As you may or may not know, I’m from England. This means, amongst other things, that I grew up completely surrounded by water and fascinated with landlocked countries. The thought that you could just leave one border and enter another without the need for a boat or a plane rattles my islander mentality to the core. It’s no surprise that ever since I moved to Cologne six months ago, I have wanted to visit the Netherlands. So when an opportunity arose at the very last minute to visit Leiden, I decided to make a weekend of it and dragged my long-suffering boyfriend along for the ride.
the oude singel canal, leiden
Boarding the train at Cologne Central Station with only one change in Utrecht, The Boy and I settled into our seats and promptly fell asleep. An hour later I was woken up by border control. I sleepily handed over my passport and waited, keeping an eye open so I wouldn’t drift back into dreamland without having my precious maroon book filled with stamps and visas back in my possession. But it never came. The guard with our IDs was now muttering something into his phone. Still slumped in my seat, I cast a glance towards The Boy. It was probably him they were after; his appearance always seems to unsettle particular members of society. Then I heard my surname being spelled out phonetically.
Well, I never! I announced in mock indignation, as two more guards hurried down the aisle to our seats, reminding me of an unpleasant scene when four Deutsche Bahn employees had been unnecessarily aggressive towards me during my work commute. Truly bemused, I sat up and watched as the three guards attempted to unpeel the page of my passport where my photo lay. I was getting bored of this and decided to speed up the charade.
The three guards looked up.
‘What are you looking for? Perhaps I may be of assistance.’
‘Just some technicalities‘, the first guard responded.
He handed me back my passport. I watched him walk off before mimicking his words to The Boy. Just some technicalities. LOL.
In the evening a work colleague invited me to dinner with members of the Space Generation Advisory Council. Stuffing my face with all-you-can-eat sushi, we talked about space, living in Leiden and life in the Netherlands in general. All-you-can-eat sushi is some next-level dining, let me tell you. The trick is trying to order just enough food because anything left over will be charged at a premium. This meant a group of us holding our bellies, trying to eat the final morsels, weary because we had too much food. First world problems indeed. After two hours of food, The Boy and I excused ourselves, groaning, and went to walk it off down one of Leiden’s many canals.
dutch clogs. of course.
The next morning we got a bus to Katwijk, a coastal town northwest of Leiden with a seaside resort. It was a good thing I hadn’t swapped my scarf for a swimsuit because the beach was so cold and so unbelievably windy. We huddled together in the sand and watched dog walkers, horse riders, joggers and kitesurfers brave the less-than-optimal weather. We stopped for something warm on the way back to Leiden and I ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream, all the wrong things for a person with a dairy intolerance. ‘This is going to hurt later’, I said, licking my spoon. ‘Then why are you drinking it?’ The Boy asked in amusement. I replied ‘because it tastes so gooooooood.’
a kitesurfer braves the cold in katwijk aan zee
shell art on someone’s house, katwijk
We decided to take the train into Amsterdam as it was only 30 minutes away. This part of our journey had been completely unplanned so we decided to be spontaneous about it and find somewhere to sleep once we’d reached the capital. Worst idea ever. Not only was it Saturday, an already busy day in the history of hospitality, but it was also the weekend of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague where Barack Obama and his friends would discuss how to prevent nuclear terrorism. Big stuff indeed. As a result, pretty much every single room was booked. Hostel staff turned us away and signs saying ‘No Vacancies’ stood in front of many hotels. There was even a point where a dodgy man offered to host us in his own room. I could see The Boy wavering so I dragged him out of there. Nuh-uh, not happening, mate.
Trying not to feel down at the thought of not having anywhere to sleep, we trekked through Amsterdam, taking in its culture, canals, coffee shops and the tourists. So many tourists. After three hours of walking around until the sun had set, a sympathetic hotel employee let us use his unbelievably slow computer to find ourselves somewhere to rest our heads for the night. I sifted through pages of hotels claiming to be centrally located but upon further inspection turned out to be as far as 30 kilometres away from any sort of civilisation. Finally, I found a place that had dramatically slashed its prices for the night. It was a hotel on a boat. A botel, if you will. I reserved a room, took a photo of its location on a map and we made our merry way towards the promised land.
The botel was situated in a sort of industrial area with one restaurant and a ferry port. Unable to see much of anything in the dark, we ditched our bags in the room and went to check out the restaurant for dinner. Despite the incredibly bad service, we celebrated our day with a glass of Prosecco and with food in our bellies, we relaxed and decided all would be well in the morning. I woke up to a grey day which cleared up after a little rain and brought out the blue sky. I absolutely love being by the water and I think it was the best way to wake up after a hectic day of hotel-hunting.
boats, boats, boats!
Sunday was a quiet day so the streets weren’t milling with many tourists. With time to spare, we ate extortionately priced pancakes for breakfast and took a final walk around Amsterdam city centre. The train to Cologne passed without incident and after seeing The Boy off as he made his way back down to southern Germany, I sat in my familiar flat, on my familiar kitchen chair, in front of my familiar laptop. It was hard to believe I’d actually left at all. What a weekend! Let’s do it again sometime, yeah?