A brief ‘what I did on my holidays’.
I spent a lot of time people-watching. Or bike-watching, I suppose; the people just happened to be riding the bikes. Comparing the fashions in velocipedes between the Netherlands and the UK’s nearest equivalent, Cambridge.
What struck us (beyond what we had been told would strike us, namely, the lack of bicycle helmets) was the ubiquity of the Dutch bike: a huge, curvy, sit-up-and-beg beauty, usually painted black.
We saw a couple of road bikes and a number of specialist bikes – trikes, cargo bikes, etc – but the Dutch bike ruled the roads. I suppose there’s a reason for the name.
The fad in Cambridge is for a huge wicker bucket on the front. The Dutch favour a simple plastic crate. In fact, perfectly ordinary plastic crates are sold in bike shops.
A feat that impressed me – and that I failed to capture on camera – was the side-saddle pillion riding. Over the years I’ve seen a number of kids balanced precariously astraddle their mates’ top tubes or back rack, but I’d never seen anyone with both legs on one side of the bike. In the Netherlands I saw several, and I’m rather in awe of these people and their control over their centre of gravity.
We picked up a map from the tourist information office and walked around Leiden on Sunday morning. I can recommend the Leiden Loop (Leidse Loper) for an easy, picturesque and informative stroll around this lovely city. (One of the information boards claimed that the Rapenburg was once said to be the most beautiful spot on earth. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Leiden is definitely top of my ‘attractive Dutch city’ list.)
It was home to Rembrandt (before he was famous), the Pilgrim Fathers (before they had enough of Europe) and more scientific advances than you can shake a Leiden jar at (possibly not recommended).
We employed similar tactics in Den Haag (recommended if you like Art Deco architecture or pictures of storks, or are interested in European royalty)
… and Delft (recommended if you are interested in bad reproductions of Girl With A Pearl Earring, blue-and-white pottery, or bad reproductions of Girl With A Pearl Earring in blue-and-white pottery. I’m not actually joking).
I can also recommend the Dutch rail system, which is cheap, fast and efficient, but only gets eight marks out of ten: it loses one because the rail replacement bus was inadequately advertised and another because there was a distinct dearth of station staff. I will, however, give one of those back: our train terminating at Haarlem meant that we got a proper look at the magnificent station (recommended, again, if you like Art Deco architecture; the tiled signs in particular are lovely).
Also, there were trams. I like trams. And the buses to Leiden Centraal station went past our hotel room window about once every two minutes.
I’ve talked a lot about transportation, and that’s partly because it’s something I think about a lot. But it really was incredibly easy to get around. (Of course, it helps that one’s based right in the city centre, and had no pressing need to get anywhere that was beyond the reach of the public transport network – though, given the geography, we’d have been able to hire bikes and do the last few kilometres ourselves without undue effort.) I like the Netherlands a lot: everything just works.
Other things we saw:
- prickly pears for sale at a greengrocer
- a flock of bronze lizards (what is the collective noun for lizards?)
- a tour group on Segways
- a photographic exhibition
- windmills, obviously