Alkmaar and Gouda

Thursday 17th May 2018, Gouda, Netherlands
Yesterday was exhausting and unproductive. It started okay with us leaving Modestine staring with curiosity at an oyster catcher with a magpie complex. They look surprisingly similar in their black and white feathers and are much of a size. However the oystercatcher is more likely to be found around muddy harbours and along the coast where it seeks shellfish and pulls them from the wet mud. Here he was applying the same skills, with great success, to pulling out the worms from the soft grass around the empty campsite.

Once we sorted out how to get into Alkmaar we were soon inside the old town having braved the hundreds of cyclists skimming along on the shared pedestrians/cyclists paths that crossed office parking lots and even descended into tunnels under the roads. There are two parallel systems for traffic in Holland, one for cars and oner for cyclists. Pedestrians are too insignificant to count.

The town was pleasantly deserted this early in the morning and we could stroll the streets of the old town in comfort without having to move out of the way of cars and vans making morning deliveries along the canal side to houseboats and shops. We stopped for the usual morning coffee and cake for Ian – Dutch apple cake today. It was not the day of the cheese market, held on Fridays. We found we remembered nothing of Alkmaar from earlier visits and, lovely as the civic buildings and churches were, we had seen most of what the pleasant old town could offer after a couple of hours.

Stadhuis, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Canal scene, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Residential street, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Old market, 1880s, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Bicycle, Dredged from canal, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Cheese shop, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Almshouses, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Almshouses, Alkmaar, Netherlands

Water tower, Alkmaar, Netherlands

We decided to collect Modestine and move on to Leiden, a town where I had spent several weeks back in my younger days in the late 1960s, living with some university students, sharing a tall Dutch house overlooking the canal in the old town. I had found myself a placement at the Royal Library in the Hague for my summer practical experience as a library school student, and furthermore I managed to acquire financial sponsorship from the Frank Denning award, offered annually to assist Croydon students to carry out research abroad. My library school told me that it was normally expected that students would carry out their practical experience in Britain but admitted that there was nothing written to that effect and agreed to me going off to Holland instead. Back then I remember Leiden as wonderfully picturesque, teeming with students, exciting, and architecturally beautiful. There were canals and humped bridges, cobbled streets and an excellent student union where I could eat with Dutch friends every evening. My friends even loaned me a bicycle so I got completely under the skin of Dutch student life. While I was there I recall Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. With friends I was up all night watching the landing as it happened. I was in less than perfect health for my library appointment at the Rotterdam Technical Institute the following day!

Yesterday afternoon we drove from Alkmaar to Leiden. It is not a huge distance – nowhere is in Holland. However, the most direct way anywhere in Holland is by motorway and ours took us in six lanes of traffic, right through Schipol airport on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Even that was just about okay, Dutch drivers are not like German ones but there are so many little differences between countries and they take time to learn. Ian got cross because there had been so many alterations since his map was published and motorway exits had been renumbered, link roads inserted and, just to add to the interest, flight paths took off immediately above the motorway. It can be distracting finding the runway is actually the bridge under which you are driving and the huge shadow immediately above your head is the undercarriage of an international jumbo jet arriving from the far side of the world! I was proud we’d negotiated our way through that but then we finally turned off and made our way to the town of Leiden where we recognised absolutely nothing! Ian’s map was no use at all and we found ourselves going round in circles with no idea how to extricate ourselves. Eventually we did of course. We always do. But the effort takes its strain on our nerves. When we eventually reached this campsite on a canal, with a windmill, looking as peaceful and pretty as a Dutch postcard, we were mentally and physically drained. It was made worse by the continuing heat and glaring sunlight. I climbed from the driving seat into the back of Modestine and slept solidly for two hours – which was probably longer than the time I’d spent actually driving.

