June 7 – Saturday. We said good bye to the barge crew and most of our group set out on the 20 minute walk to Amsterdam Central Station at around 8:45a.m. A beautiful morning and an easy walk even though we were pulling luggage. Got our ticket to Leiden and found the right track (the station is huge) and we were on the train by 9:20. The route took us past Schiphol airport so there were a bunch of other people lugging heavy bags around too. Half hour to Schiphol, another half hour to Leiden and a 5 minute walk to our hotel, which was right across the street from the Central Station. Things were going too smoothly to last! Got to the Ibis Leiden and found out that, even though they had the confirmed reservations for our room, they did not have a room for us! WTF!! Just the 3 rooms that required twin beds though – the other couples that booked double beds were fine. Obviously there was a screw-up when the booking was made. The desk clerk, Pricilla, was adamant that we had to stay in rooms that they found for us, after much calling around, at a Hilton – a 10 minute car ride away. So she booked the Hilton rooms (more expensive, and she refused to pay the difference) but said that, if some of the Ibis booked people didn’t show up by 6 p.m., they would give their rooms to us. Whoop-dee-do. Grrr… So, feeling more than a little pissed with the Ibis Hotel chain, we set out to wander the city and see the sights. And do a much needed laundry.
Leiden is an old university town, birthplace and early home of Rembrandt, and has the same relaxed feeling as Bruges. After finding the laundry, about a 20-minute walk from the hotel, we left off the dirty clothes and just wandered around. We would be spending 6 days here, so there was no rush to tour museums today. Canals abound and, with the similar architecture everywhere, the streets started to blur together after a while, for me anyway. Thankfully, Darryl and his iPad maps prevented us from getting hopelessly lost. And keep track of where the interesting bars and restaurants were.
Back at the laundry to pick up the now de-toxified cycling apparel, we ran into Lucille. She was in the same situation as Gerry and me – a reservation but no room – but wasn’t concerned. “Oh, I spoke to the manager. We all have rooms now.” Eh? Nick and Gordon had argued with the female desk clerk for half an hour and got nowhere. Lucille turns on the charm with the male manager and voila, all is copacetic. Maybe if the manager was on duty when we got there we would have been successful too but you can’t argue with success. Or women apparently.
June 8 – Sunday. We woke to light rain in morning but, being hungry and all, that didn’t stop us from looking for some place to have breakfast. We could have noshed at the hotel but Gerry & I wanted to find a nice café somewhere. Although we saw lots of bustling cafes yesterday, everything was shut up tight this morning. We wandered down one of the main shopping streets but you could have shot a cannon down there and not hit a soul. Had the zombie apocalypse arrived? Where the hell was everybody? It seems that, on Sundays anyway, Leiden doesn’t get moving until after 10 a.m. We eventually found take away place and took our coffee and muffins across street to sit at an unopened outdoor café, albeit on damp chairs from the earlier rain.
We started to do a slow, unplanned and disorganized tour of the town. We came across the Latin school, a small building where Rembrandt had his early education. Nearby is the former jail, in the shadow of Pieterskirk, a former church now rented out for special events. The square by the jail is where all the public executions used to take place, prior to the corpses being removed for display just outside the town gates. I wonder how many of these affairs a young and impressionable Rembrandt got to witness.
Since our breakfast left a little to be desired, like food, we stopped for an early lunch at one of the, thankfully, now open cafes. After a welcome beer and sandwich, we continued to wander. We came across Brian and Susan in the Botanic Park, the oldest garden in the Netherlands and a part of the University of Leiden.
While enjoying the grounds, I noticed a sign pointing to the observatory. I had seen the domes the day before, while walking on the other side of the canal that borders the park, but hadn’t realized the buildings were part of the botanic park. Gerry and I walked over but, no sooner had we entered the museum part and started to browse, when a fellow asked us if we wanted a tour of the place. He took us and a few other people outside and attempted to open a locked gate to the grounds, to give us a surface tour of the facilities. His key card, which he said he had trouble with before, wouldn’t unlock the gate though. He said “Well, I’m not supposed to do this, but would you like to have an inside tour instead?” So he led us back into the main building, through a maze of corridors and stairs and up into one of the observatory domes. He gave us a half-hour talk on the history of the place, the telescope and how it works, and a tour of the former astronomy library (now full of law books – the astro library is now with the new astronomy building, some ways out of town). It is too bright in town to use the scopes anymore but they are still used to teach students how they function.
That evening, we all gathered at our hotel to meet our tour guide for the next 3 days. Ad guided Darryl, Donna and JoAnn last year on a Loire Valley trip and Darryl arranged for him to come from his home in northern Holland to lead us on 3 day trips out of Leiden. We all decided on the area/cities we wanted to see, approximate distances and such, and left the details on how to get there to Ad. It looked like we would have a great 3 more days of cycling.