May 16, 2018 admin 0Comment
It’s spring and the flowers are blooming, so what better time for a weekend trip to Netherlands. That’s what we thought. We checked the weather forecast, and as it said it wasn’t going to rain much, we chose to just head out. It was a new country for me, and my expectations were definitely high. As main destinations we decided for Leiden because it’s close to the flower fields, and Rotterdam because of its architecture and because it would probably be less crowded than Amsterdam, which we definitely want to also explore some day in the future.

On the way there

Driving from Southern Germany to Leiden takes at least 5 hours, so we slept early on Friday in order to leave during the night and have as much time as possible in the Netherlands. We were on the road at 5am.

Driving the car means we can stop wherever we want, so we thought of maybe checking a castle of the Rhine Gorge on the way. Instead, when we were getting close to Koblenz, we rerouted to Eltz castle. On the way there we crossed the Moselle Valley and followed part of the river, which definitely surprised us. We stopped to take some photos and even saw three huge hares of the size of dogs jumping around.

 

View of Alken from the road.
Left: Burg Thurant is one of the castles in the Moselle Valley. Right: Reflections on the Moselle river.
We knew Eltz castle opened at 9:30, and we arrived at 8:00. With no intention of going inside because we wanted to continue the journey, that wasn’t bad at all. We saved 2€ of parking and we walked down for 20 minutes to the 12th century castle with only the sound of the wind, the leaves, the birds, and our steps. The first view came from a lookout point from above. The light was coming from the side, so the highlights and shadow gave the site a special feeling. That was another great thing about arriving so early, because later on the castle would always be in the shade. With those towers, the stone walls, and the half-timbered constructions, the castle was like no other I had ever seen. It happens to be one of the few castles in the region that have never been destroyed.
Left: Chapel marking the beginning of the road from the parking lot to the castle. Right: View of Eltz Castle.
Front view of Castle Eltz.
Back in the car, we continued on our way to the Netherlands. We were still over 3 hours and a half from Leiden, and it seemed a bit far yet, especially considering that we were tired of listening to the German radio. I don’t know why it’s like that, but all the radio stations are very similar, and they play the same music over and over. In any case, and barely noticing, we had suddenly crossed the border. It was my first time there.

First of the first impressions

The landscape seemed similar and other than the signs telling we were in the Netherlands, there was nothing else new. That didn’t last long, and we suddenly realized how different everything was. In fact, I can say I don’t remember crossing many European borders that told me in such a strong way that I was in a different country. At least that was my impression. The first thing was of course changing the radio station. What a relief. What did surprise us was that all the songs were in English. I wanted to listen to some music in Dutch, but oh well.

 

We were staying on the freeway, but we started to see many bicycles on the roads around (expected but still surprised), over the bridges, and parked next to buildings we could see. That space in which everthing was happening looked well organized, and from the point of view of architecture, the buildings also seemed of a different quality than on the other side of the border, or at least in general.

As we kept going, we kept paying attention to our surroundings. We realized there was barely any wild. We were surrounded by fields with all kinds of crops, many cows, sheeps,… It made sense. Dairy products from the Netherlands are found in many countries in Europe, and in Germany many vegetables found in the supermarkets come from there too.

 

When I meant there was barely any wild I meant large forests and such. As for animals, apart from cattle, which was found anywhere, I’m talking about ducks, geese, swans… To the point that the first thing that happened to us when we parked on a random street in Leiden near downtown was that a duck came to say hi. I can say Dutch ducks are the friendliest I know.
Left: A duck came to say hello when we parked. Right: One of the canals surrounding Leiden.

Leiden
What a great town. That would be our conclusion after spending what was almost 7 hours there. As I said, we parked on a random street, but it had a water canal. That happened to be normal in Leiden. Most of the streets had their canal. If you have ever been to the Netherlands, you will also know dwellings there have huge windows, and one could even say specially on the ground floor. That meant people could see as parking form inside their homes, and we just wondered if us parking there would bother them. They didn’t seem to mind, and the ducks of the neighborhood even seemed happy.

 

We started walking to the center. We realized we were almost the only ones walking. Most of the people were riding their bike, and when we went to cross the street, al the bicycles were doing so, but for us pedestrians the light just wouldn’t go green. Alright, we ended up pressing the button, and it turned green right after we did. I think it’s the best place I’ve been to where these work properly. In Spain, for example, most of them are just useless.

 

The closer we were to the center, the more people we saw walking. We saw the houses built on the canal. Could you imagine living in one of those houses built on water? Originally they were built there because it was much cheaper than on land, but there would be something special having one of those and your own boat right outside your window to get to the other side of the city on it. Even some birds had their own privileged position living on a boat really close to the center of the town.
Boat houses of one of the canals.
Left: Birds building their nest on a boat. Right: Kids in charge of a boat was something common in Leiden.
The central streets were full of life; the ducks, swans, birds, people, bikes… It’s not that the bikes were alive, but there were so many of them that you just have to count them. One of the main reasons for so much activity was the street market, and we were so happy it was open. Going to the local market is one of my favorite things to do when visiting a new country, especially because there one can try the local products. This time it was no exception. We were hungry, so we were thinking what we could get. We saw the lines for getting fish, and they sure were long, so we thought that it had to be good. Best option? There was this thing called “lekkerbek” that people were getting. With that name, I didn’t have to think about it twice. I know “lecker” in German means tasty, so that couldn’t be a bad sign. We ordered two, and it was heaven to our mouths. It’s true we were very hungry, which added to the feeling, but we ordered more later and I can confirm it really is delicious.
I thought it was interesting how the windows of many buildings go from big to small.
Left: We had to escape from the seagulls to eat our lekkerbek because they wanter it all for themselves. Right: Lekkerbek.
On with the trip, we went up the small Citadel of Leiden, which originally was built in the 12th century from the invaders coming from the Rhine river, but with the years it was surrounded by houses, becoming a park from where you can enjoy good views of the surroundings. It was also nice that signs there told a bit of the story of the buildings we had in front of us.
Left: Gates of the park of the citadel. Right: View from the citadel.
It turns out Leiden is considered a city of museums, but we just wanted to explore a bit more of the city walking, and go find some tulip fields before the sun set. On our way through the streets, we passed by the oldest university in the country, the botanical garden which also happens to be the oldest in the Netherlands, and we found a cat.

 

Left: Canal on the side of the botanical garden. Right: The cat we confused for a lost cat, but it did look exactly the same.
Just the usual reaction of people in the Netherlands when you are taking a photo.
We remembered seeing a sign of a lost cat and this one looked exactly the same. We barely had doubts, but we preferred to ask the people living where it was sitting. Nobody answered the door, so we just went to look for the flyer with the picture of the lost cat and compare. After some time we were able to find it and we rushed back to the cat. When we got there we found some people who told us the it lived there, and that it was fine. It did look very similar though, but after being told it was fine, we went back to look for our car and find some flower fields.

 

Stay tuned for part 2!

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