In this November 2018, our team has made a trip to the Netherlands. We`d like to share our impressions and some valuable info with our readers.
Let`s start with a gemstone of a Dutch province- the city of Haarlem.
Haarlem lies 25km west from Amsterdam and it will take you 15-20 min to get there by train and 30-40 min by bus. Some adventurous ones can take a bike, though it will be an approx 2,5 hours trip, great stuff to remember.
Prices for holiday house rental are cheaper than in Amsterdam, and the city is unbelievably beautiful.
A glimpse of Haarlem history for curious travellers :)
Haarlem was found in the 10th century. The name "Haarlem" literally means "the high sandy place with trees", which is true due to its location close to the sea(10km) and there are vast sandy coastal dunes close by. It`s hard to believe but in 15 century it was the second major city of Holland- bigger than Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Thanks to its wealth, the city was quickly rebuilt and recovered after multiple tragedies: the Plague epidemic in the 14th century, the Spanish siege and the Great Fire in 16th. During the Golden Age (17th century) many immigrants (Huguenots and protestants) flooded the country and Haarlem in particular, stipulating it`s fast cultural and economic arise. This was a result of smart political moves on religious issues, which gave equal rights to Catholics and protestants. Wealthy and talented people were coming to the Netherlands to feel safe from religious persecutions. We believe this wise moderate liberal politics- is what creates a healthy social climate in the Netherlands and leads to great economical results until now.
The first impression.
It is very easy to get to Haarlem either from Amsterdam or Schiphol Airport. From Amsterdam, you can take a bus or a train. We recommend the train as you will arrive fast avoiding traffic jams. You can catch a train from Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Sloterdijk. From the Airport, you can get there by bus №300 or take a train to Amsterdam Sloterdijk and hop on to another train from platform 7 directing to Haarlem.
If you are planning your trip to the Netherlands in winter or late autumn, be prepared for really unstable, rainy and windy weather. Although still many tourists prefer this time of the year to see the country more authentic and less crowded.
The best practice is to have a raincoat with you, as the umbrella sometimes is not sustainable for a strong wind. Take your rubber boots as well or apply water protective spray to your regular shoes. This will safe your health and good mood for sure.
The first thing that admired us were cosy streets with tidy houses and first Christmas decorations. Many buildings look like gingerbread houses,
Grote Markt ar the Central Market Square is the central touristic point of Haarlem. The Saint Bavo Church is the heart of the square and the city, with its unique flaming Gothic style. Apart from this, you will find De Hallen Museum(ex-Meat Hall), Frans Hals Museum and medieval building of Town Hall.
The river Spaarne is very quiet and picturesque. We enjoyed our bike riding along the river so much. Non-windy days are great for taking pics: city reflection in the water looks absolutely stunning.
Crazy bike traffic is something you can not deny even if you are a pedestrian. If you are not an experienced bike rider, be careful, as locals drive in a very fast and aggressive manner, at the same time they perform instant reaction and act very polite and respectful. You will appreciate perfectly planned bicycle lanes and the way the traffic lights are organized(there are separate street lights for bikes, pedestrians and cars).
If you wish to rent a bike we recommend to use the service of Fiets-in. Good prices and decent bikes. Prepare 100EUR in advance as you will need to leave it as a deposit in case if something happens to a bike(which is unlikely to happen). Deposit is returned to a customer once he returns the bike,
A trip to the North Sea.
You`ll be surprised by how close is the North sea from Haarlem and how beautiful it is. Simply take a bike and go all the way to the west. If you are strong enough you can end up in Zandvoort an Zee beach resort (min 30 min far from Haarlem), or simply stop at Bloementaal beach which is quite close. In summer natives enjoy swimming in cold refreshing water (+16C degrees approx) while the weather is hot. Fancy beach bars with sea views serve a variety of food and beverages.
If you prefer to avoid riding, take a train from Haarlem central railway station. It will take you just 10 min to get to Zandvoort.
Historically, because of the climate, the Netherlands is not as rich with food varieties as the Mediterranean for instance, but we admit that the food here has excellent quality and taste. Being honest with our readers, we prefer to cook our own food wherever we go travelling, so Albert Heijn supermarket was our personal favourite on our trip. A rich assortment of fresh and tasty vegetables, fruits, famous Dutch cheeses, a variety of options for vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free products at reasonable prices. By the way, if you are seeking to try an authentic cheese made in Holland, you don`t have to visit a specific cheese store (unless you are a cheese maniac:). You can find the same quality in the supermarket- we have checked that.
Street food and restaurants are nothing to worry about- you most likely won`t find a bad quality here. A huge variety of Chinese, Indonesian, Argentinian, French and etc food will satisfy any taste. Various cuisines flooded the Netherlands in the times when the country was a sea power and had multiple colonies.
Out of fast food, we will highlight the Dutch french fries. This is an absolute must-try while you are here. You will see many locals eating fries in the streets- and that is the sign that it`s really good;) In local kiosks, they serve it for taking away in a solid carton bag with a sauce at your choice.
In many cafes and coffeeshops locals are drinking an unusual peppermint tea(munt thee)- the whole plants with stems up- that`s what you will see in your glass. Don`t get confused, that`s really delicious and healthy non-coffein drink, that keeps you warm in the wintertime.
Not a secret, that almost every second tourist coming to the Netherlands for holidays is going not only for windmills, tulips and cheese. Smoking marijuana is decriminalised here and you can enjoy the first-class quality weed in any of multiple cafes, called coffeeshops. A big choice of soft drinks and some simple snacks is a nice benefit as well. In a standard coffee shop, you are not allowed to drink any alcohol and smoking tobacco is prohibited as well(tobacco substitute is offered for free though:).
Our personal №1 in Haarlem is Empire coffee shop, located in a very centre of the city, close to Grote Markt. With nice music, friendly staff, relaxing atmosphere and opportunity to bring your own stuff in case you order a drink. Free tobacco substitute is available here.
Among others are Willy Wortel`s, Regine, Maximillian and one Take Away shop(ex-Moonlight coffeeshop).
Hidden hofjes (courtyards).
According to Dutch tradition, courtyards were used as shelters for people in need. Social work was well known here even in Medieval times. People could access freshwater, food, bed and medical help here. Hofjes were usually were built and financed by wealthy citizens.
On the picture is Hofje van Noblet.
We`ll come back soon with Amsterdam overview. See you!:)