Say Cheese

We recently took an excursion to Alkmaar to observe the reenactment of the cheese market.  Alkmaar has had a cheese market and thriving cheese trade since the 1300s.  Cheese was brought to the market square in front of the weighing house for trading by the four different cheese groups, each identified by the color of the hat that they wear.  On trading day, the cheese is laid out in front of the weighing house.

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At 10am the bell is rung to signal the start of the trading.  At that time, the cheese bearers begin stacking cheese on their wooden carrying planks and taking it to the weighing scale inside the weigh house.  After it is weighed, the bearers haul it back to the square to the loading carts where it is carted off to buyers.

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All of this is overseen by the Cheese Fathers for each group.

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During the process, cheese inspectors examine the cheese with a 4 category process to ensure its quality.  Finally, the seller and buyer agree on a price in an interesting hand slapping process.

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All of these elements are traditional to how cheese was traded for centuries although it is now just a display for fun.  Cheese inspectors at today’s market share samples of the cheese with the crowd. They use a small plug device to extract a cylindrical piece of cheese from the huge cheese wheel.

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In addition, cheese maids wander the crowd selling cheese products.

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You can also purchase cheese and other treats at the market stalls around the square.

In addition to our visit to the market, we also stopped in the Cheese Museum.  It was a small but informative museum about the history of cheese making in The Netherlands, particularly Alkmaar.  There were many interesting artifacts.

So-did we eat any cheese?  But of course.  They just sell Gouda though you can get it in many different flavors.  We tried a young (couple month ripened) Gouda and an old (2 years ripened) cheese.  Both were very good!

A day in Alkmaar-now that’s how you say cheese!

Witches and Wildlife

This past weekend, we checked out two places that we have been interested in – Oudewater and Biesbosch.

Oudewater is a very charming town; the highlight of which is the witch weighing house.  The house is currently a museum but it was originally a weigh house for all kinds of products.  Then during the 1500-1600s, it became a place to weigh suspected witches.  If the suspect was found to be of normal weight for a human of their stature, they received a certificate of clearance that they could then keep and use as clearance any time they were accused of witchcraft or sorcery.  The museum itself is fairly small, but they do provide some interesting information on witch persecution and the best part-they still have the weigh scale and they will weigh you and provide you with your clearance certificate (kids at least, not sure about adults).  Our youngest has been cleared, though I still have my doubts!

Aside from the museum, Oudewater has some lovely architecture and historic buildings.  Being that the area was small, it made for a nice stroll on a pleasant day.

Our other stop for the weekend was Biesbosch.  This is a nature reserve that is well known for its beaver population.  While we didn’t see any beavers, we did see many birds and waterfowl (they have sea eagles which look like bald eagles) and we learned a little about the history of the area and the harvesting and use of the willow cane that grows there.  We also saw a ton of those “soap” producing trees.  There are many hiking and biking trails at Biesbosch and many people take boats or canoes out on the water.

Though our weather has been struggling to stay dry, warm and sunny, it was a nice weekend for these excursions and as pleasant as they were, we would definitely go back.

Bloemencorso Flower Parade

Last weekend we went to the spring flower parade here in The Netherlands-The Bloemencorso.  Think of the Rose Parade in which the floats are turned into designs comprised of flowers.  Now shrink the floats down in your mind in terms of scale, types of flowers (I think they only use local flowers, no imports) and detail, but lengthen the parade route so that it takes 6+ hours and winds through numerous cities.  Voila-The Bloemencorso!  While it wasn’t quite up to Rose Parade standards, it was fun to go and watch in person.  The floats smelled great, we got to hear some fun bands and it didn’t take too long (about an hour) for it to go by our viewing spot in Noordwijk, a cute sea town.

Actually, the thing that struck us the most about the parade was the lack of crowd control.  Don’t get me wrong, there were police and parade escorts but they just didn’t do much to keep the crowds off the parade route.  People continuously migrated further off the sidewalks and into the street, often walking or standing right in front of a float as it came down the route.  No one seemed concerned about it at all.  But unlike the Rose Parade, it was also very easy to park close, walk up to and leave the parade and we didn’t need to show up more than 30 minutes or so in advance to get a good viewing spot.

Apparently, there is another parade in the late summer which features summer rather than spring flowers so we might check it out.  Also, just like the Rose Parade, they park the floats in a lot the day before or the night after, so that you can get an up-close look.  That might be fun for a future parade as well.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some of these pictures of the parade.

 

Excursion to Groningen

This past weekend we decided to make a day trip to Groningen in the northeast of The Netherlands.  It was about a two and a half hour drive.  On the way, we drove past a few tulip fields and a lot of wildflowers.

Upon arriving at the city, we left the car in a parking garage and headed toward the museum that prompted our visit.  As we began down the street, we suddenly realized we might be in the red light district as to our right was a store window display featuring variously sized penises and on our left was a very old prostitute in her undergarments awaiting business.  We quickly ushered the children along (they seemed oblivious to it all) and made our way to a less controversial area.

