Today, we were still staying in Amsterdam, but visited the city of Leiden, an hour’s train ride to the south of Amsterdam. The sun shone again and the skies were blue.

We had arranged to spend time with friends we had known from church in Durban North, Matt & Lizelle and their young son. Matt is now an Anglican Priest in their little town of Voorschoten but we arranged to meet in Leiden as, they said, it is more interesting. It certainly was very interesting and we learnt some fascinating history.

Families relaxing on the canal
Early homes on Leiden


We left our hotel at 10:00 and took the bus and tram to the Central Station, going along the same route as we had the last 2 days. We arrived in Leiden and suddenly realised that we had not made a specific place to meet but it turned to not be a problem. Lizelle arrived a few minutes after we did having travelled by train with the baby and, not long after, Matt arrived on his bicycle.

We started our morning together by stopping at a restaurant for lunch where I had a large, delicious tomato soup and Trevor had a traditional dish of croquettes, as did the other two. After a wonderful hour or so of chatting and enjoying each other’s company, Lizelle went shopping and then headed for home. Matt offered to show us around Leiden and he proved to be an excellent guide.

As was the case with Amsterdam, this city was first settled in 1201 and was given city rights in 1266. The municipality of Leiden has a population of 120 000 but it is part of 4 closely grouped towns, bringing the total population to almost 350 000.

Street of cafes and shops where the students spend a lot of time 

The oldest university in The Netherlands, University of Leiden, was opened as a Protestant university by Wiliam, Prince of Orange in 1575. Today, it has a student population of 35 000, with a very large proportion of international students. It is one of Europe’s top universities with 13 Nobel Prize winners having graduated from here. Like Basel, as it is a very old university, it has a number of buildings in different parts of the city,

We walked through the city until we came to the oldest church in the city, St Peter’s or Pieterskerk. It was originally built as a RC Church but became Dutch Protestant after the Reformation. Today it is a multi-functional meeting and conference facility which has entertained many high profile people including President George W Bush Snr, Nelson Mandela and King Willem. St Peter is the Patron Saint of Leiden and the pair of crossed keys is the city symbol and are known as the keys to heaven, cared for by Peter. The building is considered as a defining point in Leiden. Many senior church officials and other highly respected people have been buried there. One is Revd John Robinson, who was Spiritual leader of the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed on the Mayflower. There is a museum dedicated to the Pilgrims near St Peter’s Church and a plaque with the names of all who sailed from Leiden. (The photo we took was in the shade, so I have downloaded one.)

Front of St Peter’s Church
Entrance to the Pilgrim Museum










Plaque for all from Leiden on the Mayflower. Photo by Henk van Kampden
Plaque for Rev Robinson



Yes, that was a very interesting bit of history that we had corrected for us. We were taught that the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth in England. Well, yes they did but some first left from Leiden with many passengers and who then boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth in 1620. The full history of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower is given at this link. Do take a look as there is some really fascinating reading, one topic being that 6 former Presidents of the US have/had Pilgrim ancestors.

Former President George W Bush Snr at St Peter’s Church

Another interesting fact is that the artists, Rembrandt van Rijn, was born in Leiden and the home where he was born is now a museum. It was quite far out of our way to walk to, but we did see a sign to it.  A large historical theatre was performed, in early July 2023, that you could walk through yourself, even Rembrandt was said to still find his way today.

We walked through the city seeing a few bicycle only streets, a couple of museums and shopping areas as we made our way to the mound or motte in the very centre.

A bicycles only zone.
City hall in Leiden
Metal sculpture over the canal
Museum of Glass with the Crossed Keys of Leiden

It was gradually raised until it stood nine metres above the city. It was from this point that the city developed. On this mound was built, in the 11th century, the Citadel, known as the Burcht van Leiden, as a shell keep. By the 13th century it was considered antiquated due to the number of homes built around it. One can climb to the top of the mound and go into the centre of the citadel. Many people were using the grass of the mound as a place to relax and have a picnic in the beautiful weather.

Wall of the citadel on the mound
Looking into citadel grounds



Stairs to the Citadel

From there we passed through one of the original city gates built in 1658 and made our way across the canal towards the park in which there was a beautiful windmill. Also in the park was a Remembrance statue of a woman commemorating WWII. Around her feet on the top of the plinth were yellow flowers and at the base of the plinth were many candles, lit in support of Ukraine.

City Gate from 1658
Remembrance Memorial
Windmill in the park
Approaching the windmill

As we walked back to the station, we saw different kinds of street art, the most interesting of which was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. At the station Matt assisted us to a train which stopped at the airport in Amsterdam, leaving us much closer to our hotel. We caught a bus from there and were ‘home’ in 5 minutes. It had been a very special day in which we had fun and learnt a lot.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity