We’re staying in what is called the green heart of the Netherlands. In one of the most densely populated countries in western Europe, there’s a surprising abundance of farming and open fields around Oudewater.
Literally “old water”, it’s apparent Oudewater was an important settlement hundreds of years ago. Today, this place is small and quiet. Ornate buildings surround a tight square along the main canal that snakes through town. Residents walk or bike everywhere. We feel comfortable here.
As we mentioned, Sinterklaas is expected to make his entrance here in Oudewater on Saturday afternoon. The bakeries and candy shops are ready.
Just 15 minutes to the west along a narrow, elevated road is the larger town of Gouda (yes, famed for its namesake cheese). Gouda also offers the world Stroopwafels, two thin waffles sandwiching a layer of caramel-syrup filling.
We sampled a couple of stroopwafels in a traditional shop along the main square. Gouda’s prickly Stadhuis (city hall) anchors the center surrounded by stores and restaurants. Shoppers buzzed all over town. Oddly, our Thanksgiving holiday isn’t celebrated in the Netherlands but the concept of “Black Friday” has definitely made its way here from America.
The Netherlands was neutral during World War I and spared the trench warfare Belgium suffered. The Dutch again attempted neutrality in WWII but the Germans rolled over this small country despite fierce resistance in May 1940.
During the Nazi occupation, Jews were deported from here in a higher percentage than any other country in western Europe. Sadly, the Dutch tended to be efficient with records (which included religion) and the Germans quickly determined their exact whereabouts.
Large memorials to WWII were located along the walls of the city hall. Once again however, the most disturbing reminders were the small stumble stones scattered in Gouda’s sidewalks marking the fates of individual people.
We spent Friday afternoon looking in shop windows and exploring town. We noticed many interesting details. Check out the sculpture of workers stacking wheels of Gouda cheese on the front of the Weigh House. We also discovered a small Glockenspiel on the side of the city hall.
We weren’t sure if this would be case but there is a distinct cultural difference between the Netherlands and Flanders in Belgium. Oudewater is ideally situated in the middle of a ring of Dutch cities. Expect more day trips ahead.