Christmas in Haarlem


Our daughter, who is currently living and working in Haarlem in the Netherlands, wasn’t able to get enough time off over Christmas to come back home this year. So, as Mohammed wasn’t able to come to the mountain, the mountain went to Mohammed.


This was the first time we’d ever stayed away for Christmas. In recent years, since the children have grown up, Christmas has been a little underwhelming as we mainly stay in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. So this was going to be a bit of an adventure. In the Netherlands the main winter holiday is 5th December, ‘Sinterklaasavond’, the evening before St Nicholas’ day,  when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings Dutch children their presents! Consequently, Christmas is lower key than in the UK, although the claws of commercialism were still evident (but to a lesser degree than back home).


We’d visited Haarlem a couple of times previously on day trips from Amsterdam, but this time we’d be staying almost a full week there. We did venture out to Amsterdam for a day but mainly spent our time in the pleasant little city.

Early Saturday morning before Christmas we drove over to Manchester airport to catch an early flight to Schipol airport where, within a few minutes of leaving the airport terminal, we caught an express bus to Haarlem arriving 40 minutes later at about 1 p.m. local time.

We’d booked a cosy little Dutch house close to one of the canals in the centre of the city for a week and made our way there to drop our bags before popping out to get a bite to eat and do some shopping.


A short walk took us to the Grote Markt in the heart of the city centre where we called in to Tierney’s bar, the Irish pub where our daughter works to surprise her. After a drink and a bite to eat we set out to do some shopping, starting by looking round the market in the Grote Markt.



We bought some bread, cheese, dips and a Christmas decoration for our Dutch house and then made our way through the pleasant shopping streets (plenty of individual shops rather than just the big chains) to the supermarket to stock up with items for the cupboard and fridge. Then it was back to the house to settle in and unpack.

After a few hour’s rest we headed back to Tierney’s


where we were able to eat and have a few drinks (non alcoholic in my case😢 ) and, later, enjoy (!) the karaoke. Our daughter was working but took her break and joined us while we ate and also at the end of her shift. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, which is frequented by a group of Irish and British ex-pat regulars as well as Dutch locals.

The next day it was grey and rainy but after a lazy morning decided to venture out and visit the Molen de Adriaan.


We’d been before but our son hadn’t had the chance to look inside as when we were there back in February it wasn’t open. But this time it was and we were able to book on to one of the guided tours. As during our first visit, the guide was very good and as each guide has their own angle we picked up some new information about the windmill and the history of Haarlem. Afterwards we headed into the town centre for a mooch before returning to base.

Christmas Eve was a fine, sunny day


and I went out for a wander round the city with our son to take a few photos and to pick up some shopping.


My wife went out later with our daughter to pick up some more supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet.


Our daughter and her boyfriend came over for the meal and afterwards we set out for the Grote Markt. After a drink in Tierney’s


we joined the crowd that were packing into the large square. The Christmas service from St Bavo’s church had been relayed onto a large screen and afterwards, just after midnight, we joined in with the crowd singing Christmas carols and songs led by a singers and a band on a stage that had been erected in the square.


The square was packed for the communal singing, which lasted for a good hour and half, but we managed to find ourselves some space next to the Christmas tree.


There was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, at close to 2 a.m. (late for me these days!) we were back at base for a nightcap before turning in.

Christmas day itself and we were greeted by another bright and sunny morning.


After opening our presents (which we’d brought over with us)


we took it easy for an hour or so before setting off to the house which my daughter and her boyfriend share with a couple of friends. (As their friends were away we had it to ourselves). It’s an old building on one of the old shopping streets in the city centre, not far from the Grote Markt, and they have 3 floors over a hairdresser’s salon.


They laid on a very delicious (and filling!) Christmas meal for us. Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs!


After that a couple of their friends came round and it was time for a game of Taskmaster!


Boxing day – ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day) in the Netherlands – is always something of an anti-climax after the big day. We took it easy during the morning and only went out for a couple of hours for a wander round the city centre before returning to base for a relaxing evening.


The Thursday was a busy day. We took the train into Amsterdam (just a 15 minute journey) with son going off with daughter and her boyfriend to the Games cafe in Haarlem, joining us later in the day. The city was hectic and packed with tourists – a bit of a shock after spending several days in a much more relaxed Haarlem.


We wandered down the canal ring, stopping off at a “brown bar” for a bite to eat – a traditional Dutch meal of a bowl of pea soup followed by apple tart. – before visiting the Huis Marseille, one of two photographic museums on the Keizersgracht .

Son, daughter and her boyfriend joined us and we had a wander up through the Jordaan before stopping for a drink in another nice Brown Bar. After that we carried on along the canals back to Centraal station as we wanted to book on a boat trip to see the Amsterdam Light Festival. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done our homework as it seemed just about every other tourist had the same idea. I managed to book us on a trip, but we had a 3 hour wait. What to do? we decided to head over to De Pijp (a 10 minute trip on the new Metro line) and get something to eat in one of our daughter’s favourite eateries. Then it was back on the Metro to catch our boat, stopping off at Dam Square to take a look at the Christmas Tree.


I expected the Light Festival to be a more upmarket version of Blackpool illuminations. It wasn’t quite that. 30 artworks were scattered around parts of the canal ring and could be viewed from the water or via a walking route.


We were returning home on the Friday, but our flight wasn’t until 9:15 p.m. so after we’d packed our bags we took them over to our daughter’s house and set out for wander around the streets Haarlem, taking in a number of the Hofjes – small groups of alms houses clustered around a garden courtyard – of which there are a considerable number in Haarlem.


Unfortunately we weren’t able to get ourselves on a tour of the Corrie Ten Boom house as they were all fully booked.

We managed to spend a few hours with our daughter and went out for a bite to eat with her before catching the bus to the airport for our flight back to Manchester.

We arrived back home close to midnight to a cold house, feeling tired. We’d had a very enjoyable break in Haarlem. It made a change to go away for a family Christmas somewhere different. It made a very refreshing change and, to be honest, it was the best Christmas we’d had since the children were little! We’ll have to go away again next year.


Frans Hals Museum


Frans Haals is probably best known in the UK as the painter of the Laughing Cavalier, which is owned by the Wallace Collection in London. 

He was born in Antwerp some time between 1581 and 1585, but his family fled from the Spaniards in 1585 and settled in Haarlem where he grew up and made his reputation as a painter of society portraits. There’s a museum in the town dedicated to his work, so we decided to visit while we were in Haarlem.

The museum is located in the Haarlem Oude Mannenhuis –  a former Alms house built in the 17th century for elderly men of the town. It’s quite an impressive old building, with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Unfortunately we couldn’t access the courtyard to have a proper look, but I managed to snap a photograph through one of the windows. Originally, there were thirty small houses, each inhabited by two elderly men; over 60 years old, who had to be single and  “honest Haarlem residents”



Some of the rooms inside were quite grand, with antique clocks and furniture on display




The entry fee was rather steep at 20 Euros, but this was partly due to a 5 Euro supplement being applied to fund the temporary exhibition The Art of Laughter, which explored different aspects of humour in Dutch “Golden Age” paintings. There were 53 works on display by artists including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster.



Courtesan by Gerard van Honthorst

Moving into the permanent exhibition, there was a large room with paintings of members of the local militia (rather like Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch)


Other paintings in the collection included the Portrait of Jacobus Zafius (1611), one of the first portraits painted by Hals


and his Self Portrait with a Lute (1663/5)


There were three major paintings on display that had recently been restored – group portraits of the female and male Regents of the very Alms houses we were in.and which have recently been restored. The female Regents looked very serious and rather grim..


The men clearly full of their own importance


The third portrait featured the Regents of the St Elizabeth’s Hospital


A documentary film was showing about the restoration, which looked very interesting. Unfortunately, the commentary was only in Dutch.

While we were looking around the Art of Laugher exhibition, I’d spotted comments scribbled on a number of the information panels accompanying the paintings, some of them quite irreverent and risqué. Initially I thought they’d been done by some irreverent visitor, but the joke was on me as the gallery had commissioned an artist to do these as part of the exhibition – it was about humour, after all! Unfortunately the snaps I took didn’t come out well.

The same artist, Nedko Solakov had also created some “Shadow Doodles” in the permanent exhibition. These were humorous little drawings and comments  scribbled around the shadows cast by picture frames and other objects.




There was more to see, in particular the exhibition Rendez-Vous with Frans Hals. Unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although our flight back to Manchester wasn’t until quite late, we had arranged to see our daughter for one last time during this trip. So we headed over to the station to catch the bus back to Amsterdam.

Return to Haarlem


When we were in Amsterdam last October we took the train out to Haarlem for the day. it’s an attractive town, similar to Amsterdam but considerably less busy. During our recent visit to the Dutch capital we decided we’d go back. It was a cold but sunny day so I managed to get a few decent snaps.

We revisited the Molen de Adriaan.


Unfortunately it wasn’t open until the next day, so we weren’t able to take another look around inside.

The windmill is near a former ship yard, and we spotted the rails which were used to launch the boats into the river.


After a bite to eat we took a walk along the river and canals


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Afterwards we wandered over to the Frans Hals museum, but I’ll save that for another post.



The Grote Kerk, Haarlem


The Grote Kerk church Stands on the Grote Markt in Haarlem. Originally a Catholic cathedral, following the Dutch Reformation it became a Protestant church and is dedicated to Saint Bavo. After our visit to the Molen de Adriaan we wandered though the pleasant streets of the town back to the square and decided pay the modest entry fee and take a look inside

It’s a massive Gothic building, the nave and choir covered by 16th Century wooden vaulting and the first thing that hits you when you walk inside is its height.


