Gouda is famous for cheese of the same name. But that’s not what we were going there for. We love cities. Especially the resilient ones that retain a bit of their character after hundreds of years. When we read about Gouda’s 15th century town hall, we knew we had to be there.

And it didn’t disappoint. It’s a structure that looks right out of a fairy tale…

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…one with not necessarily a happy ending.

The bright red panes attached to the otherwise monochromatic facade try to lend the building a jovial air. They kept reminding me of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

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For € 1.5 you can take a tour of the town hall. You are handed a printed sheet of laminated paper with details about the different rooms inside the hall. You can then walk around at your own pace and soak it all in. It’s very life affirming to see these buildings in use even today. In one of the halls dry-run for a wedding was taking place - with two photographers and the fully dressed bride and groom in attendance.

We were free to use the loos too - thankfully they were fitted with 20th-century fixtures and didn’t cling on to the 15th-century past of the building.

The meeting rooms upstairs were even more modern but the stairs leading up to them were so worn with use that you could feel a depression right in the middle of every single one of them where hundreds of thousands of steps must have trod on. Framed posters with insignias of important personages over the years decorated one of the walls near the meeting rooms.

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From the balcony of the town hall we could see the 17th century Kaaswaag or the cheese weighing house. The building now houses a cheese and crafts museum.

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I don’t know how we got to the street behind the old church - just glad we did. One of the buildings there had a beautiful color relief above its entrance.

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With an entrance like that, you have to go in and find out what awaits you inside. Just like with the town hall earlier, we found ourselves in another time. There were more reliefs…

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…beautifully detailed life-sized statues….

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…a gargoyle…

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…the bust of a soprano frozen mid-aria…

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…and a garden that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland for the second time in the day…

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…inside which we found flowerbeds…

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…and a coat of arms…

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All in all, a place full of things guaranteed to pull a fantasy author out of his writers’ block.

The magic didn’t leave us for the rest of the day. We kept running into one beautiful building after the other…

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…often decorated with colourful reliefs.

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It seemed that for each such building we would see, there would be a park or a garden to match it…

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…and a reminder that we were still in a town famous for its cheese.

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June 12, 2011