Archives for June 2015

Getting Cheesy at the Alkmaar Cheese Market

Alkmaar Cheese Market

While frowned upon in some countries around the world, Holland is proud of its liberal attitude towards cheese. From streetcorner dealers to rural farms, cheese is for sale all over this small nation and is used openly and regularly by citizenry and visitors alike.

If cheese is your vice, the best place in Holland to get your fix is Alkmaar, a short 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam.

Alkmaar may not be home to a world famous variety of cheese like its fellow Dutch towns of Gouda and Edam, but it takes its cheese seriously with a cheese museum, a local football team nicknamed “the cheese eaters”, and most importantly the legendary Alkmaar cheese market. Dating back to the 14th Century, the Alkmaar cheese market is regarded as the most historic in Holland, and is held every Friday from April to September.

I recently attended the market, and here is my running report on the proceedings from that day:

8:30: Leave the hotel and start our stroll into the town center. Along the way, several large tour buses blow by us on the road. “Looks like it might be one of those type of things” we mutter to ourselves.

Alkmaar Cheese Market

9:00 – Approach the Waagplein (weighing square), the spot where it’s all going to go down in an hour. Things are quiet, with several wheels of cheese already neatly laid out on the ground and a large grandstand set up in the corner.

9:15 – Pop into a cafe for breakfast, and on the way in flirt with a local cheese seller who has set up a street stall. He acts like he is interested in what we have to say and even takes a picture of us. The rouse works, as we promise to buy some cheese after breakfast.

9:55 – Pay the bill, buy some cheese from our new friend, and then walk smack into a sea of humanity, all jockeying for position to see the cheese market. It’s definitely one of those type of things.

10:00 – The market has officially begun and cheese-fueled bedlam has broken out all over the Waggplein. Children are on shoulders, senior citizens are taking pictures on iPads, people are even bashing wheels of cheese over each other’s heads in order to get closer to the action. Okay, maybe I made that last one up.

10:15 – After 15 minutes of speaking in Dutch (the nerve), the emcee explains in English the gist of what the Alkmaar cheese market is all about. Basically, in days of old, farmers used to bring their cheese here to be weighed, sold, and then distributed throughout Holland.

Alkmaar Cheese Market

10:18 – She introduces a young local boy who found a diamond necklace in the mud around town and heroically returned it to the original owners. His prize? He gets to participate in the cheese market.

Tough break, kid.

10:25 – Men in white jackets and colorful hats are running around carrying cheese with wood contraptions attached to their shoulders like mad men. These guys are part of something called cheese guilds, and they have been apparently hustling cheese on this town square since 1365.

10:40 – Managed to weasel ourselves up to the front of the barricades, and life is good. The action is so fast-and-furious that it’s tough to follow though, so I identify my favorite cheese handler, and just focus in on him. I lean over the rail to see if I can get a high five when he wheels his next batch of cheese by me and I’m hoping for an autograph later.

Alkmaar Cheese Market

10:50 – After ten minutes of taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere, we decide it’s time to let someone else have the front row glory. We turn around and carefully select our successor who eagerly runs to the front with camera already snapping.

11:00 – Walk back to the hotel with our souvenir wheel of cheese as tour buses blow by us with reckless abandon. We’re just glad we survived one of these type of things, and would definitely do it again, because while definitely cheesy, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is definitely a great time.

 

This post originally appeared on Travel Pulse

 

Travelly Picture: Sunbeam on Sarajevo

Sarajevo, Bosnia is easily one my favorite places in all of Europe. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind town and we were lucky enough to stay at a guesthouse up in the enchanting hills surrounding Sarajevo when we were there. We made it a point to spend our afternoons watching the sun set over Sarajevo listening to the many local mosques call out for prayer. I took this picture on one of those later summer afternoons while a thunderstorm was building.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

Sarajevo Bosnia

AZ to Amsterdam Chapter 3: St. Louis to Dayton

We were living in Arizona when we decided to move to Amsterdam. Our flight to Amsterdam left from Boston, so we had to drive clear ‘cross the United States in the space of a few days. This is the story of those few days.

