Laying in Leiden

After a cold and wet week in Haarlem we traversed the town’s bridges as we navigated south, getting a bit lost for a few minutes when we were uncertain about interpreting our new navigation software. The day had turned partly sunny, a rarity to date. We found our way into the municipal harbor in the historical city of Leiden, welcomed by the friendly and helpful harbormaster and his assistant. They were waiting at the two available spots, then had us turn around to face into the wind, as high winds were expected the following day.

Leiden is an ancient city at the junction of Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) and the Nieuwe Rijn, with earliest written reference dating to the 9th century. It is home to the famous Leiden University (1575), where the likes of Rembrandt and John Quincy Adams studied, along with 13 Nobel Prize winners. As we walked about students filled the streets visiting their favorite hang outs, shops and cafes, along with a substantial portion of the city’s population 125,000, with another 100,000 or so in the immediate area.

leiden city hall

It is late spring so as in Haarlem there’s a fest, with a live band playing on a stage along one the many canals.

We stopped for fries at a friets haus (house). Note the clever add-on sauce cups in the photo. In one there’s mayo, in the other a peanut sauce, termed ‘satay’ here. The use the Indonesian term, a remnant of the days of the Dutch East India company that exploited that island nation.


The Pilgrims lived in Leiden before some of them left for the “New” (to them) World, some remaining behind to eventually blend in with the locals. They resided in the area surrounding Pieterskerk. FDR, the Bushes and Obama trace their heritage to this location.

Pieterskerk is a magnificent former church with ceiling soaring high above. Its long central isle has a large organ at one end. There was a chapel here circa 1100, while construction of the current building began in 1390. It became a Protestant church in 1572, The church’s artwork was destroyed during that period, as is common in the Netherlands. The church was deconsecrated in 1971. It isnow is rented out for events. Where the altar once was there now sits a bar with tables.

Beginning with the siege of 1574, there was an annual meal giving thanks for the liberation of the city and the arrival of supplies. This might be the origin of the American Thanksgiving celebration.

st pieter2

Small houses snuggle against the towering walls. A pulpit seems to hang mid-air.

st pieter pulpit
A short walk through the old and former church

Leiden University is both impressive and comprehensive in its offerings. Its library contains some 5 million volumes and numerous collections. Affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, the University houses the Leiden Observatory (1633), the Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Antiquities, a museum of Dutch antiquities, three ethnographic museums, as well as geology and mineralogy museums. The botanical garden is one of the oldest in the world, going back more than four centuries. The large university has no central campus, it’s buildings scattered about. This makes for lots of bike and foot traffic, adding to the dynamic feel. I imagine that living here would be a culturally enriching.

As the weather improved so we had several extensive walks on the busy streets along the canals, and the quieter narrow streets in residential areas. The architecture is typical Dutch, laid out along canals, alleys and a few main streets with little traffic to be found in the center areas.

Comment here (login optional)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.