On Thursday night, I bundled myself up again the chilly air and set out into the city to pick up the lovely Barbara at the station. I stopped on my way to casually buy out the supermarket’s junk food supply, and we spent a perfectly stereotypical and fantastic night chatting up a storm, chomping down on various candy and salty treats, and laughing out loud at The Big Wedding.
I posted a
shameful glorious shot of our movie night to my Instagram. I’ve been updating a lot more with my new phone, so if you’re interested in a mix bag of pictures of the Netherlands, friends, cats and food, I’m your gal! (But be warned: when I say cats, I do mean cats.)
The next day was much more wholesome. The last time Barbara had spent more than a couple of hours in Leiden it had been way too cold to properly enjoy the city for its beauty and its incredible history. This time, armed with light jackets and resigned to being spit on all day – all day – we explored the heart of the historical city centre and its countless alleys and hidden corners. Barbara’s enthusiasm for everything awoke my own rather dormant appreciation of this gorgeous old town.
Aside from the Pieterskerk and the Hooglandsekerk, two must-see tourist attractions, we fell in love (I for the umpteenth time) with the dozens of little hofjes, enclosed residential squares. They are hidden within the city by high brick walls, discrete gates, high foliage, and narrow, winding alleys.
(Apologies for the picture quality! We hadn’t planned to do quite so much exploring and my camera was tucked safely away from the rain in my room.)
Some of these hofjes date back to the fifteenth century or even earlier, and have been reserved for orphans, the poor, single women, and, more recently, for specific communities of like-minded people. Most contain a little garden and many also continue to feature old water pumps. (Unfortunately they don’t work anymore – we tried!)
I was very intent on showing Barbara the medieval dungeons, housed within an otherwise modern university building, in which I occasionally have meetings. Unfortunately both rooms were occupied; however, sensing our eagerness, the kind receptionist led us to the back of the building and showed us the building’s old torture chamber! It turns out the building was used as a full-on prison in the fifteenth century. You can even reach it from the Breestraat, one of the busiest streets in Leiden, by following the Diefsteeg, or thief alley.
The receptionist explained that the walls of the chamber were at least half a meter thick, ensuring that no one would ever have heard the screams …
How fitting for Friday the thirteenth!
Left to our own devices, we poked around the rest of the building, enamoured of its old, winding brick staircases and big wooden doors.
Access to the historical Leiden monuments is usually restricted – we happened to show up on a quiet day and were lucky to be allowed in. However, once in a while the university organizes free tours of all of its hidden historical gems. If you’re interested in visiting this gorgeous place, check out the Visitor’s Centre. They’ll be able to tell you when and how you can arrange these sorts of tours.
Alternatively, you could simply walk into the building, soaking from the rain and batting your eyelashes, and play your best confused tourist card.
The hofjes on the other hand are open to the public and are truly enchanting. Part of the fun is trying to find them!