Monday, June 18, 2012

Welcome to Haarlem

The travel gods were with me as a quick stop at Passport Control and Customs in Amsterdam Schipol airport and then out the door to catch the 300 bus to Haarlem...the bus was just pulling out but the driver stopped as I waved at him.  Only 40 minutes later I was back in the most content city in all of Europe!  The Netherlands is the most content country in Europe and the people of Haarlem are the most content in The Netherlands...what a great place to start my holiday!

A short 10 minute walk from the Central Station and I end up in Market Square...where it was market day!  They obviously got the memo I was arriving today!

After checking in and meeting up with Julie, I was out the door exploring Haarlem.  Last summer we stopped off here for dinner on our way back to Amsterdam from Delft.  We both thought it was a charming little town that deserved more fortuitous Julie's doctorate program was taking place here and I could tag along. 

Monday is market day in Haarlem so back to the market I went.  This is definitely a functional market as most the items being sold were household and fabric (must talk to locals to find out if making ones clothing is standard in Haarlem)...of course this is Holland and flowers were also for sale.  The scent of stroopwafels permeated the market.  The stroopwafel is a delightful treat...2 very wafer thin waffles with a thick (almost paste like) syrup in between them. 
In spite of the very inviting smell, I stopped off at a Turkish vendor and had the Speciaal Pizza.  Lamb, lettuce, tomato, onions, cucumbers and sauce wrapped in a toasted very thin pita-like wrap.  It looked like a giant burrito and reminded me of the pizza I had from a vendor in Egypt.  It was quite tasty and a sparked a conversation with an English passer-by.  Upon hearing me talk, she came over, sat down and proceeded to tell me her life story.  Born in York, England she now lives here with her partner who is Dutch and electrician (he's very busy you know with all the construction).  She is an au pair who is a bit concerned as the school term is over and the children say they are too old for an au pair.  She asked if I knew anyone looking for an au pair here...guess she missed the part that I had just arrived in Haarlem a few hours ago.  I learned it takes her an hour bike ride (used to take longer but now that it is warmer she can go faster) to get from her house to the school here where she picks up the children...because it takes her an hour, she gets paid more on the days she has to ride in to pick them up from school.  The mother is American and father is Dutch and the children are just a handful.  I told you I got her life story...definitely one of the things I love about travel is getting to know different people.

I actually hit a wall and had to go back to the hotel for a little nap...not much sleep on the flight.  Normally don't have a problem with overnight flights but as my mother points out...things change as we age (oh joy!).  Just as Julie was returning from class I was waking and after catching up a bit we headed out for a drink before her program dinner.  We met up with a couple of her classmates and professor where we had a very interesting conversation about the differences in the education system in Holland and the US.  The education system in The Netherlands is so standardized that kids in k-12 from any school in the country have the same curriculum (regardless of economic conditions in their town) and upon completion can get into any university in the country.  Too bad our US Department of Education hasn't figured out how to make that happen!

As dinner was for the class participants, I headed out to explore more and have a light dinner.  Of course, had to stop by the local gelateria for a scoop of chocolate.  There's just something about eating gelato while strolling around a European town that makes me very happy.

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