A Long, Long Day Continues

Leeuwarden Travel Blog

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Rather splendid Dutch inter-city trains at Leeuwarden Station, showing the height of the driver's cab above the tracks
The flight to Schipohl was bang on time and boringly uneventful, which is really just how one wants a plane journey to be. Although it was tempting to go to Amsterdam for a little sightseeing before heading out to Leeuwarden, which is in the north of the country, I opted to go there straight away, partly because I thought that Amsterdam was a big and interesting enough place to warrant a visit on its own account rather than being taken in en route to somewhere else, and partly because my innate pessimism about travel itineries involves a determination not to waste a minute in getting to wherever it is I'm going, on the grounds that you never know what delays you might encounter that you might have avoided had you left a little earlier.
A very welcome sight - the Campanile Hotel at Goutom

Netherlands Railways is really pretty efficient as regards timekeeping, at least as far as its intercity services are concerned, and every train I took arrived at the exact moment specified by the timetable - and on the appointed platform. Now, to specify months in advance which platform a train will leave from or arrive at is real efficiency! The trains themselves were visually very impressive, with the driver perched in a lordly cab about twelve feet off the ground, looking down on the lowly drivers of slow suburban stopping trains with, one must assume, a good deal of comtempt. The carriages themselves were old-fashioned and rather gloomy, full of dark-brown plastic trim redolent of an earlier and more gracious age when a journey by train was a big adventure. But it mattered not, because shortly before noon I was duly deposited in Leeuwarden station, exactly according to plan.
The canal, about a hundred metres from the Hotel, taken from the bridge which opens frequently to allow the passage of tall sailing vessels

The railway station is an interesting mix of old and new. The platform area is enclosed by a modern arch of glass and steel, within which many original features have been retained, including an extremely solid dark wooden edifice called simply, and with considerable understatement, "kiosk": it looks as if it would take an atomic bomb to shift it. However, the burning question was the best way to get to the Hotel Campanile, which is in the district of Goutum, some 2 km south of the station. I had taken details from the internet of what was alleged to be a walking route, and not seeing any taxis at the taxi rank proceeded on foot. This, however, was a big mistake, and my bags got heavier and heavier with every step, particularly as I became convinced that the "walking route" was identical to the route for motorists, and omitted a valuable short-cut that the map in the Rough Guide suggested would be available to pedestrians.
Domestic dwellings between Goutom and Leeuwarden
Eventually I decided that taking a taxi was the only practicable way of getting to the hotel, and so retraced my steps to the taxi-rank at the station, prepared to wait until doomsday.

Or until one o'clock, when taxis actually started to appear - perhaps they had all stopped for lunch. Soon I was at the hotel and checking-in. I'll do a separate review of the hotel, and only note that my first impressions, which I had no reason to change during my stay, were very positive: really helpful and friendly staff (Hi Birgit!), and an excellent room. After unpacking, having a comforting ham-and-cheese omelette in the restaurant, and treating myself to a leisurely hot bath, I was ready to say a proper hello to Leeuwarden.

I was told that buses from Goutum to the centre of Leeuwarden did exist but were few and far between, so I decided to go on foot.
A sight that was to become very familiar over the next few days: Leeuwarden Railway Station, take from the Eden Oranje Hotel
I found the short-cut easily enough, and really enjoyed the 2km walk, which is far, far more interesting than the longer and dismal route for cars. The route takes you over a big bridge spanning a big canal, and then passes alongside pretty little canals with flower-strewn banks, pleasant suburban dwellings with neat front gardens, and an interesting parade of shops; until, after about 25 minutes, you reach the train station. This itself is on the south side of central Leeuwarden, so it is usually necessary to walk further north for a few minutes.

I was supposed to meet Wendy at the Waag building - the oldest in Leeuwarden and a popular redezvous - at about 6.30, and so had some time in hand. Fortunately, my Rough Guide had quite a lot to say about Leeuwarden, and one can take in the principal sights during an afternoon.
The Pancake Ship in Leeuwarden, where you can eat pancakes
I liked the place instantly: the cleanliness and orderliness, the streams of disciplined cyclists, and particularly the main shopping area of Nieuwestad, where the shops are on the north and south side of a canal, with frequent wide bridges joining the two sides. Refreshments are served at tables and chairs set out on these bridges, and a more civilised way of finishing off a hard morning's shopping I cannot imagine. But in the area there are also many interesting buildings and delightful narrow cobbled streets, and wherever you are in Leeuwarden you are never far from water.

Possibly Leeuwarden's most famous building is the Oldehove, a tower which, like that of Pisa, tilts at an alarming and astonishing angle. It was originally intended to be part of a cathedral, but fortunately the plans got no further.
The Palace of Justice
In front of Oldehove is a large rectangular paved area which appears to have no function other than that of forming the roof of a large underground car-park. However, on the dot of six o'clock, dozens of little fountains embedded in the paving started issuing spray, and then just as suddenly stopped thirty seconds later. Whether this is to lay the dust, or alarm unsuspecting pedestrians, I am not sure!

The Waag building was clearly marked on my map, so shortly before 6.30 I made my way there to meet Wendy. As usual when I meet people, I was sure that something was going to go wrong, and this feeling was enhanced by the circumstance that not only was Wendy not there, but neither was anyone else who looked like a TravBuddy. By 6.50 I was seriously worried, and invoked a magic remedy which rarely fails in such circumstances: I started to send her a text message.
A typical side street, with plenty of interesting little shops
Sure enough, before I had finished I looked up and saw a little group walking towards me, lead by someone who was unmistakably Wendy, wearing a jaunty blue-and-white cap of curious design. Phew! Panic over. In fact, and unknown to me, Wendy had that afternoon met up with another group of TBs who had come by car, and they had been sightseeing at the same time as I was, in a kind of parallel TB universe.

