Alkmaar, North Holland

Private tour of the historic cheese market town

 

Canal view towards the Weighing building.

Great St Laurentius church, interior.

Alkmaar, our educational and fun day trip, is situated in the province North Holland. Alkmaar is a quiet, dreamy little town 30 Km north of Amsterdam and it happens to be my town of birth, the place where I grew up.

Alkmaar is  quiet and quaint, friendly and quite sleepy. You may like to take an open boat ride through the canals in summer, ducking your head under very low bridges as you pass under them. Friday is a great visiting day in summertime because of the cheese market. Excitement abounds during the Friday open air market in summertime.

The great mediaeval gothic church St Laurens (Lawrence) is also open most Fridays and Saturdays. Just like Haarlem, Alkmaar has some nice old age pension courtyards (hofjes) and it is particularly rich in quiet canals and wonderful streets.

Visit the small stores full of atmosphere in the narrow Fnidsen street near the Cheese market.

Entrance to one of the many Old mens and Old Womens courtyard. Built as a gesture of civic virtue.

Around Alkmaar we find a number of nice historic windmills: Molen van Piet, a grain mill, open on Friday. Molen het Rode Hert, another grain mill, open to visitors, and very close to it, four other windmills. Another mill for water pumping is near Stompetoren village
In 16th century history Alkmaar was the first Dutch town to embrace the revolution and successfully fight off the Spanish troops. These troops intended to restore order and to quell the Protestant revolutionaries, and thus Alkmaar stood at the cradle of national Dutch statehood and independence. One claims that “Victory begun in Alkmaar”.

Cheese head extravaganza, with 400 actors. Mediaeval fest weekend. Kaeskoppenstad.

One summer weekend per year in summer – join the the greatest Folk event with 2000+ dressed-up historic actors: Kaeskoppenstad. Cheese-head-town. You have never seen anything so wild in your life! Mad women, farmers with geese, religious fanatics, medical doctors in haste telling you to step aside… soldiers, revolutionaries and beggarwomen with horrible skin conditions. If you come close they will be merciless and grab you with their contagious claws. Rowdy men are seen planning the uprising against the Spanish troops. For the correct dates please google: Kaeskoppenstad. In 2018: Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 june from 12.00- 17.00 hrs.

Alkmaars main pride and its “claim to fame” are key developments of the art of engineering. Just outside Alkmaar the very first polder was constructed and a set of strong industrial windmills and other engineering projects provided wind energy. I will be happy to tell you about that technological development during this city trip! We also kind the first cobbled street from around 1272, built by Count Floris V.

The beauty of the Alkmaar city center is the result of small-scale organic growth. It boasts a wonderfully preserved group of canals and a great number of ancient canal houses and monuments. In the center we find the Cheese market square, and a quaint Friday morning spectacle in springtime and summertime. Teams in white overall suits and coloured hats vie with each other in moving big trays of cheese across the market square.

The Alkmaar history and art museum is worth a short visit.

Strong men carry heavy cheeses. And girls for fun.

In Alkmaar the competing teams of cheese carriers hoist low, curved platforms full of heavy flat cheeses – each cheese weighing between 11 and 14 kilos. Here the blue team gathers speed and they will stop for no-one, crying out “Ho! Ho!” and making other grunting noises carrying 104 kilos. Each team is identified by their colored hats binding together their male-group macho animal nature – but their manly energies are also strictly controlled by market masters and other officials. Breaking the rules will cost them a fine.

Alkmaar cheese market volume of turnover of cheeses used to be VERY large in former centuries. Way back then, the cheese market lasted for four days a week and lingered on well into the late late hours up to midnight.

An open flat boat ride may be part of the day out. To the left you see “The house with the Cannon ball” one of the two remaining mediaeval wooden houses in Alkmaar. Because of fire hazard most wooden houses were outlawed and scrapped over the ages. These days both Alkmaar and Amsterdam have only two of them left.
Hof van Sonoy. Mr Diederik van Sonoy was the strong ringleader of the Protestant insurgents agains the Spanish King. He seized a local convent and kicked out the nuns. The next owner added this slender tower. One may now visit it and dine on top, to the dismay of the waiters who have to walk up and down spiral stairs all day.

Entrance to one of the many Old mens and Ols Womens courtyard. Built as a civic virtue.

One of the enclosed courtyards for the housing of old age men and women is that called Wildeman. It was specifically built to give elderly women a place to live, and the founder stipulated that people of various faiths should live together there in harmony, Protestants and Roman Catholics. Male visitors were however discouraged.
The board meeting room is situated above the gate of the Wildeman courtyard. In the haydays the board managed the finances and took care of food, heating, law and order.

Market days are Fridays (cheese market in spring-summer) and Saturday (general market).

 

As an art historian based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I can either join you by train or meet you in Alkmaar for a personalized guided tour of art museums and the historic center. If we take the train I can offer you a 40% rebate on train fare! I was born in Alkmaar and lived there until I was 23 years old – after which I moved to the great city of Amsterdam. Since then I returned back home every month or two.
Together we will experience the beauty and history . Enjoy yourself and learn about history while strolling and discussing the country’s history, art and culture. In doing so, we may touch many bases – spanning not only fine art and architecture but also the city’s history and current social issues. See client testimonials.

Tour by Drs Kees Kaldenbach, a professional Art History scholar with excellent teaching skills. Specialist in Fine art and Design, Architecture and History. VIP entry. Entry best at from 10AM.

Drs Kees Kaldenbach: „…he is wildly overqualified to be a guide . That is his secret… Trust me on this.” Gabe. Statement made February, 2017.

 

 

Alkmaar, cheese weighing hall.

Business card. The logo refers to Vermeer.

HOW TO GET THERE
Alkmaar is easy to reach with public transport, by train. I hold a Dutch Railways rebate card. For this train tour I can offer you a special rebate of 40% for three separate adult railway tickets after 9 AM. This makes it economical for you as clients. I can join you from your hotel or from the Amsterdam train station. Various other options are open to you: a) You can hire a car and drive it yourself, and I will join you starting in Amsterdam and will advise you about the best route. b) We can hire a professional taxibus service at around E 70 per hour for about 4 to 5 hours. On top of that you will pay me as the specialist guide. This is the more expensive option.

On the way we may visit other groups of windmills near Alkmaar. Some mills function as water pumps, other were designed for milling grain. If you rent a car, we can also drive by Volendam, Marken and Edam, internationally famous as harbour and cheese towns. And we can visit the UNESCO listed Beemster polder.

Lions showing their rear end to the city arms. Disrespect intended.

Two very elaborate facades, Mient.

Weighing house.

Weighing house, voluntary staff on Friday morning.