Haarlem, Paris and London

We spent a great 2½-week vacation in Haarlem (Netherlands), Paris and London in May ’05.

Haarlem was a pleasant surprise. It’s a good rail center (we are rail travelers) and an excellent base for taking day trips anyplace in Holland. Our hotel, the Golden Tulip Lion d’Or (e-mail info@goldentulip.com), across from the rail and bus stations, was very comfortable, with a courteous staff and an excellent buffet breakfast — highly recommended. I don’t know the rates.

Saturday is market day. Do visit the market and the cathedral. Haarlem is also close to Keukenhof Gardens and Alkmaar (with cheese and beer museums). Prices in Haarlem are much more reasonable than in Amsterdam.
We spent a week in Paris and stayed at the Observatorie Luxembourg (e-mail sa.sol@wanadoo.fr), in a quiet location across from the Luxembourg Gardens. Rates for double rooms run €155-€210.

This hotel, which also had a great buffet breakfast (€13 +€1 tax), was across the street from the RER Station, connecting to all rail stations and the Paris underground — a good central location from which to explore Paris. We also went to Giverny, Versailles and Chartres.

A good restaurant that we found in Paris is the Brasserie Balzar (49, rue des Ecoles) — excellent food and service. We noticed that a lot of the locals came to this restaurant for special occasions. Dinner prices varied from about €10 to €25, not including wine or outrageous desserts. Naturally, everything was à la carte. They did have English menus.

We took the Chunnel to London and stayed in Chelsea for the second time at Francoise and Ted Phillips’ garden apartment (6 Tite St., Chelsea, London, SW34HY; e-mail wonderfulchelsea@aol.com). On the lower level, it’s very comfortable with living room/kitchen, bath and bedroom. Rates are about £105 per night for two persons or £65 for one person. A pub, convenience store, supermarket and bus stops are all within walking distance.

One purpose of our trip was to attend the Chelsea Flower Show; we had obtained tickets on the Internet in January when they were first available. Additionally, we took day trips to Cambridge and Canterbury — the BritRail London Plus Senior Pass offers a good, economical way to explore southeast England.

We had another day exploring London and found that tickets for London musicals could be obtained very reasonably by checking at the box offices an hour or two before the performances.

All in all, this was a pleasant but very busy vacation, and we only had to pack and unpack three times in 2½ weeks.

We booked the Amsterdam-Paris-London part of the trip through the AAA in San Luis Obispo, including the hotel in Paris. These arrangements also included other “goodies,” such as a pass for the local Paris transportation system. As far as the Haarlem hotel and Chelsea apartment, we arranged these by Internet.

We booked our own museum pass in Paris, a 3-day Holland flexipass, London underground passes and a 2-day London Plus Senior Pass ourselves on the Internet through Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com).

Los Osos, CA