I had planned for a couple of meetings in Europe but, in the end, only one eventuated.
Margaret VN and Roos, her partner, met me initially in the cafe of a department store but, since we were enjoying each other's company, we carried on down to the main square in Leiden and spent a couple more hours there as well, overlooking views like this, a picture inserted because we were so slack that I didn't get any pictures of us or where we ate.
Still, it made for a lovel interlude as my trip was drawing to a close. Nothing quite like having some locals (nearly) to have a chat with an explain all those idiosyncrasies that you don't understand.
What are we talking about here? We're talking swimming pools, something I certainly had no thoughts about while I was spending time in Leiden.
Apparently there are three so, if you're there in summer, don't forget your cossies.
When you walk around Leiden, you may come across some 'wall poems' written in various languages (including Greek, Russian, Swedish and so on), on sidewalls and back walls of the many streets. They are part of the project "Poems and walls", which began in 1992 with a poem by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetajeva.
Most poems have a small plaque beneath them, containing translations in Dutch and English. The initiators of this project hope that passers-by are stimulated by the poems as well as by the visual image of the letters against the background formed by the wall. The viewer is confronted by various sorts of characters that refer to different cultures. The common thread throughout this project is that many of these poems reflect upon language, colour or upon the life as a poet.
There is a special relationship between this project and the city of Leiden, since the town has been home to a number of writers who either lived or studied in Leiden. Being a university town, Leiden has traditionally attracted scholars and scientists from all over the world. This makes the international character of the project all the more worthwhile. There is also book titled "Dicht op de muur" (Poetry on the wall) that features the first 43 poems.
Later in 2000, five more poems were completed in the neighbourhood of Slaaghwijk. Apart from their aesthetic contribution, the poems are meant to emphasize the multi-cultural character of Slaaghwijk. The poems are painted in Turkish, Moroccan, Chinese, Surinam and Dutch. There are now 101 wall poems in Leiden.
Make a virtual walk here along the wall poems.
If you would like to see the poems in real life, you can design your own walking tour with the help of the list of poems. A nice place to start your itinerary is grand-café "De Stadhouder", Nieuwe Rijn 13.
Information on guided tours can be obtained from the Leiden Tourist Information, who organize tours on an irregular basis.
The stadsgehoorzaal on the Breestraat is a stage for concerts (with a seated audience) and had featured many famous bands including U2, Queen and lots of others too numerous to mention here.
Inside it is as good as the outside is in appearance with beautiful furnishings.
I had to smile; the sign on the door says "No sigarettes (sic), no toilet, no telephone, no change".
Of course, it had omitted the fact that there were "no customers" either!
Couldn't help but like the little leprecaun's face poking up as well.
I often notice when travelling Europe that there are coats of arms adorning the walls. Most of them aren't quite as blatant as the one I came across in Delft but they certainly represent an oddity for me inasmuch as they are a rarity in Australia.
So it is that with my natural curiousity I find some interest in them but in many cases it's quite difficult getting information about specific ones.
These are some of those I have no further info on but thought I would share them with you.
It's often relatively easy to glean some info just by looking at them closely though. For instance, the first pic probably represents an apiarist, the second and third indicate that Jacob van Marck and Pieter van Assendelft had a leaning towards equine pursuits.
Though Leiden is undoubtedly where he started, Rembrandt did the bulk of his work elsewhere, notably Amsterdam. However, that hasn't stopped Leiden from flogging his name whenever and wherever possible.
It's also worthy of note that my favourite artist, Gerit Dou, was a student of Rembrandt's here for about 9 months but ultimately felt that Rembrandt's work wasn't fine enough and went on to establish his own style and school.
This statue is mentioned on a guide, readily available from the tourist centre, that covers all things Rembrandt that you'd ever want to see in Leiden.
I wandered on further down the Gelgewater, simply meandering on my way to my accommodation. I was in no hurry and eventually I came across these two decrepit examples of how-not-to-look-after your boat.
The mould and moss growing around faded paintwork led one to believe that maintenance was not a priority here.
The Lonely Planet is a bit useless for describing seeing the tulip fields. Yes you can go to Keukenhof from Leiden, and see a botanical garden with tulips, or you can see commercial fields themselves. Take a slow train (stoptrain) from Leiden to Haarlem, these go every half hour either on the hour, or half past. You can see the tulip fields from the train. We got off on the second or third stop, Hillegom. We took a road to the right as you come out of the station, and walked through a residential area before seeing some fields. You could follow this road and turn left onto the main road and see even more fields, with only the river separating you. There may be better places to view the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, but this is a place we found.
Leiden is a beautiful little city. Everywhere you look, you'll find a beautiful street or building, fun restaurants and cafes and of course there are the canals. Just walking around it is an enjoyable activity!
If you only have a couple of hours to experience Leiden, the best idea would be to get a map from the VVV (a couple of blocks down the street from the train station - on the right, right before the first canal) and do the Leiden loop. A walk where you could follow signs through Leiden's historical center.
On the 1st July this year, the city of Leiden decided to put up some street signs with directions to the main Tourist attractions.
They are called the "Leidse Loper" (Leiden Loop). If you see the green sign with the Leiden keys on top (see picture) you can decide to follow the loop and see all attractions on the way. The sign will also tell you how long it would take to complete the loop and go back to the same spot. There is also other information such as the direction to the train stations, which can be useful if you don't know the way around the city.
In any case, it is the "lazy" approach :) to tourist sightseeing.
If you are interested, there is also a book that will give you a more detailed description of the attractions along the Leidse Loper. You can get it at any bookstoore or online:
Just as in any other Dutch city, Leiden also has its own boat tours and this company offers the service with departures from the Beestenmarkt, the main square just a few minutes walk from the station.
There are 5 daily tours from April to October, from 11.00 until 16.00 and cost 5 Eur/person (discounts for over 65 and children applicable).
If you take the tour on a Wednesday or a Saturday (specially), you will be able to see the market from a whole new perspective! The tour will take you through the main (largest) canals.
A very interesting sigthseeing activity in Leiden is a boattour around the canals.
This place rents several kinds of boats (row- paddle- motorsloops) and canoes.
With the rental you get a map of the canals you can "sail" and it is quite easy to get around. I recommend the "Witte Singel" and the "Rapenburg".
It is possible to make reservations (except on Sunday afternoons) and it is recommended to do so as it is quite popular when the weather is nice. Reservations are for a minimum of 2 hours if I am not mistaken.
I recommend the paddleboat, but it is all a matter of taste :)
Prices are on the website, some rentals require a deposit.
In a private initiative (by the 'Tegen-Beeld' foundation), sponsored by several companies and individuals, poetry started to be painted on the walls of Leiden. The project started in 1992, with a poem by Russian Marina Tsvetajeva.
In all there are 101 poems from 39 countries in 32 different languages. Check out the website for the listing of the poems and its locations.
So when you walk around Leiden, remember to look up on the walls of the buildings and you might be able to find a poem by your favourite author, in its original language.
A very popular gift for people leaving Leiden, there are two book that collect all poems and have a (Dutch) translation of each of them. You can get them at any bookstore (http://www.muurgedichten.nl/boekjes/index.html).
Unfortunately, the project came to an end this year. The last one was De Profundis by Garcia Lorca.
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