July 2001

Belgium-Holland Musical Holiday Journal


Haarlem, Holland

July 12



Noord-Holland Flag - Tourist Information

. . .After a light breakfast, we took the train from Brussels Central Station to the Central Station in Amsterdam - a little under three hours. . .

It was a pleasant and relaxing trip. We arrived in time to catch the next train from Amsterdam to Haarlem within a few minutes - perfect timing. The weather in Haarlem this afternoon is cool and blustery - our room is at the top of the gable in Hotel Amadeus. It is quaint and clean with a slant ceiling, soft fluffy beds and a view of the Grote Markt (or grand market square).

We unloaded our bags, and headed down to the "delicatessen" section of Vroom & Dreesmann (a major department store) on Grote Hout Straat for a quick (takeaway) lunch - they have a buffet restaurant upstairs. On our way back to the hotel to unpack and settle in, we stopped at St. Bavo's (the Grote Kerk built in 1313) to see what time the organ concert would be. After our chores, we went out to the organ concert at the old gothic style church - quite an instrument filled the entire end of the church and went all the way up to the ceiling. The church itself showed consistent remanufacture with an eclectic collection of stained glass - 13th Century forward to modern. The organ was built and installed by Christian Muller in 1738 and Mozart was known to have played and written music for it. The church had excellent acoustics for an organ concert and indeed they hold concerts during the summer season on Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.

Since this is essentially a bit of travel with the purpose of relaxation and hearing some good music, we feel no urgency to visit this or that tourist attraction. There is some satisfaction in knowing that we now live in Europe and can stop here at any time we wish and always at our leisure. After our concert, we wandered around town - down to the canal (Spaarne), through a restaurant strip, residential area, past Frans Hals Museum, in and out of shops along the way. It's a fairly clean central village area here. We picked up a bag of tasty and perfectly done frites with curry sauce and fresh chopped onion on them as another little snack.

We had discovered that the local dinner hour is "6 pm sharp!" and restaurants that serve tourists are open as much as two hours later (unlike Belgium's 8-ish hours)  We're accustomed to Spanish time and normally eat dinner around 10pm. So, we made a point of getting out early enough and went to a Thai (read that "owned by Thai and cooking Indonesian") place whose menu looked quite interesting - varied, several options in each category. The sate appetizer was tender and tasty, the spring rolls were chewy and unappealing, the shrimp soup and beef salad were truly "hot" spicy (only for those who enjoy Thai red pepper) and excellent in execution. Then phad poui sien was full flavored and gently seasoned and offered an occasional crunch of fresh bean sprout. The beef with green beans was good of its kind but in no way remarkable. The staff was the least friendly Thai we've ever encountered.

Now back to the room to recover from another travel day, sipping Triple Orange liqueur.



Christian Muller Orgel 1738

This organ was known to be played by Handel and Mozart

July 13


Morning took us to the breakfast room - orange juice, white rolls and slice whole grain/sesame bread, rusks, cereals, a variety of yogurts, ham slices, edam slices, milk, tea and coffee - very good coffee. Then, out for a town walk - shop window browsing, canals, bridges, photo ops - just a leisure pace - more antique stores than expected - wide selection of Asian, north African and southern European restaurant options (too few menus in English-poor business practice), clean canals lined with the usual canal houses (old and new), frequent bridges, bicycles, residential neighborhoods, a church steeple - white and tall (never found the church), a good Indonesian shopping basket in a small shop, a stop at the grocery store for salads, breads and cheese. Back to the room to rest the feet - these stones are tough.

Off again on a discover walk - way south of the hotel and to the Frans Hals Museum (formerly the Old Men's Home). Here they have a good small art collection representing painters from the area dating from the 15th-19th century, also some old furnishings, glass and pottery collections and silver from the 18th century. Of note was Berckhyde's 1696 oil painting of the Grote Markt (before the organ was installed) and a Van der Heyden (thinking of Andre back in Napa - nice surprise) - overall a well organized and displayed collection. The interior courtyard has an expansive feel with a central globe sundial, arbors with restful benches set at the counter of four corners, a pleasant stop. Admission is 10 Florins or about $4.

Still later and a bit further out, we stopped for coffee and a dessert in a place where pigeons browsed the floor for scraps, spoons were sticky, and the atmosphere was thick. Then we took a slow journey down a street with lots of foliage, arbors, roses, hollyhocks, honeysuckle, pansies, lavender - just lovely. More walking, past the St. Bavo's cathedral, back to the Grote Markt and a stop at the Doria for a Flutje and a Palm beer before retiring for the evening.


