Friday, June 29, 2012

Roma's Quattro!

Rome, Italy

Fun Fact #1: Uschita means “exit” in Italian. It is pronounced ‘ooh-shit-a.’ Every time I see and say that word, I have way too much fun enjoying that it’s like I’m cursing.

Fun Fact #2: Since ancient times, Rome’s city has risen MANY feet (over 30). You have to walk down hill to enter the Pantheon (such an important building in its prime had staircases up to it), the Roman Forum was excavated from miles of mud and dirt that had accumulated.  

Not-So-Fun Fact #1: Today, Friday June 29th, is St. Peter’s and Paul’s holiday. Lisa (tour guide) knew this before we came, so we altered our visit to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican to be the day before. Well, the Pope has a lot of power. And, he just so happened to decide to close the Sistine Chapel a day early. While the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s church was still open, the Sistine Chapel was off-limits. Boo.

Rome was another quick 1.5 day visit, so like Florence, I’ve got the Top 4!

…..Roma’s Four-a!
The Colosseum (playing with the Special Effects on my camera!)
Bronze Hercules at the Vatican Museum
4. Despite not being able to visit the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s church were a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve studied enough Greek and Roman and Renaissance history to know most of the artwork and sculptures that crowd the incredibly massive Vatican Museum, but it is quite another experience to see the original. Whether I was studying the details of the classic sculptures or awing at Michelangelo and Rafael’s paintings, it was awe-some. It was hot, and the a.c. was weak if ever present; it was crowded, and each room was packed to the walls with loud and pushy tourists. But, it was the Vatican Museum. In Rome. St. Peter's Basilica and piazza was less crowded, due to its greater immensity, and it was just as beautiful. The intricacy of each painted ceiling tile and perfectly carved sculptures was almost intimidating. There were open arches of the ceiling allowing the sun's, or "god's beams" as Joyce aptly put it, to pour onto the rows of seats. A choir sang Handel's "Messiah" as a large group enjoyed the evening mass. I can’t say enough how much words just can’t do justice to these experiences.
The god beams in St. Peter's Basilica

3. At the end of the day, as the sun slowly set, we took an evening Fountain tour. Around every corner, I seemed to find ancient obelisks and Roman fountains. Between the ornate smaller drinking fountains and the Trevi fountain, history and architecture is busting out the seams of Rome! (Of course, I made a wish at the Trevi! It’s tradition!) I think the Trevi fountain was the most spectacular; worming through the crowds to get down to the front was worth every minute. Words do not do it justice.

Making a wish at the Trevi!
2. “Allyson, did you visit the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon in an intense 3 hour walking tour on the hottest day of the year?” you may ask. Why, yes. Yes, I did. While I can’t say that I loved every minute of sweating my guts out, I certainly loved the majority of it. It is the Colosseum. It is the Roman Forum. These are the important architectural pieces of history that are still standing from the powerful Roman reign. This is what I’ve read about, learned about, longed to visit and see. I have achieved this dream. I have seen these awe-inspiring monuments. I have walked in them. Sweat profusely in them. Taken one hundred pictures in (no exaggeration). Take that, Bucket List!
(I apologize that the few pictures I have included do NOT give proper credit, beauty and appreciation to this feat. Just wait till I create a facebook album…then the roll of pictures will really ensue!)
The Colosseum
Fanciest iced-coffee I've ever had
1. After 5 days in Italy, it is inevitable that I have embraced the essence of Italians. Colette and I did what Italians do best: leisurely eat in the good company of others. On more than one occasion, we found a good café, a good patio (if we could stand the heat), and a good meal. Pizza. Panninis. Pasta. Coffee. Wine. Gelato. (Thank god we do so much walking and climbing steps here. It is the only reason I have not gained 5 pounds in 5 days!) To sit in a café in Rome, watching the world go by while I sip on my wine? I know how blessed I am to be here on this trip. Blessed.

Perfume bottles found in Roman Forum
In the Roman Forum

Constantine's Arch

4 for Florence!

