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The city of Haarlem was once one of the biggest cities in the Netherlands, and the center of tulip growing and tulip mania, beer brewing, and more.
In the 18th century power and size shifted to Amsterdam, and Haarlem became more of a cuter, smaller, neighbor. Only 20 minutes away by train, it makes a lovely day trip.

On a sunny Sunday morning not much was going on in the town–most shops were closed, most restaurants shuttered. We spent our time wandering around the narrow streets and canals, then relaxing at a restaurant by the water.

We did take a fantastic tour of the big windmill in town (more on that later!), but spent most of our time soaking up the sunshine. It’s blue-sky days like this that I’m storing away for later.

Since our neighbor is so close by we didn’t stress ourselves trying to fit everything in. There was a table in the sunshine, food to nibble, and boats to watch on the canal. A perfect relaxing day with a friend.
When I come back to Haarlem, I’m heading to the Corrie ten Boom house, the giant cathedral, and the Jopenkerk to try Haarlem’s local beer brand, Jopen. And in the springtime the whole countryside between Haarlem and Leiden will bloom into tulips. For now we admired the way the yellow leaves looked floating in the canals, and searched for pannekoeken (pancakes).

This summer I actually read two books set in Haarlem. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas centers around a contest from the Horticultural Society of Haarlem for the perfect tulip specimen. With romance, intrigue, a prison break, chases, and one black tulip, it’s a short and fun read.

The other was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire (of Wicked fame). It’s an excellent re-telling of Cinderella, set in Haarlem during the Golden Age of painters, tulip growers, witches, and spoiled little children. The books are totally different, but both are fun glances at an historical town.

Sarah and I, enjoying Haarlem's canals.