WANDELING IN LEIDEN (it’s a place in Holland)

Leiden - 'little' Amsterdam, and quieter too.

Leiden – ‘little Amsterdam’. Quieter too.

‘Wandeling’ is one of my favourite Dutch words. It simply means a ‘walk’, but it suggests wandering and ambling.

That’s just what Mevrouw T and I were doing in the lovely Dutch university town of Leiden.

She’d enrolled us for a guided tour of Leiden’s hofjes.

I’ve visited Leiden quite a few times, since it’s an interesting 40-50km bike ride from Amsterdam. Unfortunately that usually means arriving in time to have a koffie or beer by the canal and catch the train home again. This time we took it more slowly, with Aaldert Rus from the excellent Vrije Academie to show us around and tell us the stories.

First stop was the bridge over what’s left of the Rhine.

One of the oldest Leiden buildings - with gables in Dutch Renaissance style.

One of the oldest Leiden buildings – with gables in Dutch Renaissance style.

A certain miller’s son, born just across the water from here, became Leiden’s most famous resident – after he left and started work in Amsterdam. The house in which Rembrandt van Rijn was born no longer exists, but there’s a plaque on the wall to mark the spot, and this memorial in the square in front of it.

The square by Rembrandt's birthplace.

The square by Rembrandt’s birthplace.

During the 80 Years War, Leiden bravely resisted the Spanish in a devastating siege. When the town was relieved in 1574, William of Orange rewarded Leiden by giving it a university, a particularly enlightened present, and extraordinary for its time.

Leiden has a 'lively student buzz', meaning nice places for young people (and older ones) to have a few drinks by the water.

Leiden has a ‘lively student buzz’, meaning nice places for young people (and older ones) to have a few drinks by the water.

In the 17th century, Leiden’s textile trade boomed. The town became the Netherlands’ second biggest city. Rich burghers sponsored ‘hofjes’ – almshouses for the aged, childless and less fortunate. Thirty-five of them still survive in Leiden, as public housing for fortunate students and others.

A Leiden 'hofje' - almshouse.

A Leiden ‘hofje’ – almshouse.

Hofjes generally comprise twelve to fourteen houses, arranged around a charming central garden with communal pump. Most are open to the public during the week, and normally reserved for residents only at weekends.

Hofjes are open to visitors, if they behave themselves.

Hofjes are open to visitors, if they behave themselves.

There were usually behaviour requirements for the original hofje residents too. Benefactress Eva ab Hoogeveen insisted that the women who lived in her hofje took a bath once a month. This was controversial; most people of the day considered one bath a year sufficient for reasonable hygiene.

The pump.

The pump. Get your (cold) bath water here.

Pieter Lorindanshofje, 1655.

Pieter Lorindanshofje, 1655.

To avoid hofje fatigue, we ‘wandelled’ the backblocks of Leiden.

Quiet backwaters...

Quiet backwaters…

...and car-free cycleways...

…and car-free cycleways…

...and no parking problems. Except for finding your bike when you come back, perhaps.

…and no parking problems. Except for finding your bike when you come back, perhaps.

I’d forgotten the attraction Leiden has for many American visitors. The Pilgrim Fathers came here from England before making their way to the new world. Many of them are buried in St Peter’s Church, with a memorial to Rev John Robinson on the wall.

The memorials to the Pilgrim Fathers.

The memorials to the Pilgrim Fathers.

Where there are bikes and old doors, the photo is compulsory.

Where there are bikes and old doors, the photo is compulsory.

Thanks, Mr Rus, for the excellent tour.

Time to stroll back towards Leiden station, perhaps pausing to imbibe a little lively student buzz along the way.

9 Comments

Filed under Holland

9 responses to “WANDELING IN LEIDEN (it’s a place in Holland)

  1. Lovely post! My sister lives in Holland, Vlissingen actually, so although I have never been to Leiden, the buildings and streets look very familiar to me, as they share that unique Dutch charm.

  2. Nice tour Richard. I am planning a tour of the Low countries sometime in the future so I’ll pop this place on the itinerary.

  3. Jeannette

    Top photo, het grijze huis, dat in ons adres in Leiden.

  4. Damien Jameson

    Beautiful stuff Richard. Regina’s family come from Leiden … one was a butcher and we have a beautiful pic of the shop with a proud farmer delivering a healthy live cow. Your pics make the place look wonderful

  5. HI Richard, I am enjoying your blog. I was born in Leiden, but have been living in NZ for nearly 50 years. I always remember the date of Leidens Ontzet (3 Oct 1574), as my daughter was born exactly 400 years later, to the day. I am also a cyclist, and enjoy your blogs about cycling. I write a blog about our rides, that you may find interesting: http://dizzysfoldingbike.blogspot.co.nz/

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