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A sunny day in Haarlem

February 24, 2015

Where to go for a couple of days in mid winter? Most of Europe is too cold and the Med is wet and drizzly. So I plumped for Haarlem – just an hour to Schiphol from the UK, and then an easy ride on the bus from the airport.

Haarlem has two stand out tourist attractions. First, St Bavo’s Church, otherwise known as the Grote Kerk. It dominates the town square.

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And at night its stubby little tower lights up the sky.

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The decorated pillars escaped the attention of reforming iconoclasts when the church changed from Catholic to Protestant, but most of the building is marked just by it’s simple beauty.

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A row of ships, more than 400 years old, sails through the air. According to the tourist leaflet, they were a gift from the Shipbuilders Guild.

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Outside in the relative warmth (it’s really cold in the church), I followed the signs to the next big attraction, the Frans Hals Museum. Some people will sniff at this museum, as it doesn’t contain his greatest works, but there’s still plenty to admire. I liked the Banquet of the officers of the Callivermen Civic Guard.

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And the Meeting of the offers & subalters of the Callivermen Civic Guard.

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Compared to Rembrandt’s Night Watch, they may be lacking in drama and intensity of colour, but that’s judging paintings by the very highest of standards.

I was also taken by a model ship, The 3 master D’Beschermer.

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When you’ve had enough of just staring at paintings, Proverbs by Pieter Breugal the Younger has a clever interactive display. Touch the screen of the display in front of the painting, and you get an explanation of the proverb that you’ve selected. There are more than enough proverbs to choose from.

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Think of Holland and you think of waterways. Haarlem is dominated by the River Spaarn. It is lined with buildings – some of which could have been lifted out of paintings in the Museum and, just as you’d expect, there are funny little lifting bridges and a giant windmill.

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But what really struck me about Haarlem was this. Turn left out of the station, cross the road, and within a minute you are within a scene of perfect tranquillity. Compare that with, say, the chaos and crowds around Amsterdam’s Central Station, and you’ll understand why I like Haarlem so much.

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From → Netherlands, Travel

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