The last leg of our Centenary Cruise was the leg from Wormerveer to Alkmaar. Just a quick spin, but as there had been a fair bit of rain, we were now alive to the possibility that the actual height of a bridge might be a significant bit lower than our navigation program listed. Sure enough, we soon had to back away from a bridge whose height was now considerably lower than Catharina’s wheelhouse despite the assurance of our electronic navigator.
We retraced part of the journey we made on our first day’s cruising last year and moored in the attractive harbour of Alkmaar. Not long after we had stopped, a lovely big tjalk rafted up alongside for the night – a tourist barge that had a company of Germans on board. Later on during our stay, we left our mooring so another barge could take our place. We then came around and rafted against them – as we planned to leave before them the following morning. All good mooring practice.
Our main focus in Alkmaar was to be the Dutch national Cheese Museum and the Kaasmarkt (Cheese Market) re-creation that they do each Friday during the tourist season. We also ducked off for some side trips, but more on those later.
We stayed on the outer harbour, because the inner harbour, next to the Kaamarkt is no longer accessible to a barge the size of Catharina. One of the entries is now blocked, and there is not sufficient room to turn. The Market Quay and the bridge near it are still recognisably similar to that when Catharina moored there, probably a couple of times a week. So, sadly, Catharina couldn’t quite make it to the Kaasmarkt.
The Cheese Market is a big event each week during the summer, and it is packed with tourists. There are lots of stalls and shops open to add to the excitement but it is rather hard to get a good view. Recognising this, the entire two to three-hour event is continuously filmed by several cameras and projected live on a huge screen. The commentary is conducted in Dutch, French, English and German. All in all, a big event.
The cheeses are trucked in specially for the day. Nowadays, they are all of the Gouda style (wheel-shaped), ironic really when Edam, which gives its name to the spherical cheeses is only a few kilometres away. In Catharina’s day, the market was almost exclusively for the weighing and sale of Edam cheeses. However, these days, North Holland only produces Gouda-style cheeses.
The main features we watched for were the examination of the cheeses, the hand slapping style of auction used to settle on a price, then the carrying of the cheese to the weighing rooms and back to the carts where the cheese was then taken away for retail.
The cheese carriers still have their own guild and have to train for several years. They have to run with a particular gait in order to keep the laden (about 130 kg) cheese barrow steady. Hard to appreciate without a video…
While these days, the cheese goes back into trucks, in the past, some of the cheese would have been loaded onto barges like Catharina Elisabeth, and in her case, shipped down to the wholesalers in Zaandam.
It was both fascinating and in a deeper sense, very moving – to realise that Catharina had been a fundamental part of this very, very Dutch industry. We felt very special!
After this, we took a leisurely walk through the National Cheese Museum and learnt a lot more about this huge industry and the vital part that cheesemaking plays in the Dutch culture. We then split up to do a bit of independent exploration. Lisette went on to sample some cheese (of course), and thinking of Ian, as she always does, bought him some French Roquefort and then went off to check out the women in the red light district of Alkmaar. (I maintain that I got lost strolling through the streets of the old town; and felt rather out of place once I realised where I must be!)
(1) Monty Python’s “Cheese Shop” sketch
Meanwhile, Ian was caught out buying a secret present, but Lisette still doesn’t know what it is.
If it’s Monday this must be Alkmaar
For the somewhat older reader, you may remember a film “If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium”. Starring a young Ian McShane and Suzanne Pleschette, this 1969 film followed a group of American tourists on a whirlwind trip through nine European countries in 18 days. We first saw the movie at University, in the 70’s, and the memory of this frantic touring has always remained. Of course, we have gone in completely the other direction in our travelling pace.
Still, we were to be in Belgium this year, and so the movie was on our mind, and Ian was reminded again of our intent to try and watch it again when he read a comment in a barge book he was reading – “Something about Tuesday and Belgium” the author quipped. So, off to YouTube where there was a low quality but full length copy of the movie.
We remembered very little of the details, but the trip started in London and then moved to across the Channel, first to the Netherlands. Imagine our surprise and delight when it turned out that their first tourist destination in Europe was the Alkmaar Cheese Market!
Clearly recognisable, but no barges sadly, and well past Catharina’s time, it was none the less fascinating to see the market as it was all that time ago. Strikingly, there was a mixture of Edam and Gouda cheeses then, in contrast to today where, as very little Edam cheese is made anywhere around Edam, ironically this local cheese is no longer featured at the market. A comment in the movie reveals that the next day they are to tour Brussels in Belgium, so it must be Monday for the Alkmaar visit!
Here’s a two-minute clip from the movie, and even apart from the footage of the Market, the content is sooooo ’60’s!
The small village again
While moored in Alkmaar, a chap was parking his bike as Ian was moving his. He complemented Catharina and vouched that he and his wife had owned a barge for a number of years. He and his wife were English and had been members of our barging association, the DBA. They were now living permanently in the Netherlands, in the nice new apartment block next to us overlooking the harbour and old town. Dick invited us to come and meet his wife Midge, and have chat when we were both free.
A couple of days later, when our schedules harmonised, we spent a very pleasant evening chatting about barge life and experiences. We had a quick look at their photo albums and suddenly saw a photo of our Dutch friend’s, Michel and Rebecca’s barge ‘t Majeur. “Small world”, we said and it transpired that they had met Rebecca and Michel just a few days before they (Michel and Rebecca) picked us up for our week of cruising on ‘t Majeur in 2013. Dick and Midge have had to stop cruising due to ill health and were very sad to have to sell their barge – to a chap in the French town of Toul. As anyone would be when selling their barge, Dick and Midge were a little concerned about how the new owner would care for their barge, and if he would love her as much as they had.
Anyway, we have a great time and reluctantly left Dick and Midge. Next day we contacted Rebecca and Michel and informed them of our coincidental meeting. They remembered Dick and Midge well. They also informed us that at that very moment, they were in the French town of Toul, moored immediately behind Dick and Midge’s barge which, while undergoing renovations, looked to be being very well cared for.
Such a small world, but such a delight to experience the relationships that bind the community together.
We love it.