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Netherlands: Amsterdam, Delft, Edam, Haarlem, Madurodam, Marken, The Hague, Volendam, Zaanse Schans
Haarlem, the Netherlands: Medieval grandeur
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Haarlem has a rich history dating back to pre-medieval times. It lies on a thin strip of land above sea level known as the strandwal (beach ridge), which connects historic Leiden to Alkmaar (the cheese destination). Just so you know, many of the towns in the Netherlands are below sea level. Thatís why the countryís canal systems can be efficiently utilized. Itís fun to walk Ďupí to the sea!
The city is located on the river Spaarne, about 20 km west of Amsterdam and near the coastal dunes. It has been the historical center of the tulip bulb-growing district for centuries and bears the nickname 'Bloemenstad' (flower city), for this reason.
A reference is in place regarding Harlem in the USA. New York City's own Harlem started also as Haarlem, the original name of the Dutch colony that later became New York. When the British took over, they renamed the state New York, after the area of York in England and changed the spelling to today's Harlem.
I came to Haarlem from The Hague. It was only a 50-minute train ride. Could have been faster had I taken a fast train. I avoided doing that simply because the station from where the fast trains go was little away from the Den Haag Centraal. After alighting at Haarlem railway station, I began my walk to explore the town. And as always, my focus was to roam the Old Town. As I walked towards the Old Town I was fascinated by Haarlemís narrow streets flanked by structures built in the good old days. Like all other Dutch towns, Haarlem has its fair share of cyclists and cheese stores. Street artists and board runners were busy in the summer afternoon.
The people on this narrow strip of land struggled against the waters of the North Sea from the west; and the waters of the IJ and the Haarlem Lake from the east. Haarlem became wealthy with toll revenues that it collected from ships and travelers moving on this busy North-South route. However, as shipping became increasingly important economically, the city of Amsterdam became the main Dutch city of North Holland during the Dutch Golden Age. Thus Haarlem became a quiet bedroom community (live in Haarlem and work in Amsterdam), and for this reason Haarlem still has many of its central medieval buildings intact.
As luck would have it, it began to rain. I was happy because it presented an opportunity to picture the wet cobbled streets. Itís a different experience for photographers. Very soon, I was in Grote Markt.
The Grote Markt (Big Market) is the central market square of Haarlem - and has been so for centuries. The square is also the centre-piece for many of Haarlem's famous buildings, including the City Hall, The Vlesshal, Hoofwacht and Saint Bavo Cathedral. The Grote Markt square is very lively and is still very much the focal point of the city, with many bars and restaurants around the square. A colourful market is held here on Mondays and Saturdays.
Grote Kerk or St.-Bavokerk is a Protestant church and former Catholic cathedral located on the central market square. Another Haarlem church called the Cathedral of Saint Bavo now serves as the main cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. On one side of Grote Markt is the Town Hall, where some original structure still stands since the 12th Century.
After spending an hour in the Old Town, I followed another narrow street that brought me on the banks of the Spaarne River and then crossing over I was near the railway station.
The Sprinter train took me to Amsterdam Centraal in just under 20 minutes.
Haarlem Image Gallery Photo viewer
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