Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alkmaar The story of Cheese, Beer, and Nachos

Throw sausage into the title and we've covered all four food groups. Prior to our plane landing in Amsterdam I poked around the web looking for the perfect day trip outside the city and Alkmaar popped up. The phrase that continually caught my attention was "Friday morning cheese races (the summer's Cheese Market)" if this isn't a message from the almighty then I'm at a lost for what is. Ana and I tempted fate by catching the 630 am train from Gent hoping to beat the market's ending time. We dragged our suitcases through the wet streets and drizzle of old town Alkmaar dodging German tourists to the The Weighing House (the square of the Cheese Market). In retrospect I asked myself and the Magic Eight Ball if my life would have been incomplete missing the Cheese Market, "without a doubt."  

I bet your asking yourself if this is some sort of gay friendly Clockwork Orange remake with all the dudes in white suits and multi-colored hats gathered outside the Weighing House. It could be, but isn't. Thanks to the Alkmaar Kaasexpres (the bible of the Cheese Market 101) I now have a better understanding of hat colors, titles, and why cheese from Holland is made in round casings (wheels). Some of the participant titles include the Cheese Father (distinguished by the orange hat), The Inspector, The Executioner, Cheese Carriers, and so on. Don't show up in December hoping to catch the event. The season runs from the first Friday in April to the First Friday in September between the hours of 10 am to 12:30 pm.    
The official Cheese Ambassador of Holland, the fictional Frau Antje collecting money from sold cheese aka summer high school job.  
Traditionally men did manly activities like tending the fields and building things. Women were in charge of making cheese. In order for them to move the cheese more efficiently, they were made into wheels.
Windmill along a canal.
You know you're in the right town if you come across the De Boom National Beer Museum. Housed in a former brewery with a tasting room in the Cellar. The brochure states "Beer has been the most popular beverage in these parts for 1000's of years!"
The museum is filled with antique beer making equipment such as this bottle drying rack. 
There was no shortage of retro beers advertisements.
Say Cheese Say Alkmaar is the town's motto. A couple of Euros will buy you the city's walking guide that maps out some of the interesting sites in the city's center.   
Not really part of the guide, but this has to be one of the largest music boxes I've encountered. The man trolling in the front collects your unwanted Euros and feeds the revolving cylinder of plucked sheets containing the music (the combs and teeth produces the music).  
The sheet running through the cylinder belting out the tunes. Not pictured are the bells and snare drum keeping the rhythm. 
Good to know. Coming to a rave near you. 
Alkmaar has happy street art.
Stop #11 is the Mill of Piet...a 17th century copy.  You wouldn't want to reckon with a falling blade. 
One of the many picturesque ramparts. 
Just one of the buildings.
Stop #5 Remonstrant Church. The funny incident about finding this building is that it is hidden behind a wooden archway. We walked back and forth until a man doing some trim painting approached us and asked if we were looking for the secret church. The story is that the church was hidden from the street for protection...against who and what is a faded memory, maybe the invading Spanish armies. The floor is pinewood with a sprinkling of dune sand.   
Cheese carriers plaque outside The Weighing House. 
Stop #1 The Weighing House containing the Dutch Cheese Museum. Ok, so we did the walking tour backwards.  
Our trip to Alkmaar wouldn't have been nearly as interesting or exciting without our new friend Martine who we met through Couch Surfing. She was kind enough to let us crash at her pad outside of town. She turned me on to the local IPA as we were lucky enough to get the last two pours from the tap.
Meet Symen, Martine's partner and a driver of a cruise ship. Later in the evening he shared some of the pictures of his adventures from his travels around the world. This man truly goes where most people don't, be it glaciers in the South Pole or inside active volcanoes.
Nachos at Roses Cantina in Alkmaar should be avoided. For dinner we attempted to eat Mexican and ordered the large nachos as a starter. Those of you in California and elsewhere in the states have an idea and perhaps high standards of what a plate of large nachos entails. I can assure you that the concept of "nachos" and "large" is quite different in Holland. There were four of us and we each had 3 to 4 regular-sized tortilla chips with cheese...all this for 16 Euros (approx. $22 USD); quite a bargain for such a feast. When the server came to take our order, we politely declined and asked for the bill. "Was the food not ok?" For $22 I want to have a nacho heart attack with the obituary headline "death by nachos" and to add insult to injury was this mural on the wall. Any guess to what this might mean?
There may be history, culture, tradition, and hot air balloon ride in Alkmaar but the town isn't immune from Holland Guidos. Maybe MTV can cast the next season for Jersey Shore here.  
I'm sure the board of Libyan tourism is working on a new ad campaign to get the Dutch to North Africa. This ad for Tunisia at the bus stops seems to be doing wonders thus far.  

No comments:

Post a Comment