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Delft Daytrip

12/30/2012

The fact that today was only my second visit to another Dutch city during my Erasmus year is one that fills me with shame.  The railway system is so good and the Netherlands is so small that travel between cities is so easy that there really is no excuse.  With this in mind I co-opted a fellow student on this day trip, and it was thanks to him that I got really lucky.  Firstly he made sure I got a 40% discount on my fare, and also by delaying me by one day so that he could relax yesterday.  I thanked him today, because we got a nice sunny day instead of the rained drenched misery that was yesterday.

Our train to Delft arrived at mid-day, and the glorious sunshine was just beginning.  The hour long journey was a comfortable and uneventful one, and our impression of green Dutch transport solutions was  further enhanced by the hundreds of bikes in the parking lot.  The rest of the world really does have a lot to learn from the Dutch in terms of mitigating our dependence on fossil fuels.  The streets of Delft exuded a tranquil silence compared to Amsterdam, or any other city for that matter.  My companion made a number of references to Disneyland, perhaps not unjustifiably.  The gorgeous architecture, tall church towers and lovely sunshine would impress just about anyone.

We ambled along a quiet canal towards the tower of the Oude Kerk, and even though our museum cards would not get us free entry, the student rate of two euro per person would not break the bank.  The cavernous interior struck me with it’s impressive stained glass windows which kept light flooding in and danced across the ceiling.  There is a memorial to Admiral Maarten Tromp here, with his head laid across a cannon.  Tromp was one of the Netherlands foremost admirals, and was captured twice for his trouble.  Having survived capture by the English and the Barbary pirates, he then died in the naval engagement of Scheveningen in 1653.

Our ticket to the Oude Kerk also allowed us admission into the Nieuwe Kerk, and I will resort to a tired cliche and state that it towers over the Grote Markt.  It does, and you can go and see for yourself if you don;t believe me.  Or check out my photos, but anyway, it is also worth a visit.  There is a large mausoleum to William the Silent here, a  former commander of Charles V and Philip II who switched allegiance and fought for the United Provinces in their war against Spain.  He was assassinated in July 1584, and his impressive tomb now graces the new church.  Relatively new church, I should say, since there has been a church on this site for centuries.

As we exited the church I busied myself with amateur photography, and my companion did not mind, or was to polite to say so, as he followed me around the square without complaint.  We eventually sat down for a bagel and coffee at a lovely little place called Beans and Bagels, which had lovely views of the square.  They do a mean bagel too, at a nice price, so this is definitely the place to stop for a light lunch.

There is apparently a relative dearth of museums in Delft, with the scenic streets apparently (and not unjustifiably) being the main attraction.  However we ambled over to Het Prinsenhof, a charming museum in a beautiful building on Oude Delft.  One exhibition tells the story of the murder of William the Silent, who happened to be assassinated right in this building.  Two bullet holes can still be seen here, which is an eerie reminder of a violent past.  The usual paintings of landscapes and civic guards are here, but are nonetheless well executed.

There is also a large display of Delft porcelain, which of course takes its name from this town.  Delft was a prosperous town when the Golden Age of the Netherlands took place, but it became the centre of pottery production when Majolica porcelain took hold.  This process of pottery making saw white tin glazed pottery painted with different colours, and it soon became very popular.  It did not take hold without serious competition, namely with imports from China, and also became unfashionable in the nineteenth century.

It’s survival owes much to a burgeoning tourist trade, and the numerous shops on the Grote Markt owe much to this trade.  One such shop, the Jorrit Heinin, has some beautiful ceiling murals, said to be three centuries old.  I could not quite bring myself to buy any Delft blue pottery, as I am too afraid it will be broken in my travels, but I find it impressive nonetheless.  After our window shopping and museum visit we wandered some more, and I couldn’t help but take more photos.

Our final stop for the day was a bar just off the main strip, which was mercifully quiet and had plenty of free seats.  Here we rested our tired legs and drank a couple of vaasjes pils to refresh ourselves.  It also gave me a chance to practice my very rudimentary Dutch, and my explanation of being South African persuaded one customer to stay a while longer.  He was a great fan of Coetsee and Andre Brink, two writers I had read during one of my courses in UvA.  It always amazes me how small this world is, and the interconnectedness of humanity.  It was a pleasant end to our day, and our journey back to Amsterdam was as pleasant and uneventful as our journey to Delft.

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