Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A day in Leiden by Aukje de Vries

My friend Cora, who lives in Amsterdam, and I have decided to meet in Leiden, halfway between Amsterdam and The Hague. We will spend the day there and try to make some plans for a trip at the end of the summer. Just after having left the station, we see a brand new tourist office. It may have useful information so we decide on a short stop there. Are there any good expositions or interesting walks to places visitors do not usually get to see? We get extensive information about Leiden, some nice brochures and an explanation as if we never visited the city before. The tourist office also sells products but we resist this temptation. Once outside we look at each other. Neither of us dared to say to the lady in the office that we know Leiden quite well. Both of us studied there in the late fifties and lived there for at least six years. It is a nice day, although quite fresh. The best option seems to be to go to the botanical gardens. Leiden has, right behind the main university building, a beautiful botanical garden with many plants from tropical regions. On the way Cora shows me an almshouse. Leiden has no less than 35 of them, which are now advertised as places that tourists can visit. Rich people or churches founded them hundreds of years ago to house poor elderly women.In most cases you enter them through a building and then you reach a courtyard around which small houses are built. Usually they are not only very pretty with a well kept garden, but also very quiet and secluded. We look around and try to figure out how large the houses are. We look into one and see it is really tiny. Its inhabitant obviously is not home. A young man, leaving one of the other houses, asks us if we need information. He tells us this is one of the smallest apartments; the others are about double this size. He has now lived here for a number of years. The inhabitants are both students and young workers. He came in as a young worker and expects to leave in a few years. He then will be able to afford a larger house so it will be time to let someone else have his little house.

When we reach the botanical gardens it is time for coffee; we take our time to catch up with each other. In the botanical gardens there are leftovers of an orchid exhibition. There are orchids everywhere of all sizes and colours. I regret not having brought my camera, they are so beautiful. Having marveled at the beautiful, exotic plants in the hothouses we walk through the garden and enjoy the pretty blossoms and the flowers that are already in bloom. Cora points out where she lived while studying at Leiden University.

We can see it from where we are. She lived in Leiden a few years before me. We got to know each other later when both of us lived in Amsterdam . When we leave the gardens it is high time for a lunch in a nearby café. It is too cold to sit outside, unfortunately. During lunch we try to decide if we can go on another vacation together in the late summer or early fall. Last year we went to St Petersburg together and this worked out fine. What can we do this year? Cora forgot to bring her diary so she does not know exactly which dates she has available. Both of us have already quite a few commitments for that period. It will be not be easy to find a time that suits both of us. There are four alternative destinations, all of them in Southern Europe that we might like to visit. But first the dates should be settled. Upon leaving the café we see another almshouse. This one has a plaque with information. It was established in 1650 by Eva van Hoogeveen. It was meant for chaste, elderly women and while living there they were obliged to wash themselves at least once a month. Difficult to imagine!!

It is already halfway the afternoon when we leave this almshouse and slowly walk in the direction of the station. We pass the Frisian baker that was already there in the fifties. They still bake the bread on the spot, including specialties from Friesland (a Northern province of The Netherlands ). We end our day at Leiden with a walk through another historic area that was less accessible in the period when we lived in Leiden. On our way we learn some more facts about the history of Leiden from the plaques that are on some of the buildings. We are very satisfied with a lovely day in Leiden, but our holiday plans still remain to be made.

Many older persons, like Marja and Cora, find themselves living alone. Do you team up with a friend to travel or enjoy the local sights? Tell us about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment