A Normal Day…How Civilised!

July 20 – Haarlem

When you travel this way, on bikes, out in the elements, one can’t help but feel just a little bit,  continuously dishevelled. There is always either rain to fall on us, mud to splatter on us, grease from a chain to streak up a leg, dust and bugs to land on us, wind to leave us feeling windblown and then there’s the feeling of being hot and sweaty on some days. At the end of the day, when we are a mixture of the above ingredients which blend together to leave us feeling slightly feral, yes, there is a hot shower to get rid of some of it, but I for one, always feel kind of non-stop scruffy. Then when it comes to cooking, we are bending over a little spirit stove, cooking whatever we can fit in a single pot. It really is a lesson in “adapt and overcome” because everything we do is so far from “normal” life. All of it is great, don’t get me wrong, but it all involves getting used to not having certain creature comforts, familiar routines or access to certain things we would take for granted in “normal” life. Today though, had some elements of that “normal” life. Oh, how civilised it felt! 

The apartment we have just outside the centre of Haarlem is great. It is brand new, so nice and clean with things working as they should. It is right across the road from two supermarkets, so gathering supplies is a breeze and it is also right near a path I can run on. Super! So this morning, we took it easy and enjoyed something approaching normal. I went out for a morning run, passed some dog walkers, exchanged “Morgan” and then headed back, where we could have breakfast prepared in a real kitchen and eaten at an actual table on actual proper sized chairs. As silly as it sounds, that’s a real treat! We could also walk into a laundry right there in the apartment and do some washing, just like at home, rather than sitting in a laundrette and then, with the weather cracking up outside, we could sit in comfort and wait it out before beginning our roam. All simply wonderful! 

A quick trot to start the day

The rain came down and the wind blew, so we abandoned our original plan to ride the bikes into Haarlem, took things bit slower and had elevenses inside, at that actual table! Again…treatsville! 


When it looked like it was brightening, we took ourselves over the road, hopped on a bus and headed into the centre of Haarlem. The first thing to do was get an errand out of the way and that was to find me a new tyre. For a while now I’ve felt a “thunk-thunk-thunk” in my back wheel and closer inspection resulted in a clear and immediate diagnosis – I need a new tyre. There is a noticeable flat spot, lump and tear in my tyre and it’s also very bald. So, it’s kind of a blow out waiting to happen. It is the original tyre that was on the bike when I got it nearly five years ago and it has done over 11,000 km, so I guess a replacement is due. We haven’t been able to get one though, because of all the places we’ve tried in various towns, no one has had one small enough (figures!) and when they say they can order it in, well, we’re moving on of course. So the poor tyre has done over 100km since we discovered the problem and many hundreds with it in that condition before that problem was diagnosed, but once I knew what was wrong, I was getting more nervous every ride, worried it would eventually just blow, so getting a replacement was becoming quite urgent. With no luck so far, our first job in Haarlem was to do the rounds of the bike shops to try and get a new one. If they had to order one, we were at least in the one place for a few days and could wait for it to arrive. As luck would have it, the first place we went did have one to fit. It was hanging up, brand new but dusty, with a ragged cardboard tag on it and the very nice and very helpful young man in the store said, “It’s a very old tyre, so I’ll give you a 20% discount.” That, I thought, is a compensation bonus for discovering that I am getting along on wheels that are “too small and too old” which I could take as a personal description and as such, a personal slight if I so chose! Still, I was stoked that I could continue riding on intact wheels again and not worry that every bump or cobble was going to blow out the tyre.

Yep, time for a new tyre

Job done, it was time to roam Haarlem. Verdict up front…I loved Haarlem. I think it is the nicest town we have been to in The Netherlands so far this trip. It was beautiful and quaint and quirky and a bit artsy and utterly delightful. Haarlem originated in Roman times, as a settlement on a thoroughfare through to Velsen where there was a Roman settlement. In the 10th century the residence of the count of Holland was built on Grote Markt square and the settlement grew around that centre. During the Eighty Years’ War against Spanish rule a lot of Flemish people fled to the city and a lot of those people brought with them expertise, trade relations and money and the city continued to grow. It was actually a Flemish architect who became the city’s master builder in 1593 and he built significant buildings around Grote Market square as well as the tower of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). It really is a beautiful city and it was a lovely place to roam.

