Alkmaar - inevitable cheese market
When having holidays in the Netherlands and you are somewhere around Alkmaar/Amsterdam on a Friday (April till September) you really should consider visiting the most famous cheesemarket of the Netherlands.
For us it was a ‘new’ visit after about 30 years and we enjoyed it very much.
Of course it is quite a touristy sight and during our visit with splendid weather there were crowds in the city and especially on the Waagplein. There were rows of spectators, but with a little bit patience - perhaps 5 or 10 minutes - we got a place at the fence.
We arrived at 10.45 am and the square in front of the beautiful weighing house had still a lot of cheeses (the later you come, the less cheeses are left !!). White dressed cheese carriers pick up 8 cheeses on a wooden barrow and are (almost) running - the cheese carriers dribble - with this rather heavy load of about 125 kilos to the Waag, where it is weighed on a special cheese scale. Once it is weighed the carriers bring the cheese to a vintage cart and from there it is transported to a modern truck, waiting in one of the side roads.
If you do want to buy a (piece of) cheese it is possible from a cart on the square or in one of the stalls or shops around the cheese market. The Waaggebouw (Weighing House) houses also the Dutch Cheese Museum (www.kaasmuseum.nl).
The cheese market takes place from the first Friday in April until the first Friday in September: 10.00 am - 12.30 pm. There are two verbal presentations to visitors, in Dutch, German, English and French.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Weesp - a stone's throw from Amsterdam
The difference between Amsterdam and Weesp is almost unbelievable. Just 12 km's away from the hustle and bustle of the capital of the Netherlands lies Weesp. Although small, it is a real city already existing more than 650 years.
Weesp is situated on the river Vecht and has some canals and an old lock between the river and the city. The tourist information centre has a brochure with a town walk. So we walked along the monuments of the city like churches, a synagogue, windmills, the old town hall and a fortress. There is also a town museum with a collection of the famous 'Weesper' porcelain.
After the tour it is time for a cup of coffee/lunch or dinner.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Hiking and Walking
Alkmaar – Wildemanshofje
Most (foreign) visitors of Alkmaar are just heading to the cheese market on Friday mornings. This is of course one of the highlights in the Netherlands, but if you have some spare time I highly recommend walking around the old center of Alkmaar.
At least we were happy running away from the crowds. Along one of the canals in Alkmaar we saw a sign for the ‘Wildemanshofje’. After an easy walk - perhaps 500 meters from the city center - we found this hidden gem at the ‘Oudegracht’.
We passed the gate building with a sculpture of a ‘wild man’; referring at the name of the founder - Gerrit Florisz Wildeman - of this ‘hofje’. He built these almshouses in 1717 for poor elderly woman from Alkmaar.
The courtyard with a symmetric garden and lined with linden trees just coming into bud is surrounded by 24 (small) houses. In the garden is another sculpture of a wild man with a club.
We have visited many ‘hofjes’ in the Netherlands, but this was one of the most beautiful ones; a real quiet and peaceful oasis in this - on a Friday - hectic city.Related to:
- Historical Travel
St Bavo church in Haarlem
The dominating stucture of Grote Markt is an imposing St Bavo church in the Brabantine Gothic style. Its spire is practically visible from any place in town. Originally built as a catholic church in the 13th century , it was expanded several times, then in the 16th century was taken over by Protestants. During the iconoclasm of Reformation, most of the church interior decorations were destroyed, leaving the church bare. From that period only the statue of St Bavo was preserved. According to the legend, the attempts to destroy it ended up with the deaths of two culprits, so the sculpture was then left alone.
The highlight of the church is the huge Muller organ coming from 1738. It is truly enormous, occupying almost the whole western wall of the church. It has over 5000 pipes and is more than 30 metres high. Both Haendel and Mozart are said to have played it. Nowadays we can hear the organ during the church services on Sunday and in summer season between mid-May to mid-October there are free concerts on Tuesdays ( 8.15 - 9.15 p.m.) and Thursdays ( 4 p.m. - 5 p.m.).
Inside the church you can find some graves of noble inhabitants of Haarlem, including Frans Hals.
Another thing that attracts the visitor's attention are three wooden ship models that can be found near the choir. They were the gifts from the Shipbuilder Guild.
Admission: 2.50 Euro
You can hear the organ playing here:
- Arts and Culture
Haarlem - a genuine gem of Holland
Easily accessible from Amsterdam Central Station (about 15 minutes by train), Haarlem is a genuine gem of Holland.
The city is rather small, so when you get off the train a short walk will take you to its focal point - Grote Markt (Market Square). The square is surrounded by finely preserved Gothic and Renaissance buildings. In summer it is full of outdoor cafes and as it is closed for traffic, there's a sort of picnic aura around. It's nice to join in, sit and look at magnificent architecture that has been standing here, almost untouched, for centuries. So many generations have passed but these buildings are still here to tell the stories of the past.
The main landmark of Haarlem is Saint Bavo church - an enormous Gothic structure dominating over the square. Some other noteworthy buildings are the Renaissance-style Town Hall ( by the way, you will find a Tourist Information Office here), the old meat market and fish market halls.
Haarlem is a place to visit for art lovers, as it houses several first-class museums, including the one devoted to Frans Hals. Frans Hals, one of the leading Dutch portraists, spent in Haarlem most of his life and he is buried here ( in St. Bavo's church).
The city is also known for its hofjes - small almshouses with little courtyards and gardens. They are a relic of the past but some are still working today. They were built by wealthy citizens usually for underpriviliged elderly women, but there were some for men, as well. Frans Hals museum is actually a former hofje, where he used to come in search of subjects for his portraits.
Haarlem is also considered a great place to do shopping, as there is a wide range of boutiques and chain stores.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Hiking and Walking
Monnickendam is a charming little town in the vicinity of Amsterdam. It derives its name from a group of monks who founded their monastery and built a dam here about 700 years ago.
It was a sheer pleasure to stroll along narrow canals and nice little streets and look at houses with interesting gables.
The historical centre is dominated by the Speeltoren (Playing Tower) with an 18-bell carillon which sounds every hour accompanied by figurines of gallopping knights. If you have time, you might visit the Speeltoren Museum with exhibitions about the history of Monnickendam and neighbouring villages. There is also a display of blue and white majolica. We didn't go there because with limited time we decided that just strolling in the centre would be more pleasurable.
Another highlight of the town is the Weight House from the 17th century. In the times of Inquisition the scale was used to decide whether a suspected woman was a witch or not.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Go to Zandvoort - a beautiful seaside resort
We went to Zandvoort on a half-day trip from Amsterdam. The journey by train from Central Station ( a return ticket 10 Euro) took about half an hour and soon we were walking along the wide clean beach. The average width of the beach is 100 metres, which means a lot of space for relaxing, doesn't it?
Behind the beach stretch the dunes - a part of nature reserve. It's possible to enter the area with a ticket. The entrance to the dunes is near the De Duinrand restaurant, where you can also buy the ticket. The other option is the Tourist Information Office in the town centre.
The town of Zandvoort is tiny. There are a couple of streets (some cobblestone), lined mainly with shops, restaurants and hotels.
The town is also known for unusual constructions made of sand. For a couple of years it has been hosting the European Championships of Sand Sculpting. The World Sand Sculpting Academy based in the Hague invites as many as 600 professional artists to build their works of sand. The top sculptors are chosen then to compete in Zandvoort.
In 2014 Harleem and Zandvoort have become initiators of of the first sand Sculpture Route in Europe.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Buy tulip bulbs in Bloemenmarkt
Bloemenmarkt is one of the most colourful places in Amsterdam. It's called the floating flower market because the stalls are placed on barges 'floating' along a part of the Singel canal. In the past flowers used to be transported to the city by boats, today they arrive in lorries. If you expect to feel the barges 'swing', you may be disappointed. They are steadily fixed, so no movement can be sensed.
The place invites the passers-by with its multitude of colours and fragrances. Hundreds of flowers are sold here, but probably tulips attract the biggest number of customers. You can buy the bulbs in packages with export certificates, so loads of foreigners decide to take them home as a souvenir.
Actually, we bought a couple of different tulip bulbs and the following spring the flowers were the real feast for the eyes. However, they turned out to be a one-year attraction although the bulbs were dug out in time and planted properly the following year.
