‘You interested in the Royal Wedding, Edwin?’ I asked my friend and occasional cycling partner.
‘Me neither. How about we ride to Leiden?’
‘Sounds good. My mother was born there,’ he said, ‘so I’m half Leidenaar.’
‘Rembrandt was born there too,’ I answered. I’ve been to his house in Amsterdam and the church where he married Saskia in Friesland. I’ve seen his paintings in the Rijksmuseum and the Westerkerk where he’s buried. Visiting his birthplace would complete the set.
The wind was a strengthening nor’easter. We’d have it at our backs most of the way from Amsterdam to Leiden.
Our route took us beside the Amstel River, past Nes aan de Amstel and Uithoorn. From there we cut across to Aalsmeer and stopped for koffie.
After that it was just a matter of rolling down the bike lanes, most of them beside canals and around lakes, following the signs to Leiden, just over 60km all up.
Leiden is a university town. Rembrandt enrolled at uni, but the attendance records show he skipped a lot of lectures. All of them in fact. He never once turned up.
Instead of applying himself to something useful like commerce or accountancy, Rembrandt went out and got himself art lessons. Did his parents plead with him to finish his degree so he’d have something to fall back on if this art business didn’t work out?
I bet he wished he’d finished that degree when he went bust in later life.
On a sunny Friday, Leiden students were giving themselves a long weekend, enjoying a long lunch in the outdoor cafes, or on boats on the water where the Old Rhine Canal and the New Rhine Canal come together to make the Stille (Quiet) Rhine Canal.
A few blocks away from the town centre, the river becomes much quieter (well, the river is always quiet, but the people on it were quieter). To the south of the little bridge by the mill is the alley where Rembrandt was born.
Rembrandt’s family owned a number of houses in the street, and no-one knows in just which house he spent his childhood.
The house in which he was born was demolished in 1906 so that a printing works could be extended. It is now an apartment block.
The square opposite is graced by a sculpture in the middle.
It shows a child Rembrandt studying an easel on which stands a bronze portrait of the artist in later life. The concept is interesting, but the execution of the child figure is a bit of a let-down, I’m afraid.
Here’s the route Edwin and I followed. For inzoomable map, click here.