We've chosen to live in Haarlem. The most frequent reaction of locals, and probably our dear readers, is bewilderment. When we started planning this move, we imagined we'd be living in Amsterdam, the Netherland's capital and most populous city. From entertainment to jobs, Amsterdam certainly has it all, perhaps even too much for our tastes.
You can read all about our adventures in finding an apartment here - the truth is we remained open to an apartment in Amsterdam right until the end, but the perfect opportunities for us and Nougat were right here in Haarlem. You probably don't know as much about Haarlem as you do Amsterdam, and we want to share some of the reasons we fell in love with this city:
1. Haarlem is halfway between Amsterdam and the beach. A thirteen minute train ride will have us at Amsterdam Central Station for all our big city needs. For sunny days, a beautiful thirty minute bike ride through the dunes will get us to Zandvoort and De Zee, where we'll be enjoying a drink or several.
2. Haarlem's centre is full of picturesque historical architecture as many of its central medieval buildings remain intact. The mix of old and new and the way buildings have been re-purposed means there's always something pretty and interesting to look at.
3. Haarlem is a close, active city. In addition to achieving a great balance between bikes, cars and pedestrians, they have been able to activate their public spaces without overcrowding. We love that tables and chairs are put out religiously by restaurants, cafés and shops, even when we think it's too cold to eat outside. There are always people outside in the city, they have a purpose and they create a momentum that just gets you moving.
4. Haarlemers are friendly people, happy to help us settle in here, and willing to speak Dutch to us even though our comprehension is still hovering around zero. In a place like Amsterdam, where everyone immediately switches to English, we imagine it would be very easy to avoid learning the language. Not so in Haarlem, where we've been able to fumble our way through more and more local interactions without English.
5. Monday mornings don't exist! Most towns here have some sort of quirky hours, and in Haarlem, most shops don't open until 11 a.m., noon, or even 1 p.m. if they even open at all. Mail doesn't even get delivered on Monday (they deliver on Saturday instead). Monday is, however, Market Day, with a market in each main square.
6. Haarlem is best navigated on a bicycle. There are cars and plenty of pedestrians, but there are even more bicycles! It's easy to do everything on a bike in this town, so easy in fact, that we haven't missed having a car once since our arrival.
8. Flowers, and lots of 'em. Haarlem is, and has been for centuries, at the centre of the tulip bulb growing district, which is how it earned the nickname "Bloemenstad" (Flower City). It's a quick thirty minute bike ride to the Keukenhof gardens, which is only open two months of the year, but what a spectacular two months! And, we are looking forward to this weekend when Haarlem has a flower parade.
9. We have a windmill called De Adriaan. The original burned down in 1932, but was rebuilt in 2002. Although it is mostly open for tourists, it's actually fully functional and capable of grinding grain.
10. The best fry shop we've tested so far is here in Haarlem: De Haerlemsche Vlaamse. Real potatoes, thick crispy fries and a bunch of delectable sauces make this little shop next to the church in Grote Markt our favourite! You can follow Brian's Fiets to Friets blog series for his sauce rankings.
It's been hard to limit to just ten things, and on food alone, I know Brian has enough for a dozen or more posts! There is so much more about Haarlem that we are excited to share as we settle in and make this city our home over the next year. Now that we've made you hungry, go get something to eat while you plan your next trip to Haarlem!
~ Erica ~ Brian