Talking of tulips, let's go back for a moment to the 17th century - the time of Dutch tulip mania. Although an iconic flower of the Netherlands, the tulip is of course not an indigenous plant of this country. It was brought here from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 16th century. Soon, the growers started to compete, trying to produce the most beautiful and unique specimen. As the tuiips became a symbol of status, their prices gradually rose to reach their peak in 1630's. In the mid 1630's tulip bulbs were traded on Dutch stock exchanges, which engaged a vast part of the society in speculating. Some people were ready to sell their houses and other possessions to take part in the tulip mania. Like any other bubble, this one could not last forever and it burst in 1637 when the market crashed leaving a lot of people in financial ruin.
Yet, the Dutch affection for tulips is not over, which is clearly visible all over the country. If you are interested in Holland's tulip story, the place to visit is the Amsterdam Tulip MuseumRelated to:
- Hiking and Walking
Visit museums in Museumplein
Museumplein (Museum Square) is a paradise for art lovers. As the name suggests, Museum Square is home to the most important museums of Amsterdam, namely Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk museum and Van Gogh Museum.
The majestic edifice of Rijksmuseum dominates over the square. The building was designed at the end of the 19th century by Cuypers, who is also the architect of the Central Station. The museum, being renovated for the period of 10 years, was reopened in 2013. As we visited Amsterdam in 2012, I had only the chance to see a part of its splendid collections limited to so called De Meesterwerken (Masterpieces) exhibited in the Philip's wing. Still I was completely satisfied to see the works of art by painters I came there for: Rembrandt, Vermeer or Hals. I also enjoyed the collection of dollhouses reflecting the interiors of Dutch homes from the Golden Age. Some of the houses are about two metres high and you must climb the steps attached to the house to peep inside. There is an abundance of furniture pieces and kitchen equipment typical of those times.
Wonderful as it was, I am still curious to see the Rijksmuseum after its long-time renovation. It looks really impressive in the photos of its new website.
Price of tickets: adults - 15 Euro (children aged 18 and under - free admission)
From November 2014 tickets will be more expensive: 17.50 Euro
It's possible to buy a ticket online
I haven't visited the other attractions of Museumplein yet. I hope to go to Van Gogh Museum this year, as i'm going to revisit Amsterdam in August. Vincent Van Gogh is one of the best recognisable painters in the world, but during his lifetime he was considered to be a loser and is said to have sold just one picture. However, nowadays he is alive not only through his paintings but also in numerous films, books and songs. A phenomenon hard to understand, but making his work and life even more fascinating.
Admission: Adults 15 Euro
The Stedelijk Museum hosts collections of contemporary art and design including works of such artists ad Mark Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol or Wassily Kandinsky.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
Stroll along the canals
The three main canals of Amsterdam: Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht are parts of so called Amsterdam canal Ring, known locally as Grachtengordel. The Ring celebrated its 400th birthday in 2013 and since 2010 has been on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Strolling along the canals is one of the must do activities in Amsterdam. It's a great opportunity to admire the charming houses dotting the way. They were mostly built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Because every metre of space was worth a fortune, the authorities recommended buiding narrow houses. They couldn't be more than 9 metres wide. The tax depended on the size of the facade, so the owners restricted in dimensions, indulged in the design of the front of their houses, paying special attention to the gables. There are a few gable variants, but the most popular are step, neck and bell ones. Some of the houses have decorative panels showing the goods being stored there or the family's shield.
There is one thing that almost all houses have in common. It is a hook at the top of the gable to which a pulley wheel and a rope can be attached. The device is still in use today. With very narrow staircases inside the houses, using the pulley is sometimes the only possible way of carrying some bigger pieces of furniture out or into the house.Related to:
- Sailing and Boating
- Hiking and Walking
Haarlem - walking along almshouses
When visiting a town/city we always try to walk around; the best way for exploring a city.
So we did also in Haarlem during our day trip on a grey and windy day between Christmas and New Year.
