Day 1: Haarlem
To Haarlem We Go
It was hard to leave the Barangay Bed and Breakfast. They treated us so well there! However, we were ready to see something new. We felt like we had seen most of what Amsterdam had to offer for travelers.
Beware: Two Haarlem Train Stops
We took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem stress free except for one incident. There were two Haarlem train stops with a word after the name on our route, which was confusing. However, the first stop was in an open air area, which didn’t make sense to us, so we stayed on the train. The second stop was at an actual train station, which was the correct ending point.
Haarlem was a big change of pace from Amsterdam. It was so quiet and charming. During our walk from the train station to the hotel we were really excited to see the tower of the Grote Kerk church come into view. When we arrived at the Grote Markt square and saw the enormity of the church, we were in awe!
We checked in at the Ambassador City Centre Hotel, our first Rick Steves hotel on the tour, left our bags and headed back to the church. (More info on the hotel at the bottom of the page). The timing was perfect because we arrived while a worship service was taking place and were able to hear the last two hymnals being sang. It was so angelic like the Morman Tabernacle. We also heard the pipe organ.
After the service ended we were able to explore the church. It had amazing stained glass window scenes of Adam & Eve in the garden of Eve, Noah’s Arc and more. Large slabs lined the floor, which were actually tombs of Dutch royals.
De Adriaan Windmill and Grote Markt
We then walked to the De Adriaan Windmill to take pictures. Fortunately, we did not pay to go inside because our Rick Steves tour group went here later for free.
We hurried back to the Grote Markt to have lunch before we met our Rick Steves tour group at 2 p.m. in the hotel. We tried Dutch poffertjes from a vendor on the square, which are fluffy baby pancakes covered with butter and powdered sugar, and they were really delicious! Then, we split a goat cheese, tomato and rocket (arugula) sandwich at the Grand Cafe Brinkmann while sitting outside, facing the beautiful Grote Kerk.
Meeting the Rick Steves Tour Group
We met our Rick Steves tour group at 2 p.m. in the breakfast room of the hotel. Our guide, Jennifer Gouge, went over the details of how the tour worked and had us introduce ourselves so we could get to know each other. We learned that several anniversaries and graduations were being celebrated, including our own five year anniversary.
We also established a “buddy system” where each member of the group was a buddy with another member that was not their spouse or friend. This system quickly allowed us to take a role call to make sure everyone was with us at key moments in the trip, i.e. after getting off public transportation when we were scattered, or leaving a museum. We would just look for our buddy and confirm we were all accounted for. This buddy system quickly became a fun ritual we all liked to play on the tour 🙂
Haarlem Walking Tour
We then went for a walking tour of Haarlem with a local guide named Ruby. She took us back to the De Adriaan Windmill and we climbed steep stairs and ladders to the top. There was an amazing view overlooking the city of Haarlem. A woman who operated the sails climbed up one of the windmill arms and unwrapped the sails without a harness or hard hat (something that would never be allowed in the U.S.) It was a joy to see such an event while were were there.
After the windmill tour, our Rick Steves guide, Jennifer, surprised us all with a plate of bitterballens, a savory Dutch meat-based snack. These were a delicious treat! And, it gave us some time to mingle with other members of the group.
Next, Ruby took us through various streets and alleyways, stopping along the way to showcase several nuances in the architecture and talk about what daily life is like for Haarlem residents.
Group Dinner Experience
We ended our walking tour at our group dinner location, De Lanchende Javaan, an Indonesian restaurant. It was a great experience because we enjoyed a “rijsttafel” (translation: “rice table”), which is a medley of dishes from all over the Indonesian islands, and a perfect introduction to “indisch” (colonial Indonesian) cuisine. There were about 10 different foods for us to sample and it was hard to fit a taste of everything on one plate. No one left hungry, that’s for sure! And, it was all so delicious!
The group dinner was a great way to get to know other members of the tour. We sat next to our “buddies,” Paul and Rita, and got to learn more about each other. It was a really great way to start off our first night with the group because you were instantly able to create connections with people.
Our room in the Ambassador City Centre Hotel was very spacious. It included a huge armoire for us to store our clothing and plenty of space to go through our luggage. The bathroom was quite large as well with an included hair dryer.
The most interesting thing about this hotel was that it had two key ways to conserve energy.
The first was that we had to put our room key into a slot inside the room in order to turn the lights and power on. When we left the room and took the key, the lights and power would turn off. Fortunately, there were two outlets by our bed that always worked for us to charge our smartphone and camera when we were not in the room.
The second was that the lights in the hallways were motion activated. When a person was not in the hall they turned off. It was interesting to experience the lights turning on as we walked to our room at night and go off seconds later after we passed through.
Jennifer ended up telling us that Europeans do not like to waste energy, so these power systems were quite ingenious. In the U.S., many of us leave the lights and air conditioning on whenever we leave a hotel room so it is pleasant when we return. The lights are also constantly on everywhere in the hotel, which is extremely wasteful of energy.