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There is a road in Amsterdam that runs around the city center, which locals call the Ring.
There is also another Ring in the Netherlands, the Randstad, which is a cluster of several towns in the central part of the country, i.e. Almere, Amersfoort, Amstardam, Delft, Dordrecht, Gouda, Haarlem, Leiden, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Zaanstad and Zoetermeer.
This time, however, I made up my own little Ring in the Noord-Holland region.
I took bus 314 (with the destination town of Hoorn) from Centraal Station in Amsterdam to Edam, a beautiful town famous for its cheese making traditions.
Tight, narrow streets and fairy-tale views. Houses covered with moss, fabulous cafes and small hotels. All this situated along amazing canals.
Fantastic displays in the shop windows. Quirky decorations in front of houses that seem to be dwarfs’ houses rather than of the super tall and well built Dutch. Magic, magic and one more time magic. Indescribable.
Broetje met Kaas – A roll with cheese
Who wants, can visit the cheese museum at 8 Damplein.
Edammse Kaas, or Edam cheese, was the most popular cheese in the world from the 14th to the 18th century and in my humble opinion it still deserves this title.
Charles V awarded to the city of Edam the rights to the Weight in 1526. 50 years later, Willem of the rulers of Oranje changed this law into a forever privilege. The modern Waag dates back to 1778, and official cheese markets were held here until 1922.
Every year in July and August, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the afternoon hours, you can admire the action called beating of the cheese.
Local farmers and dairy farmers deliver their products to the famous Edam market either on canal boats or in horse-drawn carriages. These cheeses are then transported on special carriers that look like wooden cradles and placed in designated positions. This remarkable historical spectacle is held under the supervision of the market manager and is open to guild farmers.
Of course, let’s not forget about the beautiful traditional costumes that add an amazing historical atmosphere to the whole action .
The quality and age of the cheese is measured by tapping it as well as by drilling holes in it with a special drill and then tasting it. After such inspection, the cheese is transferred to a scale, where it is auctioned and the business is sealed with a handshake.
After this fantastic ritual called beating the cheese (from patting it), the cheese circles are reloaded, of course this time onto the merchant’s “carriage”. This unique action can be seen at Jan Nieuwenhuizenplein.
How to become Dutch
No matter how magical Edam is, I move on to Volendam. On foot, because how could you let go of these views? Boats and boatlets, birds, waves, although not powerful, because as you know, both towns are located on the Markermeer, which is – despite its name suggesting the sea – a lake that was created by man.
Namely, in 1932, the Dutch decided to separate the Zuiderzee Bay with a 32-meter dam called Afsluitdijk, thus creating the IJselmeer. Later in 1975, the IJselmeer was split into two parts by the Houtribdijk and Markerwaarddijk dam, which formed the southern part now called Markermeer.
As everyone knows, “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.”
So I’m walking along the shore of the Lake Markermeer towards the colorful Volendam, and it takes me less than half an hour. The wind cuts across the face. Ah, it’s Christmas! And winters in the coastal Netherlands can redden the noses. On the way, I buy freshly smoked mackerel from a local fisherman.
Hmmm, nowhere else will you find this taste but in Volendam!
And these tiny houses appear before your eyes again. However, this is only an illusion. It is enough to enter one of the local restaurants to find out that these houses are quite spacious, and what is more, most of them are said to “go to the ground”, as one of the saleswomen said, referring to the basement, which is often also inhabited. The exterior facades are beautifully painted in distinguished shades of dark green and navy blue. The windows are entwined with beautifully carved boards, painted white. Older ladies, dressed in traditional clothes, bustle around the houses, clean the windows for Christmas. Fairytale!
I have already visited Volendam several times and each time it amazes me anew. During the first visit, of course, I was delighted with the possibility of taking a photo in a traditional Dutch outfit. There are several photographers and you can choose more or less extravagant backgrounds and themes, from an ancient stove to Harley Davidson. I followed the tradition and chose a stove with Delphic tiles.
The main seaside promenade is filled with souvenir shops for tourists, beautiful houses and small restaurants. The view of the lake is fantastic and on a sunny day you can see Marken from here, but more on that Treasure of Humanity in a moment …
It’s Christmas, twilight is coming. I decide to run to the local VVV, the Tourist Center, and ask for some accommodation. I rent a B&B room. A beautiful, quiet little house on the main square in the town. From here, only two steps to olienbolen, haha, yes “oil balls”, or donuts with a fantastic vanilla flavor, which cannot be copied in any way by yourself! I tried so!
Oliebolen is an integral part of the Christmas market in the Netherlands. Just like the skating rink, lights, music and this frost… this frost and fog have such a specific magic in them… Of course, everything can be explained scientifically, so I will also delve into the geography of the Netherlands a bit. But I only need a few words for this: depression, i.e. the location of the area almost 7 meters below sea level, water, water, water, very flat terrain and no trees. It is difficult for trees to take root in artificially created terrain. The houses are on stilts in the water, the trees need soil. So the spaces are very flat and nothing stops the constant sea breeze.
But I am going to watch the local Dutch eating delicious dinner with their families in the beautifully decorated cafes. How fun!
A flat cake on the water
I got up filled with olienbolen, but it did not prevent me from spending a nice time at breakfast with my hosts. However, I move on.
Unfortunately, there are no boats between Volendam and Marken that woud operate in winter, so I take the bus. This crazy island-non-island lies on a lake and has been entirely disconnected from the world yet not so long ago. Today you can get here either by the aforementioned ferry from Volendam or by boat, or the only road, which unfortunately is not for those faint hearted. It looks more or less like you are in a box that is sliding along a ribbon placed in the center of a water aquen. You look right – water, you look left – water… I was not afraid there. I went. Because Marken is something that you have to feel with your whole being to believe that it exists at all.
I cross a little bridge and I am in a different world. The “cake” is completely flat and is cut with the canals. Only beautiful wooden houses in the color of dark green and navy blue, looking like from some Andersen’s fairy tales (I know – not this country!) protrude a little higher above the surface of this flatness. Once, when Marken was still an island on the Zuiderzee, its inhabitants, constantly flooded, decided to fight the element by building houses on mounds made by hand for this purpose. So these are the only bumps you will notice here.
It actually feels like a fairy tale wandering along the canals. Funny fluffy chickens are peeking at me from their miniature cages. Everything is so miniature.
The oldest part of the village is a small square, a church and even smaller houses decorated with miniature colorful paintings, and souvenirs from trips to warm countries. And in front of these dwarf-sized houses, tables and chairs … Where am I? But the kids are just leaving school and their parents came on their bikes to pick them up. Damn what a world. I want to live here!
I’m going further. I rarely prepare for expeditions. I find places on the map and know that for some reason I want to see them. Usually the main reason is simply that I haven’t been there yet… So here too, I didn’t know where I was going to get. But I was walking. And I came. To the port. Heavenly Black.
Once upon a time, the inhabitants lived here from fishing, however, when the dam separating the village from the sea was built, fishing practically disappeared and the island ceased to be an island when in 1957 a road connecting it with the mainland was built.
Marken port is a miniature – how else! Surrounded by fairy-tale houses painted black I stand and look and the wind squeezes my tears out… But is it really the wind?
I go back to the bus stop. A beautiful little lighthouse looks at me from a distance, but I won’t have the time to see it closely. I’m going further, or actually closer, because towards Amsterdam.
In front of me, a local gentleman is riding a bicycle, wearing clogs. Dwarf-land like nowhere else!
Monnickendam – Stakes of Love
It’s worth jumping out of the bus to see this one, more medieval town in the region. Tourists often skip it on their one-day trips from Amsterdam to Edam and Volendam. Well, maybe that’s good, because I appreciated the silence and the festive-frosty-quiet atmosphere of this fairy-tale town.
Monnikendam was founded in the 13th century as a settlement of monks (monniken) from Marken and this beautiful port is probably named after them. It was the location at the mouth of the Purmel Ee River that ensured the development of this settlement, because it was here that larger boats and barges could flow in, which were the link for the Baltic region and cities such as Alkmaar or Purmerend.
Monnikendam is mostly cheese, herring smokehouses and boat building. Most of the buildings date back to the 17th century, when the city slowly began to lose strength compared to the rapidly developing Amsterdam.
So I ate dinner in one of the restaurants on the main street. It’s time for me, Schiphol is calling. I close my Ring. I think Louis Monnickendam himself would pat me on the shoulder for such a choice …
And what are these love stales you will ask !?
Have a beautiful evening,
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