I was so horror struck at how ugly my lovely town of Leiden has become that I really don’t want to go back there again. I want to keep my memory of the charming old town, hidden somewhere at the very heart of this ugly place of high flats, soulless office blocks, crowded streets, parked delivery lorries and irritated drivers stuck in queues. I can get all that back home! I have to remind myself that half a century has passed and towns are growing all the time. Old Dutch towns are now open air museums kept alive for and by the visitors who come from all around the world to see the picture postcard image of their imagination.

It’s amazing how quickly one recovers but it does all take its toll. I have never felt so travel weary as I do at present and I feel I will not want to do this part of Europe again. There is no joy in motorway driving where everyone except me knows exactly where they are going, while I drive to the sound of horns as I attempt to get into the lane I should have been in one second earlier. I do wonder how well some of the overconfident drivers we’ve shared the roads with right across Europe would cope driving in Britain. I hope too we would all be a little more understanding that is often the case in Germany and even, sometimes, Holland.

We are now camped in open agricultural landscape near Gouda which we visited today. While I was sleeping yesterday Ian took himself off for a walk along the canalside out across the flat fields of colza and grassland until he reached the village about 2 kilometres away. Here he not only discovered a baker so we could have breakfast this morning, he also sought out the bus route in to Gouda.

Church, Zevenhuizen, Netherlands

Eendrachtsmolen, With heron, Zevenhuizen, Netherlands

Eendrachtsmolen, On Rottemeeren, Zevenhuizen, Netherlands

Eendrachtsmolen, Zevenhuizen, Netherlands

So this morning we left Modestine and walked up in the chill, breezy early morning sunshine and before 10am we were in the heart of Gouda. We’ve been here before and it is still just as pretty. When the bus dropped us at the entrance to the old town all we needed to do was walk through and we were swept up into the charming old world of a typical Dutch city dating from the 16th century. To cap it all, it was the day of the Dutch cheese market. This is quite a spectacle albeit rather cheesy! It is obviously a sham, put on for the tourists. Still, it was fun with people stamping about in clogs, slapping each others hand to complete a deal whilst pretty Dutch girls wandered around offering everyone samples of Gouda cheese and posing with visitors for photos. It was all very enjoyable, beneath the stunningly lovely building that is the town hall.

Stadhuis, Gouda, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Gouda, Netherlands

Cheese market, Gouda, Netherlands

Cheese market, Gouda, Netherlands

Cheese market, Gouda, Netherlands

Cheese market, Gouda, Netherlands

There is some evidence that the humanist and theologian scholar Erasmus was born in Gouda and there are several monuments around the town confirming this. Ian naturally wanted to photograph them.

Willem Vroesentuin, Leeu monument, Gouda, Netherlands

Willem Vroesentuin, Erasmus monument, Gouda, Netherlands

Below are our selection of photos taken around the old town of Gouda

Goudse Waag, Gouda, Netherlands

Museum Gouda, Gouda, Netherlands

Sundial, Cheesy inspiration, Gouda, Netherlands

Weeshuis, Orphanage, Gouda, Netherlands

Molen 't Slot, Castle Mill, Gouda, Netherlands

Harbour, Gouda, Netherlands

Harbour, Gouda, Netherlands

Fish market, Gouda, Netherlands

Residential street, Gouda, Netherlands

Hofje van Letmaet, Almshouses, Gouda, Netherlands

Street organ, Gouda, Netherlands

Street organ, Gouda, Netherlands

Market, Clogs unsold, Gouda, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Gouda, Netherlands

Police, Pickpocket warning, Gouda, Netherlands

Ian was so happy with his town map and all the charming sights around the cobbled streets that he could guide me to, that he enthusiastically bought us coffee and Dutch apple cake to celebrate how much better today was being! Later, just before we left he even bought a huge cherry puff smothered in powder icing to take back for us to enjoy in the sunshine with our own home brewed Dutch coffee. All together it has been a lovely day. The chill breeze has stayed with us making temperatures bearable and I have been relieved to be sure that my lack of energy has been the result of nothing more serious than the extreme heat and continued lack of rain. Now we must think about where we will move on to tomorrow. We are now quite definitely heading for home but want to make the most of the time left before we need to return.