Eyes on Leiden

1. Morning in the heart of Leiden.

Leiden is on the Oude Rijn, part of the Rhine delta that empties into the North Sea. Like a number of historic cities in the Netherlands, it’s old; a hill settlement goes back to at least 860. The country’s oldest university, Leiden University, was founded here in 1575. A picturesque, canal-filled, culturally vibrant city, it seemed a good place to begin a trip to northern Europe – not least because our flight from Seattle landed in nearby Amsterdam.

I found an airbnb at a beautiful home on a canal (which turned out to be one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in). Most people are fluent in English. Museums are not as crowded as they are in big cities like Amsterdam, and there are things to see (Rembrandt’s birthplace, an historic botanical garden). The transportation looked doable….so we made Leiden the first destination on a three-week northern EuropeΒ  trip.

 

2. An early morning view from our second floor digs on a picturesque canal. The little structure is a small aviary full of parrots and other exotic birds.

 

Leiden turned out to be more delightful than we could have imagined. The people we met were open, warm, enthusiastic, intelligent. I know, it seems idealized and it’s a generalization, but that was our experience. The food we ate wasn’t elaborate, but it was excellent. It seemed to us that the ingredients were fresher, and respectful attention went into the preparation. I enjoyed the aesthetic awareness and care brought to bear on everyday functionality (like the trains and buses) and mundane details of daily life (like clean streets). In restaurants and coffee shops people appeared to be immersed in animated conversations.

Western civilization’s long history in Europe lends a certain depth to life there. On the other hand, I think Americans carry a sense of wide possibilities, facing towards the future, which Europe’s tradition-laden culture can dampen. Of course it was just a few weeks, not a year or a decade, so my observations are superficial. The same holds for my photographs, which don’t have the kind of depth that I’m able to bring to subjects I’ve lived with a long time. With those reservations, here’s a group of photos from four days spent walking around Leiden.

 

3. FF Burgers makes great burgers and serves a variety of sides, from papadoms to sweet potatoes. Blankets on the bench are there to wrap yourself against the chilly Spring air.

 

4. A quiet moment at Anne & Max, which advertises “slow coffee.” The espresso was perfect, the food delicious.

 

5. A street corner in the heart of the city, where cars are scarce.

 

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6. There were lots of handsome vintage bikes around.

 

7. The cats have learned to watch out for them.

 

8. The Jackdaws mostly watch out for errant crumbs – they don’t seem to be afraid of much.

 

9. I couldn’t stop admiring the cobblestones and brick.

 

10. Where I live, the only things this old are rocks, and maybe a few trees.

 

 

 

12. The titles on these books speak to the fact that this is a university town.

 

 

 

14. A mural, and the ubiquitous bikes.

 

15. A residence in the old part of town. I wonder what’s up with the stack of stone circles on the left.

 

16. Leiden has some wonderful old trees, like this sycamore next to a canal.

 

17. More historic architecture from the city center.

 

18. The canal reflections never stop.

 

19. Even locals stopped to take pictures with their phones of this sunset, lighting up the underside of a bridge.

 

 

21. The coat of arms for Eva van Hoogeveen, “a very decent and praiseworthy girl,” the daughter of Albrecht van Hoogeveen, a mayor of Leiden in the mid-1600’s. Houses for poor widows and unmarried women were built here in 1654-55.

 

22. I tried, but this was untranslatable. Maybe Harrie can explain.

 

23. Fallen flowers and reflections in a canal.

 

24. A view from the Burcht, where a fortified tower built in the 11th century affords an opportunity to gaze through the trees at a jumble of colorfully tiled rooftops.

 

25. An evening view down a bike-strewn street in the heart of Leiden.

 

The highlights of Leiden were things we didn’t plan, as is often the case. We stumbled across an especially fascinating “un-museum” – the American Pilgrim Museum. There was a good hour or more spent exploring a spell-binding antique store, housed in a warren of centuries-old, connected buildings. The Saturday market and the botanical garden next to Leiden University were both impressive, but I’ll save the garden, antique shop and museum for later.

While we were in Leiden we took a quick train ride to Rotterdam; that’s another story too. From Leiden we traveled to Ghent, Belgium, another old city full of canals and history. There was a day in Lille, France, a week in Germany, and a few days in Amsterdam. We were on the move a lot, though we were careful to avoid one-night stops. Most people I know have been to Europe, many of them more than once. I wasn’t interested in Europe when I was younger. Later, family and job responsibilities kept me from traveling more than a week at a time. But finally the time, the desire, and the funds converged, so we did bounce from country to country a bit, wanting to experience as much as possible. As I get a little more perspective on the trip it seems worth it though. It was a late-life crash course in northern European culture, and we’re better for having done it.

