To start off May I took a long weekend in the Netherlands to catch up with a Dutch friend who I had met back in 2010 while sharing a flat in Brisbane. Though based in Leiden, I also got a chance to see some bits and pieces of Amsterdam and the Dutch coast.
My trip to the Netherlands starts with a fairly early morning flight but as I had chosen to only take hand luggage there was no ultra early airport check in or bag drop needed. It’s only a short flight from Glasgow to Schipol Airport and luckily I had someone awaiting me when I arrived into Amsterdam. We arranged to meet at the “Meeting Point” but he doesn’t seem to be there and my phone takes quite a while to actually register on Dutch networks but eventually my friend arrives and the little panic of “What do I do if he doesn’t show?” is luckily avoided.
We head straight out to Leiden from the airport which is only about half an hour on the train. It’s the double-decker trains that we don’t get at home and for some reason I always find fun. We haven’t seen each other in person for two years but we catch up on the train and then over some breakfast when we finally get to the house – which has the steepest and scariest stairs I have ever seen!
I spend my first day being shown around Leiden and even get a little boat trip along the canals, which is really quite pretty. The driver points out lots of buildings and points of interest while my Dutch friend points out where he works, friends houses and good places to eat so I get two tour guides.
Of course one of the first things you’re always going to notice about the Netherlands are bikes…everywhere, and of course Leiden is the same. Getting off the train my travel companion had gone off to collect his bike from just one of the many massive bicycle parks outside the station and from here on every railing or post around Leiden is three deep in bikes.
Day two, we head off into Amsterdam to do a little wander about. Most of the main streets are quite touristy but we head down to Museum Square to see the the big courtyard area and of course stand in front of the “I amsterdam” sign. After a spot of lunch we pick the Rijksmuseum which turns out to take up most of the rest of the day. I find all the exhibitions very interesting but turns out my friend is very into fine art and is spending far more time analysing every piece than I can cope with so I head off to explore by myself, to find a seat and use the free wifi. One of the big draws of the museum is The Night Watch painting by Rembrandt which seems to just constantly be crowded out but I spot it and get some photos before the next hoard of tourist blocks me out.
On the way home we take a wander through the Red Light District but its the middle of the day and there don’t seem to be any girls out. Also, its quite a run down and messy area which seems odd when its become more of a tourist attraction than anything else. Maybe you don’t notice when its dark and there are pretty girls in the windows.
We spend the evening back in Leiden and its turning into a very sunny weekend so we sit out on the balcony to enjoy the sunshine before watching a movie. The movie of choice on the tv is Back to the Future which my host had never seen before and therefore I ridicule him for this. We then watch it with Dutch subtitling which proves even funnier when the famous 88mph is subtitled to 100kph and multiple jokes lose their punchline.
Next and final day is a Monday and my friend has to head off to work in the morning leaving me to explore a bit more of Leiden on my own. I head off to see a few things including the De Burcht Leiden Castle, Valk Windmill and some of the Leiden poems which are etched on random buildings around the town. Of course on such a lovely day I’m happy wandering along the watersides as well to see some of the house boats and exploring to see the pretty streets.
By afternoon, my local guide is back and we decide to head to the beach. First he wants to check if his mother’s car is available so we cycling to the other side of Leiden to check. But when I say WE cycle…. he cycles and I’m poised on the back on a little shelf over the wheel. He assures me all the Dutch do this and I agree I have seen lots of people on the back of bikes this way but that doesn’t make me any less anxious about heading out in the traffic. Turns out after the 15 minutes journey the car is not free and therefore we have to make it back again. I survive and I guess I can say I can fit in with the locals now.
Instead we jump on a bus and head out to Noordwijk aan Zee for a little wander on the beach. It’s quite windy but still pretty warm so we head for a drink and later a quick dinner before heading back to Leiden for a lazy evening watching the telly. The 5th of May is actually Liberation Day for the Dutch. We had spotted some of the preparations in Amsterdam the day before but we end up watching the ceremonies on the tv before off to bed.
Next day I head for the airport quite early in the morning before my host heads to work but am quite chuffed that I make it to the airport myself.