Beer bars and balcony breakfast in Haarlem (the Netherlands)

Just so you know, this post is about Haarlem in the Netherlands, not Harlem in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam). Harlem (NY) is however, named after Haarlem in the Netherlands. But apart from it all being Dutch at some point in history, those two Ha(a)rlem’s have very little in common.

So, where’s Haarlem?

The city has almost 156 000 inhabitants and is the capital of Noord-Holland (Holland is not the name of the country, but two provinces) – and you’ll easily get there from Amsterdam, as it’s only  a 15 minute train ride away.

What does beer have to do with Haarlem?

Haarlem has a long history of beer brewing – a very important industry in the city. Until the 16th century, the water used for beer, was taken from the canals in the city. But, as the canals got more an more polluted, the water could no longer be used. From the 17th century, water was transported to the breweries from Brouwerskolkje (I bet you a pint you’re not gonna remember that name). The canal that leads to there, still exists and is now called the Brewers’ Canal (Brouwersvaart).

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What did I get up to in Haarlem (besides drinking beer)?

While my significant other and I were road tripping through the Netherlands, Haarlem just happened to be our destination of choice. Conveniently located near Amsterdam, which is where I celebrated my 30th birthday, the day before visiting Haarlem – and close to Alkmaar and the famous cheese market (went there, did that). And it’s also close to Zaanse Schans, a charming little windmill village.

We went to all of these places – and many more. We followed a busy “to-do” list most of the time while visiting the Netherlands, and frankly, scheduling in two days of downtime in Haarlem was probably the best idea we had, while creating our itinerary. We needed that. And we needed those two nights of self-pampering at Haarlem Hotel Suites.

The suite had the comfiest beds ever, and our balcony was spacious enough for the two of us to hang out in the sun, drink beer, eat chips and dip and just take a breather – and get fat and drunk while doing so.

Waking up to the staff serving us a large, varied and tasty breakfast in the room, just made the experience even better. I felt like a queen. Privileged, spoiled and pretty effin’ fabulous, I dined on the balcony, wearing nothing but an oversized bathrobe and slippers. The sun was shining, the church bells were ringing and my boyfriend was just as happy as I was. If I could do this every day, I would. Hands down.

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When we weren’t busy stacking up on calories while relaxing on the balcony or while cocooning on the couch in front of the TV, we visited downtown Haarlem and its many beer bars. Our absolute favorite was the Jopenkerk – a former church converted into a bar, restaurant and brewery. The beer menu was so overwhelming I had to ask the waiter for suggestions. The first beer I tried was slightly too bitter for my liking, but the second one was a very pleasant surprise. When the waiter introduced it to me as a sour (open fermentation) beer brewed with algae, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It sounded strange, but I trusted his opinion and gave it a try. And to my surprise, it was oh so delicious, and I just couldn’t resist ordering a second one. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with old sour dark beers!

We also discovered a nice – and very instagrammable – little cafe called Native, while strolling along the streets and doing a bit of shopping. As a self proclaimed coffee addict, I am sure I would have ordered a latte or a cappuccino, if it hadn’t been so warm outside. Besides, most of the other guests at the cafe were sipping on lemonade, so I ended up ordering the same thing. An ice cold glass of elderberry lemonade. Tasty and refreshing!

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Haarlem is more than just beer and lemonade (or coffee), but checking out the bar scene is definitely a must-do while in town. If you’ve already been to Jopenkerk or you’re looking for yet another beer bar suggestion, I’ll advice you to check out Uiltje Bar, Brewery and Taproom . They offer free tours in the brewery every weekend, host events and serve great craft beer and finger food.

And the city, what does the city of Haarlem look like?

It looks like a typical Dutch city. Charming Flemish architecture, nice little canals, quaint town square (Grote Markt) , beautiful churches, busy restaurants and lots and lots of bicycles everywhere.

It was the perfect place to be for two people in need to calm down and throw that itinerary out the window, tune out and just take some time to really appreciate high quality beer and blend in with locals.

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Middelburg, Netherlands: The hotel with the parrot and the desperate need of beer

While planning our cross-country Netherlands+tiny bit of Belgium road trip, a city called Middelburg made its way into our itinerary. Why Middelburg?

Well, we just needed to fill in a gap between Alkmaar and Ghent (Belgium) and had already seen most of the interesting cities and touristic sites in between.

And we wondered; would we enjoy Middelburg as something more than just a random place to pass through while on our way to somewhere else? Or would Middelburg just be the insignificant hook-up you have while getting over a relationship before jumping into another?

Unlike most of the other destinations on our trip, we had absolutely no idea what we’d get up to in Middelburg, apart from drinking beer at some terrace bar. And believe me, sticking to that plan was as easy as pie!

Upon arrival at the hotel (Hotel de Nieuwe Doelen) I was given the key to a suite. I didn’t even realize I’d booked a suite in the first place, so I was pleasantly surprised. Whether the hotel had made some kind of mistake, or I simply just happen to have goldfish memory, remains a mystery. Before you ask, I didn’t pay a high price for the room!

