The adventures of young Rembrandt; follow in his footsteps in Leiden

The adventures of young Rembrandt; follow in his footsteps in Leiden

Centuries before The Night Watch would go on to become one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Amsterdam, Rembrandt was just another struggling artist living down in Leiden. Here is Brandon Hartley’s rundown on his time in the city and various local attractions you can visit if you’d like to learn more about his early days. A stroll through the centre of Leiden can lead you past the historic Beestenmarkt, several picturesque canals, and more than a few friendly ducks that will happily relieve you of any unwanted bread you’ve brought along. If you point yourself in the right direction, you may also find yourself in a small square dominated by a solitary, enigmatic figure. It’s a boy standing in front of a bronze portrait of Rembrandt, perhaps contemplating his own ambitions and potential future as an artist. A few steps from the statue is the spot where his childhood home once stood. These are just two of the landmarks and other attractions devoted to the Golden Age artist that you’ll find in Leiden/ The benefits of a classical education Before we get started, there’s the spelling of Rembrandt’s first name. Scholars say he was born ‘Rembrant’ and later added the silent D for reasons unknown around 1633. He signed many of his paintings with this spelling but, oddly enough, several historical documents from his lifetime feature the original version. We’ll stick with the better known ‘Rembrandt’. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden on 15 July, 1606. He was the ninth of eventually ten child in the busy household of Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuytbrouck. By all accounts, the family was solidly middle-class. Rembrandt’s father worked as a miller who specialised in grinding malt for beer breweries and his mother was the daughter of a well-to-do baker. This meant that they had enough money to send him to study at the nearby Latin School when he was 10, which served as a stepping for many of its all-male alumni (no girls were allowed) to attend university. Along with studying Latin and Greek, he likely received a classical education and would have become well versed in history and literature. Most importantly, it was here that Rembrandt received his first lessons in drawing. University He later enrolled at the University of Leiden at the young of age 14. Weirdly enough, most incoming freshman would have been 17 during this era. The reasons for Rembrandt’s perhaps premature enrolment have been lost to the ages but he may have never even attended classes. He had instead fallen in love with the idea of becoming an artist. But studying to become one was hardly cheap in those days and Rembrandt, even though he was still just a teenager, was no spring chicken when it came to art. Most painters got started when they were pre-adolescents. Nevertheless, his parents covered the cost of him becoming an apprentice to Jacob Isaacszoon van Swanenburg, a Leiden-based artist best known for some pretty grim religious paintings reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch. Van Swanenburg was also pretty great at city scenes and depicting historical battlefields. Rembrandt studied and worked with him for three years. While he never wound up emulating his mentor’s hellscapes, scholars have theorised that the artist’s near lifelong fascination with replicating natural and artificial light may have been inspired by Van Swanenburg’s skills at painting some pretty fearsome flames. Sometime around 1624 or 1625, Rembrandt likely opened a studio in Leiden with a colleague named Jan Lievens, who was something of a child savant when it came to painting. He got started at the age of eight, nearly a full decade before Rembrandt, and had begun working as a professional artist at around age 12. However, Rembrandt's time at the Latin School eventually proved useful when it came time for him to choose some intriguing subject matter for his later paintings. The young Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam for six months to serve as an apprentice for artist Pieter Lastman. In those days, going to Italy to study was all the rage for artists-in-training. Curiously enough, Rembrandt resisted the urge, even though he might have been able to convince his parents to cover the costs. Whether or not he ever tried is now long forgotten. Perhaps stranger: Rembrandt never spent time outside of the Dutch Republic during his lifetime. Big break Fortunately, Lastman and Van Swanenburg had journeyed to Italy and brought the mastery of Italian Renaissance artists back north where they passed them onto Rembrandt. Rembrandt later returned to the studio in Leiden in 1625 to rejoin Lievens and even accepted his own students. They included Gerrit Dou, an artist who would go on to become one of the Leiden Fijnschilders, a group of Golden Age artists that strove to replicate everyday scenes as realistically and accurately as possible. Then Constantijn Huygens showed up about five years later and provided Rembrandt with his first big break. Huygens was a poet and composer who also spent time working as a secretary to two of the Dutch Republic’s princes. He helped Rembrandt arrange a series of important commissions for political leaders and royals in The Hague. In 1631, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam where his career, needless to say, really took off. Here’s how you can retrace Rembrandt’s early years in Leiden There are a few Rembrandt-related attractions and monuments in Leiden that fuel an interesting day trip to the city. You can start with a stop at the Young Rembrandt Studio, a new exhibition that opened earlier this spring. Located inside a 17th century house at Langebrug 89, the exhibit features a seven minute video projection that offers a whirlwind journey through the artist’s years in Leiden. There’s also a gift shop that features Rembrandt-themed products, in addition to information about other attractions around the city. There’s also the Rembrandtwandeling (‘The Rembrandt Walk’). This walking route will lead you past Rembrandt’s birthplace, the Latin School, and several more of the artist’s former haunts in Leiden. There are informational boards along the way that offer additional details about each historic site. Informational booklets about the route, which are packed with tons of facts about Rembrandt’s early years and what the city was like in the early 17th century, can be purchased at the VVV Leiden tourist centre at Stationsweg 26. Park The picturesque Rembrandtpark is a nice place to stop for a snack or a lunch if the weather’s cooperating after you pass over the Rembrandtbrug and snap a few photos of the Molen de Put, a nearby windmill. Be sure to check out the mysterious statue in the nearby Rembrandtplein. Is the boy looking at the portrait supposed to be Rembrandt himself? No one quite knows for sure. Sculptor Stephan Balkenhol made it for the 400th anniversary of the artist’s birth in 2006, but left the boy’s true identity a secret. Nearby, there’s the former location of Rembrandt’s childhood home. It was torn down in the early 20th century to make way for the extension of a printer’s office. A commemorative plaque can now be found on one of the exterior walls. You can also stroll over to view a large bust of the artist depicted in his later years along the Witte Singel. A wreath is placed on it at the stroke of midnight every year on Rembrandt’s birthday. Art Finally, Leiden’s Museum De Lakenhal is due to reopen after an extensive refurbishment in the spring of 2019. It will host an exhibit titled Young Rembrandt from 3 November 2019 to 9 February 2020. Along with works by the artist himself, it will also feature paintings by Lievens, Lastman, and Van Swanenburg. ‘It will be a quite large exhibition with over 120 works of art’, curator Christiaan Vogelaar said. ‘Some of them will be coming over from the UK, Berlin, and the Louvre in Paris. Visitors can also enjoy our historical collections and 20th century art. The De Stijl movement was founded in Leiden and we have a beautiful collection’.  More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: take the train for a weekend in Rotterdam

