Keys to the City of Heaven

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  , Zuid-Holland,
Sunday, December 19, 2010

I planned on spending the winter season with one of my best friends in the Netherlands this year since I'm so "close." After my EasyJet flight was canceled due to a snow storm at the Schiphol Amsterdam airport, I decided I wasn’t going to waste any time sitting around for another flight to be canceled.  I went to King’s Cross Station to find trains which ended up being very expensive (300 expensive).  Finally, I was able to get tickets for the Dutch Flyer, or Stena Line, ferry.  I had to order over the phone because their website is extremely extremely complicated (i.e. it let’s you choose what time you wish you leave when it knows good and well that the ferry only leaves twice a day).  The ferry comes with train tickets to and from in both England and the Netherlands, that is, train tickets from Liverpool Street Station to Harwich International Port and from Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland) to anywhere in the Netherlands on the trains (Leiden in my case).  I very highly recommend the ferry.  It costs the same as a flight (50), and it was much more relaxing than a plane.  It was my first time long distance on an English train, and it was a pleasurable experience.  The ferry was very high class and relaxing as it strolled across the North Sea.  At the Hook of Holland, I was greeted by Dutch trains that significantly trump the English trains I have been on.  I rode the Sprinter from the Hook of Holland to Rotterdam where I switched for a double-decker passenger train that I didn’t even know existed.  Once in Leiden, my friend Annemarieke was waiting for me at the station thankfully, and we walked back to her place.

Leiden is a wonderful “little” town in Zuid-Holland (South Holland) that really isn’t that little, with over 100,000 people in the city limits and over 330,000 in the metro area.  Leiden is most known for Leiden University that was founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange.  Leiden is encircled by a canal with many smaller canals running through it.  The canals carry the water of the Old Rhine which is part of the delta of the famous Rhine.  Leiden, for the most part, remains classically Dutch.  Almost all the homes in “downtown” Leiden are under 4 stories and centuries old.  Of course, the homes along the canals are the most beautiful and well preserved.  There are some larger more modern structures outside the ring canal towards the University though.

The town was covered with many inches of snow by the time I had arrived because of the blizzard that had happened the day before, but that wasn’t going to slow down our sight seeing.  We decided that we would follow the Leidse Loper trail that runs through the city to see all the important sights.

A project began in 1992 to cover the walls of Leiden with poems.  These poems are in every language imaginable and all over the city, on houses or restaurants, some in sight and others are hidden.  The project concluded in 2005 when the 101st poem was completed.

The Leidse Loper led us past many of Leiden’s best sights.  We walked to the old Morspoort, or west gate, of Leiden.  Only two of the original gates of Leiden remain, and almost none of its old city walls remain.  Of course, we past some classically Dutch windmills.  We also saw the former spot of Rembrandt’s childhood home in Leiden, though the original house no longer stands.  We were also able to visit Pieterskerk (or, St. Peter’s Church in English) which was completed in the 16th century.  Since the 1970’s, it has been essentially an event venue for concerts.  The coat of arms of Leiden is a lamb holding two keys, or more simply, just two keys.  This originates from the Pieterskerk and St. Peter, who holds the keys to the gates of heaven.

Another large church we passed is the Hooglandse Kerk, built in the 15th century.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to step inside so we moved on to De Burcht (The Castle), a fort in the center of Leiden.  The fort sits on top of a manmade hill and was built in the 12th century.  In the past, you could see all the city gates of Leiden, but today it offers a 360 degree view of the modern town from one of the highest points around.

After a long day of sightseeing, we headed back to the house to defrost and prepare for another day of sightseeing tomorrow!
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