Off we went to Leiden to spend the morning. It was Saturday morning and there had been some celebration the night before, the town was in no hurry to wake up. A number of people wanted a relaxed boat tour on the canal, but we all strolled off to explore for a while first. As usual, I decided, after a while, to head off on my own.
I only knew three things about Leiden: cheese, canals and the university, which is the oldest in the Netherlands. Looking on my map, I discovered the botanical gardens were not far away and trotted off to see if they were open. And they were – a very mini Kew, with a huge greenhouse with staircases and upper walkways, a tropical house, herb garden, rose garden (none in flower) and lots more besides, all beside a wide canal with a gracious curve. It was very attractive and it was a beautiful day. I’d finally left off my cardie and didn’t need a jacket either. I walked round the observatory – they did tours, but I’d decided I wanted a break from receiving information, so didn’t go in. For the same reason, I didn’t take the boat tour, which has a commentary – very interesting, I’m sure, but I was saving what little intellectual curiosity I still had for the rest of the visit.
I bought some tulip bulbs and walked back to the square, where friends were having lunch and called me to join them. I had pancake again. Then we clambered on the coach again (very nice driver called Toon) and went to Haarlem.
Leiden is charming, I’d call Haarlem a handsome town, built on a rather bigger scale. There are some lovely buildings there. I like town and city centres that have houses jumbled together in tightly-packed rows with interesting alleys between, different heights with nice roofs. I’m very fond of roofs, and not just to keep the rain out. I also like shutters and am endlessly interested by windows that open in rather than out – easier to clean but no chance of keeping pot plants on the sill, and so un-English. I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever seen in England.
While we were in Haarlem, we went to the Frans Hals museum. He’s one of the few artists who successfully painted people laughing or smiling, usually it just doesn’t work. Afterwards, with an hour to spare, I went to the big church just off the high street (I can’t remember its name) where Frans Hals is buried – I think his memorial stone has been gussied up a bit, it was the only one whose lettering was picked out in white. It was a huge church with a tremendously high ceiling. More friends called me over as I walked back, so I joined them for tea, then went back while they visited the church.
I met a group who’d arrived early to meet the coach – I’d intended to explore a bit further but it seemed off-hand, so I stayed to chat and then Jane and I became interested in the wares of the nearby bike shop. They are splendid bikes, built for comfort rather than speed, with a platform at the front for a box of groceries and one at the back to hang panniers on. The ones with a wheelbarrow-like contraption at the front for holding children are nearly €2,000. I know a woman here with one, she takes her three young children in it and it looks immensely heavy, but she manages it. I doubt she bought it new, but whether she and her husband went to Holland for it or bought it here is something I haven’t asked her. Jane and I each picked a bike, she went for pale blue and mine was an unusual shade of sage green. Neither of them had a child seat though.
For the evening, we’d booked half a local restaurant so we could have dinner together for our last night. I had a final genever, back at the hotel, and paid my bar bill because we were checking out at 9 the next morning. I’d already packed most of my stuff, the night before – I know, I can’t help it. In this uncertain world, planning ahead for the small things reassures me.