Painted before Christian Muller's organ was installed

July 14



A late breakfast (9:30) and off to the train for our Rotterdam mission (about 90 minutes each way). It is to see the Pieter Breughel (or the Elder's) collection of authenticated drawings and etchings - 57 pieces. Just out of the Rotterdam Central station, we see tall glass and steel buildings, gangs hanging out, it seems dirty for a city that calls itself the "Cultural Capitol of Holland". The street up to the Museum Park is lined with Chinese restaurants (and their gangs). The street is stylized like old Holland in places - a few old row houses here and there but the area is drab and lifeless after the WWII destruction - too bad.

The exhibit at the Museum Boijmans was well done - great pieces from all areas of Breughel work, perfect lighting, the "Tower of Babel" oil. It has a nice late 18th to 20th century collection with Rubens, Jordaens and Van Eyck featured, but the museum itself is under construction (as all of Europe seems to be). It is planning a major exhibit of Bosch later this year that may be worth another visit. Admission is 12.50 guilders or about $6.

A comfortable train ride took us back to our hotel in Haarlem and a snack of pindas (peanuts) and an aperitif to get us in the mood for an early dinner. The evening took us to Popocatepetl - yes, Mexican food (on the Tex-Mex side - sauce from Laredo TX) - a fair quality meal of fajitas, chips and bland guacamole - just off from what the general idea is in the US and a long way from the real thing. They serve an excellent margarita, it's a loud and popular place with cute flush-faced waitresses.

After dinner, a walk back to our room. We settled in with an after dinner liqueur and watched some TV - Happy Bastille Day!


Breugel Little Tower of  Babel

See this and other great artwork at artchive.com

July 15


Breakfast, email check and a long walk along the Spaarne to the north side of town and Werfstraat to see another of our musical highpoints. The Haarlem Organ Museum was started in 1956 by the Kunkels family with the intent of rebuilding the gigantic 112 key Marenghi/Frei dance organ. They now have 10 organs and do concerts on Sundays for anyone who is interested. Sitting and sipping a Heineken and listening to the melodious charms of "De Rosalinda". This is a fascinating collection of "calliopes" or mechanical "orgels" from Belgium, France and Holland - elaborate punch cards - even got to look inside at the mechanism! The place feels like being in a beer garden, but the space is a sky lit warehouse.

It houses a dozen organs and features its largest (very art deco style) at the end of the room. There's one that looks like it came from a funeral home (or a bordello) made of dark polished wood, red velvet, and a bronze statuette of a lady - others are more Italianate and colorful - all varnished and polished and looking great. There seems to be a regular crowd here that gathers to visit and entertain their dogs. Very interesting and a nice break for a Sunday mid-day.

Our walk back to the Haarlem Central Station took us back through a newer and very nice residential area, then past a verdant park (Frans Hals Park) at the bend of the Spaarne River. We took the train to Amsterdam. . . 

. . .A little after 10 pm and we're on the train heading back to Haarlem. There is dark sky behind us and a broad sunset ahead. The flatness of this country is so blatant when the entire horizon is at sunset - not even a small hill to break the line. It was warm all day - truly summer with clear skies. The horde of tourists in Amsterdam makes Haarlem look tiny and quiet.


de Rosalinda Street Organ

Haarlem Organ Museum

July 16


It's a very warm and sunny day. We rose late for breakfast and then went down to have a good browse of the large market on the square. To our good fortune, there was a nice tapestry piece for our ratty old couch, also some nice Javanese prints to make shirts or pillows. Aside from that, we took a casual stroll around some streets that were new to us and some that were familiar, back to the room, recycle the water bottles and get some sodas and fruits for lunch. We did our packing and got our tickets together for travel home, then went out for an evening walk over to the Spaarne and into the Global Hemp Museum before heading off to dinner at Trattoria da Caruso. A charming interior, but ... The "salade caprese" of basil on tomato slices with slabs of mozzarella (not italian) was fresh and nice as were the mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and garlic, hot (pizza dough) rolls with garlic butter. A Barbera d'Alba worked well with these and we were anticipating something good with the "Tris Pastas de Chef" selection of 3 different pastas. These were mediocre - perhaps a bad choice on our part brought out the chef's dried and pasty leftovers. We stopped at that, ordered a grappa and a vecchio romagna and called it a night. Final packing to do, some Napoleon to finish and an early train to catch.


 Hotel Amadeus

Our room was at the top and our view was from the arched window 

July 17


Early rise (7:30), early breakfast (8:15), and early train to Amsterdam Central (8:55) to catch the 9:23 train back to Brussels. A bit slow headed and drowsy from the rhythm of the rails, expect to arrive at Brussels Central station a little after 11 am. More passengers on this train than the one we came in on, perhaps more to do in Brussels.

View from our window

A fine place to stay and visit