Holland has been full of surprises. One recent surprise was the city of Haarlem. I honestly knew a lot more about the Harlem in New York City than its Dutch namesake. But there we were, after a mad dash for the train, standing in Haarlem’s art nouveau train station, wondering which way was the town Centrum.
About 12 miles west of Amsterdam, this city is a treasure trove of European history. Occupations, sieges, public executions, black plague, huge fires, divine interventions: Haarlem has it all.
Ahhh, yes, the history, but today we are traveling with small children, so no history for us. We will settle for a pleasant walk.
First stop was the Grote Market. Pretty as a jewel box, it is well appointed with the brick and slate of 16th century Dutch architecture. At one end is the town hall. Behind that is the building that was once the Count of Orange’s Hunting Lodge. Very cool. By chance, today was Market Day, so the town square was bustling with 40 different vendors. The stalls were filled with produce, meat, chicken, fish, cheese, and clothing of all kinds. There was even a stall for bike locks and accessories. We found a “World Market” stall selling fair trade hand crafts from around the world. The kids fell in love with an Indonesian thunder stick and an African animal skin drum.
Next stop, The Grote Kerk of St. Bavo. There has been a Christian church on this site since the 9th century, but this Gothic structure was consecrated in 1559. I loved it because it had an amazing herring bone wooden ceiling dated 1509. The kids loved it because they could spread out and explore. The floor of the cathedral contains about 1600 graves, each one marked with a full body sized floor stone. Jack and Jordan amused themselves by jumping from grave to grave, saying, “Sorry… Sorry… Sorry...”. I pulled Jack aside and told him that he just needs to watch out, because at some point a hand could reach out from under a stone and “GRAB HIM AROUND THE ANKLE”. At this point I grabbed him on the ankle and he jumped about a mile. Gotta love being a parent:)
This day I planned ahead and packed a picnic lunch. Every time I pack a lunch, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. We spread our blanket out on the steps of the statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster and ate cous cous salad and/or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A Spanish guitar player serenaded us as we ate al fresco. We enjoyed the sunshine and watched the crowd go by.
After quick walk to the VVV (tourist information bureau), it was time to go home. The kids were getting tired. We’ve learned that it’s better to leave a half an hour too early than a half an hour too late.
Haarlem is a great little gem of a city. I’m looking forward to going back, maybe without the kids, and seeing the inside of those antique buildings.
Walt and I saw someone on the train with a bakfiets (Dutch cargo bike) like mine. I wouldn’t have thought that my bike could fit on a train, but his did just fine. Bakfiets by train…. The possibilities are endless.