Sunday 20th of May by CarpediemEire
So began our final day in Amsterdam and Holland. Our primary goals today were to visit the revitalised Alkmaar Cheese Market and the wonderful windmills of Zaanse Schans.
After breakfast we checked out and bid farewell to Hotel Arena and Amsterdam. I thought the €15 per day city tax was a bit steep, but I also think the city is suffering from over tourism. The traffic was non-existent this morning in the city so we made good progress on our trip getting there in 40 minutes.
Alkmaar Cheese Market
The Alkmaar cheese market runs weekly every Friday from 10am till 1. GPS had forewarned me that parking was at a premium within the town so we used a park and ride facility slightly outside.
Arriving by bus we crossed over the river and joined the crowds by the cheese market. The market is a re-enactment of a centuries old market more done for fun and spectacle now. Cheese carriers load cheese on wooden handcarts and carry it to the scales to be weighed, while cheesemaids bearing Dutch clogs and traditional dress sell cheese products to the on looking spectators. Cheese judges test the quality and give samples out. These were of high standard.
This all seemed to happen repeatedly. Perhaps I missed something. The event was narrated by a lady, who explained the complex system, whereby they would use claps to agree on price. A guild is established at each market, and everyone has a very defined role. It was all lighthearted now, and people replaced cheese some times for a jaunt around the arena.
I’m not sure what we expected but it wasn’t this. It’s all rather unusual and after 30-60 minutes becomes quite repetitive. One can queue to be weighed on the historic scales located within the Waag. I for one, do not want to be weighed on the last day of my holiday. There is also a bustling shop selling souvenirs and cheese products and above this is a cheese museum.
Moving away from the market we explored the compact bustling town. The high street is as any other but the highlight was the Town Hall. Built in 1520 in neo-classical style, its ornate facade is decorated by a wonderful double stairs. The whole building is elaborately designed but sadly entry doesn’t seem to be allowed to tourists. The nearby Grote Kerk was under repair so scaffolding hid its true beauty from me.
Our hunt for a barista Coffee proved futile so we settled for some machine dredge in a cafe called Lunchroom Prego. The dessert we picked was sickly sweet, and we left it all behind. And so began a day of bad coffee. Barista skills seem yet to have caught on outside Amsterdam.
Our Alkmaar visit hardly living up to expectations we caught to bus back to the park and ride. Our next destination was Zaanse Schaans, which was a 30 minute drive from here. En route we witnessed the perfect tulip field from our imagination but the motorway we travelled couldn’t be exited, so sadly we continued on.
Driving into the town of Zaandam as soon as I crossed the river Zaan, I knew we were somewhere special. Beautiful houses lined both banks of the river and the synonymous windmills towered above them. Parking the car we headed inside.
Zaanse Schans is a museum which recreated a village. Houses and windmills from all over the local area were transported here in the 60s and 70s to build a typical village of the 18th and 19th century. It feigns the workings of industry’s of the time, and the part they played in daily life.
A lot of the old houses serve new purposes from cafes, restaurants, and gift shops, to exhibits. The weavers cottage, wooden shoe workshop and coopery showcased old arts, but our personal favourite was the cheese farm Catharina Hoeve. An exhibit here showed the process from farm to shop. And the shop beyond was excellent. The opportunity to sample a multitude of amazing Dutch cheeses along with waffles and chocolate was seized upon. We left with a roll of smoked Dutch cheese, but with more luggage than our carry on we would have taken much more.
The aforementioned windmills are the crown jewel of the town and their location hugging a bend on the river provide perfect picture moments (clichés). There are 8 mills in total each one with a different purpose. We only saw one that could be entered but the souvenir shop within proved it was better viewed outside. The whole town is easily strolled in an hour or two and each house is more delightful than the last. Some are off-limits and one suspects they are still inhabited. As with much of Holland it is a town of houses, canals, bridges and near perfect water reflections. I climbed the Julianabrug to get a panorama of the town but better views lie within the museum.
