Yesterday morning my brother and I decided to walk into the main shopping area of Haarlem. This is the town my brother has been living in for the last 25 years.He lives on a quiet street (Prins Mauritslaan), along which, at 10 AM on a Monday morning, there was not a single moving vehicle.
The town is just couple of kilometers away, but you have to walk through a small stretch of woods at the end of which there is a small park with ducks, geese, deer, rabbits and goats etc… for children to play. The temperatures are still hovering around 10 degrees C and so not many people were around.
And then, you cross the canal, an integral part of the Dutch landscape, walk past the ubiquitous flower stall to enter the main the shopping street.
Only when we reached there and I found that all the shops were closed did I realize that shops open only at noon on Mondays. For my brother, these little details are no longer part of his memory bank! However, this itself was a new and interesting aspect – in all my previous visits i had never seen the street so empty. Like most European towns, the street is pedestrianized and no one, be they 7 or 70, thinks anything of walking the 3 km stretch of it. In Holland, the cyclist is also king and so, they have access everywhere. In fact, at every crossing it is interesting to see that the bell to press for the crossing signal are at cyclist height!!
The street has a wonderful mix of the name brands (Mango, Zarra….), department stores (C &A and Vroom and Dreesman being the big ones) and large number of local brands, boutiques. In fact, Haarlem is considered to be one of the best shopping destinations in Holland. And off the main street there are alleys, with shops and resturants and many beautiful residential ones.
The shop windows have a unique European style to them and the styles of the clothes are very different from what we in India are used to. The colors were, brighter than usual, as spring is in the air. As we reached the central square which has the large Cathedral, we saw the cluster of the street market which is a weekly feature in these towns. These are akin to the moving street markets around Delhi, selling a variety of goods at cheaper prices!!
Then on our return, we stopped at the supermarket to buy some essential groceries and were home for an early lunch. The distance covered is the same as to my local market in Gurgaon – but what a difference!! It takes many decades to acquire the aesthetics etc., but one hopes that we can look forward to sidewalks and some cleanliness that will discourage us to take out our 4 wheelers. Here, the car is strictly for family outings and the week end. Public transport gets you everywhere and as i said, the cyclist is king. So, that is always the first option!