We started off in Grote Markt square, which in the 13th and 14th centuries was even bigger because it didn’t yet have all the buildings around it. Back then there were gallows in the square and jousting tournaments were held there, as well as goods being sold. Goods were still being sold there today, with a bustling Saturday market in full swing. The square has cafes on its edges, as well as the Stadhaus (city hall) and St Bavokerk (St Bavo’s Church). 





The Stadhaus

From there we roamed around the cobbled streets and what I absolutely loved was the maze of narrow cobbled lanes, with greenery hanging from them or lining them. Along these little streets were homes or shops and the shops in Haarlem are nearly all independent, local stores, no chain stores or garish displays, just lots of quaint little shops, nestled side by side along these narrow cobbled lanes. Now, this is still right in the city centre remember, but it was quiet and charming and it was like walking down a village lane, rather than being in the heart of a city. Those streets were gorgeous and with no noise, the green leaves around and the quaint buildings, it was a unique little setting right within a city.




Out of these little lanes, we were in the wider, pedestrianised streets, that were busier but still lovely, with again, little independent shops, not big chain stores and bikes whizzing between pedestrians, but everyone sharing the space happily. We strolled past Haarlem’s first department store, built in 1899 and then past the Franz Hals Museum which was once a home for elderly men and then an orphanage and beside the museum were the original almshouses built for the men and these were part of St. Elisabeth’s Gasthuis hospital.

Haarlem’s first department store
The original almshouses
The almshouses were part of St Elisabeth’s guesthouse hospital


“Shopping area cyclists welcome” – the pedestrians and cyclists mingled quite happily

Around the cobbled streets we roamed and then down to the river, where we saw two buildings that are listed monuments, with authentic crow-stepped gables, built around 1630. 


Along the river we saw the windmill of Old Mill De Adriaan, a smock mill sitting on the banks of the Spaarne river and built in 1778. Unfortunately the mill burned down in 1932, but has been rebuilt in the same place, on the foundations of an ancient defensive tower. 


Just along the river we walked through Amsterdamse Poort, the only remaining city gate in Haarlem. It was built between 1245 and 1428 and is so named because it marks the end point of the route from Amsterdam to Haarlem. 


We then made our way back along the river,  into the central square, along some more back streets and wrapped up our roam, as the sky once again began to darken. We made it back on the bus, just in time for the rain to start pelting down and thunder and lightning to perform their theatrics in the sky, so it was nice to be off the bikes while the weather played such games. 





We then rounded out our “normal” day, with me cooking a real home cooked meal, from scratch, in a real kitchen, which was then eaten at that lovely normal table, sitting on proper chairs and eating off real plates that aren’t silicon and drinking out of real cups and glasses. Now that, is like skipping down the main street of Treatsville whistling James Brown!

What a great day in another super lovely Dutch town. There are delights galore in this country and the towns, cities and villages continue to delight with their beautiful historic buildings, rivers and canals, gardens, hanging baskets of flowers and quaint cobbled streets. Tomorrow we plan to ride into Amsterdam to explore the streets and surroundings of that city. I will admit to being quite nervous about riding in Amsterdam and being in amongst thick bike traffic. We have chosen to ride in on Sunday, in the hopes it will be a little quieter, so I’m crossing fingers for smoother rapids of wheels and pedals to navigate through. The day will start with a bonus again though, as we enjoy the few days of feeling quite civilised with our “normal” surroundings and the luxury of those little things that are quite special when we haven’t had them for a while…a kitchen, a laundry, tables and chairs, plates and cups that go “ting” when you tap them…all so wonderfully normal! So, another day of exploring and discoveries ahead, if I can just peel Steve off that rediscovered luxury item…the extra long couch! 


Distance ridden: 0 km

Distance roamed: 10.5 km

Distance run: 8 km

Weather: a bit rainy, quite windy, not too cold, then thunder stormy, then sunny again, 22C

2 thoughts on “A Normal Day…How Civilised!

Add yours

  1. Heidi, what a pretty town you’ve landed in! I just love the look of the lanes and the idea of individual and independent little shops with their own personality attracting their customers is fabulous. I wonder if they have lots of empty shops along the streets because of a down turn in trading. Superb photos!


    1. It is utterly charming and you’re right, having the little independent shops was lovely, so nice not to see the chain stores taking over. In other places we’ve been and bigger towns we’ve seen quite a few empty shops but not here, every one was open, which was great. Haarlem was certainly a gem to find!


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