Eat. Walk. Eat. Repeat. Our holiday mantra. We struggled to find anything other than crepes and blandwiches in the town, so we called time on our memorable visit here.
I imagined I had read that one had to pay on exit so I proceeded with the car there. However there was only a machine to scan your ticket so I attempted to call the help-desk to ask assistance. An automated voice answered and cars built up behind me. Then the barrier opened to allow me through. I left behind my favourite location in Holland without even paying.
And on to Haarlem
I had pencilled in Haarlem as a city worth visiting so with the day being as yet young we elected to go there now. It was little more than a 20 Minutes drive. The celebrations of Kings Day took us by surprise. The streets were thronged with people and drunken bodies stumbled onto the road. The street party was already in full flow. But it is their equivalent to St Patrick’s Day, and the Dutch have a reputation for partying. I took it easy going around the streets, the pedestrians looked far from sure-footed (we would say hammered in Dublin) and I didn’t need one on my bonnet.
Street parking for the day cost €0.38 until the next morning for some bizarre reason so we set off to Haarlem central square. No coincidence I wanted to see some things there. Picking a restaurant based on which one had the least amount of drunk people we choose Brasserie L’Anders. It proved a good choice and we had a massive meal of chicken sweet chilli rolls, bitterballen (my Dutch favourite) and chips.
We rolled out on to the Grote Markt, which had been transformed for the day of celebration with a carnival. It didn’t fit into my plan to visit the historical buildings surrounding. The bright tacky colours of ferris wheels, sickly rides and pot luck stalls didn’t contrast well with the dignified square. The towering 16th Century Grote Kerk with its lead spite was all but obscured from view and routes to visit it were blocked. The elegant 14th Century City Hall was also closed to visitors for the occasion. I garnished small joy from their appearances before we made the call to leave the mass crowds behind. We hadn’t anticipated that volume of people and years of being a bar man has given me an adversity to crowds.
Walking to the towns outskirts we searched for the Amsterdamse Poort, a magnificent town gate which was one of twelve in the town but is the soul remainder. It reminds me of De Waag in Amsterdam, with its conical roofs. It was created in 1355, and was the main gate for those approaching from Amsterdam.
This alleviated my disappointment as it sat beautifully by the side of a small body of water. Walking through the gate which is remarkably intact evokes feelings of how people approaching Haarlem entered the town for centuries.
We enjoyed the quieter outer realms of the town. Signature Dutch features are present everywhere from high steepled churches to the wonderful windmill that can be viewed from Catharijnebrug.
The Dutch Coast
With a lot time to spare we turned the car away from the airport and towards the coast. The pretty drive took us through a National Park and past some intriguing mansions and castles before we ground to a halt at Bloomendaal aan Zee, a seaside resort. I took the opportunity to have some more bad coffee at t’Eindpunt but the cafe looked decent.
We hugged the coast line from here stopping intermittently to admire the coastal views. A large stack of modern electricity generating windmills dotted the sea horizon.The Dutch are admirable in their vision towards the future. Reaching Zandvoort we decided to head back in land. The drive back in was a visual feast with a multitude of mansions many of them with thatched roofs. The N201 Road is well worth seeking out if you are in this area.
One last tulip
Yet with time to burn I turned again to the main objective of our Dutch trip. To find the perfect tulip field. So following my gut and throwing my map and gps aside, I simply drove. It took about 15km and 3 times as many turns, but finally with little time left to return the car, I found the field that matched that in my mind’s eye. A row of trees sheltered the innumerable coloured flowers. I was elated. Mission complete.
Content to return the car, we gassed up and headed to our obscurely located car hire company. Again the process was worryingly simple. Give keys back and off you went. I had no issues with car colours this time for the shuttle bus (as I had when going to pick up the car) and we made decent time to Schipol. I completed the set of bad coffee experiences at the airport before our well-timed flight home at 10pm.
And so back to reality….
To read about the rest of my trip to Amsterdam and Holland see …..