Netherlands (Holland)/where to go next?
We are two staying in Haarlem for three night. We have three nights left. We want to bicycle around the countryside, seeing windmills, canals, locals. Can't decide which direction, how far...north, south, or east?
Here is some information on things to do and see in The Netherlands (actually, Holland is the name of a province, but just about everyone uses the name for the whole country).
In Amsterdam, the public transportation around the city and the train service to other parts of the country are excellent. However, if you want to see things like de Haar Castle and the Kroller-Muller Museum the easiest way would be to rent a car and use Mappy.com (see next paragraph) for directions. Otherwise, the train system throughout the country is excellent, though not as convenient as a car. I wouldn't worry about distances, as it's a very small country. Actually, as you are interested in biking, check on renting bikes and then taking them with you on the trains. In Holland that's a great way to go.
There is a great website for maps and directions in Europe: www.mappy.com. You could use it to print out directions virtually anywhere in Holland or any other country.
If you want to do more extensive browsing in general, www.johnnyjet.com might also give you some useful leads on travel-related websites. And, of course, www.holland.com is the official Dutch website, and a very good one at that.
Now some recommendations for things to see:
In Amsterdam, the first thing to do (if you have not done so before) is take a tour boat ride. Take a city map with you, and mark the location of things that interest you as the boat passes them. Then you can go back after the boat ride. The Anne Frank House, for example, is one of the most popular attractions in A'dam.
Public transportation is excellent in Holland, so whatever you can't walk to in the city (or country) you cen get to by bus, trolley or train. You can even rent a bike and take it on the train with you. For museums in the city, the two most famous are the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum. Both are great museums, and I highly recommend them (assuming you're looking for culture and not just Heineken). Speaking of Heineken beer, the brewery is near the Rijksmuseum, and they have an excellent tour, with samples.
Of course, the famous Amsterdam Red Light District is worth seeing. Be careful about taking pictures of the women and windows, though, as they don't like it. I'm not saying don't do it, but don't be conspicuous about it (if you want to amuse your friends back home, there's a large statue of a phallus in the District).
Frankly, my favorite museum is in Utrecht, a short train ride from A'dam. It is the Museum Speelklok (Musical Clocks). It's a short walk from the Utrecht train station, and is relatively small (the tour takes about an hour), but they demonstrate dozens of fascinating mechanical music devices and it is well worth the time. See www.museumspeelklok.nl, and click on the little British flag for English text.
Not far from Utrecht (if you can get transportation) is de Haar Castle, one of the most beautiful in Europe (www.kasteeldehaar.nl), and in the small town of Oudewater, between Utrecht and Gouda, you can get weighed on the historic Witches Scales and get a certificate proving you are not a witch (www.heksenwaag.nl, click on the link at the top for English language). By the way, that certificate is a wonderful souvenir, and the scales are part of history, not just a tourist attraction. They go back to the Spanish Inquisition.
There is another tourist town, called Volendam, north of A'dam, that is picturesque, but is purely tourist. The thing I really enjoy there is the small photo shops, where you can dress in traditional Dutch costumes, complete with wooden shoes, and have your picture taken in an old Dutch living room setting.
Another interesting museum, north of Arnhem, is the Kroller-Muller Museum, which specializes in van Gogh and his more modern contemporaries. When it comes to art, this is my favorite museum. It's not nearly as big as the Rijksmuseum, but it is out in the country, and has a great outdoor sculpture museum. It is also not far from the Openlucht (Open Air) Museum, which is a bit like Disney's Epcot but devoted to the old Holland. I would highly recommend a visit there in conjunction with the Kroller-Muller Museum.
There are, of course, many other things to see and do in Holland. These are just some of my favorites. But in my opinion the best thing about this little country is its people, most of whom speak English (and Dutch and French and German), and almost all of whom genuinely like visitors.
Have a great time!
PS: Almost forgot. Find a good restaurant for pannekoeken. These are large crepes (pancakes) with almost any kind of topping you can imagine. I happen to like apples, cinnamon and powdered sugar. This, by the way, is dinner, not breakfast. Also ask for a good Indonesian restaurant and try Rijsstaffel (don't let the "j" in Dutch words fool you. It is pronounced like our "y"). This is a dish of white rice surrounded by small dishes of various goodies, which you mix with the rice. These are a couple of the Dutch peoples' favorite treats (mine too...).