Monday, 6 June 2016

2016 Trip to Europe - Days 1 & 2 - Haarlem, The Netherlands

Days 1 and 2 in Haarlem, The Netherlands

The last time I was in Holland, I was knocked down and out by a bicycle in Amsterdam. The resultant concussion put an end to our holiday on our first day. I swore never to return.

But I’ve wanted for many years to visit St. Petersburg, to see what is purported to be one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in the world, to see a performance in the Mariinsky Theater, and to see the famous fountains and the Crystal Palace. While browsing the internet, J.P. saw a cruise that would give us two days in St. Petersburg. Enough, if we really crammed things in. 

Of course we booked it. Unfortunately, it left from Amsterdam. And to get a good airfare we had to book five days before the cruise. Fate seemed to be conspiring against us.

But Amsterdam isn’t the only place in Holland.  I thought I just might be able to avoid it if I really tried. 

So I booked us into a country inn for the first night and into a hotel in the middle of Haarlem for the next four. 

Landgoed Duin & Kruidberg
First to the country inn. If someone had plunked me down into it with no information I’d have sworn it was a Scottish castle. Its name is Landgoed Duin & Kruidberg. We were the only non-Dutch there. I suspect that was because the name alone stopped everybody else. It was huge, with turrets and spires and chimneys with wrought iron crowns. Inside, it was all carved oak walls and decorated ceilings and massive fireplaces. It looked like a leftover set from Outlander. There was a terrace for tea or drinks or light meals, two restaurants, and a large pond or small lake depending on your viewpoint, complete with trees hanging into the water and geese and goslings and an encircling path for strolling. It’s set in a national forest just a few miles from the sea. The original castle dated from the sixteen hundreds, but in the late nineteenth century a new owner decided he wanted something more impressive. The home that became the present inn was the result. 

During WW2 the Germans took it over and, when the war was over, the owner chose not to live in it again. It lay dormant until the present owners bought it and turned it into the delightful inn it presently is. 

We had only twenty-four hours there. It was our “recover from twelve hours in transit, nine hours on a plane” place. Next time we’ll know better.  I could happily spend a week there. Although a word of warning. If you are driving you’ll need a trusty GPS to find it, and if you’re taxi-ing as we were, it is a ninety Euro trip from the airport.

In any case we had a gorgeous dinner, breakfast and lunch there and departed rather unwillingly at two p.m. for our hotel in Haarlem.


The Hotel Franz Hals, in Haarlem, is a four star hotel. Quite comfortable. But not a palace. What it has going for it is where it is. Right in the middle of the oldest part of this very old, very Dutch town. The massive Kirk, St. Bavo, (a saint I’ve never heard of) is a half block away, as is the wonderful medieval town square. The old center is off limits to cars. (Not, unfortunately to bikes.)

Kirk St. Bavo
In the kirk, we lucked into an incredible evening of choir, soloists, early instrument orchestra, and a magnificent 1628 Mueller organ.  We are, more often than not, disappointed with concerts in Europe. This one made up for all the disappointments we’ve experienced along the way. It was in a word, superb. It was done as an evensong service. Readings and sung mass text interspersed with music.

So these five days that we had feared might be rather tiresome, are turning into an altogether delightful experience. They have made us want to return to Holland.


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Books of Blair McDowell
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Blair McDowell