Our first stop was the Groniger Museum.  The museum currently had a special exhibit of Chihuly work so we thought we would check it out.

In addition to the Chihuly exhibit, the museum has a permanent collection of oriental china, paintings and sculpture work (you can be certain there were a few strange pieces thrown in the mix-yes that is Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese).

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After the museum, we made our way to some of the historic areas of the city.  Most of the places we stopped were almshouses, housing areas provided as a charity for the poor.  They are walled in areas featuring courtyards and what we would think of as apartment-style housing around the courtyard.  People still live in these areas today.  The first one that we stopped at was St. Anthony’s Gasthuis.  This used to be a hospital for plague victims and later became a mental institution for 200 years before becoming housing.  Across from this was St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Next, we went to another almshouse, the Pepergasthuis.  You can see the bars on some of the windows which are left from the days when part of the building was a home for the mentally ill.  This one had a pretty courtyard with a historic water pump.

We moved on to Martini Church with its tower.  We chose not to climb the tower but instead walked around the church to the area where they have some of the government buildings.

We stopped for lunch and while I’m not sure of the history of the building that the restaurant was in, but it was a beautiful building.

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After lunch, we walked through the outdoor market and bought some vegetables before heading to A-Kerk.  It was closed but the dome on top was impressive and has apparently had to be put back on several times in its history.

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Finally, we stopped at the Pelstergasthuis, which is one of the largest almshouses in the Netherlands and the oldest in Groningen dating from the mid 1200s.  It used to be a hospital for the poor and an overnight stop for medieval travelers but has been housing the elderly since 1600.  It had nice courtyards.

After leaving Groningen, we drove to the nearby city of Leek and stopped at Nienoord Castle.  The castle is not a fairy tale European castle as you might see in Germany or France but more of an estate home or mansion.  This one, however, did come complete with two drawbridges and a moat.  The castle houses the National Carriage Museum so we had a peek at the various carriages from over the years including ones used by the royal family.  They even had a simulation in which kids could try to drive a carriage.

There was a small house featuring shell walls next to the castle.

The grounds at Nienoord were very nice as well.

While Groningen wasn’t our favorite place that we have been in the Netherlands, it was a pleasant trip and not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Day at the Keukenhof

This past weekend we visited the famous Keukenhof Gardens which is situated among the flower fields of South Holland and is the largest flower garden in the world.  The gardens are only open from mid-March to mid-May (the exact openings dates vary from year to year depending on bloom times).  Our visit was a little early in the season meaning many of the tulips haven’t bloomed yet, but the hyacinth and daffodils were amazing (and the smell of the hyacinths was incredible) as were the flowering trees and even some final crocus.

The park is immense in its outdoor gardens and walking paths but it also has several indoor pavilions featuring orchids, tulips, calla lilies, amaryllis and more.  And, it is situated right next to the flower fields and has several vantage points for viewing them (not to mention the views you get on the drive to the gardens).

And now, I’ll let the flowers speak for themselves!

 

These are a few of the orchids from the orchid pavilion.  The Flower Power sign is made of orchids.  Also, notice the pattern on the spadix of the calla lily-it reminded us of how amazing and beautiful nature can be even in the tiny details.

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Even a bit of whimsy could be found in the gardens.

We also enjoyed the “stepping stone” platforms they had in the pond which allowed us to stand in the middle and take some fun pictures of the trees and clouds reflected in the water.

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The gardens also featured a hedge maze, a playground, a petting zoo and a children’s zipline.  In addition, they had this calliope providing some fun 80’s and 90’s music.

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And finally, there were the flower fields surrounding the garden. While they were not at their peak with tulips, they were impressive none the less.

Our trip to Keukenhof was definitely a great day with beautiful weather and we look forward to going again in future years!

A Stroll Through Kinderdijk

Saturday, we spent a pleasant morning at Kinderdijk just outside of Rotterdam.  Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it is home to an astounding 19 original windmills (the site originally had 20 but one was lost) as well as pumping stations and dikes used to control water.  The windmills at Kinderdijk were constructed to pump water in order to both keep the river levels where they need to be to allow for the flow of water and to prevent flooding.  Why is this so important here?  The following can be found on the Kinderdijk website:

“The Netherlands looks back on a proud and ancient tradition of working together with the water. Like much of the rest of our country, Kinderdijk lies below sea level. If we would let nature run its course here, some 40% of the Netherlands would be flooded, and 60% would be under threat from the waters! Throughout the ages, the people who lived in these areas had to come up with clever solutions to stave off disasters.”

The Dutch are very proud of their ability to work with the sea and waters to preserve the land of The Netherlands and because that battle has required much ingenuity and perseverance, they even have a saying: “God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands.”

