For a city renowned to tourists by its tolerance on marijuana and prostitution, Amsterdam certainly differs from its outlying cities. I stayed in Haarlem, a 15 minute train ride to the west (and no, it is not the double A version of its American counterpart). Haarlem’s population is approximately 200,000 and boasts one of the bigger ports in the Netherlands. Canals are seen through parts of the city with boats for hire available from an hour onwards.

Tall, narrow buildings, mostly with brick exterior line the streets and as I took my gaze to the peak, I noticed a ledge hanging over the front of the house with a hook attached to the bottom of it. My host stated this is synonymous with Dutch architecture as they used these hooks to create a pulley to hoist materials and furniture to the top of the building. And they still do this today.

As for accommodation, picture a building circa early 18th century with painted arch windows of mosaic-like art, large wooden double doors…and a steeple. The church became a place of accommodation from early 1990s with around 40 open spaced living areas fitted with a kitchen, bathroom and closet. Its roofing reminds me of a dome with hollow pieces on the inside marked by brick lines. Similar to half an orange with its separate slices [if this doesn’t make sense, just edit it out].

Another former church, Jopenkerk has also been renovated on the inside. It is now an open brewery where you can see the beer being brewed before you drink it. You can even taste their very first brew – smoked mackerel and bacon!

The people of Haarlem always say hi as you pass them by and are relaxed in general. The same could be said about Amsterdam but despite coffee shops and a small red light district in Haarlem, it does not have the same ambience or smell of Holland’s capital. Overall, Holland’s consumption of weed is less than the European average and the 200+ coffee shops in Amsterdam is really mainly for the tourists. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with doing touristy things but there’s definitely a lot more going on behind the scenes.

Side note: Amsterdam is also the main city when it comes to credit card use as it is not prominent elsewhere in the Netherlands which would’ve been handy to know prior to travel.

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