It was exactly 10 years ago when I first visited the Netherlands. My grandmother has a very close friend living in Haarlem, which is quite near to Amsterdam. My parents wanted to go there. Initially, I thought of going there either by train or ship but it was way too expensive so we flew to Schiphol after Christmas. In Holland, it is second Christmas on 26th of December. When we reached the airport, we took Bus 300 to V&D. One of the challenging part is trying to figure out the public transportation in a foreign country. Aunty Ai Lian’s son picked us up from the bus stop and brought us to his place for a Christmas dinner. I stayed alone until dessert, well as usual, couldn’t say no to dessert! We only had two full days in Holland.
The next day Aunty Ai Lian showed us around Haarlem, which is located on the banks of the Spaarne river. It is actually the provincial capital of the North Holland and the main attractions are within walking distance. We went to the Grote Markt (central market suare) in Haarlem with the City Hall and the Sint-Bavokerk (St. Bavochurch), the statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster can be seen and the Vleeshal (mea-hall). We paid €1.5 each to enter the church.
After that, we took a train to Amsterdam. There was an extra €0.50 charge to buy the ticket from the sales counter. We did not have enough coins to use the machine. A return ticket cost €7.4. It took probably 15 minutes to reach the city. Most people in Amsterdam travel on foot or by bicycles. There are four things to look out for when we crossed the road – people on foot and bicycles, trams and vehicles. As usual, Amsterdam was crowded. There were people walking everywhere.
We took a canal cruise for an hour. It was interesting to see the architecture of the buildings. Apparently, the houses look narrow but were built tall up as the tax was charged based on the width of the house. Hence, it was better to build houses as narrow as possible. For this same reason the staircases are very narrow and low, making it impossible to take furniture up and down them. Therefore, hooks were put at the top of every house to winch goods up and pass them through the windows on the needed floor. All homes have prominent rows of windows, although the number of windows differs, and most have steps and a stoop. The main aesthetic and structural difference between the two homes is the type of roof they have. In the past, the richer lived lower to the ground whereas the lower class citizens lived in the highest floor as there were no lifts. The balconies and windows get bigger lower to the ground too. However, nowadays, people prefer to live high up as lifts are available and it is not so noisy as lower grounds are nearer to the roads with heavy traffic. I was also fascinated by different boat houses. It is very common to live in boat houses, however, one has to pay for a park place for it and the boat house needs to be park at designated area.
After the cruise, we went to St. Nicolaaskerk (Church of St. Nicholas), the city’s major Catholic church, which is situated very near to the railway station. It was free to enter the church. After that, we walked along Damrak until we reached Dam Square. Damrak is a very crowded street. Occasionally we could see people painting pictures along the street. There were many sourvenir shops, restaurants, hostels, tour companies…etc. Dam Square is a very happening place and within this small square, we could see many interesting buildings, including National Monument, Madame Tussauds, Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam (Royal Palace of Amsterdam). We also went into Magna Plaza to use the paid toilet.
We continued walking and I was hoping to reach Chinatown but I had no idea where it was anymore. One turn out of one of the street, we were already at Nieuwmarkt. I remembered that building as it was very unique. Alissa and I took photo here too. At first we thought it must be some historical site but it was actually a restaurant – In de Waag. We kept walking along Kloveniersburgwal by the canal until NH Doelen Hotel. I was hoping to visit other churches or cathedrals but did not see any within walking distance. My parents were tired so we took a rest. As it was also getting dark, we decided to walk back the station. We took the same route back but somewhere somehow, we made a turn and we were in the red light district. I still recalled the last time Alissa and I were shocked to see the ladies standing behind the windows for display. Even in Switzerland, it was more discreet, only photos were displayed outside. It was indeed something interesting for my parents.
When we reached Haarlem, it was already dark. Thanks to Aunty Ai Lian for cooking us dinner. She cooked a lot and I ate so much! I think I was gaining back all the weight I lost in Costa Rica. I was very hungry and could not resist the delicious food. It was a long day for all of us and we went to bed before midnight as we had to wake up early the next day for a day tour.