Den Haag, Leiden and Katwijk

Dutch Parliament House - Den Haag

Delft and Leiden only seems a hop and a skip apart, but on this stretch of water there are many low draw bridges. Before every bridge one has to ask for passage and that usually means a bit of a wait. So we decided to break up our trip and stop in Den Haag.

Unfortunately the only decent harbour lays within an industrial area and is a good 25 minutes bike ride along busy streets away from the centre of town. Spoilt by idyllic locations of small town marinas we were a little put off, but braved it into town anyway. 

We found our way to a super-busy shopping strip and quickly took refuge in a beautiful arcade with a high glass roof and quality shops and cafés. After recovering from the stressful bike ride with a nice cup of coffee, we made our way to the historic part of the city. Things were much calmer here. We strolled through a tree lined park past an exhibit of sand sculptures under the banner "Festival by the Sea”.

A small market was also being held in the park, and Austin finally got his “new herring” (raw baby herring with onions), a Dutch delicacy, which I didn’t mind missing out on. Among the early 19th century buildings of various fame, “Hotel Des Indes” stood out with its oriental entrance and deep yellow exterior. As per our city guide the hotel used to be frequented by foreign statesmen and artists, and on 23 January 1931 the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova died here of pleurisy.

The most impressive complex of buildings in Den Haag must surely be the Binnenhof with the oldest Parliament House still in use. Enclosed stands the spectacular 13th-14th century Knight’s Hall (on the right), looking very much like a movie set. Unfortunately all tours of the Binnenhof were already booked out for the day! A good reason to come back to Den Haag!

The next day we set off to Leiden. “Leiden” in German means “suffering”, but I have to say, there wasn’t much suffering on our part! The weather was unbelievably beautiful and warm, or so all the Dutch people told us! They said they had not experienced so many days of sunny, warm weather in a row. When we told them, that we brought the nice weather with us from Australia, they said, we had to come back next year, they insisted!

Leiden has an old university which was gifted to the town by William of Orange for standing steadfast in the revolt against the Spanish. The town had been under siege and suffered greatly, until, on the 3. October 1575, when the Spanish army had run out of funds, rebel fishermen broke the good news of the end of the siege and fed the starving people with bread and herring. The 3rd October is still celebrated by locals with herring and bread.

Leiden lies between the old and the new Rhine. It’s life centres very much around the river and canals. This weekend the waterways were teeming with small riverboats. Not only was the weather perfect but there was also music, and lots of it due to a festival called “Woodstock on the Water”. Bands in hippie attire travelled up and down the various canals playing the old Rock n’ Roll songs. Great fun for All! 

It was also Schoolies week, so lots of young graduates had taken to the water with plenty of beer and wine on board. No breath testing on the canals here!

A nice custom of Leiden is the wall poetry. Around 100 poems can be found on house walls around the city. Maybe that’s where my friend Mareike has her rhyming talent from?

Saint Peter is the Guardian Saint of Leiden and of course there is the Pieter’s Church, best viewed from The Burcht, the ruins of an old citadel. As we have the habit of doing, we popped by for some wedding photos inside the fortress. As you can see, drones are now being used to take aerial shots of the happy event.

If only Rembrandt would have had this technology! Although he probably had a great view from the top of the windmill his father owned. Rembrandt was born in Leiden and had his first painting lessons there at the age of 14. However most of his life he spent in Amsterdam.

On a beautiful Sunday we took a riverboat along the Old Rhine to Katwijk (‘Cutvike'). The Old Rhine once constituted the northern border of the Roman empire with a fortress called Lugdunum Batavorum, just about where Katwijk is now.

In not quite as ancient times, but 60 years ago, I had my first beach holiday with my parents, my sister Karin and my brother Thomas here in Katwijk. So this was somewhat of a déjà vu experience. Though I had forgotten how cold the water of the North Sea can be. For Austin it was the first taste of the "northern waters” as far as he can remember! 

But there was another tasting to be done. Unsuccessfully we searched for a van selling “pommes frites with mayonnaise” along the beach. It is a bit of a tradition and a hot favourite of my late sister Karin to have this treat of hot chips with mayonnaise served in a paper cone when in Holland. So we had to resort to one of the beachside cafés to savour them in her memory.

© Austin Robinson 2019