Charming, storybook Leiden transformed over the weekend. Today, October 3rd, marks the Relief of Leiden (or “Leiden Ontzet”) and it is the biggest celebration of the year. In 1574, during the Eighty Year’s War, Leiden was under the Spanish rule of King Fillips II. The city was starved, tortured, and held captive by the Spanish – until a group rallied together to overtake the King and join forces with the good guy: Prince William of Orange. The people of Leiden were applauded for their bravery (and the town was awarded a certain university as further thanks).
Ever since, the 3rd of October has been a city-wide holiday. Cycle just one town over and nothing’s going on. In Leiden, though, they pull out all the stops. Not only did the circus come to town, but so did the atmosphere of an autumn football saturday, an outdoor music festival, an art fair, and maybe even a restaurant week.
The city has been unrecognizable! People and parades and roller coasters abound. All with a european flair, of course. Below is the view from a friend’s apartment on Friday night: Saturday brought warm and sunny weather, strange for October. It also brought rows and rows of Dutch treats… they’ve got quite a sweet tooth.
Shops and schools closed early on Friday afternoon. You could feel it in the air – people itching to start the weekend, wind their boats through the river around town, barbeque on the streets. Today, nothing is open; classes are always cancelled on the 3rd. This morning, at 7am, an hours-long line formed in the center of town. All Leiden citizens, provided you register 2 weeks in advance, are entitled to 2 free herring (with onions) and a slice of white bread. You’re handed the herring with head & tail, so you have to clean it up yourself. Eat it, too. Hutspot is another popular dish in the Leiden Ontzet story. It’s simple, but made/eaten with of a lot of spirit! Onions, potatoes, carrots, and sausage, all mixed together. (The veg option is just as good, people.)