We opted for a walk along the almshouses of Haarlem (the city is famous for these so called ‘hofjes’ and has about twenty of them). It turned out to be a very interesting walk, which brought us not only to these green oasis in the city centre, but also along parts of the main shopping streets, authentic small local shops in side streets, the Korte Houtstraat - greenest street of Haarlem, a couple of very interesting monuments (among them the Great Church or St. Bavo’s) and with a short detour to Teylers Museum, the oldest museum of the Netherlands. Everywhere along the route you will find cafes and restaurants for a stop.
We picked a brochure of this walk at the VVV-office (which is signposted everywhere in the city) nearby the department store of Vroom & Dreesmann.
All of the almshouses are quite small and different from each other, but they all offer small homes around green courtyards. We started with the ‘Bruiningshofje’ - with a real hidden entrance - which is with just four houses one of the smallest. Most of the ‘hofjes’ were founded by wealthy Haarlem citizens as accommodation for aged and elderly women in need. The ‘Brouwershofje’ - with its typical white houses - was established by the Brewers Guild (Brouwersgilde), housing impoverished women who couldn’t longer work in one of the breweries.
Another special almshouse is the ‘Luthers Hofje’, with its quaint little homes, adjoining the church. These almshouses were built by the Lutheran Church on the former grounds of a monastery.
One of the bigger ones is the ‘Hofje van Oorschot’, which can be seen from one of the main shopping streets in the city centre.
Most of the ‘hofjes’ along the route are open for visitors on weekdays between 10 am and 5 pm.
There is no entrance fee, but be aware that all of the almshouses are still inhabited. Please respect the privacy of the people !!
Just the walk will take about 1,5 hours, without stops.
We got a (free) leaflet of the walk at the VVV-office. These leaflets are in Dutch and English. You also can download them from the internet: http://www.haarlemmarketing.nl/over_haarlem/folders/wandelroutes/Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Broek in Waterland, walking a picturesque village
'Broek in Waterland' is one of the places we do like very much and is one of the ‘must do’s’ when having relatives from abroad. It is almost unbelievable to find such an authentic and picturesque place less than ten kilometres from Amsterdam without the crowds in other more touristy places around.
Broek in Waterland is surrounded by ditches and meadows and the ‘centre’ of the village is the Havenrak, a widening of the Ee rivulet, which flows through Broek. The village has a couple of narrow streets, all lined with the traditional ‘Broeker houses’: having just one floor, due to the weak ground, constructed with a timber frame and walls and most of them are painted in the famous ‘Broeker grey’. Some of them do have stunning decorated entrance doors.
During our last visit (mid July) the whole village seemed to be full with flowering hydrangeas, which provided some extra charm.
Best way exploring the beauty of Broek in Waterland is by walking around. Start your walk at the Dorpsstraat, you will pass the ‘De Witte Swaen’ (a very cosy and typical Dutch pancake house - open from 12.00 pm for a drink, lunch or pancake) and arrive at the Havenrak with lovely views over the water. Continue to the St. Nicolaas Kerk and if the church is open take a look inside (sermon chair, ceiling with frescos, pulpit, organ, floor crypts), cross the bridge over the River Ee and continue along Roomeinde - nice ‘Broeker houses’ and an art gallery. Turn right at the Kerkhofbrug and walk along the small river back to the church and the Dorpsstraat.
This walk is about 1,5 km’s long; it is also possible to make longer walks. Ask for a map at ‘De Witte Swaen’.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Marken: loop walk to the lighthouse
Till 1957 the small fishing village of Marken was an island in the IJsselmeer (the former Zuiderzee). From that moment on it was connected by the mainland of the Province of Noord-Holland by a dike. The village is situated rather close to Amsterdam and part of the municipality of Waterland. About 2.000 people are living on the peninsula. Marken (together with Volendam) is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the Netherlands; it has its own charm with the quaint green colored wooden houses on poles and the very colorful traditional costumes.
Especially during the holidays it can be rather overcrowded in the narrow streets between the car park and the harbour. To avoid the crowds and to explore the ‘other part’ of the peninsula I can recommend making a loop walk to the lighthouse. We made it in December on a sunny winter day and it was amazing: just a couple of other people, a little bit of ice on the ditches, lots of geese in the polder, fresh air, cows and sheep around and a kink of sea breeze.
