Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alkmaar Cheese Market

This week's subject is number ten among the top ten things to see or do in The Netherlands. From the first Friday of April until the first Friday of September, the city of Alkmaar holds its weekly cheese market every Friday from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM. The market is run by a traditional "Cheese Carrier's Guild."  Back in the middle ages, almost every trade had a guild and in Holland there is one for cheese carriers.  Established in 1593, there are thirty men and a Cheese Father who make up the Cheese Carrier's Guild.

The market opens at 10:00 AM sharp with the ringing of a bell by either a famous personality or special guest of the guild. Next, the cheese is inspected and sampled with a grade so the buyers have a good idea of the quality of the cheese they are purchasing. The cheese is bought by way of bargaining with clapping of the hands. It is sold by kilo and the last clap seals the sale.

After the cheese has been sold, it is weighed by the "weigh master" who supervises for correctness. Honesty is strictly adhered to in the weighing of the cheese according to the old Dutch saying "Een valse Waghe is de Heere een gruwel" or "a false balance is an abhorrence in the eyes of the Lord."  Once the cheese has been sold and weighed, the cheese carriers bring the cheese on an old-fashioned "cheese barrow" (or stretcher) to the trucks of the buyers. Since a full load of cheese can weigh up to 130 kilos (or 286 pounds) the two cheese carriers must be strong and not have bad backs.

If you happen to visit the Alkmaar cheese market, don't miss the cheese museum:

More information about the Alkmaar Cheese Market at:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boy Sticks Finger in Dike: Saves Town

When I travel back to the U.S. and meet people from all walks of life, the number one question I am inevitably asked as soon as they hear I live in The Netherlands is: "What's the story of the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike?" It strikes me as sadly ironic that a country producing such well-known brilliance as Erasmus, Rembrandt, Huygens, van Gogh, Vermeer, Rubens, Steen, van Ruysdael, Escher, Mondriaan, van Leeuwenhoek, Corrie Ten Boom, Anne Frank, Andre Rieu and Anouk should be remembered for the poor little boy with his finger in the dyke.

The story of the Dutch boy is actually a story within a story.  It can be found in the Mary Mapes Dodge classic Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, written in 1875.  As the story goes, the little boy notices a leak in the dyke and he immediately plugs the hole with his finger, knowing that the one little leak can soon turn into a bigger hole whereby the entire dyke can be breached.  If that were to happen, the water would spill into the low-lying countryside, flooding houses and killing people and livestock.

The little boy remains there with his finger plugging the hole all night in spite of the horrible wind, rain and cold until finally some of the townspeople happen to spot him and come to his rescue.  They patch up the dyke and the little boy is hailed as the town hero for saving everyone in the county.  Although the little boy in the story remains nameless, he is said to represent the will of each and every Dutchman/woman who would sacrifice himself/herself to save others by plugging his finger in the dyke.  The author wanted to convey the amazing resolve and honor of the Dutch people in a single metaphor, and it is one that lives on more than a hundred years after her death.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Floriade 2012: Dutch Flower Expo

Queen Beatrix officially opens Floriade 2012
This past week heralded the opening of a once-in-a-decade event in the Netherlands -- The Floriade World Horticulture Expo.  The event runs from April 5th until October 7th, 2012 near the Dutch city of Venlo and is expected to draw in a whopping 2 million visitors in its 66 hectare park. There are five distinct themed areas: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment, and World Show Stage, separated from one another by woods. There is even an area especially for kids.

The exposition aims to teach and educate how plants, flowers, trees and vegetables impact and affect our modern way of life. Guests can also visit Villa Flora: Europe's largest indoor flower show. If you decide to go, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes to visit the more than 100 gardens and pavilions filled with plants and flowers from all over the world.

Billed as one of the "World's Top Destinations for 2012" by CNN news corporation, this event that only takes place once every ten years is a must see for anyone planning to visit The Netherlands from April until October.  More information including pricing and tickets is available at: