Last weekend, Sara and I continued on our mission to travel to more parts of the Netherlands. This time, our staycation took us to Haarlem!
While I had passed by Haarlem several times in the past on the train and bus, I had never really spent any time in the city center.
For the non-Dutch folk reading this, Haarlem is a pretty little city with over 200,000 inhabitants, and it is very close to Amsterdam. I find Utrecht to be close to Amsterdam since it’s only a 20-min ride on the train. But Haarlem station is exactly 9 minutes away to Amsterdam Sloterdijk station by train.
What the actual fuck? I’m from New York. You can barely get from one neighborhood to another in 9 minutes on the train, let alone travel to a whole other city!
How close Haarlem is to Amsterdam was actually the reason why we close to go to there last Saturday. Later that night, we had plans to go to the Roze Filmdagen Film Festival in Amsterdam to watch an LGBTQ movie. It’s a queer film festival, so of course, as a queer couple, we couldn’t just NOT go.
My first impressions of Haarlem were truly that the city is a mini-Amsterdam! From what I’ve experienced, people in the Netherlands are quick to call cities “mini-Amsterdams”, but in this case, I actually felt that it was true.
After walking out of the station, which is only a few minutes from the city center, we came across a canal and a little bridge to cross it.
How cute is this little city? I was charmed by the apartment buildings lined along the water and with flowers on the little bridges leading into the center.
Sara and I had simple goals for the day before we would head into Amsterdam. We just wanted to have brunch, walk around, go to the Frans Hals Museum, and shop a little. We’re not big shoppers, but since Covid-19, shopping for anything in the busy center of Utrecht has been a tricky affair, so we figured we would have better luck in Haarlem.
We had found a great vegetarian-friendly brunch place in the center, which would be our first stop of the day. I was surprised that there were many vegetarian cafes to choose from! I know Utrecht has quite a few, but finding the same in Haarlem was a surprise since it’s a smaller city.
The place we went to was called “By Lima”, and it was ridiculously popular. Even though we were there on a rainy Saturday, people were lining up and claiming seats OUTSIDE. Outside in the rain! I should be used to this by now, but I wasn’t. Even with a tarp for shelter, I always assume that people wouldn’t bother.
We eventually found a seat inside, surrounded by absolutely cute Dutch decor. I’m talking about Delft blue plates hanging on the wall, but still somehow, the place managed to look modern. I was into it. I was even more impressed by the coffee and food.
It was DELICIOUS. Sara had a savory avocado sandwich, and I had a sweet-and-savory goat cheese and honey sandwich. The two of us swore that if we didn’t need to keep moving, we would have stayed to eat another one. It was that good. Probably one of the best brunches I’ve ever had. And I do NOT give out that praise lightly.
After brunch, we walked around the city center some more and bought a few things at some of the stores. The city was so cute. I’m very easy to please. I like old buildings, big windows, and canals, and Haarlem had lots of that to offer.
The architecture style really felt very Dutch to me. In the sense that it’s the image of Dutch cities that I have in my mind when I imagine canals and skinny, dark colored buildings. And after living in Utrecht and Amsterdam, I felt like the buildings in Haarlem were a cross between the styles I’ve seen in both cities.
Surprisingly, one of my big takeaways in Haarlem was that the people in the center seemed to LOVE to shop. At first I thought I was imagining it, but the stores in Haarlem were really much busier than in the city center of Utrecht. And the city center of Utrecht is REALLY busy!
The other big takeaway of my trip was that the Frans Hals Museum is awesome!
Not only were the modern art pieces in the museum totally awesome and weird, the building itself was cool. While the building looks quite plain for the most part, when you get to the top floor, there is a piece of rooftop sticking out. Maybe I enjoyed that more than I should have.
Around 4pm, we decided to make our way to Amsterdam. Which, as I mentioned before, took us no time at all. However, our plan to go from Sloterdijk station to Westerpark for the film festival did not go as planned.
We had planned to walk 40 minutes from one end of the park to the other starting at Sloterdijk. Turns out, that bit of green you see in the map isn’t one large park, oh no! They are three different spaces!
While you can normally seamlessly make your way through the green, we discovered that it was currently not possible to do so. After an hour of being trapped in the maze of Volkstuinvereniging, we were finally free to rush to the theatre.
I have to say that Volkstuinvereniging was actually this really cute space where there were tiny houses build in the park. Absolutely adorable! It did not feel adorable after 40 mins of being trapped in there, though. On the bright side, running to make it to the movies in time was more exercise than I’ve had in the past month! So I suppose I really can’t complain.
When we finally made it to the hip and industrial art house cinema, we had one final maze to navigate—an event with a crowd in Covid times. But as it turns out, the cinema had done a great job of thinking it through.
The same movie played in three different theaters with start times that were fifteen minutes apart. This meant that the crowd in the relatively small lobby was always manageable. In the theatre itself, people were seating far apart from each other. It was a successful endeavor in the times of the coronavirus.
I had never been to the Roze Filmdagen festival before, and my first time was an extremely positive experience, in spite of Covid-19. The movie, “Tu me manques”, was excellent, and the crowd itself also added to the experience, of course.
Amsterdam is one of the LGBTQ capitals of the world, and seeing same-sex couples is far from uncommon in Utrecht. But still, being surrounded by people from the queer community was still a special feeling.
Maybe I should be going to gay bars more.