A Renaissance of the Dutch Golden Age
Founded on the banks of the River Spaarne in the tenth century, Haarlem is the provincial capital of North Holland, and was once the most powerful of the seven provinces in The Netherlands. Haarlem enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the seventeenth century, becoming a center for the arts and for a certain flower (light "bulb" go off yet?)
Haarlem is easily seen by foot. Just a 15-minute walk from the train to the city center, if you are spending the night and have luggage, there are buses waiting at the station. But it's more likely you're coming for the day from Amsterdam – which is a short 20 -minute rail ride away.
As Haarlem slowly expanded, so did the tulip fields. Today, rail travelers between Amsterdam and Haarlem will see blooming bulb fields in Spring. Since the 1630s, Haarlem has been a major trading center for tulips, and it was at the epicenter during "tulip mania."
The Dutch Golden Age also made Haarlem into a center for the arts. You can see the city's finest works on display at the Frans Hals Museum. With more than a dozen works by Hals himself, the museum also has art from the 15 th century to the present. The collection is broken into two buildings: the modern, located on Hallen town square, and the classical collection in the old Oudemannenhuis.
This "Old Men's Alms House," was a home for elderly men founded in 1609. Each of the thirty tiny houses was inhabited by two men who had to meet the following criteria: be at least 60 years old, honest Haarlem residents and single. Each night they were locked in by 8 pm in the summer, and 7 pm in the winter, and had to make a weekly collection with a poor-box. A statue of a man holding this poor-box can be seen in the entrance hall of the museum.
Another of Holland's lesser known museum gems, the Corrie ten Boom museum is similar in theme to the Anne Frank house, but still furnished, making it easy to see what life was like for those that lived there during the war. Stand in the "hiding place" where Jews were hidden from the Nazis, and see the "all-clear" sign used to indicated when it was safe to come and go. Truly an eye-opening destination.
After a visit here, you may want to clear your head and feel…free. Haarlem seemingly serves as the front yard to North-Holland's coastal dunes. Just an 11-minute ride by train, Zandvoort is one of the Netherlands' oldest and most popular beach resorts. Work on your tan or make a picnic. There are casinos to try your luck and cafes that look out onto the golden shoreline of the North Sea.
Those who work and play in that sometimes zany capital come home to Haarlem. Where the air is fragrant, the streets are quiet and the wave-beating shore is just minutes away. You don't need a bulb to know that a visit here is a very bright idea.
Contributed by: Anna, Online Marketing, a Greek, whose most beloved place in the whole world is Paris.