There were now five of us, and we headed for the tapas restaurant where we were to have our first meal of the meet-up; some other TBs, including Wendy's friend and assistant organiser Rowena, were to meet us there. Wendy, whose organisation of the weekend is beyond all praise, had arranged for us to have an upstairs room which was opulently furnished in what I took to be middle-eastern style, with wall hangings and ceiling drapes in red and green and gold, and where we all sat on very low benches; I rather imagine that this is how Colonel Gaddafi dines in his tent.
At 6 pm sprinklers start up without warning at Oldehoofster Kerkhof, next to Oldehove
The choice of restaurant was excellent, since the informal seating, somewhat chaotic sampling of each other's dishes, and large jugs of sangria ensured that there was plenty of lively interaction. I fear that Matt and I, as the resident Brits, and inspired by the menu options of pollo loco (presumably victims of mad chicken disease) and pollo dedo (well, of course), got rather more fun out of a foreign language than a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect for other cultures and traditions would deem appropriate. This regrettable tendency was to reappear at every mention of the Vaaaaachchchchc building, and at sundry other times throughout the weekend.

This might all have been enough for one day, but the evening was not nearly over yet. Wendy had proposed that we should go to the opening of Sneekweek (pronounced Snakewake, cue more mirth), an annual sailing festival in the town of Sneek, a few miles from Leeuwarden.
The Waag building, now a restaurant, dates from 1598
Fortunately there were enough cars to take all of us, and I'd like to give a big thank-you at this point to those who not only made their cars freely available throughout the weekend, but also went easy on the alcohol so as to be fit to drive.

Sneek was amazingly crowded, and we headed for a vantage point beside the canal, where we saw the final stages of a procession of boats, all lit up and some with bands on board. After about half-an-hour, with the procession finished, the big event of the evening began - fireworks on the river! I've seen some wonderful displays on the Thames, but they have all been computer-controlled from great barges, with no-one allowed within about a quarter of a mile whilst the display was in progress. They have simply been spectacles. At Sneek, however, the barge cannot have been more than about twenty yards from each river bank, and there were two men on board, wearing hard hats and running about with torches setting off the fireworks in sequence.
Sanne and Brett in Las Tapas
The result of being so close to the action was that as well as being visually and aurally impressive it was very involving - one could actually sense that one was quite close to controlled explosions involving about a ton of gunpowder (my guess), and that it had the potential to be really dangerous.

That was the climax of the evening, but we then wandered around an immense fairground which in spite of the late hour was in full swing, and where, due to the crush of people, we all got separated for a while. The miracle that is the mobile phone reunited us again, and, leaving the fairground, we went for a drink, sitting outside a bar beside the canal. I felt so thirsty that I actually ordered a beer, the first that I've drunk for about two years. However, it had started to get quite cold, so we only stayed for the one drink; and some of us were getting pretty tired, including me, as by this time I had had no sleep for about forty-two hours.
Rowena, Edwin, Femke and Mickey
So after confirming the arrangements for Saturday we headed back to Leeuwarden, and as there was general agreement that a morning lie-in was in order, I did an unprecendented thing in deactivating my alarm-clock before collapsing, very tired but very happy, into a wonderfully comfortable bed.

It had been a long, long day.
londonstudent says:
Ah, of course, that explains a lot :)
Posted on: Aug 07, 2008
alex-b says:
John, that are Frysian trains, not Dutch ones :D
Posted on: Aug 07, 2008
londonstudent says:
Hey, you were quick off the mark - I hadn't even had time to upload the pics! Mainly because the stupid uploader froze my laptop and I had to CtrlAltDel my way out of trouble :(
Yes, you're right about the trains, though I didn't have any German trains to compare them with. In the half-hour I had to wait at Leeuwarden going home I could have done wonders with a big sponge and a nice hot bucketful of Flash :) I particularly noticed the drivers' windscreens - it wouldn't be legal to have such filthy windscreens on a car!
Posted on: Aug 06, 2008
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Rather splendid Dutch inter-city t…
Rather splendid Dutch inter-city …
A very welcome sight - the Campani…
A very welcome sight - the Campan…
The canal, about a hundred metres …
The canal, about a hundred metres…
Domestic dwellings between Goutom …
Domestic dwellings between Goutom…
A sight that was to become very fa…
A sight that was to become very f…
The Pancake Ship in Leeuwarden, wh…
The Pancake Ship in Leeuwarden, w…
The Palace of Justice
The Palace of Justice
A typical side street, with plenty…
A typical side street, with plent…
At 6 pm sprinklers start up withou…
At 6 pm sprinklers start up witho…
The Waag building, now a restauran…
The Waag building, now a restaura…
Sanne and Brett in Las Tapas
Sanne and Brett in Las Tapas
Rowena, Edwin, Femke and Mickey
Rowena, Edwin, Femke and Mickey
Matt, Rowena, Wendy and Yokim
Matt, Rowena, Wendy and Yokim
A general view of the rather splen…
A general view of the rather sple…
My camera didnt have much luck in…
My camera didn't have much luck i…
Leeuwarden Hotels & Accommodations review
Good Value Basic Accommodation
Although classified as a Leeuwarden hotel, the Campanile is actually in the district of Goutum, some 2 km south of central Leeuwarden. On foot it is a… read entire review
photo by: metsbwd