Florence, Italy

Presenting...THE TOP 4! HOOPAH!
View of the bridges from the Uffizi Museum

4. Florence is iconic for its Renaissance sculptures and paintings; a trip to Florence would be incomplete without visiting the Accedemia to see Michelangelo’s David. It is, as our tour guide Lisa put it, “perfection.” His ability to create such a magnificent sculpture is truly breathtaking. It is immense. His features are impeccable. You can see the veins on his left hand; the perfectly muscular kneecaps. The statue is marble, but its perception is purely humane. It is art at its finest.

3. Florence, besides its art, is known for its markets and shops. And, yes, I gladly fell victim to the Italian leather and hand-made jewelry. Did I buy an Italian leather jacket? Why, yes, I proudly did. I cannot wait to wear it, and because of its handiwork, I will be able to wear it for years to come. It’s beautiful. As are the earrings and purse that I also happened to purchase. Walking through the stalls of the open market along the main streets of Florence, I had difficulty saying no to any adorable leather belt, purse, scarf, or jacket that came in my way. There were about 3 full streets of open stalls. Colette, Kaiah and I walked down each one, sweating in the Italian sun beating down our necks (relishing any opportunity to hop into a stall’s air-conditioned store). The Italian chants, "You like? I show you one," enticed us as we slowly caved into the good deals and fine leather goods. They say it's nearly impossible to say, "No," to a woman. I say it's nearly impossible to say, "No," to good, soft leather and persuasive Italians. 
Produce at Food Market

2. In the midst of our shopping, it was only natural to replenish ourselves from the heat. While the hearty meals have been divine, to say the least, we were all ready for something a little lighter. We browsed through the large, food market at the end of one of the squares. Massive fruit stands juxtaposed cow tongues and salami in an open freezer. Wine and olive oils shimmied into fresh trout and salmon on ice. We sampled and chose pesto cheese, fresh raspberries, strawberries and cherries, and a large foccacia loaf. We took our feast back to the hotel to wash the fruit, and we enjoyed a fresh lunch on the patio of our hotel. Scrumptious, relaxing, and refreshing? Absolutely.

1.  We did a LOT of walking when we hiked up both the Duomo and the Bell-tower. There are about 463 steps in the Duomo, a church (or basilica) in the center of Florence. In addition to the magnificent painting on the inner arch of the dome, it offers amazing views of the city and nearby countryside. Immediately following our first climb, we went across the square to the Bell-tower. Though not as high as the Duomo, we were still able to enjoy more panoramic views of the city and country. Florence's crowded city center seemed minute to the rolling hills, lush trees and stucco roof houses that littered the surrounding scenery. Small cities blended beautifully into the mountains and forestry. L'Italia è bella. 
View of the Bell Tower from the Duomo
L'Italia è bella

Monday, June 25, 2012

Venizia's Top 5!

Ahh, we have arrived in Italia. The weather is warmer, and the air more humid. Le sigh. Our first stop was Venice, City of Canals. Two days here was short, but oh so sweet. My highlights are in chronological order, since I can't really say one was better than another: all were equally amazing moments.

Fun Fact #1: Venice is comprised of 118 islands, 177 canals and 409 bridges connecting them.
Fun Fact #2: Yes, it floods and is in danger. Yes, the government is slowly working on a moveable, electrical dam system.

I gladly present...Venizia's Top 5! 
View from the Gondola Ride of one of the larger canals
Cindy, Me, Lawrence, Colette, Derek, and Larry
5. After driving for almost 10 hours from Austria to Venice, we were all a little weary. After a hearty dinner of bruschetta and pasta pescatore, however, we were all much happier. With full bellies we headed to our first activity, a gondola ride at sunset. (Sunset, by the way, has been consistently much later in Europe. In Germany, Austria and Italy sunset has been around 9/9:30ish.) It is the quintessential Venice experience, and rightly so. Six in our boat, we meandered through the city's canals while listening to our gondolier sing. The weathered city buildings are stacked together in a mix of Classical, Neo, and Byzantine styled architecture. The setting sun reflects in the lagoon's water, and as the street lamps light up, it feels almost magical. 

