Yesterday, I headed off by train to Gouda, NL. From Delft, it was about a 40-minute journey with a change of trains in either den Haag or Rotterdam (I chose Rotterdam). I knew when I’d arrived because the conductor called out, “HOWDA.”
In all of the old towns I’ve visited in this region, it’s fairly easy to navigate to the main sights without a map. Follow the signs marked Centrum or Markt, or just follow the tour groups (there are a lot of senior citizens on holiday in the Netherlands right now). My Lonely Planet book had a basic (very, very basic) map of Gouda, and there was a Tourist Information office (TI) where I could probably have gotten a free/better one.
Arriving a little after 11, I hustled down Kleiweg ignoring all the chain shopping stores, because I had my sights set on the Thursday cheese market, and it’s only open until around 12:30. My initial impression was something like being in a cheese-themed amusement park. Gouda knows what its tourist draw is. There are little cheeses strung like fairy lights across the streets, and monuments of cheese in the canals. And when you pop out into the market square…
It is like a cheese ambush. The main sight, above, was a play being repeated in Dutch, complete with characters in traditional costume. Two men and some boys were acting out the process of cheeses being bargained for and weighed at market. Meanwhile, girls (also in costume) hand out free samples of the town’s namesake.
Rising up behind this spectacle is the fifteenth-century town hall, which I found very striking even compared to buildings I’ve recently seen in Delft, Brugge, and den Haag.
Unfortunately, and I found this to be true of other sights in Gouda, they were not letting you see the inside for free. I think it was E1.50 to enter there, and it was E3 to see the stained glass wonders inside Sint Janskerk. Rain was definitely threatening at this point, and a few drops came down, but it didn’t get serious until later in the day. I perused the produce vendors at the market and bought a huge bag of carrots for E1 (deal!) and two lovely fresh ears of corn on the cob (E1.50). Thus began the day’s “heavy backpack” syndrome, complicated by the fact that I was already traveling with Lonely Plant The Netherlands and, yes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in hardcover. Whoops.
I wandered away from the hubbub of the market and, despite a certain cheesiness to the town, found Gouda full of interesting shops and really beautiful side-streets. I intend to return, perhaps even to shop for some food specialties if I can work out some scheme with ice packs. My cheese from the trip came from the shop ‘t Kaaswinkeltje (kaas= cheese; winkel= shop). I have never seen so many varieties of cheese in one place, many of them looking quite delicious, and nearly all available to be sampled. (Gouda may not be for the faint of dairy.)
Further aimless wandering led me to an Asian food mart where, against all odds, I found Arm and Hammer baking soda (!); and a kitchen shop called Kokkerie, to which I hope to return. As I walked around the vast perimeter of Sint Janskerk, I even found some sort of artists’ collective that was open to visitors. It was really interesting and a thought-sparking juxtaposition to see some guys working on very modern art just a few feet from glass art of the 1500s, and feel like these works existed in some sort of mutual understanding.