A visit to a cheese market is a must. Our favorite is in Alkmaar, located 20 mi/30 km northwest of Amsterdam, or an hour by train. The specialty there is Gouda. The market is held on Friday mornings in the summer, beginning around 10 am and ending by noon. It's fun to watch: Hand-clapping is an instrumental part of the selling process, and large purchases are sometimes carried off by porters on ornamental carriers.

On the return trip to Amsterdam, spend some time in the town of Zaandam to see the working village of Zaanse Schans. Located on the banks of the River Schans, Zaanse Schans is a collection of old Dutch houses assembled from the surrounding region. The town's main attraction is its open-air Windmill Museum. Each windmill is different: Some were used for pumping water, others for grinding corn and wheat, others for churning peanut butter. You can also watch a wooden-shoe maker (klompenmaker) or taste homemade cheese, Dutch apple pie and traditional Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken).

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