 

26. Sunset, canal view, Zoeterwoodse Singel.

 


58 comments

  1. So lovely to see Leiden through your eyes. I’ve been to the Netherlands several times but not to Leiden. I’d love to be able to spend more time in Europe – slow travel, but it’s probably not to be.
    Alison

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    • Pretty good! Jacques Turk is an artist from Leiden. He made the Kuifje (Tintin, from the famous cartoon) and Klaartje figures in the Jantje van Leiden bar. In the cartoons Kuifje is always busy, chasing the bad guys; no time for sex. I guess the artist wanted to show the hidden side of Tintin, by puting his naked, pregnant lady next to him. Shocking…?. Some people thought so and brutaly damaged the couple.. they were restored again by Antje Schutte. πŸ˜ƒβœ‹

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  2. Leiden seems so young and easy-going through your eyes. Your photographs and descriptions incite me to go there too.
    Compared to Brugge, which I’ve got to know as lovely but a bit museum, Leiden seems genuine and even vibrant.
    Although your pictures are more touristic (of course πŸ™‚)than we are used to from your ordinary extraordinary ones, I cannot find a lack of depth that you allege, and extraordinary, they certainly are, as always.
    I’m looking forward to more of your Northern Europe.

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  3. I can see how much you enjoyed this Lynn. Leiden looks delightful, especially your canal shots. Any view where I can look at boats makes me happy and I have one this morning in the Azores πŸ˜πŸš£πŸ’•

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  4. What wonderful shots, Lynn. I love the bicycles, that sunlight on the underside of the bridge, that residence, the books. You’ve captured so many things that make up the essence of Leiden. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!

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    • Interesting, Jean, I’m glad you could make that connection. Having canals everywhere seems to slow life down a bit, not to mention the lack of cars. But wow, can they move fast on those bikes – watch out! πŸ˜‰

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    • That’s why I thought it would be a good place to spend some time – having lived in New York City, I know how a big city can drain the energy away, especially when you’re traveling and everything is new. That being said, we really enjoyed walking around Amsterdam too. Thank you, Otto.

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  5. Enjoyed this album very, very much. I’ll always make time to enjoy sights like 19, with the wonderful glowing bridge, and the 18 & 23 water shots. You downplayed your observations as superficial, and sure it’s a different thing to breathe in, soak up, and pick up a community’s rhythm over a considerable time, but this is a very deft travel piece, a great feel of someone’s impressions on first encountering a fantastic place, and you’ve shared a very pleasant walk-through. And I see a local photographer has complimented your series, that must feel pretty good, cheers! πŸ™‚

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    • It’s music to my ears, Robert, hearing you say “deft travel piece.” πŸ™‚ I didn’t want to make it too much of a travel piece, since that’s not my thing, but then it IS a travel piece, so….I tried to find a middle ground. I’m not sure if you’re referencing Harrie, above….we met in Leiden and had a really nice afternoon, sitting at an outdoor cafe and roaming around the old parts of town. Hanging out with people from the area makes all the difference, as I’m sure you know. So glad you enjoyed the post!

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  6. Hi Lynn, You are a terrific travel writer along with your photography skills. Your opening shot is inviting and your second shot is a wonderful quiet slice of life- the three with dogs are perfect with the flowers. Your canal reflections are gorgeous and the detail shots of your stops intriguing. Thanks for taking me to Leiden. πŸ™‚

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    • One of those dogs plowed through that field of white daffodils – I was sorry I didn’t catch that, it was a great sight. Watching that canal every morning and evening was such a treat. And Leiden was a very easy place to wander around slowly. Thank you for the kind words, Jane, I appreciate it!

