Monday, March 12, 2012

Delightful Delft

Delft was our destination this past Saturday. It's often described as a miniature Amsterdam because of its canals and bridges. The red-tiled houses are distinctively Dutch. Energetic bicyclists race through the cobblestone streets. Beautiful churches seem to appear on every corner and their ringing bells provide the soundtrack for a stroll through the city.

Delft is the perfect place for a day-trip. We saw everything on our list, with time to spare. We began with the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Its moniker is misleading because there has been a church on this site since 1381! We purchased tickets for both the church and the tower for only 12 Euro. The interior is grand, with an extraordinarily high nave and beautiful stained-glass windows. William the Silent's elaborate mausoleum is the main attraction. It is intricately carved, made of marble, and surrounded by bronze figures!

After our tour of the interior, we made our way to the tower for our 100-meter ascent. I am mildly claustrophobic and this was definitely an experience that reminded me of my fear. The ancient stairwell was a shockingly tight spiral. My heart began racing after the first few turns and I was thankful when we reached a landing. We entered a tiny room and were face-to-face with the tower clock! 

After admiring the pendulum and catching our breaths, we began climbing again. My husband got vertigo a few times so he had to stop, look up, and adjust his vision. The best technique for me seemed to be focusing on one spot, clinging to the railing (on only one side) and half-walking, half-crawling while mentally willing my legs to stop shaking. Sometimes we would encounter other visitors coming down and we would press ourselves tightly against the walls, holding on for dear life as they edged past us. We climbed and climbed and climbed. To try keep my mind off of feeling trapped in a small spire, I began thinking of its construction. This didn't help because I found myself wondering how these old, crumbling steps were holding all of our combined weights. This turned to visions of tumbling back down into the depths of the Gothic church, perhaps never to be seen again.

Thankfully, all of my worry was for naught. We finally reached the top of the tower and the view was amazing! It's said that on a clear day it's possible to see all the way to Amsterdam. 

Stadhuis (City Hall)

Our perch was very narrow but standing atop The Netherlands was a priceless moment. I've been atop the John Hancock in Chicago and I can say with absolute certainty that this wins! They are incomparable, really. You can't cheat and take the elevator at the Nieuwe Kerk.

The descent wasn't easy. Again we encountered others and had to shrink against the walls to make room. I'm grateful we did this in March instead of July. I can't imagine what this is like during the peak of tourist season! Once we were safely on the ground, we took another look at the church and were amazed by how high we stood. We were above the clock!

After a much-deserved lunch, we walked to the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Admission was included in our ticket for the New Church. The most magnificent feature of the Oude Kerk was its vaulted timber ceiling. There were also modern stained-glass windows. All depict biblical scenes except for one- the "Liberation Window." It was installed in 1956 to celebrate the expulsion of the German army at the end of WWII. Hometown boy, painter Vermeer, is also entombed here.

Next was Het Prinsenhof. This museum was originally a convent and also served as the main residence of William the Silent of Orange. This is one of the best museums we have toured. It holds the municipal art collection with works from the 16th and 17th centuries. These paintings were breathtaking and amazingly detailed. History of the convent and of the life of William the Silent is told through these depictions. Het Prinsenhof is where William was assassinated and the bullet holes are still visible.

Outside was a lovely garden with perfectly-manicured hedges. The sun was just beginning to shine through the clouds and we even saw some Dutch newlyweds using the setting as a backdrop for their photos. We briefly considered crashing the wedding but quickly decided against it when we remembered we don't speak Dutch.

Delftware on a light pole!
One of the biggest draws to Delft is, of course, Delftware. The real stuff is extremely expensive. A simple plate can cost 350 Euros or more. We went into a nice antique shop and the owner was very friendly and informative. She told us interesting facts about Delftware and then suggested her sister shop, De Porcelijne Lampetkan. Rates were slightly more reasonable and I was able to purchase a miniature vase for my mom for 35 Euros. 

And of course the other big attraction to Delft is Johannes Vermeer. The Girl with the Pearl Earring stares out at you from most of the gift shops. Not much is known about Vermeer, but he was definitely born in Delft and it is also where he died. There is a museum, the Vermeercentrum. We did not visit this because it doesn't own any of Vermeer's actual paintings! If you are a Vermeer-aholic, you might find it worth your time to pay the 6 Euros to see a short film presentation and copies of his paintings. 

We ended our tour with a stop at Doerak, a cozy pub beside a canal. My husband had a Trappist beer (the last one left on his list to try) and I enjoyed a refreshing Grimbergen. 

Delft was awesome! In many ways, it was like a mini-Amsterdam but it certainly has a distinct character of its own. Climbing the tower is a must-do. Any time the opportunity presents itself, you should definitely take advantage of seeing Europe from a bird's eye view... even if you must hyperventilate all the way to the top.

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