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THE CHEESE MARKET - ALKMAAR
About 42 kilometers north of Amsterdam on the North Holland Canal - and just eight kilometers from the North Sea - the charming town of Alkmaar boasts many fine architectural monuments and old guild-houses from the 16th to 18th centuries. But the highlight of an excursion to this picturesque town in the province of North Holland is its world famous Cheese Market, one of the best-known tourist attractions in the Netherlands. Held every Friday in front of the town's Weigh-House in strict accordance with centuries-old traditions (the first such market was held here in the 1590s), it's a fascinating sight to watch as the square is covered with more than 23 tons of large, round Edam and Gouda cheeses. Adding to the experience is watching the cheese-porters, dressed in white and wearing hats in the colors of their guild, carry sometimes as many as 80 Edam cheeses on cradle-like racks to be weighed. Before anything can be shipped off, the crowds are welcomed and bells are rung (English language explanations of the rituals are offered at 11:20am). Afterwards, pop into the Alkmaar Cheese Museum in the Weigh House for its exhibits on the history of cheesemaking.
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