After cannonball-running our way halfway across the continent, spending time right smack in the middle of the American map at my parents place in St. Louis felt like downright pampering.

There was no seedy hotel to check into, no wrangling of a basset hound into the hotel room behind the clerk’s back, and no heated internal debate over whether or not the glasses left near the sink had been washed in the toilet.

Hey, it happens, I saw it once on A Current Affair.

Nope, my Mom washes the glasses in the dishwasher and the next two nights became a blur of family time, sifting through storage, eating St. Louis-style pizza, and saying “goodbye until we Skype”.

Then, it was off to Ohio.

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To say I am familiar with the strip of Interstate 70 between St. Louis and the Ohio state line would be what some, including me, would call an understatement. I have made this journey easily over 100 times due to the fact that I fruitlessly toiled and was technically considered a “student” at a university in Dayton off and on for a half a dozen years.

I know this trip like the back of the books I never opened.

How do you know you’re truly on your way? Well, you see the skyline of St. Louis and its Gateway Arch fade behind a mountainous Illinois landfill. Soon after, perched on a hill, you pass what used to be an old crusty hotel home to an under-21 nightclub called Excalibur. The dilapidated Days Inn has since been replaced, renovated, and turned into lofts (what building hasn’t?), but you still take a second to remember the time one of your friends did his best King Arthur impression by managing to pry a massive, seemingly immovable strip of wood away from Excalibur’s bar with his bare hands. You laugh when you recollect how he then decided to take this piece of timber with him on to the dance floor and swing it violently around his head before he was asked to vacate the premises.

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First logical stop for a snack or gas? Well, that’s Effingham, Illinois, about 100 miles into the journey, or 45 minutes past the “Pocahontas Palace”, one of the prettiest prisons you’ll ever see in your life. You know you are in Effingham when you see the King-Kong sized crucifix (or world’s largest lowercase T) greet you on the right side of the road. If you’ve been sinning by speeding or not crossing your “t’s” up until this point, this is probably a good time to ask for forgiveness.

Halfway point? That’s Terre Haute, Indiana, home to Indiana St. University where Larry Bird played college ball and more chain restaurants and gas stations than you can chuck up a brick at.

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Next up? The skyline and sports stadiums of Indianapolis followed quickly thereafter by a disturbing series of billboards for Tom Raper Recreational Vehicles. He refuses to be undersold or change his surname.

Home Stretch? Seeing the second great arch of your journey, this time a steel blue structure that gracefully stretches over the interstate as you enter the great state of Ohio. From here it’s straight on past your first Skyline Chili spotting and on in to Dayton in usually around 5 and 1/2 hours for the full trip. 6 and 1/2 hours on your clock though due to an irksome time zone change.

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Rumors persist to this day though of a crazy group of kids in the summer of 1998 who shattered that record. The word is that these lunatics left Dayton around daybreak early on a summer Sunday and took expert advantage of a nearly empty highway to average 85-90 miles an hour the entire way back to St. Louis and complete the trip in approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes. “3:45 on the clock with the time zone change, though”, one is said to have bragged during the following years. I guess we’ll never know if it’s true, though.

We were now in Dayton, Ohio, and there was only one thing left to to: drive three more hours to Cleveland.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

 

Photo Credits: 1,2,3,4

Travelly Picture: Turia Fountain in Valencia, Spain

Valencia had been very high on my list for years before we arrived for a couple nights a couple years ago. The word on the street was that it was “laid back and chill” compared to its famous Catalan neighbor Barcelona, and that’s definitely true.

It’s funny, because when we look back at our travels, we don’t really remember Valencia as being a big highlight of things, but we definitely had one of the best meals we’ve had in our lives there and when I look back through pictures, there’s no doubt it’s a pretty place full of things worth taking pictures of.

Things like the Turia Fountain for example.