4. Morning Walking Tour: We met our local guide, Elisabetta, outside the hotel to begin our tour. While I currently can't remember most of the information Elisabetta gave us, it was fascinating to learn about Venice's history: its hodgepodge of architecture, Napoleon's influence, how they set up wooden planks to cross from building to building when it floods, and the restorations that result, the economy and population's decline, a demonstration of how to make the masks worn at Carnival, and its main church, San Marco, whose ceiling is plastered in mosaic glass tiles with a thin, gold leaf inside.

Well deserved Frescata pizza lunch after much shopping
3. SHOPPING! I let my inner girly-girl emerge today; Colette and I shopped to our heart's content. I had to purchase a pair of earrings made of the city's special Murano glass. And the dress and purse were just too cute (and too reasonably priced!) to pass up. What can I say? I can never pass up a good sale. Of course, I didn't break the bank today because there's still Florence! Ah, this is the life.

2. A part of Venice's charm is being able to get lost in it, and then finding your way through it. The streets have occasional signs that inform you of your whereabouts, but there are so many twists, turns, dead-ends into canals, and bridges, that it's hard to keep your directionality. Being completely devoid of a solid sense of direction, it was quite easy for me to get lost. Every street being filled with fancy couture shops, cute boutiques and the occasional whiff of a nearby trattoria or pizzeria make the experience quite enjoyable. We spent hours exploring the city; at one point, we ended up in a residential area. As we turned a corner to a dead-end, we began heading back. A woman sitting on the steps of the canal asked us, in perfect English, "Do you need directions somewhere?" After we explained we were enjoying getting lost and re-finding ourselves, we learned Laura is from Chicago and recently picked up and moved to Venice. She has spent years visiting the city, and finally decided to move to a place she felt truly at home in. It was incredibly inspiring to hear her story, and Colette and I left her with a renewed bounce in our steps after a long day of wandering and shopping.
Walking by Venice's canal at night

1. An evening in San Marco's Square is divine. We splurged and sat at Cafe Lavena in the middle of the square, right in front of the orchestral quintet that serenaded us for a few hours. We sipped on Spritz's (a popular Italian drink: orange-y, sweet alcohol with just a bit of tartness) and chips. We looked out at the tourists and Italians strolling in the square. (I feel I have overused that word lately, but you can really do nothing but stroll in Venice. The city requires it.) I was grossed out by the hordes of people feeding pigeons bread out of their hands and allowing them to sit on their heads. Luckily the music and otherwise pleasant atmosphere negated the pigeon scene. We watched the moon peak through the clouds and felt a cool breeze. We sat for hours, just enjoying the music, enjoying the contentment, enjoying the San Marco square.    

San Marco Square in the moonlight

Austria's Top 3!

We spent 2 nights in Austria, but most of our day activities were in neighboring Germany. This pit-stop will highlight my top 3, most of which are focused on my new family!

Fun Fact #1: Cliche as it may be, there is nothing like singing The Sound of Music while in the valleys of the Alps.

 Austria's Top 3 Highlights!
3. The first night at our hotel, Colette and I settled onto the back porch with a glass of wine to gaze at the sunset. There was a bustle of noise and loud, laughing German inside the hotel's cafe, yet it was nothing but blissful outside. Soon, we were accompanied by Lexi, much upset about boy troubles at home and looking for advice. Richard, our very fashionable and very European bus driver, joined us; he gladly offered his advice to Lexi, as well. Not long after, Kaiah came out and similarly, Colette, Richard, and I found ourselves offering 'boy advice' to both girls. A sliver of the moon was out, there was an increasingly chilly wind in the air, and I sipped contently on a Martini Bianco. (Martinis are very different in Europe than America. There are much sweeter, a little tart, and garnished with lime (not olive). It is delicious!) It was a lovely evening in a beautiful country and good company- a common thing I am discovering to be my top highlights wherever I go!
Sunset near the Chapel

