When you travel
in the Netherlands, go Dutch: Get to know the locals. Hans and Marjet de Kiefte run
what I consider the ideal B&B in Haarlem,
just outside of Amsterdam. Hans, having quit his desk job, enjoys
to know his guests. Bouncy Marjet, with wispy strawberry-blond hair and
a knack for assembling a Salvation-Army chic wardrobe for under $20, is
the sentimental half of this team.
visit, my friends show me a new slice of Holland. And with
each visit, I renew my belief that the more you know about Europe, the
more you'll uncover that's worth exploring.
and I work up a sweat solving the world's problems over a
brisk and windy walk along the oceanfront, Marjet lags behind,
shells with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. Just when I'm about to
Marjet into my kitten-lover file, she sits me down, sticks an animal
flier in my pocket, and challenges me to delete all mention of
from my Spain guidebook.
living room, we grab well-worn chairs in a room crowded with
books, funky near-antiques, and an upright piano littered with tattered
music. After several years of housing American travelers, Hans and
have gained an insight into the cultural differences between Americans
and Europeans. Hans says, "Americans talk and make friends quickly.
even with no language differences, keep their private formal island at
our breakfast table."
casual traveler notices the differences. On their coffee table
is a handbook the Dutch government produces to teach prostitutes about
safe sex. Thumbing through it, I mention to Hans that it's both
and explicit. "Victoria without the Secret," he says. I ask, "Isn't
shocking to a lot of people?" He replies, "Only to the English and the
Americans. Remember, this is Holland. Last night we had a local TV
on body piercing in full graphic detail. Last week there was a special
on the Kama Sutra. To us, these were simply two more documentaries...no
big deal. Perhaps these would have been big hits on American TV."
since the most-visited file on my Web site is a goofy little
article comparing Amsterdam's two sex museums," I say, realizing that
finding the handbook more interesting than Hans.
I ask him,
"What do you like best about Holland?"
"Skating the canals from town to town through farm country
on a crisp February day. Imagine it: a cold wind at your back and the
sun on your face. If the ice is smooth, you get into a nice rhythm. I
my hands behind my back and it is only me and our big, big sky. For me,
this is better than skiing in the Alps. The world is still. It's quiet.
The fields stretch for miles. A church steeple marks the next town.
under a bridge, you're in the town center. The pub seems to say, 'Come
and warm up.' Rubber mats lead from the canal to its door. Inside
a big fire and the windows are steamy. Lawyers, doctors, the farmers
students all hang out together in the warmth. Cross-country skating, we
are all equal--all just simple Dutch boys."
To stay at
Hans and Marjet's B&B, call (from the States: 011-31-23-532-2980)
or write (Haus de Kiefte, Coornhertstraat 3, 2013 EV Haarlem,
You'll pay about $60 for a double room. A two-night minimum stay is
(and worth it).
more of Rick's recommendations for Haarlem, see his guidebook
Steves' France, Belgium & the Netherlands,"