"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." - Lao Tzu
Oct 4, Day 0 - 1 Haarlem, The Netherlands
We arrived in Haarlem two days early hoping to recover from jet lag before the tour started. I had feared we'd take days to get used to the 5-hour time change, but it wasn't hard at all. We landed in Amsterdam in late morning, got some Euros at an ATM and headed for a bus to Haarlem. I had written down the bus number we needed to take to Haarlem, but we made sure with the driver we were on the correct bus. He was even kind enough to signal to us when we arrived at our stop.
After we got off the bus we took a wrong turn and ended up at the Grote Markt, a big square in Haarlem. By then (7 am for us), we needed a break. We stopped at an outdoor cafe and had a Heineken. It was wonderfully relaxing to sit and watch everyone go by. From then on, we tried to get a wine or beer every afternoon. Traveling is hard work, you know, so it's nice to relax and regroup.
We finally found our hotel, dropped off our luggage and took a short nap. We were too excited to waste time sleeping so we headed out and walked along the canal, had some dinner and finally walked back to our hotel once it got dark. We quickly learned to watch out for bike and motor scooter traffic-they're everywhere. The next day, wanting to see as much of the city as we could, we rented bikes and joined the rest of the locals on the roads. We headed over to the busy Saturday market at the Grote Markt first. How cool-there was bakery, cheese, fresh fish, fruit, flowers, plants, clothing, crafts and more. We then headed out to the coast on one of the many bike paths and followed the signs to Zandvoort. There we had a great burger (possibly THE BEST burger I've ever had) loaded with bacon, cheese, grilled onions and tomatoes on a crusty roll with some homemade chips and a yummy mustardy dipping sauce. Sure, I was hungry after our ride but it seemed to me then, and throughout our travels, that the food in Europe is of better quality than what we have back home. The vegetables and fruits look and taste fresher, and they have real flavor.
Heading back to Haarlem on our bikes, there were a couple of crossroads where we were unsure of so we relied on the kindness of strangers to direct us back to our hotel. We never met a Dutch person who didn't speak English so we never had a problem with communication. I did find that the Dutch language has lots of vowels and unusual consonant combinations in each word (like "rijsttafel"). We did learn how to say "please" and "thank you" in Dutch however.
Our tour officially began when we met our tour leader and fellow travelers at our hotel. After introductions, we headed out on a walking tour of Haarlem with our local guide, Jodie (like Yodie). She was a delightful escort, full of information on the history of Haarlem as well as an explanation as to why the Dutch have been called the most "content" people in all of Europe. As we walked through the city, we learned more about the history of the Grote Kirk, the square, the shops, government buildings and the Netherlands. We checked out the "red light district" and a "coffee shop" which legally sells more than just caffienated drinks, if you know what I mean. Maybe that's why the Dutch are so "content." Dinner was a "rijsttafel" dinner, a buffet of Indonesian dishes-meat/veggies, spicy/mild, hot/cold. It was the first of our group dinners and already everyone seemed like old friends.
ON GETTING INSPIRED!
If we had to sum up Haarlem in one word, it would be "bicycle." They were everywhere, ridden by everyone. We saw moms pulling their kids behind in a bike trailer, shoppers bringing home groceries in a big bike basket, a very chic lady in high heels riding a bike, grandmas, grandpas, kids, just about everyone. As our local guide Jodie explained, her father puts spikes on his tires and rides his bike to his job in Amsterdam during the cold, snowy winter. Everyone seemed very fit. In fact, after 21 days on the Rick Steves' tour, walking miles everyday, climbing up steps, and carrying a suitcase up several flights of stairs, we came home feeling in better shape than when we left. Maybe this tour should be subtitled "21 Days to a Fitter You." We resolved to stay more active on a daily basis when we got home and hopefully to become more "content" as well.
- Walking tour with our local guide
- Grote Market
- Biking like the locals
- Rijsttafel dinner with our group