2. Buddy Intros! As a part of our 'get-to-know-each-other-really-well' activities, we needed to interview our buddies and then introduce them to the entire group. Colette and I sat with my buddy, Brad, during our Austrian dinner- creamy garlic soup, fresh salad, and roast beef with potatoes. As I've mentioned, Colette and I love our buddies (though Sherri was too busy enjoying wine with Darice to join us for dinner...). We all had a blast chatting and getting to know each other. Naturally, Brad and I were the first to start the Intros to the group, and we did a pretty rocking job setting the bar. In case you were interested, Brad works in the Parks and Rec Department (which is unfortunately nothing like the TV show), used to play football, has two daughters near my age, and his favorite color is purple. Of course, that was the abbreviated version of the eloquent introduction I actually gave him. And he did equally excellent introducing me; it's always nice to get accolades for teaching middle school and seeming far more mature than my actual age. Beyond our awesomeness, it was fun getting to know lots of quirks and facts about everyone in the group.

1. I don't know how many times I said the following while we were in Austria: "You know, if I lived here and got to look at that every morning when I woke up, I would be the happiest person in the world." I meant every word of it. Austria is bordered by the Alps, in the heart of the forested countryside. Looking at those mountains swelled so much happiness in me, and I would just deep breath and sigh peacefully.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Southern Germany's Top 8!

Rothenberg and Southern Germany
Fun Fact #1: The German Autobahn does have a speed limit…it’s just a recommended speed. Buses, trucks, etc. have a speed limit of 60; everyone else has a suggested speed of 120 km/hr. Also, Germany has a P.A. system that interrupts through your radio with any announcements about weather alerts, upcoming traffic jams, etc. Smart, if you ask me.

*Before departing Germany, we also visited Dachau (former concentration camp, now memorial site). Dachau was very difficult and emotional for me; the site’s presence is heavy. It weighed on my chest. Our guide did an excellent job explaining the camp’s operations and history, and though I’ve heard accounts from Holocaust survivors yearly at my middle and high school, it has an entire new meaning when you are in that place. So while it was far from a joyous highlight of my time in Germany, it was still a moving and important part of my trip. Certainly worth mentioning.

Now, for the happy stuff! Our stops include a few different towns in Southern Germany, so this list is in chronological order of the places we visited.

Presenting, Southern Germany’s Top 8!
Lake near the Castles

8. Walking in the medieval village of Rothenberg, most of the buildings and landscapes are over 800 years old.  Colette and I strolled down the wall of the city, looking out at the rooftops and church steeple. We relaxed on the back porch of a café sampling wine and cheese, gazing at the nearby St. Jacob’s church. We explored the Castle Gardens and wandered up and down the cobbled streets and small shops. Even though this was the most tourist-filled of our stops, it was still peaceful in the (finally) sunny weather and cool breeze.
Walking the Wall of Rothenberg

7. For dinner, Colette and I went outside the city gates to a nearby Bier Garten. We plopped down at a table next to large tree with colorful lights and listened to the songs of a daughter and father duo- singing and playing accordion at the front of the large yard to a raucous and cheerful crowd. Soon, our travel buddies for the trip strolled in and joined us. (We are assigned a 'travel buddy' we need to check in with at each of our meeting times. This way, we can notice if you're M.I.A. and running late.) Brad and Sherri are from Seattle and celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters a little younger than Colette and I, and they are by far our most favorite people on the trip. Not long after, Cindy and her son Derek happened to come in, so we had a full, happy table. The potatorolls I had were absolutely delicious (they’re like fancy hashbrowns), the hefewiesen beer was plentiful, and the company was perfect. We had a wonderful time enjoying the music, relaxed atmosphere, and steady supply of beer. Now, we had to meet at 8pm in the Market Square for the Night Watchman Tour (which I will delve into in another highlight), so we had left ourselves 1.5 hours for dinner, getting accustomed to the leisurely pace of dining in Europe. However, we found ourselves rushing to pay at 7:56pm, and we had about a 10 minute walk to get back to the square. We bolted back to that square; Sherri leading the way. It was certainly one way to jog off the potatoes and beer. We made it right in the nick of time, but I wouldn’t have changed that frantic scramble back into town, all of us laughing and huffing, for anything.

