26 February 2012
What are the things that first come to mind when one hears Netherlands? Weed, red lights, tulips, etc. But The Netherlands have much more interesting stories to tell.
What are the things that first come to mind when one hears Netherlands? Weed, red lights, tulips, etc. But The Netherlands have much more interesting stories to tell. Stories of golden age and stories of recession. Great success and terrible loss. Can we not say that about most countries though. It all becomes interesting when it gets personal and detailed. So I want to tell you about such an experience in the town of Alkmaar.
But the story starts a bit earlier and far from Holland. It starts in Bulgaria , where I get very early to catch a flight to Amsterdam. The winter had arrived in Sofia and the snow had covered everything. So my flight was delayed and I was afraid I might miss the day planned for Alkmaar. Luckily that didn’t happen!
Dutch weather is usually a bit harsh for me, but not in the winter. Temperature was about 10C which made a perfect sightseeing day. But first thing first, where should I leave my suitcase? Apparently Dutch don’t travel with a lot of luggage because the train station in Alkmaar only had mid sized lockers where my suitcase didn’t quite fit in.
So here we are, Thomas and I pulling it around the city. It was quite exhausting and we stopped for a sandwich (very Dutch thing! They eat a lot of sandwiches in NL). We got ourselves nice broodje kroket at Modder vrouwtje – a little lunch room close to the train station. Kroket is the Dutch “kebapche”. It’s made of very fine minced meat and is deep fried, so it is crunchy from the outside and very soft from the inside. I’ve had a kroket before and wasn;t very impressed, but this one, mmmm, so good! And it was served with very soft mustered sauce.
Alkmaar welcomed us with good food and we pulled our suitcase to the local museum – the Stedelijk museum. We passed by a little Christmas fair where you could buy a cup of the famous Dutch pea soup. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am willing to! Pity though no hot wine was sold there. The fair neighboured an “Occupy Alkmaar” tent camp consisting of only two tents. I guess the Dutch are not that angry at the banks ;) Those two happenings were dominated by one of the biggest churches in Europe. I must say it didn’t look that big, but maybe they are not counting the cathedrals. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in as the time was running and we’ve had a list of things to do. Making lists also a very typical Dutch activity. Everything should be planned and documented ;)
The museum is very close to the big church. It’s a modern building that also hosts a library. The current exposition is about the history of the city with accents in local painters and a chocolate factory. It is not quite big, can be viewed for about an hour, specially because it misses English signs yet (but if you wait till September, you can see the new improved exhibition which will also has the English explanations, big parties are planned as well). If you dedicate some patience you’ll find very interesting and personal stories. As well as the story of a city that first liberated itself from the Spanish occupation. City that was flourishing in the golden age, exporting goods (and rum!!!) around the world and a city that also knew struggling and poverty in the years after. Luckily good times came again. Many new buildings rose – a new church, the beautiful tower of the city hall and the chocolate factory of the Ringers family.
There is a big exposition about the factory. It was famous with its cherry liquor candies, and its sugar sculptures. This exposition is beloved by the local people as many of them used to work in the factory. The Ringers factory was known for its director, who wanted to keep his workers happy. Many fun activities were organised and interest clubs formed. This director managed to change people’s view of the factory worker job – it became prestigious and desirable. And this is very noticeable in the exposition. It gives you the feeling of a happy community and I easily understand why locals are so fond of it. I really liked that this museum is oriented to the local people. It makes the exposition so sincere and transfers that feeling even to the foreign visitors. The past of that town becomes closer as if your own ancestors lived there rather than just history facts observed though a glass.
The city museum has a very nice toys exposition too. If you are interested into it, I know the girls would be, they have great miniature kitchens, little plates and cups, and of course dolls! I was very jealous of the kids that once played with those.
So another quick snack we took on the way to the next museum. We had the famous Hema rook worst – smoked sausage with mustard. Lekker! Since the first museum was cultural, we decided to visit something more informal next – the beer museum! Yay! The best thing about it is that it is not a brand run museum. So it doesn’t work as an advertisement but shows the real fondness of beer. It is situated in a building that was once a brewery. I instantly loved the “lobby” that had the feeling of a real Dutch pub for the middle class. The museum shows the brewing process in historical perspective. I found the glass of the couch driver the most interesting. It looks like a chemist glass of an alchemist – a sphere-like bottom and a long thing neck. That is because the driver is not allowed to get off the couch, so the bartender would be holding the glass at the bottom, and the driver would easily handle it at the neck. Note that apparently drivers were allowed to drink back then. I guess safety was all responsibility of the horses.
Of course we ended in the museum bar, located downstairs past the canal. So good beer and nice Dutch view. What else would one need!
There was just one thing left to be done before we head home – shopping! We’ve got some lovely presents from Alkmaar. Streets had that festive feeling of joy and celebration. Unfortunately there was no cheese market that day – Alkmaar is very famous with it and it’s a great tourist attraction, so I ordered the fondue with local cheese at the Samen restaurant. The menu had wide range of meats but for my surprise only one salad.
To sum it up – Alkmaar can be visited for its known tourist attractions, but if you open the curtain it touches your heart in a gentle sincere way.