The guidebooks all offer suggestions for day trips from Amsterdam. The Top 3 list typically includes Rotterdam (didn’t really fancy it), Delft (did fancy it, but was reliably informed that not much would be open on a Sunday), and The Hague (couldn’t get tickets to the Mauritshuis - home of Girl with a Pearl Earring - the real draw card for me).
Other towns all easily visited in a day from Amsterdam include Alkmaar (for its Friday cheese market - dang!), Utrecht (for its canals, religious art and Miffy Museum - pass!), and Haarlem (for its windmill, Grote Markt and three very different museums). I settled on Haarlem (in part because my ‘I Amsterdam’ 48-hour pass gave me free access to two museums, both of which are open on a Sunday, and in part to get up close to a windmill).
I scored! My fab five unexpected surprises of the day:
Haarlem is only 15 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal, allowing for a lazy Sunday morning start.
Though a wet, cold, windy and mostly miserable day, the sun came out at just the right time (while I was taking a tour of the Windmill de Adriaan).
A local festival (I’m guessing tulip related and/or celebrating 825 years of something) with its marching band of seniors playing a rousing rendition of Love is in the Air.
Teylers Museum with its 18th century scientific curiosities (instruments that were, for their time, groundbreaking such as Van Marum’s electrostatic generator).
Frans Hals Museum, which houses (I was delighted to discover) Brueghel’s Proverbs (the painting that appears on my homepage to categorise all things hodgpodge!)
I will, at some point, have to read more about Dutch history - how they are not masters of the universe today I don’t know. The windmill is nothing short of an amazing piece of machinery (the first clean energy source and still a source of sustainable, green energy).
In 1778, Amsterdam business Adriaan de Boois bought an old defence tower (Goē Vrouw) upon which he was permitted to build a windmill. He had his windmill up and running within a year and by end-May 1779, he was grinding volcanic stone into trass - an additive to make mortar walls waterproof (essential in a country reliant on dykes!). Later it ground tobacco snuff (all the rage in the first half of the 19th century), then flour until it was destroyed by fire in 1932. It was lovingly restored in 2002 by locals. The flour grinding stones are still there and in working order.
Windmill de Adriaan was a treat to visit. As our little tour group reached the platform near the top of the molen (windmill… think Moulin Rouge) the sun came out. So did the miller who was scaling the wooden sails (they have a different name in Dutch for which there is no English equivalent) and unfurling the sailcloths to make the most of the wind. I have a load of facts to bore you with about windmills, but will spare you.
Back inside and at the very top of the windmill, things got a little shaky withs the sails in full flight (and by things, I mean the windmill). Jan (tour guide and general hoot) could tell by the looks on our faces that we were not entirely comfortable atop our swaying wooden tower and tried to reassure us. Soon enough the miller applied the brakes and trimmed the sails to slow their spin. No lives were lost!
The Teyler and Frans Hals museums were also unexpected treats. The whole day was really. Back in Amsterdam, the treats continued… I stumbled upon a restaurant near my hotel with Chicken Caesar Salad on the menu (finally… some leafy greens!) - it was really good. I went back there for the same last night after Keukenhof (post to come). Caesar Salad (perhaps cos lettuce) must be a bit of a novelty because the two locals who sat down beside me with their dog for a drink asked me what it was!
In hindsight, I wish I had seriously considered Haarlem when planning my trip, as I regret missing the third museum, the Ten Boom Museum, which is closed on Sundays (and Mondays). Ten Boom is a small museum above a jewellery shop. While little known of their place in history outside the Netherlands, the ten Boon family hid Jews and members of the Dutch resistance from the Nazis before they were betrayed in 1944 - I’m sure a visit would have thrilled my inner history nerd. One of the (many) reasons to visit Haarlem again some day.
P.S. My guidebook recommends Corrie ten Boom’s bestselling family history The Hiding Place.