I like Holland and can, after one day here, heartily recommend it. The Dutch, as I've said, are very nice people and they go to the trouble of putting all their signs in English. Which is nice. From my, admittedly, limited experience of them, I'd say all the nasty ones have left to live abroad, leaving the pleasant ones back home. I was reminded of this by the brass railings of the pulpit in the cathedral; they're formed of 2 snakes and 'symbolise evil leaving the world'.
A walk round the centre of Haarlem gives the impression that the (must-be-wealthy) Dutch have little to do but eat out. I doubt I've seen so many (and varied) restaurants in a square kilometre anywhere else in the world. Even in the food-stalls area of Singapore. Back in the day . . . Only one had gone out of business - A Portuguese place. Presumably the Dutch don't like rice and potatoes with every meal. Or cod done a thousand ways.
It was a half-price day at the cathedral (actually,the Big Church), because they were setting up a vast evening event and there was, said the lady, a lot of noise and disruption. Frankly, there was so much of this, it should have been free. But, anyway, I asked if you had to pay the full price if you were deaf. She replied that she hadn't thought of this. So I recommended she whispered to future visitors and, if they couldn't hear her, she should charge them the full price and pocket the difference. This is what years of living in Spain does to your ethics. The cathedral was built in the 14th century and, so, was originally Catholic. But the Protestants, despite protestations, stole it from them many years ago. And are unlikely ever to give it back. After visiting many Spanish churches and cathedrals, its defining features for me were 2 absences:- 1. Garish side chapels, and 2. Noise. Apart from the hammering, I mean. As you will know, in medieval Europe (Holland?), the dog-whipper (hondenslager) was employed to keep the dogs in order in the streets and the congregation quiet in church. He has his own chapel in the church and he's represented here on one of the pillars. It'd be an understatement to say his chapel is sparsely adorned.
The organ in the cathedral is simply huge. Mozart played on it when he was 10, on a trip to Haarlem with his parents. He later went on to develop a career in music.
The church is paved with hundreds of uneven flagstones. And I wasn't surprised to read there are a thousand corpses buried below them. Always of folk who could afford this honour. And they used to smell a lot. Hence, it says here, the phrase The stinking rich. Hmm.
With my soul improved, I went in search of some Asian food. But the only place open was a Thai Wok takeaway. Where I ordered a soup and a Phad Thai, blissfully unaware that each of these was enough for 2 normal people. With the Dutch being very tall, perhaps they only satisfy one average local person. Anyway, I made a valiant effort to down the lot. But didn't succeed.
You'll also know there are a lot of bikes in Holland. And that they make no noise. They come at you from all directions and it can be even trickier crossing a road in the 'pedestrian' centre of Haarlem than, say, Hyde Park Lane. The basic rule appears to be - Don't let any plonker on a bike hit you in the back. A sub-para of this rule is – Don't make the slightest change of direction without looking over both shoulders. They don't seem to have klaxons – or even just bells – on bikes here.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT . . . DIRTY WORK AT THE PONTEVEDRA CROSSROADS: You'll all recall that the Spanish President, Sr Rajoy is a son of this fair city. And that he was publicly biffed by one of his wife's young relatives just before Xmas. The latter claims he'd been infuriated by the PP's corrupting of his father – an employee of the Chamber of Commerce – and by its setting up his father as the Chamber's corruption fall-guy and, naturally, hypocritically exculpating itself. With which cynical strategy its had a huge amount of experience over the last 30 years. Aided by a friendly media. Those with Spanish can read more of this local/national saga here.
FINALLY . . . WOLVES: I'm a great admirer of these much-maligned creatures and would really like to have one as a pet. If only to stop the local cats crapping in my garden. Here's a Guardian article on them, for those who share my affection.