Sunday, July 8, 2012

A day at the beach - Haarlem & Zandvoort aan Zee

Even though I am no beach babe (I don't like sunbathing and I am unable to spend more than one hour  lying on the sand doing nothing) once I am far away from my beloved home island I am often looking forward to a  sunny day to spend somewhere nearby the coast. This weekend I finally made it to the Ducth coast for the first time this year and, despite weather reports forecasting rain and storm for the whole week, the sun was shining until yesterday night when it finally began to rain. So, luckily I could enjoy a sunny day at the beach while sipping some ice-tea. 

I bought a train day pass and I went up to Haarlem and Zandvoort from southern Maastricht, thus an almost four hours trip on four different trains thanks to the always ongoing maintenance works on the Dutch rail system, otherwise it would have just been a 3 hours trip changing trains just once.

Haarlem, the capital of the province of North Holland, is a very charming and quiet city, which lies very close to the sea. When you step out of train station, a beautiful Art Nouveau building, you can already smell the sea and hear some gulls. The city center is small and it most interesting pint is the Grote Markt (main square) which is surrounded by the Grote Kerk and some museums and terraces. Many beautiful backyards (hofjes) are hidden all over the city center, waiting for curious visitors to discover them. Haarlem also offers a couple of the most typical Dutch sights: cannals full of sailing boats on their sides and a windmill almost at the heart of the city.  

Haarlem the Netherlands

Haarlem the Netherlands

Haarlem the Netherlands

After a nice stroll in Haarlem, I got back on the train to reach my next destination: Zandvoort aan Zee, a popular beach resort, as it lies just 25 minutes away from Amsterdam and the train station is almost right on the beach. As I always do, I took off my shoes, refreshed my feet in the cold waters of the North Sea and then enjoyed a long walk along the coast. Zandvoort isn't really beautiful, all you see around are appartment blocks (some really tall and ugly) and the only hints of nature are the beach itself. Still, there are some natural reserves in the area with sand dunes, coast vegetation and birds galore, which must be amazing to explore. But yesterday I chose to sit at a nice beach club and enjoy a chilled ice tea before starting my four hours journey back home on four different trains.

Zandvoort aan Zee

Zandvoort aan Zee

Zandvoort aan Zee

p.s. I had already been in Haarlem last year (that's why I knew it was a lovely city and embarked on a four hours trip to go back there) and I also spent some time at the beach. But last time I went to Bloemendaal aan Zee, which was a lot more beautiful. Not so many appartment buildings around, just a few beach clubs, but an amazing landscape and a long and cleaner beach. The only downside to Bloemendaal aan Zee is that it cannot be reached directly by train, but buses run often from Haarlem, just besides the train station, and the ride lasts only 15 minutes, so it's really worth it! So far, Bloemendaal aan Zee is my fave bath place by the North Sea.

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