The centre of Haarlem in North Holland
What is the difference between the Netherlands and Holland?
Sorry, I know, you’ve had a three-day weekend and a test is not what you’re looking for, but seriously….do you know the difference?
Why am I asking, you ask? Cause we’re going to the Netherlands AND Holland in the Rock Fever Column this week.
Exactly…ok, I will take pity. The Netherlands, which calls Belgium its southern neighbour and Germany its eastern, is actually comprised of a 12 provinces. North and South Holland are the names of two of these provinces.
So this week I flew to the Netherlands and then I visited North Holland (or Noord-Holland), which does consist of Amsterdam, but I’m not going to Amsterdam (yet).
Why not? Because Noord-Holland is so much more than Amsterdam and when I planned my trip, I did not realize I would have three, not two weeks, to fill.
What was I going to do with an extra week (tough life, I know) in the Netherlands? Well head to Haarlem of course. No, I didn’t buy a flight to New York. Instead, I flew to Amsterdam, jumped on a bus and took a half hour ride.
Once at Haarlem’s bus station, I then jumped on a second bus and found myself delivered to my youth hostel. Yes, I decided on a hostel because if there is one thing you will find tricky traveling through Europe in the summer is: prices! Everything is more expensive because, well, it’s the summer (I usually travel during the winter in Europe. Less expensive and plenty to do with Christmas markets).
Which probably brings you to your next question: why, Robyn, would you go to the Netherlands in the summer?
Beautiful sun while walking through the canals of Haarlem
Because I had a ticket and, though I had never thought about it before, it turns out that the Netherlands are absolutely stunning. Bonus and reason one? If you’re looking for a place with decent weather that fails to make you sweat the minute you leave the shower….you’ve found your spot.
Which brings me to reason two and Haarlem, because the Netherlands is more than Amsterdam! The capital of this country can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Haarlem, on the other hand, is a medium-sized town with about 150,000 people living in the shadows of some of the Netherlands most famous painters, who set-up a school here in the 17th Century. It is calm and close to the capital, making Haarlem a good choice for beginning a trip to this country.
Reason three for visiting this beautiful, canal-ridden town is its cobblestoned centre, filled with restaurants and meandering lanes that can deliver you to the famous Frans Hal Museum, which houses many of the Haarlem-inspired paintings.
Original printer in Haarlem's centre?
Perhaps reason four should be no matter how idyllic and quaint everything in Haarlem is, from the main square to the windmill on the canal, the town is also filled with some rather contradictory sites. These sites include the statue of Laurens Coster, in Haarlem’s centre, who claims to be the true inventor of printing to the Teyler’s Museum, which is the country’s oldest museum and it shows. Wooden cabinets are filled with fossils, crystals, medals and coins. It’s a beautiful building that houses these odd finds and, of course, who could give-up a chance to see the oldest museum of a country?
Maybe not the oldest, but the strangest kind of museum I have been to was the next visit: the Het Dolhuys. Housed in a converted hospital, this museum documents psychiatric care through the ages. Some seriously thought-provoking exhibits here!
Once you challenge your views on sanity and insanity, then reason five for visiting Haarlem and the history that is soaked into this town. The famous Corrie Ten Boom lived here with her family during World War II. The Ten Boom family were relied upon by the community as problem-solvers and generous caregivers. When the Nazis invaded, the family decided to hide members of the Jewish community in their home until one day when the Ten Booms were “ratted-out”. Corrie was the only one to survive the camps and spent the rest of her life advocating for forgiveness.
The Ten Boom Museum where the Ten Boom family hid Jewish members of the community during WWII.
After the heavy, history lesson, my next step was to enjoy some time in the wilderness. That’s the lovely thing about Haarlem. Everything is about half an hour away by public transport…even the national park Zuid-Kennemerland and reason six.
There are a number of paths through the park and I broke all of the rules and arrived at the starting-point without a bike!
Just a side-note here: no one and I mean no one walks! Everyone rides a bike in this country, which is reason seven for visiting! The country is flat, which makes it quite enjoyable to experience by bicycle if that is your thing. I, on the other hand, was the weirdo using my feet. I prefer feet; they offer a chance to really, take-in the scenery.
Wild ponies on my walk through the National Park Zuid-Kennemerland
Arriving at the park, I could have picked between two, 4km walks, but I decided to on the 9km walk. It was the right choice. My wandering began by passing some wild ponies grazing next to sand dunes and continued through countryside filled with cows lounging in lakes. My mammoth experiment in the Netherlands’ countryside finished with a coffee and juice overlooking a North Sea beach. I don’t think I could have asked for a more peaceful and scenic day, with a easy bus-ride back home.
Can you imagine walking by here? Visit Haarlem then!
Of course if walking 9km in the country-side is not your thing, then the beauty of this country is, reason eight: it is small and everything is within a short train or bus-ride. Trains run on time, bus drivers will drop you at stops that are not their stops and every stop is documented; on the buses and trains they tell you and show you on a screen which stop you are on.
So, for my third day in Haarlem I decided to use this beautifully-easy transportation to go on a day trip to of all places: Hoorn (reason nine) and the place to go if wilderness is not your thing. During the 17th century this was one of the richest of the Dutch seaports. Today, it remains as attractive to the 21st century sailor, which was evident as I disembarked the train, wandered through the shop-strewn town to the port to watch the masts of hundreds of sailboats delivering themselves from the open ocean. After tiring of watching these beautiful boats navigate the harbour, I traced my steps back through the mansions that litter Grote Oost street and sell antiques or are filled with art galleries. These led me to the centre, or Rode Steen “red zone” which holds the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen who was the founder of the Dutch East Indies Empire. Even better is on Thursdays, the centre holds a cheese market. Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday, but I could still enjoy a coffee while watching everyone wander-by with their purchases from the shops that lead the way back to the train station.
Back to the centre of Haarlem!
By 7 p.m. I was back in Haarlem and enjoying reason ten for visiting this country in the summer: the sun was still shining (it doesn’t set till almost 9 p.m. in the summer!) I could enjoy lounging in the centre of the city at one of the many restaurants on the square, watch life go by and prepare myself for the next day.
And the next Rock Fever Column: how to handle being sick while abroad! Stay tuned for next week and being sick in The Hague (and making the most of it)!