The lighthouse is called ‘Het Paard van Marken' (Horse of Marken), due to its shape. It is located on the most eastern point of the ‘island’ on a small peninsula. Nowadays it can not be visited by public. The lighthouse is still in use. There is no lighthouse-keeper on site, but the house does have residents.
From the car park we took the ‘Oosterpad’ straight to the lighthouse. It also possible to take a longer walk along to ‘Rozewerf’ (one of the small villages of Marken built on a man made hill to protect the houses for the sea) and further along the dike. We went back – anti clockwise – along the dike to Marken; once in the village walk to the tower of the church and a couple of minutes later you will reach the harbour for a well-earned drink or lunch.
This walk takes about 1 hour; the longer one about 30 minutes more.
(for a map of Marken see: http://www.plattegronden.nl/marken)Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Schagen – very typical Dutch bike trip
Staying in spring (late April) for a couple of days in Schagen, we decided to make a bike trip through the bulb fields in this part of the Netherlands. In the Top of North Holland (Kop van Noord-Holland) they are proud having the world’s largest area of blooming bulb fields. It is less well known as the so called Bollenstreek (nearby the Keukenhof), which means it is less touristy and much more authentic.
We did this trip on April 22 and were very lucky with the weather: blue skies and almost no wind. We passed a couple of nice quaint villages like Schagerbrug and ‘t Zand (with its typical ‘vlotbrug’ / floated bridge), but most of the time we were biking through the flat Dutch countryside with vast fields of blooming colorful tulips and hyacinths. But we saw also grazing cows, sheep, ditches and canals, farmhouses and a lot of water birds.
Callantsoog, with a church dating back to the 16th century, is a nice place for a stop for a drink or lunch. Just south of the village lies the ‘Zwanenwater’, a wildlife sanctuary in the dunes. You even could stay for a while on the beach.
Of course you can bike around and find the way by yourself, but we used the easy ‘Knooppuntenroute’ (numbered intersections) along the numbers:
45 (Schagen) > 35 > 44 > 32 > 79 > 31 > 26 (Callantsoog) > 84 > 13 > 81 > 34 and from there we followed the ANWB signs for Schagen. See for this (or another) itinerary: http://www.fietsersbond.net/fietsrouteplanner/fietsroutes-noordholland/knooppunten/
The trip is about 30 km’s long and will take 2 hours of biking.
We rented our bikes from our hotel in Schagen; in town is also a bike shop with rental bikes Westenenk Profile Tweewielers. You also could start this trip in Callantsoog, where you can rent a bike from Harry's Tweewielers.
(On the website below you may find more info about the tulips in the area.)Related to:
Texel – made for biking
The island of Texel seems to be made for bike trips (as many parts of the Netherlands). It is as flat as a pancake, although there are some ‘hilly’ parts with the dunes and an area called ‘De Hooge Berg’ (the High Mountain) southeast of Den Burg. Texel has more than 135 km’s bike paths and many of the country roads are very quiet and another option for a bike trip. The whole island isn’t too big and you always find a café for a rest and a drink.
We made a lovely trip with Den Burg as a starting point and heading to the small village of Den Hoorn through polder scenery with typical farmhouses and with lots and lots of crocus flowers along the road. Den Hoorn is ‘famous’ for its white church, dating back to 1425 (open in summer on Thursdays from 2.00 to 4.00 pm). After visiting the viewing point on top of Loodmansduin - with great views of the dunes and the polders - we biked through the dunes and the pine forests of ‘De Dennen’ to the beach at ‘Westerslag’.
Along dune valleys, heathland and meadows we reached our last (coffee)stop in the village of De Koog, before going back to our hotel in Den Burg.
This bike trip was about 30 km’s long and we made it in an easy pace in an afternoon, exploring both parts of Texel: the dunes and the polders. Visit the Tourist Information Centre and asked for cycling routes on the island or just buy a map and make your own choice.
You can bring your own bike or just rent one at your accommodation or in one of the many bike rental shops on the island. Also possible as a daytrip from the mainland: just park your car in Den Helder, take the ferry, rent a bike at the ferry harbour and enjoy the special feeling of being on the island of Texel.Related to:
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