Tag Archives: Haarlem


The Keukenhof Gardens – tulips by the million

Few people celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, but it coincided with us taking advantage of the cheaper Earlybird flights to Europe.

We booked our tickets back to Amsterdam this week, and will arrive there with the spring 2013. That’s something to be thankful for, and to celebrate with a few shots in this Weekly Photo Challenge.

We’re gratefully looking forward to… Continue reading


Filed under Holland


The barge, ‘Holland’, and its intrepid crew getting ready for a great day’s riding.

As I’m going to be chained to a desk and a computer for the next few weeks, I’ll take the chance to look back on some of the highlights of the travel year to date.

Our time in Holland started with a great little trip by barge and bike though the classic Dutch countryside…

For forty years, the grimy little barge Germa carried sand around Dutch canals. Then someone decided that carrying tourists would be more fun, and perhaps more lucrative too. So in the 1960s Germa was given a total makeover, with guest cabins built inside and a coat of cheerful paint outside. They changed Germa’s name too, to the more appealing Holland.

Now proud skipper John and cycling guide Marcel lead people on leisurely canal cruises, along the way taking their guests on bikes, to pedal round those Dutch icons – tulips, clogs, windmills and cheese. Continue reading


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland


The day on a Dutch barge begins early.

Holland is mainly made out of water and cycle paths, so a barge and bike tour is an excellent introduction to life below sea level. The Utracks organisation has organised the Tulip Tour experience for us. Continue reading


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland

A BARGE, SOME BIKES and an awful lot of tulips

This is not our boat.

The next few days are going to be very, very, Dutch.

I’m joining a Utracks Tulip Tour, a four-day jaunt from Amsterdam, travelling along the canals on a little barge with a row of bikes up on the deck.
Continue reading


Filed under Cycling, Holland

FRANS HALS MUSEUM – still life in the old men’s home

The old men who lived here in Frans Hals's time wouldn't have eaten like this.

I’m a big fan of the Haarlem School of still life painting, as exemplified by Willem Claesz Heda and Pieter Claesz. Their work is on show in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, but also in the lovely town of Haarlem, in the Frans Hals Museum.

I’ll write more about Haarlem and Frans Hals in future posts, but this spring there are other still life attractions in the museum, thanks to some nice work by stylist Ruud van der Neut, and the floral arrangers of the Friends of the Frans Hals Museum. All are to be congratulated. Continue reading

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Filed under Art, Holland

TEYLERS MUSEUM, HAARLEM – gadgets and games

The way museums used to be - polished wood, glass cases and a creaky floor.

They just don’t make museums like they used to, unfortunately. The Teylers Museum, the oldest in the Netherlands, began as a private collection, donated to the state by Mr Teyler in the eighteenth century and added to in the intervening years.

Teyler and subsequent curators put together anything which took their fancy, so the museum houses an extraordinary mish-mash of treasures. Continue reading


Filed under Art, Holland

THE HOFJES OF HAARLEM – a day trip from Amsterdam

Haarlem 005Our houseguests in Amsterdam have queued for Rembrandt, van Gogh, Anne Frank and the canal boat trip. They’ve visited the red light district, for sociological research purposes of course. ‘So what else should we see?’ they ask.

‘How about Haarlem?’ I suggest.

They’re puzzled. ‘We’re not going to New York till next week.’

‘Not “Harlem”, “Haaar-lem”, the original one. It’s only twenty minutes by train from Amsterdam. An hour by bike if you feel energetic. No gospel choirs, but there’s the Teylers Museum. And Frans Hals, and some nice hofjes.’

‘Okay, Haarlem,’ they say. ‘On the train, if you don’t mind. What are hofjes?’


Haarlem Station is the oldest and surely the most beautiful in Holland. Polished wood, stained glass and decorative tiling reek of an era when travelling by train meant luxury, rather than something you do from necessity when your car’s being serviced.

As we walk from the station to the centre of Haarlem, the light is noticeably different from Amsterdam’s. It’s a more open, warmer and…well, a lighter light. Perhaps it’s because the buildings here are smaller, two or three storeys instead of Amsterdam’s usual four.

