HAARLEM - This is the town after which the American town of Harlem is named. Haarlem is best viewed in the evening, when the sun is about to set from late afternoon. This can be easily covered while returning from Delft. The streets give off some of the most relaxed vibes that you will see. One of the main features is the architecture. The turn of the 17th century architecture, with houses placed closed to each other, and elevated residences near the canals. A stroll down the lanes, adjacent to the canals is enough to take you back to the time when these houses were built. Its history built right in front of your eyes. It was Sunday when I happened to be in Haarlem and it was the day of mass, so the local church had organised a choir and might I suggest, that you have to attend one if you can. Its a surreal experience. From Haarlem, you can even visit the Amsterdam beach or the town of Zaandvort on Sea. The beach is a wide wide stretch of sand and surf. This beach isn't like the beaches you will find in postcards. This is absolutely a barren beach with a strong surf. An interesting thing you may find is people KITEBOARDING. Its amazing the way they set up the kite and gear themselves up and then ride the waves. Beware, don't get in the way of the kit as the line is sharp, and can cause fatal injuries. The bus stop, however is a long way from this place so be a ready for a long walk. Nearby, there is also a race track where racers come to race their custom cars. Witness an organised drag race. Its freakish how fast these modified cars are. Its need for speed, just that this time its all real.ZAANSE SCHANS - This is near the town of Zaandam and best known for its collection of historic and if I may add very well preserved windmills. Its too crowded though because of a near mad influx of tourists and photo-ops are rare because someone is bound to walk in the frame. There are very well maintained museums and a very interesting clog museum cum workshop cum retail outlet where they display and make wooden clogs. Clogs are shoes made out of wood!!! Yes wood. As unbelievable it may sound it is one of the best ways to experience a small part of the Dutch culture first hand. If you do plan to buy one, mind it that they are really heavy. Ornate yes, exquisite yes, but heavy too. The museum entry is free so feel free to go through the shoe making tour. Also, there are boat rides in the canal adjacent to the windmills. The rates are openly advertised. A cruise would set you back by 10 euros. Towards the end some windmills are there which are not frequented by the tourists. Check them out. Zaanse is one place where you can spend a whole day and not be tired. The whole place has a walkway which has barns and animals and ponds and agricultural fields and likes of greenery we yearn to see but never find. Add to that the overbearing sky full of clouds on an endless horizon, you have the setting for a full scale sound of music. There is a bakery museum also that got its name from the bread it makes. Mind you, the scent of fresh baking will completely break all resolve of healthy and thrifty eating in Europe. The baked delights in the shop are too much of a temptation to avoid. I say that from experience.
Haarlem is just 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. A one-day visit to the city will surely worth your time. Why? Well, this city is the real gem of the Netherlands. Did you know that Haarlem (and not Amsterdam) is the capital of tulips?? For this reason is also called Bloemenstad, the city of flowers.There are several things you can enjoy in Haarlem in one day.Grote Markt is the central square: in the historic heart of the city, it hosts the main monuments, including the Grote Kerk (also known as Cathedral of St. Bavo), the biggest church in the Netherlands and the most famous image of Haarlem. The square is the cornerstone of the daily life in the city and, on Saturday, it hosts a very elegant and beautiful market. In Grote Markt you can also admire the City Hall and the De Hallen Museum of modern and contemporary art.