Amsterdam is Not a Country

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Amsterdam is not a country. No matter where I am in the world, I’ll run into someone who is confused about the location I’m talking about. Germany? Denmark? The Netherlands? Holland? What? Where are you from?

Believe me, I don’t blame the geographically challenged. It’s not easy having two names for the same country, especially considering you need a magnifying glass to identify the place on a map in the first place. And even then, it’s not like it screams “Hey, I’m Holland! Check it out!” Nope, it just hangs there, kind of sandwiched between Germany and the North Sea. Plus, it doesn’t help that the capital is so infamous it outshines the rest of the country, which is a shame because Holland is so much more than ‘just’ Amsterdam.

And that’s not to say Amsterdam isn’t an amazing city or worth visiting, because Amsterdam truly is a city that has everything (from bike lights to red lights and from Van Gogh’s Sunflowers to street-vendor tulips, or gerberas or lilies, if he has them…) but I can’t help but feel that people are missing out if they don’t travel beyond Amsterdam.

 There are so many cool places just short train rides away. Take Haarlem. Its 15 minutes from Amsterdam. It’s a stunningly beautiful city and feels like a town. It’s small compared to Amsterdam, less crowed, a lot cleaner and offers a ton of stuff to do.

 Haarlem is known as a painter’s city and is home to famous Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael and Antwerp-born Frans Hals lived in Haarlem most of his life. He even has a museum dedicated to his 16th and 17th century works. 

 If  paintings aren’t your thing, that’s okay. The city has 22 other museums, one of which being the Tylers Museum. The collection is a mix of science and some art but what’s special about this museum is that its Holland’s oldest museum (open to the public since 1784!) and has kept its old-fashioned feel intact, complete with big windows for light and squeaky wooden floors.

 The Grote Markt (Market Square) is the heart of the city and is always a lively mix of tourists and locals enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of pie at one of the cafés that line the Square. Or, on Mondays and Saturdays, when the Farmer’s Market sets up shop, people will browse the stands, filling their bags with anything from fresh fruit to new clothes. It’s best to get there early, when the bread is still fresh and the ‘stroopwafels’ hot (more on the deliciousness that is stroopwafel in a later post).

The St. Bavo Kerk (St. Bavo Church) is a Haarlem-landmark and is quite an impressive structure. Inside, the building is even more spectacular as the Muller Organ covers the entire back wall of the church and measures almost 30 meters from the ground.  Fun fact: In 1766, Mozart played at the St. Bavo Church. To this day the Church holds mass  on Sundays, and on Sundays in the summer months concerts are organized.

From the Grote Markt, you can saunter along  Holland’s nicest  shopping street or take a leisurely stroll around the city, where you are sure to spot at least one of the 1149 monuments or stumble upon one of the city’s little garderns (hofjes).

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Holland if there wasn’t a windmill!

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