Haarlem, the Dutch city with many hidden secrets!

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Haarlem, hidden gem, The Netherlands

My trip to Haarlem started not exactly problem free! First of all I spent the biggest part of an afternoon hanging around at Stansted airport waiting for my plane to arrive, let alone leave for Amsterdam. Before that I had some issues at security. Due to several beeps they wanted me to take off all my jewellery, shoes, belt and for a moment I thought more items….

Then they asked me if I was carrying a breathing machine or some other type of health gadget in my hand luggage. They had seen a suspicious shape in my suit case that turned out to be my Nespresso coffee machine! It really does look a little bit like a gun, doesn’t??

The airport was extremely busy but this little bar just had the perfect spot for me. Therefore I decided to kill the time with a glass of bubbly.

flight delay, prosecco, airport
When your flight is delayed, you might as well enjoy the extra time!

Finally after almost 3 hours delay – still only with one drink though – I hit the ground in Amsterdam.  And at 9 pm I was greeted by my cousin and family.

Haarlem, my next stop

I was staying in Haarlem, the capitol of the province of North Holland with a history dating back at least until the 12th century. Haarlem was once one of the most important cities in the Netherlands. It has attracted several Flamish artists and a large number of rich people.

It is also a city of pioneers. They claim to have housed the inventor of the art of printing, Laurens Coster. Plane designer Anthonij Fokker did his first spin around the tower of the St Bavo Church. The same church also is the home of the famous ‘Müller’ organ. Apparently Mozart played there when he was only 10 years old.

Müller organ, Haarlem, St Bavo kerk
The famous ‘Müller’ organ that was played by Händel and an only 10 year old Mozart

The first rail line was from Amsterdam to Haarlem and of course they have several breweries. They are also home to the oldest news paper in the world (1656) – Het Haarlems Dagblad. The one where my host is a journalist.

They claim 😉 to have quite a lot of significant history!

What I have seen is that it is a very pretty city with lovely old streets, dozens of little ‘hofjes’ or hidden court yards and a vibrant cafe life. The hofjes are quite unique. You can find them behind closed doors but if you don’t know they are there you would walk straight past them. We did a discovery tour of most hofjes. I believe we have seen more than 20.

hofje, Haarlem, inner city
One of many ‘Hofjes’. Hidden by a normal door on the street, they are a very private quiet inner city area.

Haarlem also has lots of tiny narrow streets. The people who live there like to put pot plants and tables and chairs outside. I constantly mistake them for cafes! It gives a very green inner city life.

Haarlem, inner city, small street
Inner city little street with cottages and an active ‘green’ scene
Haarlem, inner city, outdoor living
Outdoor living in Haarlem. I quite often thought some of the houses were cafes!

There was another attraction that I wanted to see in Haarlem. A friend in Brisbane lent me a book about the Dutch family Ten Boom who helped Jewish people hide during WW2. Their house was and still is a watch shop. It is in the center of Haarlem and is now open for visits and a tour.

Haarlem, Corrie ten Boom
The house of Corrie Ten Boom, the watch maker who helped Jewish people hide during WW2
Haarlem, hiding place
The small cavity in a bedroom that they built specially to hide Jewish people during the war

It was amazing to see how they managed to help and hide many Jewish people for years before they were betrayed and taken to concentration camps. Corrie ten Boom who wrote the book survived the ordeal and travelled the world for 30 years promoting her life philosophy. It was an inspiring and also sobering experience to see how this family lived and managed to help so many people during the war.

A family reunion at Haarlem

The reason I went to Haarlem was a family reunion. A year or so ago we had a spontaneous cousin reunion at my sister’s place. It was great to catch up and we decided to do it again. My cousin in Haarlem offered to host it this time.

I stayed for a couple of days and it was nice to get to know my cousin and his wife a bit better. It must have been 40 years since we saw each other last. His daughter was familiar to us as she came to stay in Australia with us. And it was great to see her again.

My cousin’s wife has a rather unusual tradition. She invited me to join her for a ‘breathing meditation’ on the beach followed by a brisk walk. The adventure was continued by a dip in an ice bath and as icing on the cake a swim in the North sea. It was very ‘tempting’ but fortunately the weather was on my side! She is doing this every Saturday morning all year round in rain or shine. Quite admirable.

As a seasoned Queenslander I am used to water temperatures of over 21. So for me the North Sea might have been the ice bath in itself 😕

All in all Haarlem seems a lovely city – a bit of small Amsterdam. I could live here I think. Well let’s see what the future holds for us…. For now I am off to Groningen in the North of the Netherlands where I will be staying in an authentic old farm house.

See you there!

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