We took an EasyJet flight from Liverpool Airport (now named John Lennon Airport) to Holland Schipol Airport (just out of Amsterdam). I was a bit nervous about going with a budget carrier with all the stories you hear but all was put to rest as the flight and service was great. The flights were cheap compared to what we are used to AU$100 each. We got to the airport 2 hours before the flight (on advice from friends) so that way you spend you time relaxing in the airport café (in our case Starbucks) rather than in the check-in cue. Being a low cost airline the check in desk is somewhat under staffed.
We arrived in Holland at 5:30pm (a 1 hour flight) – got the hire car where they upgraded us to a Saab 93 Estate Wagon. Nice car to drive and very comfortable and also sits on 160-180km/hr on the motorways without any trouble (cruising speed). My only complaint is that for a sizeable car it has little to no room. Mainly due to the style of the front seats that make the back very cramped for the kids – OK so most of you are saying so what as long as the parents are comfortable – this is true except that we do have 3 weeks of travelling in Europe and the girls have been spoilt after the spacious tank we hired in the USA.
From the airport we headed off to Haarlem to find our accommodation and the fun started. Surprisingly there were no arguments or harsh words between Kerrie and myself as we spent the next 2 hours trying to find our hotel. We didn’t realise that the hotel was in the old part of Haarlem which is pedestrian traffic only and one of the roads we needed to go down was under repair so we couldn’t head that way. We had to navigate our way through very narrow one way roads which were in anything but a logical grid pattern. So we drove around and around quite often within 100 meters or so of the hotel (according to the GPS) but just couldn’t seem to get there. Kerrie eventually phoned the hotel and they pointed out a car park for us to go to (which we then found relatively easy as we had passed it several times) – and from there it was a short walk to the hotel.
BTW…The GPS has proven very useful but after the Haarlem experience it has been relegated as a backup to Kerrie – she is better at handling the nuances of European cities and has a far sexier voice than the American on the GPS.
Haarlem and the hotel come highly recommended if you have a family. The hotel (Joops Hotel) is spread out across the block and has apartment style rooms which were huge. As we were there for four nights the extra space was welcomed as we could spread out and relax – only bummer was 4 single beds but Kerrie seemed to relish to chance to sleep alone!!! Haarlem is only 15 minutes (by train) to Amsterdam and is densely populated. It is a mixture of old apartments and many restaurants and shops in a pedestrian style old town. Good base to head out for the day and then come back and relax and have a nice meal.
Haarlem also has a great fresh food market. One stall had varieties of mushrooms that I had never seen. We asked what was good for breakfast and he gave us a handful of an orange-red colour mushroom which we had on bread the next morning. The variety and freshness of the fruit and vegetables was also surprising and we hoed into raspberries and strawberries one evening. Flowers were also everywhere in the market with lots of tulips of course. Was fun to watch Kerrie at the markets – she was in her element showing off to the three of us with her Dutch.
Dinner the night we arrived was in a Dutch style café / bar recommended by the hotel. The first point of note is that the Dutch smoke and smoke heavily. The smoke hits you as soon as you enter the café and as I learned throughout the week all cafes are the same – the only difference is that with the kids you do not want to enter a café where the smoke has a different odour to standard tobacco – there are of course quite a few of those cafes around!!! The first thing on order the moment you enter a café is the beer. Like many countries in Europe the beer is served in a glass from the maker of the beer – so the glass is branded and they all very to help distinguish themselves from the competition.
Something of notice is that a lot of the roads in Holland appear to be laid brick pavers. Kerrie tells me this is because the ground moves so much (as it is largely below sea level) and the brick pavers handle the movement better and is easier to rip up and relay than tar.
Another thing of notice is that Holland is extremely flat – really flat – amazingly flat. You cannot appreciate how flat it is!!! The flatness does have the advantage of resulting in everyone in Holland biking everywhere. The photo of the Bike Rack at Amsterdam station is testament to that – where else would you get a multi story bike park!!!