Zebra striped bicycle on a canal in Amsterdam

Zebra striped bicycle on a canal in Amsterdam

I am totally in love with the bike culture in the Netherlands.  It’s impressive.  EVERYONE bikes.  Older people, parents toting children (1, 2 or 3 on a single bike!), shoppers, men in business suits, women in high heels.  In Amsterdam, the bike lanes are more than twice as wide as the pedestrian sidewalks where you often have to walk single file.  And the Netherlands has an excellent system of paved paths between towns and cities.  I wish we could do half so well here in America.

Parked bikes, Haarlem

Parked bikes, Haarlem

Getting ready to leave the Grote Market with her purchases

Getting ready to leave the Grote Market with her purchases

Shopping at the market by bike

Shopping at the market by bike

Bike loaded with shopping

Bike loaded with shopping

Mother and daughter biking along a canal in Haarlem

Mother and daughter biking along a canal in Haarlem

Classy rider with heels

Classy rider with heels

Bikes parked along a narrow residential street in Haarlem

Bikes parked along a narrow residential street in Haarlem

My sister called this the latest version of the "covered wagon."

My sister called this the latest version of the “covered wagon.”

Double-decker bike parking near the train station in Delft

Double-decker bike parking near the train station in Delft

Dad with kids

Dad with kids

At the Delft flower market

At the Delft flower market

Innovative carrying solutions

Innovative carrying solutions

This older woman gave a graceful hop onto her bike -- you could tell she had executed this movement thousands of times in her life.

This older woman gave a graceful hop onto her bike — you could tell she had executed this movement thousands of times in her life.

Weekend bikers aon a trail near Zaanse Schaans (example of trail between towns)

Weekend bikers on a trail near Zaanse Schaans (example of trail between towns)

Decorative bike guard on a canal in Amsterdam

Decorative bike guard on a canal in Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barge on the River Spaarne, Haarlem

Barge on the River Spaarne, Haarlem

Don’t you love it when you travel to a foreign country and it actually looks and feels exotic and different from your accustomed surroundings?  When I was in Haarlem I felt immediately that I was in Europe.  The houses, buildings, canals, narrow stone streets, doors and windows, sidewalk cafes — everything exuded Old World charm.

Spring in Holland was at least a month behind Seattle’s, and though I was looking for tulips, I saw only snowdrops and crocuses and a few yellow daffodils.  I had planned on renting a bike and touring the countryside near Haarlem, but it was too cold (reached freezing overnight) so I spent my 1-1/2 days there simply walking.  And that was a delightful way to spend my time.  The AirBnB home where I stayed was a 45-minute walk along the River Spaarne from central Haarlem.

Haarlem, like much of the Netherlands, is flat, densely populated, and cosmopolitan.  It is a very walkable city, crisscrossed by canals and the river which are lined, wall to wall, with old gabled homes and buildings, houseboats, and little cafes.  The public transportation on trains and buses is a marvel — clean, on time, and affordable.  I was so taken with the biking culture here that I will devote my next post to bicycles.

Let me share some of the sights and delights of Haarlem with you here:

Rooftop view of Haarlem with Grote Kerk dominating the city's center square

Rooftop view of Haarlem with Grote Kerk dominating the city’s center square

Rooftop view of Haarlem from the 6th floor cafeteria in the V&D Department Store

Rooftop view of Haarlem from the 6th floor cafeteria in the V&D Department Store

Lovely old canal houses along the River Spaarne

Lovely old canal houses along the River Spaarne

Shabby chic -- rustic table and chairs on a canal barge, Haarlem

Shabby chic — rustic table and chairs on a canal barge, Haarlem

River reflections

River reflections

De Adrianne windmill in Haarlem; notice the short rail track from the water to the mill.

De Adriaan windmill in Haarlem; notice the short rail track from the water to the mill.

Cut tulips brighten a window

Cut tulips brighten a window

Bridges and arches over the canals; notice all the bikes on the bridge.

Bridges and arches over the canals; notice all the bikes on the bridge.

I loved seeing "Stinke" cheese spread at the Grote Market

I loved seeing “Stinke” cheese spread at the Grote Market

Butcher stall at the Grote Market in the central square

Butcher stall at the Grote Market in the central square

McDonalds sign.  "Chain stores abort vacation vision." -- Alexandra Horowitz

McDonald’s sign. “Chain stores abort vacation vision.” — Alexandra Horowitz

Even the crows are different from the ones at home in Seattle.

