Walk, Cycle, then Boat Leiden

I think I’ve found a pretty golden way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Two days ago our group was treated to a boat ride through Leiden’s canals. We met in the city center where people were eating late lunches and peering into boutique windows. Little toddlers were balancing on the back of their parents’ bikes (fiets). At one point, I glanced over my right shoulder to find an older couple eating ice cream cones on a bench by the water. We exchanged smiles and the man nodded.

We walked on to the white boat (wet from an early morning rain) in the center of all this Sunday activity and began the most peaceful ride through town. Here is Captain Jack: He called “Low bridge, low bridge. Watch your heads, low bridge!” whenever we passed under a … low bridge. There were many. In his heavy Dutch accent he pointed out the windmill where Rembrandt’s father worked, and the street where the boy was born. He routed us along the Hortus Botanicus; founded in 1590, it is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands. He told us that if you hold out a map of Leiden from the 16th century, you’ll still be able to get around town today – from that very map.

Jack said the canal wasn’t more than 2 meters deep, and you wouldn’t want to swim in it, but the body of water works. Many in Leiden live on the water in houseboats, others dock their boat in the canal outside their apartment. These canals and rivers move people and goods from point A to B. They act as sources of energy and defense, but are also just proof of human ingenuity. Amsterdam’s grachtengordel canal design, for instance, is mesmerizing even for the 21st century. Last week we also learned about the Netherlands’ Delta Works project in our quick Dutch history lesson. In 2010, the venture was completed after almost 55 years. There were 13 projects total, each one constructing dams and barriers in every province to save the country from flooding and high sea levels. We learned about the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier in particular; people here are proud of it, and they have every reason to be. If you have 10 minutes, do look around here . The United States consulted the Dutch engineers behind this project after Hurricane Katrina.


My favorite places have a sort of duality to them. Part of the reason I love Chicago is because you can stand on any city street and know there is water to one side of you. Fresh, wind-making, deep water. Concrete, noise, people, and busy days somehow align seamlessly with the quiet force of the Lake. It makes you feel alive, yes? Leiden has a bit of that duality, too. The buzz of the city center may enter your right ear, but from the left is just the calm lapping of the canal.



7 responses to “Walk, Cycle, then Boat Leiden

  1. MOM

    Wow. Just beautiful. Feel like I’m there with you…almost.

  2. boo

    It’s so nice to see that smile and that ring and of course the ever present water bottle. Enjoy enjoy !! miss you. xx

  3. Jack Keenan

    I’ve seen you some cute girls.

    Where are the cute boys?

    Marney told me that you should show people. She’s right. I think your “shots’ are terrific.Us old guys in the ad business said “shots”…. We always said, “Are you going out on a shoot?”..we never said, “Are you going out to photograph? If you can figure out what I’m talking about. Another crazy note from your grandfather

  4. anne

    Such beautiful “shots”…as the crazy guy noted above. Miss you! xo

  5. Trish

    What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Water is so soothing and I guess because we are made up of so much water we are drawn to it over and over again.
    I love the fact that a very old map of the city can still be used today. In the US if a building is over 100 years old it stands a very good chance of being torn down and the site repurposed.What a sense of security to know that the “old” neighborhood of your great great grandfather may still be exactly the same. Poor Grandpa went back to his after 60 years and most of the buildings were missing and nature had reclaimed the block.
    Thank you so much for letting share your adventures!!!

  6. Hayley

    Beautiful!! Sounds like such a great city, and looks even better. Great to see some people in your photos, especially your smiling face here and there!

    Heading back to Ann Arbor tomorrow, and it definitely won’t be the same without you. I’m worried I may not be able to sleep without your bed an awkward 2.5 feet away from me.

    Saw this on Funny or Die and thought of you:


    It made me realize how strange/lucky it was to make some of my best friends during those first few days of college/orientation. But don’t spend too long reading stupid things like that when you’re in such an exciting place and you should be out exploring and immersing yourself in all of that history and culture!!

    Speaking of reading things…expect an annoyingly long email from me soon.


  7. annie

    That precious old couple would have made me melt, right on the spot! I bet a nod from that man put a smile on your face all day long.

    I wish I were there to listen+laugh with Captain Jack!

    You draw a picture so well with words, cak. I feel like I’m right there with you and Marney K!

    I am very impressed by the Dutch and their engineering.

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