It’s hard to convey in a photograph just how high it is. Looking up almost made me feel dizzy!

It’s also very plain and light, the interior being painted white, giving it a quite different feeling to the Gothic Cathedrals I’m used to seeing in the UK. This is a consequence of the Beeldenstorm during the Dutch Reformation. Prior to this the church would have been decorated with paintings, stained glass and statues. However this offended the Protestants for a number of reasons. The images and statues were considered to be blasphemous and idolatry. Rich decoration was also seen as a way for rich donors to flaunt their wealth. For them places of worship should be plain and simple so after the Reformation the decorations and statues were removed from the converted Catholic churches.

The floor of the church is made up of gravestones, including that of the painter Frans Hals.

Another feature of the church is the massive organ at the end of the nave.


Installed in 1738, it covers the whole west wall of the church and is almost 30 metres high. It’s something of a tourist attraction in it’s own right and has been played by Handel and Mozart.

The interior was painted by local artist, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, his paintings emphasising the height of the building.



Today, there is some decoration in the church, with fancy chandeliers and illustrated texts on some of the massive columns, and some stained glass – although most of the windows glazed with plain glass.


and the roof above the crossing is also decorated


But overall it remains relatively plain, especially compared to Baroque Catholic and Anglo-Catholic cathedrals and churches.

The Molen de Adriaan

IMG_3367.jpgOne of the main tourist attractions in Haarlem is the Molen de Adriaan,  a windmill that stands on the east bank of the River Spaarne. It was open during the afternoon of our day in the city so we decided to visit.

Unfortunately the original mill burnt down on April 23rd, 1932 so what we see today is a reconstruction that was completed in 2002 by a trust, the Stichting Molen Adriaan. Visits are by guided tour led by one of the Trust’s volunteers and which take just over an hour. It was very informative. As well as climbing up almost to the very top of the mill (for a good view over the city) we learned about the history of the mill, how it works and also about the role of windmills in the Netherlands, including how they were used for claiming land from the sea, lakes and marshy land to create the Netherlands we know today.


The windmill was built by the French Hugenot Adriaan Dubois (De Boois in Dutch), a merchant from Amsterdam. It was built on the foundations of the Goê Vrouwtoren, a tower that had originally been part of the city’s defensive wall. This took the sails above nearby buildings allowing it to catch the wind. During the tour we learned that the mill had originally been used to grind cement for mortar, shells for the pottery industry and oak bark for tanneries. Later owners converted it to grind tobacco for snuff and later still it became a flour mill. It’s history illustrating many of the wide range of uses of windmills.


We were also able to see the sails turning in the wind. The mill is used for training millers and on some days grinds corn to produce flour.


After our tour we had a drink and light meal in the very pleasant cafe belonging to the trust overlooking the mill and river.

A day in Haarlem

Last week we flew over to Amsterdam for a few days. A job in Ireland had been postponed so I had a week free. Our daughter has recently started a Master course at the University there and as she wouldn’t be home for Christmas we wanted to take the opportunity to see her. We flew out on Sunday afternoon and on the Monday we all took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem, 20 kilometres to the west and a 15 minute journey. It was a grey, cloudy morning but the cloud cleared in the afternoon.


Haarlem, which sits on the River Spaarne, was an important city when Amsterdam was just a fishing village on  the River Amstel. But as the city grew and became the centre of commerce, Haarlem became a sleepy backwater. Today it’s a pleasant commuter town with a well preserved medieval centre and winding waterways.

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The station is just a short walk from the Grote Market, the heart of the medieval city.





Being a Monday morning, the shops and attractions were closed until midday (that’s normal in the Netherlands – Monday morning doesn’t exist!) and most of the museums weren’t open. However we had an enjoyable time strolling around the attractive streets and along the canals, looking at the many interesting buildings.



Haarlem was built on the Spaarne river which still meanders through the heart of city, and there are several canals, although they don’t dominate the city as much as in Amsterdam.



One of the main tourist attractions stands on the river – the Molen  de Adriaan. The imposing wooden windmill has been a definitive feature on Haarlem’s skyline since the 18th century, although the existing windmill is actually a reconstruction, the original sadly burnt down in 1932. It was open for guided tours in the afternoon, so we took the opportunity to visit. More about that in a later post.


There were two more towers that dominated the city skyline – the belfries of the Grote Kerk in the Grote Market and that of the old town hall.


Another landmark is the Amsterdamse Poort, constructed in the early 15th century as part of the city’s fortifications.


We had a full day looking around and there was much more to see. We’d have liked to have visited the Frans Hals Museum and the Corrie ten Boom House, both of which are closed on a Monday. We also didn’t have time to explore the Hofjes typically Dutch courtyards surrounded alms house, which were built mainly in the 14th century by Christian communities and rich individuals. We plan to go back to Amsterdam early next year, so perhaps a return to Haarlem will be on the cards.