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  7. Wow, what a beautiful city! I didn’t know anything about it, only the name I have to admit, but I think it is worth a visit. In case I will go to that area I will keep it in mind. Very nice. Your photos show lovely places. I like the bricks and the old tiny houses are wonderful! And picture nr 19 is gorgeous!! A golden bridge! As well as the other canal-reflections. I think the jackdaws aren’t afraid of anything, haha. Interesting your thoughts about the different mentalities (of course no generalizations, but some of it may be true). I sometimes think a crossing of both could be ideal πŸ˜‰ I am curious what will be next! This was a very nice appetizer. Thank you for your special-Lynn-pictures which makes it even more attractive πŸ™‚

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    • To this American, it seems like a really quick and easy trip from where you are, so I do hope you go at some point. You’d like the botanical garden, even though it’s smaller than yours….there’s a small bust of Linneaus there, a lovely little wild garden with a burbling spring, and scads of orchids and live butterflies in the conservatory. The jackdaws were entertaining, as were the coots that are always patrolling the canals. Old World and New World characteristics, balanced yet distinct? How would that be? Thanks for your comments, Almuth….have a good afternoon, no evening now!

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      • It sounds really wonderful! Haha, yes, for an American it is a short distance. I saw so many pictures of Amsterdam this year it really attracts me to go there some time! Now it is late again – and you will have midday I suppose? Have a good day then! We had lots of sun and 33 degrees…we have still 21 now. Too warm to sleep.

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  8. What a beautiful old place – I don’t think that the UK can match this kind of beauty and quality – maybe everything here is just aimed more at the great gods Cash and Profit.

    And I’m interested in “I think Americans carry a sense of wide possibilities, facing towards the future, “, because I took many Americans on safari in the 1980s and found a similar attitude, really quite a refreshing attitude. A πŸ™‚

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    • These photos hardly hint at the beauty….but I hate to think one couldn’t find such beauty in the UK – somewhere? Generalizations can be especially dangerous in print, on the internet, but with that caveat, it looks like we’ll agree. πŸ˜‰

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  9. Hardly superficial, I suspect these captured the flavor very well. I’m so used to only having a day or so, and even less for free exploration – four days seems a luxury.

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    • I tried not to do that, knowing how frustrating it can be to have only a day or two in a great location. We were in Leiden five nights, four in Ghent, but only two in Cologne. There were another five nights in Hannover, and two in Amsterdam, so all in all we managed to get at least a working idea of each place. πŸ™‚

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  10. What a tour you have taken us on, Lynn. A regular Rick Steves you are (I hope you like the comparison). One reason I regret not traveling is our country is so young, comparatively, and the age and maturity of Europe appear so appealing, especially when the camera is in your hands. πŸ™‚
    No idea about the stack of circular stones in number 15 but I do like the landscape over the door. πŸ™‚

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    • Can I be a little ambivalent about the Rick Steves comparison? But I know it’s meant well so I appreciate that. Spending time in the Old World does help one understand some of the differences between here and there a little better. And maybe I got more out of it than I would have at 22. πŸ™‚

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      • Of course. If you aren’t a fan then I’d say ambivalent is generous. πŸ™‚

        I think that is fairly true of all life’s experiences. At our later years (not saying you are anywhere near my age πŸ™‚ ) we certainly bring more to everything we do.

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  11. Your observations correspond closely with my own experiences of Holland and the Dutch and the photos, likewise, convey the flavour of the country. Thanks for taking me with you!

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  12. What a delightful visit you’ve just taken me on! #1 made me think about breaking my rule about not ever flying again… ever. But then I can just come back here and visit it through your sweet and mellow eyes. Perhaps not the “real” thing, but the next best. Thanks for this marvelous journey.

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    • Flying is the pits these days, no question, The flight over, leaving in the afternoon, seeing night come and go in a matter of hours and landing in the morning, was terrible – because I didn’t sleep at all. I was a whole day down on sleep. But then everything is so exciting, and in Leiden, it’s so relaxed and people are so positive and friendly, that you forget your tiredness, and there’s little stress anyway. Coming home was easier, it was a daytime flight. Hopefully I’ll have another Europe post before too long – I’m glad you enjoyed, Gunta!

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  13. My aunt lives in Leiden…and I’m Dutch so I’m biased and love all of it…I’m most comfortable in the Netherlands…for photography is beautiful with colours reflections and line…you’re eye captures the beauty and feeling of Leiden…thanks for this Lynn πŸ€“βœŒοΈπŸ’«β£οΈ

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  14. Looks like a great trip with great photos too. The first thing I though of when I saw 19 was that it looks like a man-made Mesa Arch at sunrise! Cool!!

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  15. Thanks so much for sharing and giving me the opportunity to travel vicariously. 15, 19, and 26 were the standouts of the series for me. I especially could hardly tear myself away from 15, and I went back to absorb it two more times while reading and seeing the post. I’m glad it was a fun and enriching trip for you!

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