We reach our first hofje. Hofjes are housing complexes for the needy, which were originally erected by rich burghers who wanted to do good, and be seen to be doing good. Many are now national monuments, but often still lived in by single women. The 17th century Hofje van Oorschot encloses a charming formal garden, open to the public on weekdays.

Oorschot, Haarlem

A little further on, St Bafo’s Church towers over the city square. With its cobblestones, step gables and cafes with outdoor terraces, the Grote Markt of Haarlem looks as much Belgian than Dutch. That’s no accident; Belgians designed most of it. Early in the 17th century, Flemish refugees fled north to escape the Spanish occupation. Weavers and merchants brought Haarlem its wealth, and artists including Frans Hals from Antwerp and architect de Key from Ghent made it look good. Over a hundred artists worked here in the early 1600s, and over a quarter of private houses had paintings on the walls.

As well as their taste in art, the Flemish brought their taste in beer. Haarlem’s Spaarne River was polluted, so dune water was imported from the northern Netherlands province of Drenthe, turned into beer (the healthy alternative) and drunk by everyone, even children. Average 17th century beer consumption in Haarlem was a staggering two litres a day, which makes us seem like pathetic underachievers. The poor however, could usually only afford ‘small beer’, low in alcohol. Haarlem Lite.

After a coffee in the art deco Grand-café Brinkmann, we’re ready for the museums and more hofjes.

As a child, I was very taken with the painting, The Laughing Cavalier. It’s in London, and I’ve only seen it in books. Frans Hals painted it in Haarlem. The Frans Hals Museum, also a pleasant hofje, was during Hals’ lifetime a home for old men of limited means. The rules were strict. Old men weren’t allowed to take more than one jug of beer to their rooms at night, which apparently caused some friction with those in charge.

Hals painted portraits of the committee members of the Old Men’s Home. They’re a particularly ugly lot. One male patron looks like he’s had his two litres of beer for breakfast, and more for lunch. The rumour was that old Hals was a resident of this home, and that the unflattering portraits are his revenge on his benefactors, perhaps for rationing his alcohol. In fact he never lived here. He was just an artist who chose to paint the truth, rather than crank out a pleasing portrait for anyone who paid the commission, as most of his contemporaries did.

As well as Frans Hals’ portraits, the museum has Ruijsdael landscapes, amazingly detailed still lifes by Pieter Claesz, and a useful explanation (in English) linking the art to its history. On the day of our visit the museum also has a temporary exhibition of dismembered terracotta corpses, human and animal, with tulips sticking out of them. Interesting enough if you like corpses, but I much prefer Frans and Pieter’s work.


A short stroll down the Spaarne is the Teylers Museum, a favourite of mine. It was Holland’s first museum, begun as the private collection of Mr Teyler van Hulst and opened to the public after his death in 1778. Outside, it’s a rather pompous grey edifice. Inside, the building glows. Creaky wooden floors, polished cabinets and ornate staircases are lit by natural light from the glass cupola above.

Haarlem 013

Though it has a tasteful new wing, this remains an old style museum. There’s little organisation or interpretation, but the objects are so beautiful and intriguing you don’t need to understand them. There are brass telescopes and scientific instruments in one hall, and a jumble of fossils and minerals in the next. There are ancient world globes with bad guesses at the Australian coastline. Eclectic Mr Teyler clearly had a great time putting it all together.

The mezzanine houses a library of leather-bound volumes. You need special permission to open them, and there’d naturally be a serious overdue book fine if you borrowed one and forgot to return it, but it’s nice to see them. On display is an ancient medical encyclopaedia showing how to deliver babies with mediaeval instruments. If you’re pregnant, look away now!

We have time left for one more wander in the bright little backstreets of Haarlem. There are no crowds and no queues. People chat. Haarlem seems happy that someone came along to visit, and we’re well pleased with our day.

In a final open hofje we meet a couple of lady residents sunning themselves in the garden over a cup of coffee. ‘Do you mind tourists coming through your backyard?’ we ask.

‘It’s part the deal,’ they say. ‘In return we live in a lovely place.’

People commute to work in Amsterdam from here. A twenty-minute train trip. An hour on the bike. I could live in a Haarlem hofje too.


Filed under Travel- Europe