Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is an Alkmaar?

The city of Alkmaar  sits 40km NNW of Amsterdam and is reachable with a 30 – 40 minute car or train ride.  Its town charter was granted in 1254 and the city became known in 1573 by a turning point battle against the Spanish where “the city used boiling tar and burning branches thrown from its new city walls”  to repel the attackers.  A parade of hundreds of children carrying lanterns passed near our house  during the annual celebrations on October 8th.

That’s maybe the best tourism slogan I’ve heard, and tourists in the old city center can’t seem to get enough of  the cheese market on Fridays from April to September (baseball season?) where the old style cheese carriers and weighing masters keep the tradition.  And maybe it’s a good thing that Expatica states that the Dutch have the “lowest incidence of lactose intolerance in the world,” because Dutch cheeses can stand toe-to-toe with French counterparts.
The cheese weighing house in Alkmaar goes back to the middle of the 14th century, and then became more prominent in the late 16th century as Alkmaar was enjoying its national hero status for sending the Spanish into retreat.  And the cheese museum sits like a large cow in the middle of the city center with the tourist office inside.

Alkmaar is sometimes called a mini-Amsterdam,  and  several canals that run through the city center and the larger North Holland Canal that wraps around the center (centrum) to make it an island of its own.   And instead of an entire red light district, there’s one street, Achterdam, that has windows with working women selling their mojo.  Oh, and this is just around the corner from the cheese museum, but I haven’t seen an impact or spillover to the surrounding areas.

There are also several coffeeshops rolled into the city.  For any who might not know, coffeeshops sell marijuana to be consumed on the premises or for carry out.  Although there usually seems to be customers inside the coffeshops here, it’s not the ‘party till you puke’ atmosphere like the tourist districts of Amsterdam.

In addition to the cheese museum, there is a beer museum, a Beatles museum and frequent outdoor markets.  Of course I appreciate cheese and music, but the beer museum is high on my list of places to visit.  Maybe I can get more on that soon.

And yes, there’s nightlife in the row of pubs line up behind the cheese museum and several others are within stumbling distance.  Pushing and shoving goes unnoticed as twenty to thirty something customers jockey for a spot to drink  Heineken in the crowded pubs on the weekends.

So Alkmaar is a lively, but not overwhelming small city of about 94,000 with an interesting old center.   It seems we have two police officers in the city center, a man and a very tall woman, who often stroll about and are happy to answer questions.  Doors are normally locked, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal if one is left open for a bit.  The people here often say hello to strangers in the street and are not usually in a big hurry. 


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