Alkmaar and Hoorn, The Helder and Enkhuisen
To Alkmaar by canal—The Cheese Market—The Weigh House clock—Buyers and sellers—The siege of Alkmaar—To Hoorn by sea—A Peaceful harbour—Hoorn’s explorer sons—John Haring’s bravery—The defeat of De Bossu—Negro heroes—Hoorn’s streets—and museum—Market day—and Kermis—Nieuwediep—The Helder—The Lighthouse—Hotel characters—The praise of the porter—Texel—Medemblik—King Radbod’s hesitancy—Enkhuisen—Paul Potter—Sir William Temple and the old philosopher—The Dromedary.
If the weather is fine one should certainly go to Alkmaar by canal. The journey by water, on a steamer, is always interesting and intensely invigorating. It is only one remove from the open sea, so flat is the country, so free the air.
Alkmaar’s magnet is its cheese market, which draws little companies of travellers thither every Friday in the season. To see it rightly one must reach Alkmaar on the preceding afternoon, to watch the arrival of the boats from the neighbouring farms, and see them unload their yellow freight on the market quay. The men who catch the cheeses are exceedingly adroit—it is the nearest thing to an English game that is played in Holland. Before they are finally placed in position the cheeses are liberally greased, until they glow and glitter like orange fires. All the afternoon the boats come in, with their collections from the various dairies on the water. By road also come cheeses in wagons of light polished wood painted blue within; and all the while the carillon of the beautiful grave Weigh House is ringing out its little tunes—the wedding march from “Lohengrin” among them—and the little mechanical horsemen are charging in the tourney to the blast of the little mechanical trumpeter. At one o’clock they run only a single course; but at noon the glories of Ashby-de-la-Zouche are enacted.
By nine o’clock on the Friday morning the market square is covered with rectangular yellow heaps arranged with Dutch systematic order and symmetry, many of them protected by tarpaulins, and the square is filled also with phlegmatic sellers and buyers, smoking, smoking, unceasingly smoking, and discussing the weather and the cheese, the cheese and the Government.
Not till ten may business begin. Instantly the first stroke of ten sounds the aspect of the place is changed. The Government and the weather recede; cheese emerges triumphant. Tarpaulins are stripped off; a new expression settles upon the features both of buyers and sellers; the dealers begin to move swiftly from one heap to another. They feel the cheeses, pat them, listen to them, plunge in their scoops and remove a long pink stick which they roll in their fingers, smell or taste and then neatly replace. Meanwhile, the seller stands by with an air part self-satisfaction, part contempt, part pity, part detachment, as who should say “It matters nothing to me whether this fussy fellow thinks the cheese good or not, buys it or not; but whether he thinks it good or bad, or whether he buys, or leaves it, it is still the best cheese in Alkmaar market, and some one will give me my price”.