Even the crows are different from the ones at home in Seattle.

Flowers grace a houseboat along the canal, Haarlem

Flowers grace a houseboat along the canal, Haarlem

Door of alms house, Haarlem.  (Wealthy merchants charitably funded homes for widows and poor women.  I took a self-guided walk to see some of them.)

Door of alms house, Haarlem. (Wealthy merchants charitably funded homes for widows and poor women. I took a self-guided walk to see some of them.)

Coffe break at the V&D

Coffee break at the V&D

My mother always told me to clean my plate.

My mother always told me to clean my plate.

 

 

Double tulip

Double tulip

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our doorstep once again.  It starts much earlier and is really never over, because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill.  Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.”
— Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels with Herodotus

I have reached my doorstep again after nearly a month away.  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my experiences with you.  I took almost 2,000 photos and my mind is still reeling from an almost overwhelming archive of images, scents, sounds, and thoughts about the destinations — Iceland, the Netherlands, Israel, and France.  It will take some time for my memories to settle.

Like most journeys, this one began with an invitation.  About five or six years ago, my sister, who lives in Israel, invited me to visit her.  I began making tentative plans to go, but then was derailed by the economic crisis that hit the country and, because my husband works in construction, our family.  With so much financial uncertainty, my trip was postponed.  I suppose it is a sign of gradually increasing optimism that I finally pulled off the trip this year.  This time, along with the invitation to visit her in Israel, my sister wondered if we could also travel together to Holland to see the tulips in bloom.

So my trip began to take shape, starting with my booking roundtrip airfare from Seattle to Amsterdam, April 2 – 28th.  These were the bookends.  Within their constraints, my sister and I would find the best times for me to fly to Israel to stay with her and to spend a few days vacationing together in the Netherlands.

At the time I booked my airfare to Europe, Icelandair offered the best price.  And this airlines allows its passengers to disembark in Iceland for a short stopover at no additional cost.  I’d never been to Iceland, so I decided to spend two nights there on my way to Amsterdam.

Eventually my sister and I decided that I would fly to Israel on April 8th, stay with her family until April 16th, when we would both fly to Amsterdam for five days together.  That meant I had two additional nights in Europe before my flight to the Middle East, and I decided to stay in Haarlem which is not too far from the Amsterdam airport.  After my sister flew back home on April 21st, I had about a week of uncommitted time in Europe, so I cast about for something to do.

I had on my life’s “List of Things to Do Before I Die” hiking a special trail in southern France along which are installed the largest collection of works by the land artist, Andy Goldsworthy.  Serendipitously, a local guide, Jean-Pierre Brovelli, was offering a six-day guided hike that fit my timeframe perfectly.  That experience now anchored my trip plans.

I will be sharing my impressions from my journey in the days ahead.

“. . . travel provides not confirmations, but surprises.”
— Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

I traveled with open eyes, trying to be receptive to what these many and varied destinations offered.  And yet, I suppose I had certain expectations as well.  For example, I thought I would see tulips in bloom in the Netherlands in April.  But Holland was caught in an unseasonably cold Spring, just like much of this country, and the tulip bloom was late.  When I passed through on April 5th and 6th, I saw only a few daffodils and crocuses; nary a tulip in sight.  When my sister and I returned to the Netherlands on April 16th, everyone was still waiting for the tulip fields to show color.  We went to the famous Keukenhoff gardens on April 19th, and while the estate had much to offer, the beds of tulips still showed just sword-like green leaves and no flowers.

Still, the demonstration beds in the Willem-Alexander pavilion, indoors, displayed an exuberant array of tulips in full bloom.  And it was a photographer’s paradise.  Here are some photos of my favorite tulip at Keukenhof, the double parrot, truly a most photogenic flower:

IMAGE_EE8A4C4F-F1FA-4BA7-A75A-1E773EFE6D0AIMAGE_C3DFB2E4-DE87-47FC-910B-C9AF259C98B1IMAGE_12F41F58-D963-4D48-B78E-14029AD56CA5IMAGE_49500A3E-272F-4EB3-A6EF-2A7A73E27BADIMAGE_05EFA76E-C858-4AB8-B2CE-75CFE8684C10And then, a lovely send-off on my journey back home — looking out of the airplane window as we took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I saw (finally) ribbons of color in the tulip fields below.

Tulip fields in the Netherlands, April 28, 2013

Tulip fields in the Netherlands, April 28, 2013