Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cheese, clogs, and dykes...

This past Wednesday, we had ourselves a real Dutch adventure! At the last minute we (along with good friends, Anél and Hertzog) decided to trek 100 km (62 miles) north for the day in hopes of witnessing the famous 'kaasmarkt' of Edam, a landmark city for the making and selling of cheese. Turned out that the last kaasmarkt was last Wednesday, but we nevertheless enjoyed ourselves and made a full day out of by exploring three other small towns in the area: Volendam, Monnikendam, and Marken.

Quiet streets of Edam
It was nearly 11am when we hopped off the bus in Edam, about 30 minutes north of Amsterdam. The whole town was so quiet and only a few tourists were in the center. We tasted some cheeses at two different shops and learned that Edam cheese is the lowest fat cheese in Holland. We also learned that Holland makes cheeses that imitate other country's cheeses, such as parmesan and emmental. Our favorite was a roasted walnut Edam cheese, which we bought a small round of.

At the famous cheese shop in Edam
Walking along the canal in Edam
It took us about 5 minutes to walk around the charming 14th century center of Edam. There wasn't a soul on the canal-side street, and the city's fort wasn't what we expected, so we headed over to the seaside and walked along the dyke towards our next stop, Volendam.

Walking along the Zeedyke towards Volendam. Do you notice how the sea is higher than the land on the right? Crazy.
Volendam was super crowded with tourists, huge buses going everywhere, and loads of souvenir shops! It's very nice, located on the water, and renown for its seafood, but I still don't quite understand why this town is so popular compared to Edam and the other villages we visited. We walked along the waterfront, enjoyed a tasty fish and chips meal, and then grabbed a bus to Monnikendam.

We were on the bus for about 3 minutes when we spotted a 'cheese and clog factory.' We immediately got off the bus and went to the factory. A few years ago, Anél visited this area and raved about a clog factory where she witnessed a clog maker sculpt a clog from start to finish in the time it took him to explain the history, significance, and fun facts about clogs. We were on a mission to get the same show!

Blocks of poplar wood and the original clog-carving device
This clog factory made all their clogs by machine, but the clog man (who donned some very worn bright orange clogs and was the biggest clog nerd I have and ever will meet) showed us how the original tools were used and described some of the tricks in the trade. We found out that clogs are still used today (about 1 million pairs are sold to Dutch people every year) and most commonly found on the feet of farmers and construction workers, who are allowed to opt for clogs over steel-toed boots. He explained that clogs keep out water and snow and keep your feet very warm...and they are comfortable! Hm.

We tried on some clogs, and I have to say, they were actually ok to stand in--but walking was another story.

[L] clogs drying out [R] finished products, handpainted

[L] herb-spiced Edam cheese [R] more clogs

Monnikendam is an adorable village. It also dates back to 1355, when it received its city charter and when it, too, was an important port town like Volendam. The bell tower was finished in 1591 and is unlike anything I've seen in Holland so far. Again, there was hardly anyone in this town and I found it much more quaint and picturesque than Volendam. We really wanted to get to Marken before the day was out (we were due back in Rotterdam by 9pm for another outing!) so after a few more minutes of exploring the village, and a quick cone of gelato, we all jumped on the next bus for Marken.

In the 13th century, monks from Friesland settled on the small island of Marken. They were afraid that the sea would rise, so they built all the houses on manmade hills and elevated planks, making Marken a very different place than other towns and villages. The houses are also made from wood, rather than stone, and are painted green with white trim. Small canals meander through the village and small drawbridges connect the alleys and roads. Fruit trees, sun-bleached laundry, and quiet sheep dot the landscape. What a serene and unique place.

A successful day trip to the north!


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