After watching a short movie about the area and the life of a miller, we decided to stroll along the river and past the windmills and the surrounding areas(you also have the option to view the windmills by waterbus).  Two of the windmills were open for observation.  The first windmill was actually turning and demonstrated what the home would look like as well as how the windmill works.  On the inside, if you are willing to climb the steep stairs, you can see the mechanical parts at work.  The other windmill showed more of the lifestyle of the millers with a furnished inside and a cute garden with a few barn animals as well as an old style crank for drying laundry, which the kids could actually try out.  And, just in case you were wondering if windmills were only lived in way back when, many of the windmills are now private residences.

The weather was beautiful, there were lots of people out walking and biking, no one in our family was whining and we stopped and bought some poffertjes covered in butter and powdered sugar at a stand along the way-all in all it was a pretty good morning!

 

You can read more about Kinderdijk here: Kinderdijk

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A Brief Look at Dordrecht

We had a long weekend so we decided to go check out Dordrecht.  Dordrecht is in South Holland and is surrounded by water (three rivers meet here).  On this particular day, the area of the city that we were in felt deserted (we believe because it was a Monday).  There were lots of shops and cafes but nothing was open and very few people were out.  Despite the desolate feel, the area was very charming.

We began at the old church.  From there we stopped by an old city gate from 1625.

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We strolled along the harbor area and over to the narrowest street in the city.  Interestingly enough, the top is narrower than the bottom because shifting over time has caused the building to lean.

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We strolled along some lovely streets and canal areas and ended up at Het Hof.  It is now a museum, but it was once the site of a very important meeting.  Remember William of Orange (otherwise known as William the Silent) from an earlier post?  He was the one murdered in an area of Delft.  Well, when he began his attempt to free The Netherlands from the Spanish occupation, he gathered his fellow revolutionaries at Het Hof to discuss their plans and seal their alliance.

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Overall, it was a quiet hour or so, but a pleasant, quick excursion.

D is for Delightful (or Delfshaven and Delft)

This past weekend we visited two locations that are very close to our home-Delfshaven and Delft.

Delfshaven is a historic district in Rotterdam.  There is a lovely canal area dotted with many historic boats.  Most of these boats are houseboats in which people live on a daily basis.  The area was very quiet even though just a block over was an incredibly busy street.  Some of the highlights of Delfhaven were an old windmill that has also served as a restaurant and the historic church which was the starting point of the pilgrims from The Netherlands that sailed on The Mayflower.  They began their journey in Delfshaven on a vessel called The Speedwell and sailed to England, joining The Mayflower to sail to America.  I honestly didn’t know that there were any Pilgrims from The Netherlands on The Mayflower, but my child informs me that everyone knows that!

 

Next, we visited Delft.  This was a lovely town with a great main square.  In the main square, you could see a church with a huge tower and the old town hall.  Lining the other sides of the square were small restaurants and cafes as well as shops selling items from clothing and housewares to souvenirs (including some beautiful Delft blue china pieces).

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Other areas around the square sported historic features such as old bridges and gates and this former single family home.

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In addition, there was a monastery dating back to the 1400’s that was the site of the murder of William, Prince of Orange, who led a Protestant revolution against the Spanish during the 1500’s (you can read more about that here:William, Prince of Orange).  The building is now used as a museum.

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We really enjoyed these two areas.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday and Sunday afternoon!

Tourists in Our Town

This past weekend, we played tourists in our own town by checking out some of the top sites/icons in Rotterdam.  First off, we visited the Maritime Museum.  Rotterdam in a port city and has been referred to as the “Gateway to Europe.”  The Maritime Museum houses not just maritime artifacts and artwork but also an interactive experience in which you get to see what it is like to work on an offshore site and test yourself on some of the skills needed and jobs required at the site.  The museum also has several boats in the harbor that you can board.  After the museum, we had lunch at a restaurant on a docked boat and then our son insisted that he must drive a miniature boat around the harbor.  Twelve Euro for 15 minutes seemed steep, but I was never so happy for 15 minutes to be up as he is not the best driver!

After our water-themed morning, we decided to check out the cube houses (you can go in one model home) and the large church from the 16th century that survived the bombing during WWII.  We went to the Museum of Rotterdam and learned more about the SS Rotterdam, the ocean liner from the American Holland Line that is now docked in the city and serves as a hotel.  Finally, we walked to Centraal Station to check out the architecture and then drove over the famous Erasmus Bridge.

 

The next day we checked out the zoo and the Euromast with panoramic views of the city and the city park next to it.

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My fitness tracker was very pleased with me over the weekend and there’s more to see, but for one weekend that was plenty.

Plaswijck Park

We ventured out to a cool park for kids called Plaswijck Park that is just a few minutes from our house.  The park has animal exhibits, water play, boating, playgrounds and other attractions such as the miniature town that kids get to ride pedal cars through, a zip line and an awesome tiny boat that goes down a steep slide and shoots into the water.  The upside-there is plenty for the kids to do, the downside-as a parent you don’t get to ride on many of the attractions (I’m not going to lie about being jealous I couldn’t ride around the town or go down the boat slide thing!).  All in all, it was a nice day in a lovely, park setting.

 

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