Notes from the Netherlands (with pictures, lots of them)

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.

Dutch bikes

Majestic Dutch bikes in Den Haag

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.

Orange juice tricycle

A cargo trike (this one contains orange juice) passes a lurid building in Den Haag

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.

Bike park

The pink bike sports a typical plastic crate. Other containers are available.

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.)

Leiden

Autumn in Leiden

Leiden rooftops

Even in October grey Leiden is worth looking at

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).

Rembrandt

Rembrandt appears here to be played by Tom Baker in his Doctor Who years.

We employed similar tactics in Den Haag (recommended if you like Art Deco architecture or pictures of storks, or are interested in European royalty)

Stork ancient

Storks ancient (well, about a century old)…

Stork modern

… and modern

… 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).

Delft blue cow

Other items in Delft blue were also available.

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.

Tram in Amsterdam

Tram in the twilight gloom in Amsterdam

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
Prickly pears

Prickly pears!

  • a flock of bronze lizards (what is the collective noun for lizards?)
Amsterdam lizards

Lizards!

  • a tour group on Segways
Segway tour

Well, it’s one way to see Amsterdam

  • a photographic exhibition
Photographs in Leiden

This particular exhibit was called ‘Coming Out’. I’m not sure what the Pilgrim Fathers would have made of it.

  • windmills, obviously
De Put windmill

De Put windmill (rebuilt in the 1980s), Leiden

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