Longtime expat Persephone Abbott was drawn to Gouda because of its beauty and its location in the Green Heart of Holland. Though her trade as a musician takes her all over the Netherlands, she enjoys getting to know the ins and outs of Gouda with her dog and fellow researcher, Fritzi, and writing about what she finds on her blog. In 2011, Persephone teamed up with photographer Vinita Salomé to The Bee’s Tour of Gouda, a walking guidebook that explores Dutch history and culture.
Check out a few of Persephone’s favorite things about the city made famous by cheese, then add your own:
Gouda Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the market square. After walking through the small and busy shopping streets around or behind Gouda’s market square, the feeling of finding yourself suddenly with a wide open space in front of you is both breathtaking and a bit disorientating. Once you adjust your perspective, you can take in the medieval town hall and cheese weighing station.
December is one of the best times to visit my city because of the famous tradition of Candle Night on the second Tuesday of this winter month. The city hall and all the houses circling the market square are illuminated with candles to create a cheerful and festive sphere for the start of the holiday season.
You can see my city best by foot or bike. You can rent one at the bicycle shop on the back side of the train station.
The best places to buy authentic, local souvenirs (i.e. GOUDA) are Lekker Gouds on the market square or ’t Kaaswinkeltje on the Lange Tiendeweg. But here’s a secret for big time epicureans: the nearby town of Woerden specializes in the finest of Dutch gourmet cheeses, and the factory of Wijngaard Kaas gives special tours and tasting of their very fine products.
For an unusual Gouda experience, the gourmet chocolate shop Puur offers cheese and chocolate aficionados a unique “combination” bonbon among other very fine chocolates. Gouda is also known for its caramel biscuits (stroopwafels). Numerous bakeries in town sell them in packages, and behind the five and dime (Hema) you can buy individual ones that can be warmed up for you while you wait.
In the past, notable people like the 15th-century philosopher Erasmus have called my city home. Behind the St. Janskerk church, a statue, produced by a die-hard Dutch communist sculptor, honors the tolerant Catholic intellectual.
My city’s best museum is not a museum in the traditional sense: the glorious stained glass windows of St. Janskerk. Hardly any of these windows remain in Dutch churches because of the wave of iconoclastic fury that came over many parts of Holland. Not only does Gouda still have all of the windows, but the windows themselves are a magnificent pictorial history of the turbulent times of the 16th century that led to the birth of the country that you now know as Holland. The audio tour is excellent. Tip: Don’t go on Sunday, the church is closed to tourists.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the historic city center. However the lakes surrounding the north of the area (a ten-minute bike ride from the city center) have small and fairly empty roads to bike or walk on, and in one corner you’ll find a bird sanctuary.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they drop the “t’s” on ends of words (in Dutch, that is).
My city is known for being very Protestant and for having a “back water” attitude, but it’s really an evolving melting pot of Holland. (Gouda itself, though, at times has a hard time accepting this fact.)
The best outdoor market in my city is on market square on Saturdays (all day) and Thursdays mornings. And it’s typically Dutch; besides the fish/flower/cheese market stalls, a carillon (or two) plays, and often a large street organ is out to serenade the public.
The Hema is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Kamphuizen (in front of the fish market) or Zalm (on the market square) are the spots for late-night eats.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I take a walk along the dike to the watch the river ebb and flow.
To escape the crowds, I come to Gouda. Friends from abroad who have traveled to the Netherlands with children especially enjoyed their time here. Some have confessed to me even more so than Amsterdam!
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Katharine Hepburn because though Gouda has that air of Puritanism, it also has a whiff of the unconventional and is a real class act.
The most random thing about my city is the free trial products. Gouda often has brand-name companies handing out free mini items to the public, though I often wonder where Gouda sits on the spectrum of testers.
Ignoring the political trends and turning a blind eye to national change could only happen in my city, sometimes to the despair of the local population.
In the spring you should walk the cobblestones of the city center and sample the ice-cream available on the market square.
In the summer you should bike around the fields and lakes, swatting at the little flies.
In the fall you should drink hot chocolate and eat marzipan in the form of pink sausage slices.
In the winter you should skate on the canals, spinning around the braziers that illuminate the ice.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Shadow of Your Smile,” because it reminds me of the market square and all the former glory of Gouda still on show for us today.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the carillon on the side of the city hall (it chimes twice an hour), or taking family photos in the museum garden among all the statues and bits of masonry!
The best book about my city is… in English? Well, I might be biased and say our own! It’s called The Bee’s Tour of Gouda, Buzzing Through Vinita’s Lens.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s a very Dutch place, unlike cosmopolitan Amsterdam, yet has all the vestiges of having been a wealthy well-placed city, like Amsterdam.