ALKMAAR, the Netherlands - When I arranged for lodging about two weeks ago, I thought I had found a nice room in Amsterdam, a city I've long wanted to visit.
However, my AirBnB room is in Alkmaar, 25 miles north of Amsterdam and a 55-minute commute by train and bus. Worse things could happen, of course. Like having your reservation inexplicably cancelled or transportation workers going on strike. Neither has happened to me yet on my journey, but I haven't quite reached the halfway point of this four-month adventure. Needless to say, I will be paying closer attention to the precise location of my future lodging.
I'm here in Alkmaar until Sunday morning, so I have plenty of time to take the train south to Amsterdam, where I plan to visit the Anne Frank house and perhaps the VanGogh museum. I chose Thursday to explore Alkmaar, a very charming city with a population of 100,000 and probably the most vibrant retail and restaurant district that I've ever encountered in a city of this size.
I hadn't researched Alkmaar before arriving because I assumed it was suburban Amsterdam and I didn't anticipate spending much time here. I was pleasantly surprised as I began reading about things to see and do in Alkmaar. Two irrisitible sites immediately caught my attention: A Beatles museum and a cheese museum. Be jealous, my friends.
Just for the record, l admit I'm old enough to remember watching the Beatles make their U.S. debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. I've enjoyed their music for decades, but I'm by no means an obsessive or especially knowledgeable fan. Nonetheless, I've become addicted to museums this summer, so I paid about $5.10 for admission and began the tour. The museum owner, Azing Moltmaker, is an avid collector of all things Beatles and says he's written 70 books about the band. The Beatles have no connection to Alkmaar, but the museum is here because Moltmaker lives here.
The collection is voluminous. Large display boards containing timelines and photos of the band's evolution are entertaining and written in Dutch and English. Paul McCartney's jacket that he wore on stage for a Shea Stadium concert in New York in 1965 is displayed in glass, as is George Harrison's first guitar, which was made in Alkmaar. There are rows upon rows of pictures, album covers, souvenirs and memorabilia. An hour in the museum was plenty for me, but more avid fans typically spend two to three hours.
As for the cheese museum, I was lured in by the appeal of simply being able to brag about it. To be fair, it was informative. The Dutch produce and export millions of tons of cheese every year, Gouda and Edam perhaps being the most widely known. The musuem tells visitors all about the process of making cheese and the history of it in the Netherlands. Displays are written in three languages and there are interactive stations to keep children engaged.
Fun fact: Nearly every village in North Holland had a private bull walker who walked his bull from farm to farm from the start of May to the end of June. A pole with a flag was placed at the side of the road when a cow was ready to be bred. The bovine parties ended after World War II with the advent of artificial insemination.
Admission for the cheese museum was about $5.75, accounting for the Euro exchange rate this week. Visitors get a small but free sample of Gouda as they enter.
I saw two windmills on my long day of walking the city and I discovered my engaging BnB host actually uses wooden shoes when she is out in her back yard. I'm sorry, but I can't report back to you on the country's famous tulips because the season normally ends in late May.
Please note that I easily resisted any urge to make a cheap pun about cheese. After all, I do have some standards.