Holland: Gouda anyone?

Yes, it’s all about the cheese if you please. The name attracted us to this little town, 20 minutes by fast train from Den Haag (The Hague). We walked to the wonderful Best Western Hotel Gouda and spent two days in this older, smaller, friendly, traditional Dutch town that has everything you would want: century-old two and three-storey buildings lining a network of canals, small shops on the ground level, flowers, few cars, and many bicycles all leading to an amazing and huge central square. The centerpiece is the town hall with its turrets and Victorian-style stone. Every half hour, musical bells ring and puppets emerge from the third storey to dance and celebrate the moment.

Restaurants and shops sit along the circle and, on the summer days when we were there, markets for clothes and antiques. Thursday mornings the cheese market takes over. Farmers display huge wheels of the cheese that made this town famous and is responsible for part of Holland’s healthy GDP.

Old world meets new world in this market with senior farmers wearing wooden shoes for tourists to photograph. They stand proudly beside their cheese wheels and on the outer rim there are dozens of boutiques offering the latest Dutch fashions. In the market, you can find clothing and jewellery bargains as vendors eagerly await customers. Just as we were looking through racks of 5€ clothing, a downpour the likes of which we have rarely seen came out of nowhere and drenched anyone in its path. We sought shelter among the racks and chose a few pieces while the vendor tried to cover and pack up her remaining wares.

There is a church, formerly Catholic, now Protestant, which is said to be the longest in the Netherlands.

There are also many Muslims and the women can be seen riding bicycles and flocking to the outdoor markets.

As we walked from the centre to our hotel, we noticed small, blue and white metal markers, called monuments, with six Jewish stars of David beside addresses formerly occupied by Jewish families who were rounded up in 1943 and exterminated at Auschwitz and Sobibor. On the sidewalks, we could sometimes see bronze plaques with the names and birthdates of those who perished. In a small coffee and beer shop, a father and son told us that a German artist is commissioned by families to come every October to create and install the plaques. Of course, unless there are surviving members of the family, there are no plaques. Coffee in this little gem is only a euro ($1.50) and very good!

There is almost no graffiti in this immaculate town, although the canals look dirty with their green algae. One older man, recalling the Canadian army’s role in liberating Holland, sang us a few verses of the song Therese Canadese, about the pregnant Dutch women carrying the offspring of Canuck liberators.

Our hotel, The Best Western, was beyond expectations at the relatively reasonable (for Holland) price of $113, and the delightful receptionist made our stay in Gouda memorable.

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