Our suite was enormous and even had a jacuzzi in the bathroom. Did I use it? Heck yeah!

Before heading out to explore the city of Middelburg, we also discovered that the hotel has its own mascot: a parrot. One that talks. Well, it mainly just says “hello”. But how freaking awesome is that? I’m jealous. I want my own parrot too!

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So what did we get up to in Middelburg?

Not much. We were way too warm, sweaty and sticky to even function like normal human beings and all we wanted was to sit down somewhere in the shade with an ice-cold beer.

But we did force ourselves to walk around a bit and actually see the town center before escaping the heat and seeking refuge at whatever bar we’d happen to find.

We had picked up a city map at the front desk of our hotel, and studied it while wandering around.

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What seemed to be the most interesting landmark in the city, was the beautiful town hall, which is also where most of the terrace cafes were located. How convenient!

We struggled to get any clear photos of the Town Hall due to the sun blinding my eyes, my lens, everything – and me not being tech savvy enough to figure out how to take good photos even when the sun is getting in the way (I’m a slow learner).

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We also saw the Abbey Tower of Long John. Apparently you can climb all the stairs to the top and get a great view of the city. We would have done that if we weren’t so dehydrated from the sun. And lazy.

By the canal, we saw a lot of beautiful houseboats of different colors, decorated with flowers. I could definitely see myself living in one of those and waking up to the view of the canal every day. Now, that would have been spectacular!

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We finished our walk around town, and treated ourselves with a couple of well deserved pints at a terrace cafe on the main square. In lack of better things to do, I did a whole lot of people-watching and completely ignored my boyfriend for a sec. Totally not on purpose. And just like a toddler, my boyfriend will also do anything to get my attention – especially things that piss me off.

This time, he decided it would be funny to take sneaky paparazzi photos of me from awful angles, while I was sitting there, looking at people, drinking beer or texting. They were the ugliest pictures I’d ever seen and he refused to delete them. Sadly, they’re also the only photos I have of myself from Middelburg, so I might as well post one. The only one where I was actually paying attention to him and mocking myself as much as he was mocking me. What a healthy relationship!

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So, is Middelburg worth your time?

As unmotivated as I may have seemed to be – it was mainly due to the weather and not the town itself. Middelburg is actually a pretty charming little gem and I’d love to go back. And stay at the same hotel, obviously.

Because, how could you not stay at a hotel that has its own parrot?!

What else is there to do in Middelburg?

  • Are you traveling with children? Do you like theme parks? Visit the Mini Mundi miniature park, amusement park and indoor play area!
  • Another activity for the kids is the Kinderboerderij de Klepperhoeve – a farm/petting zoo with plenty of activities for the little ones.
  • Do you like to visit botanical gardens? Bring your camera and prepare to take some stunning photos at Middellandse Zeetuin Uilenbroek.

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Why Kinderdijk is perfect for amazing windmill-selfies

The Netherlands is famous for a lot of things, such as cheese, tulips, clogs and windmills. Yeah, those were probably the most stereotypical things I could think of, but it’s also what I came to see while road tripping cross-country Netherlands with my man. Well, I already knew I’d be a couple of weeks too late for tulip-season, which means  there’d be a higher probability of winning the lottery than seeing any tulips by now.  And then there’s those famous clogs. Well, to be honest,  I don’t really care that much about clogs.  So I guess that narrows it down a bit. Let’s just talk about windmills for now.

Because windmills are amazing. I mean, they have an amazing effect on me, since I’m not used to them. They turn me into an annoying little child who’s overly excited about everything and goes “wow!”, “LOOK!”, “it’s amazing” every five seconds, and that’s exactly the reason why I followed my guidebook’s advice to visit a village named Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which is the ultimate hot spot for windmill-scouting!

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Before going, we didn’t know much about Kinderdijk. We knew there’d be 19 windmills there (dating back to the 18th century) and we knew we’d have the possibility to visit the area either by foot, by bicycle (like a true Dutch) or by canal boat.

When we arrived, the first thing that caught our attention was not the windmills but an air balloon which had crash-landed into the canal. An ambulance, police officers and a rescue-team, including divers, were on site. What a traumatizing experience that must have been for everyone involved. At least they all made it out unharmed (from what I could see).

So what is there to do on site, besides watching air balloons float upside down on the canal? Well, you can rent a bicycle, or go on a sightseeing-tour on the canal, drink coffee and have a snack at the cafe, while admiring the spectacular view of the windmills.

Or just stroll along the footpaths, take photos, walk some more, take more photos.

And that’s exactly what we did. We’d paid for parking for just one hour and a half, and we didn’t wanna waste our time. Our plan was to go hardcore paparazzi on the windmills. Each and every one of them. Well. As many as we could before we had to return to the car to avoid getting a parking ticket.

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With the exception of all the tourists who were doing exactly the same thing as we were doing, Kinderdijk seemed to be a very peaceful village. I would have loved to bring my own bicycle, follow the pathway, get distracted by the beautiful scenery, fall off my bicycle, get back up again, ride a little further, feel overly exhausted and almost vomit, and eventually stop somewhere to have a nice little picnic and fight off flies, wasps, ants and other creatures that can’t resist my food and beverages. Now that would have been lovely!

Sadly, I don’t actually own a bicycle anymore (it got stolen – many years ago).

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“Can you take a picture of me for my Instagram?” I begged my boyfriend, in the most annoying way possible. As much as I love sharing photos on my social media platforms – especially Instagram – I feel like the biggest loser on the planet whenever I have to ask someone to take a picture of me for my Instagram. It makes me feel like I’m some kind of narcissist, and a try-hard wannabe-fashionista (note: I suck at fashion) whose only reason for traveling is to take cringe-worthy photos that pretty much scream “look at me, I’m relevant. The background isn’t”. Yuck. Maybe I am one of those people without even realizing it? Maybe I’ve tricked my mind into thinking I wanted to go to Kinderdijk to photograph windmills, but in reality, I went there only to have photos taken of ME in front of windmills? I’m sure my partner would say I’m semi-narcissistic, and also that we went to Kinderdijk for multiple reasons.

To learn, to see, and to make it a teeny tiny bit about me.

Enough with that selfie-talk.

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Some of the windmills of Kinderdijk can be visited (for a fee of 6,50 euros) and function as museums. If you wanna learn more about the history of windmills in the Netherlands, this is a fun way to do it!

And how do you get to Kinderdijk? 

There are direct trains to Kinderdijk from Utrecht and Rotterdam. If you’re visiting by car, the distance from Amsterdam to Kinderdijk is 98 km (via A2) and 53.9 km from The Hague (via A13).

As previously mentioned, there is parking on-site.

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Cool stuff in the Netherlands: Visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market!

I don’t know about you, but I love cheese. I actually love it so much that I’m sure it’s the main reason why I have my love handles and enormous thighs. Because, not a single day goes by without me eating some kind of cheese at some point of the day.

Last week, my partner and I went road tripping through the Netherlands – and ate A LOT of Dutch Gouda, every single day. We claimed we did it to be cultural, but let’s face it, we’re two fatties who just love everything food-related (and especially cheese).

Being someone who loves to try local specialties when I travel, I am always interested in learning about the traditions, the food culture and participate on local culinary events and celebrations wherever I go. So before going to the Netherlands, we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t miss any kind of event related to Dutch cheese. Because..cheese.

Which is how we ended up visiting Alkmaar for the weekly Alkmaar Cheese Market!

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Uhm.. What exactly is this Cheese Market?

The Cheese Market is the main attraction in town!

From April until the end of September, you can watch the art of cheese trading, according to a tradition which dates back to 1365.

The cheese would be delivered early in the morning, the cheese market masters and traders would then check to see whether the cheeses had been well stacked, and then lots of cheese – something like 30 000 kilos (2200 cheese wheels) would be lined up and ready for purchase.

…And you’ll get to watch all of this at the market!

The most fun part of the cheese market is watching the kaasdragers (cheese porters) identified by their differently colored straw hats, carry the farmers’ cheese on barrows and take them to the weighing house.

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Alright! What else is there to do at the market?

Taste cheese, buy cheese, eat cheese, eat stuff that isn’t cheese, drink beer at one of the nearby terrace bars, buy souvenirs from the artisan market behind the cheese market – or visit the cheese museum. After all this is THE cheese town!

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The Cheese Market sounds awesome! When can I visit?

The Cheese Market takes place from 10 am until 1 pm – every Friday (from March 31st until September 29th). This year there is also an evening market on certain Tuesdays (visit Kaasmarkt.nl for more information)

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I don’t know Alkmaar…How do I get there?

If you’re taking your car, I advise you to park it a bit outside of the main center, or in a parking garage. Street parking can be a bit tricky on busy days like these!

If you’re traveling from Amsterdam by train, there’s a direct connection to Alkmaar from the Amsterdam Central Station (trains depart four times pr hour).

If you’re traveling from Den Helder, Hoorn or Haarlem, there’s also a direct connection to Alkmaar and trains depart twice pr hour.

Shopping for souvenirs?

Pick up a Dutch handmade household item from “the old-fashioned shop”!

BOOM (since 1835) is a family-run traditional shop in the old historic quarter of Alkmaar. For nearly 200 years, this family business has been selling handmade Dutch items including traditional wooden clogs, brushes and ropes in Alkmaar – the cheese capital of the world!

The shop is museum-like and presents timeless Dutch products and good old-fashioned personal service. Loved by locals and tourists alike, this little gem is easy to recognize by its big yellow clog/wooden shoe next to the entrance!

For more information, check out Ouderwetsewinkel.com

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just me being cheesy (oh no, I didn’t just pull that joke, did I?)

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