6. The Night Watchman Tour. This man is straight out of Monty Python—with his witty remarks, perfect comedic timing, and a drawling accent. Despite being in a massive tour of Americans and other English speakers who take over the streets as we tour Rothenberg and learn its medieval history, it felt like a personal performance. He was fabulous; words do not do the man justice. I hope the picture of him does some.

 5. Our Night Watchman made sure to point out a local bar in Rothenberg named "Hell." As anyone would suspect, Colette and I knew we would be returning to Hell at the duration of the tour. Yes, the puns are endless. A whole group of us decided to visit Hell for a few drinks. While we there, we saw the Night Watchman grabbing a glass of wine at the bar. Colette put on her best Southern charm and invited him to join us for a drink; how could he refuse? We learned how he applied to the job through a newspaper ad, and he has been a watchman for 21 years. A truly interesting man. Hell certainly provided great company, great drinks, and was quite comfy. 
One of the views from the bus
4. To get to and from our towns, we spend a decent amount of time on our coach bus. And the view out the window is simply incredible. Lisa, our tour guide, informed me that people pay expensive train rides to get the views we have, and I absolutely believe it. The German landscape is nothing but what I have found in every town- peace, serenity, and beauty. Whether it's the glacial water of the rivers, forested mountains at the edge of the snow-covered Alps, or the vast, vibrant green farmlands and barns, every glance is stunning. Breathtaking.
Hohenschwangau Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle (Cinderella's Castle)
3. A trip to Germany wouldn't be complete without visiting castles (you know- my summer homes). The Hohenschwangau castle was "Mad" King Ludwig's childhood home. Steeped in the beauty of the 'Romantik' era, almost every wall is painted with elaborate religious and historical scenes in pastels and gold. The furniture and pieces are ivory and gold, elaborate and ornate. While most say this castle paled in comparison to King Ludwig's last creation, the Neuschwanstein, I'd find it quite suitable for my next residence. 
The Neuschwanstein castle, which means 'New Swan Stone', is the inspiration for Cinderella's castle. So naturally, I felt right at home. Ludwig was never able to finish the castle, being declared 'mentally insane and incapable of ruling' his country. 3 out of the 4 floors were finished, and masterfully so. The Romantik style wall paintings were everywhere, as were gold decorations, intricately carved wood, an abundance of swan paintings, sculptures, and faucets, and even a mosaic-tiled ballroom (where I will hold my House Warming party). The icing on the cake is the view out of every window- the alps, the forests, the quaint nearby towns.

2. The Luge Ride! At the mountain across from the castles was a smaller hillside, where we all experienced our first luge ride. A luge ride consists of the following: sitting with your legs out straight in front of you on a leg-length long board, your hands hold onto the lever between your legs, you push the lever forward to go faster and pull back to slow down, then you are taken up a slight slope to the top of the hill, from there you take off down a winding, metal, curved track. (I have included a picture of David enjoying himself while luging, because my description is completely insubstantial.) More or less, however, it is a roller coaster with self-controlled speed. Unsurprisingly, I spent most of my time pushing down on the lever and speeding my way down the track. Exhilarating.

Looking out at Rothenberg
1. I couldn't end a Highlight list of Germany without proper attribution to the food! Whether I was scarfing down potatorolls, eating baguette sandwiches, savoring warm & fluffy pastries, relishing the in-season asparagus soup, tasting fresh salads, sampling sweet white wines or gulping hefeweisen, I haven't had a meal I didn't enjoy. I thought Germany was just pretzels, beer and sausages, but it is truly a fully-rounded hearty cuisine. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Northern Germany's Top 5!

Bacharach, Germany
Fun Fact #1: Our hotel is a small tower. Colette and I got the room, actually suite, at the top. We’re like princesses, and naturally enjoying every minute of it. As Colette put it, “If I had long billowy hair, I’d totally throw it out our window right now just like Rapunzel.”

