A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
As evidenced by the photo left, I have had a hard couple of weeks. Two big essays and an exam conspired to lock me away from society, shackle me to a giant pile of books and papers and comprehensively castigate me for the time I had spent paying far greater attention to my social life than to my study duties.
After these weeks of hard academic labour, I needed to relax and put my poor fried brain on ice, so it was with great gusto that I welcomed my parents and great aunt and uncle to the Netherlands, and not just because of the free food and monetary relief that a visit from one’s parents tends to bring. Although having said that, my daily fare did indeed improve substantially from the kapsalon described in my last blog entry.
Having visitors to entertain is a promise that you are going to have to leave the comfort of your flat and become more intimately acquainted with the place you live, something which, in spite of one’s best intentions, it is all too easy to avoid doing.
Not wanting to bore you with a detailed agenda of the four days I spent with my family, I have selected a couple of choice highlights which I would highly recommend to anyone with time on their hands and Zuid Holland at their feet.
There aren’t many places that I can say I would be happy to wander around aimlessly on a cold and wet Sunday morning, but Delft is certainly one of them. While the buildings are no less impressive than those in Leiden, the absence of traffic in the centre gives the city a much more tranquil feel. The canals are narrower too, traversed by a series of slender bridges, and the historic centre remains unmarred by modern architecture, in sharp contrast with many of its more cosmopolitan counterparts.
Delft is such a pretty town that one could quite happily while away the better part of the day just ambling around and taking in the sights. However, should the weather force you to look for a dryer recourse, then a visit to the Vermeer Centrum is definitely worthwhile.
The famous artist Vermeer, known for his domestic interior scenes of middle class life in the Netherlands in the 17th Century, lived in Delft until his death in 1675. The Vermeer Centrum is dedicated to the life and works of the painter. Unfortunately there are no originals on display, but the centre is fascinating nonetheless, providing an insight not only into the life of the painter, but into his motivation and the symbolism inherent in his works. For just €1 on top of the entrance fee, you can purchase an audio guide, and if you can absorb all the information offered by your virtual chaperon then by the end of your visit you will be a veritable Vermeer expert.
A top tip for those of you with a clandestine desire to get your hands on a pair of those wonderfully tacky clog-shaped slippers which can be found in any respectable Dutch tourist hub – the souvenir shops lining the Markt have beaten each other down to a mere €8.50, at least €5 cheaper than any others I have seen. Needless to say, I purchased myself a gloriously pink pair, decorated with the typically Dutch image of the kissing boy and girl. And may I say, my feet have never been so grateful; they spend their days yearning for the moment when they can break out of their oppressive leather prisons and slip into the gentle embrace of the clog slippers.
Another top tip: the cheese shop on the Markt is very generous with its free cheese samples. Bowls full of little cubes of goodness, in a mindboggling array of flavours, are thoughtfully scattered throughout the store. For fromage fanatics such as my dad and I, this was a truly marvellous discovery.
Escher in het Paleis
I can’t imagine that any of you are unfamiliar with the work of M. C. Escher. Even if you don’t recognise the name, I’m sure that as soon as I describe the hand drawing a hand, the never ending staircase, or the reptiles drawn leaving their tessellated representation and crawling over the objects on the desk to eventually slip back into the drawing, you will immediately know the artist I’m referring to.
Escher in het Paleis, also known as the Escher Museum, features a permanent display of a large number of Escher’s works, including all of the most well-known. And don’t worry about taking friends or family who groan at the thought of spending the afternoon in an art gallery; even those without much capacity for artistic appreciation will have to admire the artist’s ingenuity, as they try to bend their mind around the impossible reality of the woodcut Still Life and Street, pictured left.
Quite apart from the works of Escher, the museum makes for an intriguing visit due solely to its location in the Lange Vourhout Palace, which was a residence of Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, Queen consort of King William III, until her death in 1934. Information about Emma and her time in the residence are integrated with the Escher exhibit, leaving you with the distinct impression that you have got something of a two-for-one deal on your entrance fee. Another fantastic feature of the Palace is the elaborate chandeliers which adorn its ceilings; a skull and crossbones, an umbrella, an urn, and a seahorse are all among the 15 extravagant designs.
So there’s a little snippet of my weekend; if you have family visiting and are stuck for ideas, then in my opinion you can’t go too far wrong with any of those suggestions.