious… well different countries, different cultures. Personally, I don’t need a diamond ring either, but clogs? Nah, bring me to the beaches instead, that’s all I want (plus cold beers!) Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 1230 ad for the wooden shoes well that’s some history. I can tell you there is little pair sitting on our bookcase in small town Australia a world away. This little town looks amazing it great what can happen with reclaimed land.I would love to come and do some fishing

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  10. That a cool post. So great to get to know a bit more about the history of this symbol of Holland. Would love to have a pair, but I don’t think I could walked them around. 😉

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  11. It is very interesting indeed the culture around shoes, I agree, Australians have no culture really around shoes either, except we love to hang out in our thongs/flip flops in summer – they are a cultural icon :). I have always thought wooden shoes to be extremely uncomfortable, can’t imagine wearing them in the garden especially. Loved the history of the clog.

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  12. Thanks for sharing the history, something most people wouldn’t ponder but, I think it’s lovely. Would love to wander through that town, looks like a little gem.

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  13. What an interesting tradition and a great experience! Unfortunately when I visited Amsterdam, I didn’t get out of the airport…though I did see the big wooden clog at the airport that I posed in like a typical tourist 🙂

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  14. Such a charming and quaint little place. It seems to have been caught in a time warp. You get the feel of a different time, a time when people had the time to listen to the chirping of the birds when children played in the fields………… 🙂

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  15. I think it so cute that fishermen used to propose using wooden clogs! Its way more practical than today’s ring. Shoes can last a lifetime haha. Although if they are more of a family heirloom I guess its just as practical as a ring.

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