 Presenting...Bacharach's Top 5!

5. In a place that has such a war-filled history, I have found serenity and peacefulness. Sitting in the nook of my hotel room, I can look out the window and sigh contently. Even with the steady buzz of traffic from a busy street directly underneath and the whizzing of passing trains and boats, the birds seem to overpower them; all I notice is the calm currents of the Rhine River and the tree-covered mountains behind them. The kitschy décor of our 700-year-old hotel building seems to blend perfectly with the medieval and classical architecture of the town, nestled into the hillside. 

4. Stumbling into a small shop in a nearby town (Obersteefels…I think), Colette and I found true German hospitality and friendliness. Little did we know when we walked into Stefan’s Christmas and Wine Paradise to take a few snapshots of the Nutcrackers in the windows, that Rosi would immediately come up to us with small shot glasses of fresh peach brandy for us to try. After our first tasting, they didn’t seem to stop. She asked us to browse the wall of wine and brandy and pick as many flavors as we wanted to try. We sampled blackberry and chocolate brandy (of which, I had to purchase), and then moved onto wines. Bacharach is very particular and proud of the wines they make. Much sweeter than American and other wines, they specialize in white wines, especially the Eiswine. Then, Stefan, the owner of the store came over to chat with us as we were encouraged to taste away. (We found out he is pretty close with our tour founder, Rick Steves!) He even let us try a very rare red Eiswine; it’s about $300 a bottle because it takes 65 pounds of grapes to make one bottle, and each grape’s skin has to be peeled off by hand. If that wasn’t enough, he gave us a free bottle of blackberry brandy, since it was our favorite, to enjoy, “this evening, back at the hotel, when [we were] just sitting around.” Needless to say, Colette and I enjoyed our discovery of the shop and the hospitable employees that run it!

3. Herr Jung (pronounced “Young”) is the sweetest 81 year old German man in the entire world. The local guide for our Walking Tour through Bacharach, Herr Joung weaved his own childhood memories into the history of the town and its role in the various wars throughout the decades. He took us through vineyards, where the native sweet white wines originate (and are sold almost exclusively throughout the area); we climbed one of the guard towers to look out at the village nestled on the bank of the Rhine River. He told us about losing his brother, discovering, when he was a boy no more than 10, the destroyed body of an American soldier in the nearby woods, and of the American family that sent packages of food and saved his life at the end of World War II. He expressed genuine remorse at what had happened to the Jewish people in his town and a hint of shame for all of Germany’s wars. That such a sweet, kind man survived such tragedy in his life is remarkable. And, he is almost nothing but smiles and joy.
View of the Rhine River

Burg Rheinfels Ruins
2. Climbing through the mine tunnels of the Burg Rheinfels (Castle Rheinfels) ruins. It pretty much speaks for itself. Castle? Nice. Ruins? Sweet. Mine tunnels? That’s just fantastic. I had to bend over nearly 90 degrees to fit the tight confinements of the cobbled, stone walls as I crawled through. And since it had been raining all day, it was slick and muddy. Our guide, Gabby, gave directions to some of the younger boys leading the line (they were about 18, along with about 5 – 6 other boys on this trip who are also that same age), and then she sent us on our way. Winding and bending through the dark passages made my heart beat a little faster, but leaving my trust in the hands of a bunch of 18 year old boys? That was terrifying! We luckily made it out, and I felt a little more trusting as we went through a second, less confining and more easily navigable tunnel. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Burg Rheinfels Ruins

1. Colette and I joined the ‘young-ins’ after a full day of walking, hiking up to the Burg Rheinfels, and a Canal river cruise down the Rhine, to hike up to the castle at the top of a nearby hill. The castle now acts as a youth hostel. It was a bit of a hike, but we loved spending time with Derek, 18 and going to Illinois in the fall, Kaiah, the same age and from Colorado, and Alexi, an adorable about-to-be sophomore in high school. (We promised Derek’s mom and Alexi’s grandmother we would take good care of them!) While we were all surprised to see that it really was ‘youth’ running about the hostel—8 – 10 year olds shouting and playing everywhere, we had fun climbing up and down the castle and trying to sync our camera timers to get group shots of us and the view.
*There are some wonderful people on our tour, in a variety of ages. We’ve got some older married couples, a dad and his 10 year old son, a few mothers and their ‘just graduated high school’ sons, a grandmother and her 3 grandsons of various ages, a family with 2 boys about college age, a grandmother and granddaughter, a family of 3, and two girls traveling together from Colorado. While we're quite an eclectic group, we are all having fun together! It's becoming my family away from home. And this is probably the top highlight I’ve discovered in Northern Germany.
Me, Colette, Derek, Lexi, and Kaiah

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Haarlem's Top 5

In my past travel postings, I have learned that people don't want to read epically long writings about a million different things. So despite all of my angst as a writer that longs to write about the beauty of each moment I have spent in my travels, and for the sake of my readers (should I hopefully have any), I have decided that my Europe Trip escapades shall be broken into the "Top 5 (or 10) Highlights," and a few fun facts for each pit stop.

Fun Fact #1: The people here have impeccable genes. Tall, blond, thin and polite. What's not to like?
Fun Fact #2: Colette and my catch-phrase for Haarlem is, "Am I in the street?" The sidewalks and roads are both the same brick, and there is no clear distinction between the two.

I present...

De Adriaan Windmill

Haarlem, Holland's Top 5:

5.  Harleem is everything that's beautiful and quaint. Its cobbled streets that wind down the canal are equally matched by the long, thin legs that ride bikes along it. There is a harmony in its 18th and 19th century architecture that house modern, posh clothing stores and quaint eateries. The Grote Kerk (Great Church) that is at its center is large and glorious, and its bells that chime every hour are simply melodious.
4.  Visiting the de Adriaan Windmill. Is it the most stereotypical object that Holland has to offer? Yes. Well, windmills and tulips and little dutch clogs. Is it any less exciting? No. Even better is sitting beneath it, sipping on a cappuccino while looking at a duck family swimming in the canal surrounding it.
3.   The Grote Markt. (Great Market) It's open on Monday for clothing and Saturday for food. (While it's only 3 - 4 rows of stalls, it certainly feels great.) Luckily, we experienced a Saturday at the Grote Markt. In the center of Harleem, in the courtyard of the Church, the Dutch meander the crowded stalls of fresh fruits, cheeses, meats, and dog treats. A few jewelry and clothing stalls sneak their way in, but the aroma of a freshly baked spinach & feta baked pie is intoxicating (and equally delicious, I might add). Colette sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice (verse jus de orange), and I downed a strawberry-rasberry-banana type smoothie. The flower stalls are packed with brightly colored tulips and roses, which also manage to climb up the walls of the buildings on the streets. The cherry on the sundae? There is a group of men and women dressed in clown wigs and capes that play traditional European music that serenade you as you wander up and down the aisles.
2.  The Dutch are polite. The Dutch are nice. The Dutch are unobtrusive. They make the bitter, chilly wind bearable. They leave you be but do not ever make you feel unwelcome. Maybe it's all of the Vitamin D they get from the 19 hours or so of daylight they get every day, but I have certainly enjoyed it. Case in point- Colette ordered a vodka with soda water and lemon. Despite being out of lemon, the waiter walked down the street to another bar to get her one. Case #2: Even though I feel like a dumb American when I have to ask, "Do you speak English?" to every person I encounter, their response is always, "Of course. How can I help you?" Not a single undertone of annoyance, and always make sure we feel comfortable. Dutch = Hospitality to a T. 
1.  Just walking around Haarlem. I feel comfortable here. I love walking up and down the brick streets. I love looking at the architecture and flowers. I love the people. No wonder my parents lived here for a year. If I ever live abroad, this will be a strong contender in the fight. They wouldn't muscle their way to first place with punches and snipes; they'd complacently wait for me to come to them. 

...Perhaps, someday, I will again.