Cheese! The Dutch know how to make good cheese. After our first day on our bike trip through Holland we stayed in the town of Edam. The cheese might be a little on the bland side, but the town is exquisite. Our little hotel was right out of a fairytale, directly on a canal. Apparently the Dutch have very strong legs from all their bike riding, so walking up vertical staircases (even the handrails are vertical) is no big deal to them. It was a big deal to our tired legs!
A few days after Edam we had more cheese in Gouda (ok, I had cheese everywhere). Personally I like the “ancient” cheese. – I like the fact that they call it ancient, and I think it tastes like you are eating a little part of history. The town of Gouda has a fantastic Weigh House (17th century quality control for the cheese), a beautiful cathedral (Janskerk) and the best fondue. To appreciate the cheese more fully we stopped at a small farm and asked for a tour of their cheese making operation. Our guide was a young farmer whose pride in his family farm was contagious. The sight and the smell of the “aging” room with wheel after wheel of aging cheese is gratefully seared into my memory.
We took ferry rides across small canals and large rivers, we tasted delicious coffees and pastries at local bakeries in small towns, we lingered over long lunches with no great hurry to get anywhere and we created life-long memories with friends. I am grateful for the network of bike paths that ensured that we never had to ride on a major road. I have a greater appreciation for a good GPS unit and a good navigator. And I chuckled at the mobs of school kids in the afternoon that giggled at us as we rode by in our full-coverage rain gear (did I mention that it rained most days).
After our week of riding we spent a few days getting up close with some of the best of the Dutch masterpieces in Amsterdam. We stumbled upon an 18th century paint demonstration at the Rembrandt House Museum (where he lived and worked) and took the information we learned there to view the masterpieces at the Rijksmuseum with a more discerning eye. Learning how Rembrandt painted efficiently on many canvases simultaneously in layers from dark to light was fascinating and allows you to appreciate his genius further. Johannes Vermeer’s secret was revealed that even though he was a poor painter, he splurged on the more valuable lapis lazuli material to make his blue hued paint. Unlike Rembrandt, Vermeer’s blues have held up over the past three centuries and are as mesmerizing today as they would have been in the 17th century. When I dream I want to dream in the blues of Vermeer’s Milkmaid.
When you go to Holland of course visit your bucket list stuff in Amsterdam. Pre-purchase tickets for the museums it will save you time. We saved at least 1-2 hours waiting in line for the Anne Frank House alone. Go to the Rembrandt House Museum to see the demonstration on 17th century art mechanics before visiting the Rijksmuseum so you too can appreciate the masters even more. But, if you really want to see Holland, jump on a bike and spend a few days soaking up the details. And remember, the more you ride, the more cheese you can eat.