A Long Weekend in the Netherlands

Leiden from the boat

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 started 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 Schiphol Airport and luckily I had someone awaiting me when I arrived into Amsterdam. We arranged to meet at the standard “Meeting Point” but on arrival my friend didn’t seem to be there and my phone tooks quite a while to actually register on Dutch networks but eventually my friend bit arrive and the little panic of “What do I do if he doesn’t show?” was avoided. Luckily, Schiphol Airport is well connected so if you are arriving solo it’s very easy to get around.

My weekend base would be the city of Leiden just head 30 miles for the capital of Amsterdam. A university city, known as the birthplace Rembrandt and for its wealth of beautiful 17th-century buildings Leiden is also just half an hour from the airport by train and a great alternative to busy Amsterdam. Our journey there is by double-decker train, something that we don’t get at home and for some reason I always find fun. Having not seen my friend in person for two years we catch up on the train and then over some breakfast before heading out for the day to explore.

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.

Leiden from the boat
Leiden from the boat

Of course one of the first things you’re always going to notice about the Netherlands are bikes…everywhere, and of course Leiden no different. From first getting off the train and my travel companion heading off to collect his bike from just one of the many massive bicycle parks outside the station it was bicycles everywhere. As we wander around every railing or post in Leiden is three deep in bikes.

Bike racks in Leiden
Now where did I leave my bike?

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 courtyard area and of course stand in front of the “I Amsterdam” sign.

After a spot of lunch nearby we pick the Rijksmuseum which turns out takes 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, similar to the Mona Lisa in Paris, but I spot it and get some photos before the next hoard of tourist blocks me out.

I amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
I amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum

On the way back to our base in Leiden we take a wander through the Red Light District but  as it is 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! With the evening fast approaching we head on back to Leiden for a sunny evening meal.

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My 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.

The Leiden waterways, Valk Windmill and some houseboats
The Leiden waterways, Valk Windmill and some houseboats

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 or Bevrijdingsdag for the Dutch – a day which commemorate the end of Nazi occupation after the Second World War . We had spotted some of the preparations in Amsterdam the day before but unfortunately hadn’t been in the city to see the events surrounding the day but I spend an interesting evening watching pieces of the ceremonies on Dutch television.

Noordwijk aan Zee
Noordwijk aan Zee on the Dutch coast

My next day I head for the airport quite early in the morning before my host heads to work. A nice easy trip back to Schiphol Airport  and then a flight home.  While most people tend to stay in central Amsterdam, Leiden is a great place to have a based if, like me you have a long weekend planned. While I spent a lot of time catching up with an old friend even on my little free time Leiden proved a well connected city for venturing into Amsterdam and out the the coast!