I took a 3-day weekend to visit The Netherlands last weekend. I flew (yes, I flew instead of taking the train from Lyon to Paris, from Paris to Brussels, and then from Brussels to Amsterdam) to Amsterdam’s Schnipol Airport on Friday, landed around noon, and then thought of ways to amuse myself while waiting for my friend to arrive from Cambridge, UK. Knowing I had a good 6-7 hours to explore, I decided to head out of the Netherlands’ most famous city and head to Haarlem, a town just 15 minutes away by train.
How did I pick Haarlem? Well, I guess it’s time to tell you, my readers, one of my little favorite websites, the Lonely Planet. I did not know about this site until I was in Vietnam in January 2010 and we were looking for things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Ever since I packed my bags and moved to France, the Lonely Planet guides (both the online version and the print versions) have been my constant travel companions. In preparation for my trip to Amsterdam, I looked at the webpage for The Netherlands, and ranked #2 on top picks was a day in Haarlem.
The Lonely Planet online guide to Haarlem states: “Everybody loves Haarlem, and it’s not hard to see why. This achingly pretty city of cobble-stone streets, historic buildings, grand churches, even grander museums, cosy bars, top-class restaurants, and antique shops is a sure-fire heart-warmer.” I admit, I was dubious. As I’ve been in Europe for some time now, it takes a lot for me to get excited about European cities because they’re all so quaint and cobblestoned. And Haarlem was certainly cobblestoned and beautiful…
But Haarlem slowly won my heart the more I explored it. There’s one reason. Large, tall, windows with bikes sitting outside. Most of the homes in the historic had ginormous windows that had a row of tintedness to prevent averaged-heighted people from peaking in. Don’t worry. That didn’t stop me.
The pastries weren’t bad either. After a few hours of aimlessly wandering around, I ducked into Patisserie Michel. This time I was nervous because the name of the bakery was obviously French; would I be duped into buying French pastries in the Nederlands? I walked in and saw trays of “Appelrondje” for a mere euro, so I figured, if the name is Dutch and it’s not terribly pricy, then yes! I got one and then ate it. It was a bit like an apple crumble, minus the crumble , minus a sticky filling, plus almond pieces on top. So essentially nothing like an apple crumble. But you get the idea.
After my obligatory pastry break, I recommenced my exploration of Haarlem. This is the first time I’ve explored a European city without a map so I honestly cannot tell you where any of these pictures were taken. I decided to continue ambling down the achingly pretty streets and alleys, and to my utter delight, I discovered semi-public little gardens. They’re only open every day until 5 pm; after that you have to live in the garden and its courtyards to be granted access. Luckily I arrived around 4:35 pm so I was able to go inside. Can you imagine living in one of these adorable little rowhomes? As I walked around I peeked inside the homes; the Dutch people just looked so content, sipping their afternoon tea and reading the paper. I could do that.