Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Day in Leiden by Aukje de Vries

My friend Cora, who lives in Amsterdam, and I decided to meet in Leiden, halfway between Amsterdam and The Hague. We are going to spend the day there and make plans for a trip towards the end of the summer. Just after having left the station we noticed a brand new tourist office. Because it may have useful information we decide on a short stop there. We have questions: Are there any good expositions or interesting walks to places visitors do not usually get to see? The staff gave us extensive information about Leiden, some nice brochures and an explanation, as if we had never visited the city before. The tourist office also sells products that might interest tourists. We resist this temptation. Outside we look at each other. Neither of us dared to tell the lady in the tourist 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 showed me an almshouse. Leiden has no less than 35 of them, all advertised as places that tourists can visit. Churches or rich people started these house hundreds of years ago to house poor elderly women.

In most cases you enter them through an outer building admitting you to 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 that it is really tiny. Its inhabitant obviously is not at 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 lived here for a number of years as both students and young workers are now living in these houses. As a young person, he expects to leave in a few years. At that point, he then will be able to afford a larger house. Someone else move into 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 standing. She lived in Leiden for a few years before I arrived. 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. During lunch we discuss whether we can go on another vacation together in the late summer or early fall. Last year we went to St. Petersburg and it 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 have commitments for that period so 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 must 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. They were obliged to wash themselves at least once a month. Difficult to imagine!!

The afternoon is half gone when we leave this almshouse and walk slowly in the direction of the station. We pass the Frisian baker that was in place in the fifties. They still bake 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 are that was less accessible in the period when we lived in Leiden. On our way we read some more facts about Leiden’s history from the plaques placed on some buildings. We feel very satisfied with our lovely day in Leiden, but our holiday plans for the future still remain to be made.

Questions: Do you sometimes travel with a friend? What are some problems you’ve encountered on an excursion such as the one Aujke took? What were the successes? Is it always better to travel with someone? If so, why?

No comments:

Post a Comment