I took this picture of the Turia Fountain basking in the late evening summer sun and if you didn’t know any better, you might think it was shot in Rome or something. There was no water running at the time, but I’ve been assured it is indeed a fountain.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

Turia fountain

Drinking In Europe: Witkap Pater Stimulo

Witkap Pater Stimulo

I like to drink things. I especially like drinking things from countries called Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic. And In this series which I’ve creatively named Drinking In Europe, I drink something from one of these places or their neighbors and then write about it. 

There’s these things called Trappist beers, ok? These are beers brewed by monks inside Trappist monasteries. There are only a dozen or so of them in the world, of which half are in Belgium. These beers are regarded as some of the best on the planet and are really famous and you’ve probably heard of the most famous ones called Orval and Chimay.

Well, since there is a short supply of these Trappist beers, other breweries in Belgium make similar beers but of course they can’t be called Trappist because that would a sin against the lord our savoir and Belgian law. Instead, these beers emulate the Trappist style and often put a monk-looking dude on their bottle or in their name. Turns out though, that many of these beers are just as or more highly regarded than some of the Trappist beers. One of these such beers is Witkap Pater Stimulo.

Witkap Pater Stimulo

Witkap Pater Stimulo is one of three beers in the Witkap Pater stable, and it is a single ale at only 6%. According to their website, it is a “a refreshing gold-colored beer of high fermentation and with fermentation on the bottle – thus a living beer with evolving taste.” I picked it up in bottles at a local shop, and then proceeded to pour it in the wrong type of glass the wrong way, so it really foamed up on me and I ended up with too much sediment in the glass.

Witkap Pater Stimulo

Is Witkap Pater Stimulo a good beer? Yes, it is. It’s got a beautiful rich golden color and just tastes like what beer should taste like according to me. Pick one up, you won’t regret it, just do a better job of pouring it than me (here’s the brewery’s pouring instructions).

Travelly Picture: Amsterdam Canal Sunset

Took this picture with my digital camera the other night. We were out having dinner and drinks and as we approached a canal bridge, I noticed a couple people whipping out their cameras and clicking away at the sunset. I figured “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

amsterdam canal sunset

Travelly Picture: Melaka, Malaysia

We spent a few weeks in the culturally rich town of Melaka, Malaysia, and this was the view from the back of our guesthouse. I took this picture with my digital camera one calm morning. Great town, you should go there on the double.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it get’s bigger.

melaka

 

Fun Festivals in Europe I’d Really Like to Go to One Day

Crazy celebrations populate every page of the European calendar, and going to as many of these fun festivals in Europe as I can is really high on my travel to-do list. Fun festivals in Europe like The Running of the Bulls, La Tomatina, and my favorite Oktoberfest may garner the boldest headlines and biggest crowds, but there is definitely a solid second tier of probably-just-as-great and often quirkier festivals that are also well worth seeking out.

Since it’s summer and all and some people may be heading to Europe, I decided to list some of the summer ones I would really like to go to one day along with the dates they happen.

fun festivals in Europe

Festa de São João – Porto, Portugal – June 23rd & 24th

If you have always dreamed about what it would be like to wander the streets of a riverside town whacking strangers over the head with a plastic hammer – and let’s face it, who hasn’t? – Porto’s Festa de São João (Feast of St. John) is the festival for you. Saint John is Porto’s patron saint, and every year the town uses his feast day as an excuse to let loose and have a two-day fiesta. The party percolates during family gatherings on the afternoon of June 23rd, gathers steam through a firework-filled evening, then boils over to beach parties welcoming sunrise on St. John’s Day, June 24th. Throughout all the fun, the historic hilly streets of Porto are alive with singing, dancing, wine-swigging, and the ubiquitous bopping of plastic hammers on skulls. The toy hammer-to-the-head tradition originated as a light tap from a leek, but has mysteriously evolved over the years and taken on a life of its own.

fun festivals in Europe

Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling – Gloucestershire, England – Last Monday in May

An annual star of the lighthearted last segment on your local nightly news and the Zippo awards, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling competition is no laughing matter to those who participate in the chase. At the top of a protractor-snapping steep hill in the emerald green English countryside, a wheel of Gloucestershire cheese is let loose, reaching breakneck speeds as it whizzes down the incline being chased by scores of “normal people” looking to survive the descent and claim the prize. While the prize may be just a wheel of cheese, the bragging rights at the pub apparently last a lifetime. Spectators are the real winners at the raucous Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling, as they are regularly treated to hilarious scenes of racers going head-over-heels down the hill and falling face-first on to a table of cheese on their quest to be a cheese champion.

fun festivals in Europe

Wine War -Haro, Spain, June 29th

Spain is hands-down the capital of “projectile festivals”, most notably Los Indianos, where revelers toss talcum powder on each other; Els Enfarinats, which is a flour-flinging fest; and La Tomatina, where revelers famously throw tomatoes. It only seems natural that a wine-soaked fiesta would somehow spring to life in Spain as well, and the region of Rioja, Haro provides just that. The Wine War starts quietly with a long procession to a local church to say mass, but on the way back the rowdiness begins as the masses start drenching each other with the local red wine via water guns, buckets, and any other spraying device they can get their hands on. Participants whose white shirts have been turned pink then flock en masse to Haro’s medieval town center to polish off the rest of the wine in town while swapping tips for removing wine stains.

fun festivals in europe

Il Palio – Siena, Italy, July 2nd & August 16th

Take the Kentucky Derby to a piazza of a Tuscan hill town and put life-or-death neighborhood pride on the line instead of horse-racing prestige, and you have a tiny taste of what the thunderous fun of Il Palio is all about. Siena, one of the most eye-catching of Tuscan hill towns (allegedly), is home to this riveting horse race twice a year, and crowds come from near and far to be a part of this thrill ride. Siena is divided into seventeen districts called contradas, and during this race the contradas all compete for bragging rights by being represented by a heroic or villainous rider (depending on how he finishes). As it has for centuries, after plenty of colorful pomp and circumstance, the bareback race furiously charges around a dirt track in the Piazza del Campo for approximately 90 seconds . The winning contrada gets the spoils, a banner called a palio to put on a high pedestal in their neighborhood and enjoys a raucous feast filled with wine and grilled meat from the losing horses. Nope, actually I’m being told I just made that last part up.

An earlier version of this post appeared in U.S. News & World Report.

Photo Credits: 1,2,3,4

Drinking In Europe: Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

I like to drink things. I especially like drinking things from countries called Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic. And In this series which I’ve creatively named Drinking In Europe, I drink something from one of these places or their neighbors and then write about it.

The town of Hoegaarden, Belgium was a hub of citrusy and sunny white beer activity back in the old days. The drunken fun lasted for centuries before dying out and then being brought back to life by a guy named Pierre Celis in the 1960’s. He created a white beer that eventually came to be known as Hoegaarden.

Hoegaarden white beer from Belgium was one of my first ever tastes of European beer on European soil, and while I know it’s just a big mass-produced AB-InBev brand nowadays, I still have a soft spot for it. A cold draft Hoegaarden on a hot summer night will always be one of my go-to moves, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

Apparently, they are now making other beers under the Hoegaarden brand like this thing I picked up at the local beer shop called Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit. Seems a bit shady if you ask me, but I figured the least I could do was buy it, take it home, pour it in a glass, and drink it.

Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit

So, what was Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit like? Well, when I opened the bottle and tilted it, the beer poured out, so we were off to a good start. Once it poured out, it looked nothing like a white (wheat) beer. It’s “maroony” in color and has a toasty brown taste with maybe a medium body? I would say it is probably meant to be more like one of those Belgian Trappy beers than a wheat beer. Despite the name, there is absolutely nothing fruity about it.

Is it a good beer? I would say so, yes.

So, if you like good beer, keep an eye out for it when you buy beer and you could be the next person to drink it.