DutchNews.nl destinations: take the train for a weekend in Rotterdam

With Eurostar now running a three-hour service from London to Rotterdam, the city's fortunes as a tourist hub are set to boom. So, get over there now and appreciate the fantastic views, great museums and excellent cocktails before the British stag parties take over, says Molly Quell. Only slightly smaller than Amsterdam by population, Rotterdam is the Netherland's second largest city. It is home to the largest port in Europe, a fact which is partially responsible for its diverse population - more than half of the city’s residents have at least one parents who was born abroad. Rotterdam was granted city rights in 1340 but was, famously, nearly totally destroyed during World War II, leaving the city with a much more modern skyline than the capital. Get walking The city is too large to do a walking tour of everything, but you can easily get around with the city’s bus and tram system, but also the water taxi system. It’s fast, efficient and just a lot of fun. Go up the Euromast, go under (and walk over) the Erasmus bridge, check out the Witte Huis, snap a photo of the Kabouter Buttplug, marvel at the Cube Houses, grab a snack at the Markthal, wander down the Witte de Withstraat and see the Van Nelle factory. If you’re really up for a walk, walk the Fire Boundary Line, which demarks what parts of the city were destroyed during the bombing and subsequent fire. Check out a museum Rotterdam offers a wide variety of museums and the Netherlands Photo Museum is one of the best. The permanent collection contains the archives of over 160 historical and contemporary photographers. A lot of the works focus on the Netherlands, but the exhibitions often come from all over the world. If you can’t make it to the actual museum, you can view some of the collection online. You can book a tour, free on Sundays, and the museum is part of the Museum Card, so if you have that, entrance is free. Have a cocktail at sunset Like any good city these days, cocktails are on offer and Rotterdam is a good city. It’s got several options for a tasty beverage. The Suicide Club, near the central station, is an eclectic bar with a nice view of the city from their 8th floor location. Another choice would be the Aloha Bar, in a former indoor swimming pool. Or make an appointment with the Doctor, which can give you a prescription for anything that ails you. Take in a show Take in a show at one of the many theater and performance venues in the city. There’s the Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestra, which performs at De Doelen, which is also the home of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. There’s lots of smaller venues as well, such as the Luxor, Theater Rotterdam and the Ro Theater. (The last two merged together under one name but in two separate venues.) The Luxor is, at the time of publication, showing Fiddler on the Roof while the Ro has Woof Side Story, West Side Story but with dogs. For something (even) more out of the box, try the Worm, which hosts everything from musical acts to live performances. Go for a sail Since you’re in the city with the largest port in Europe, you should take a good dip into the city’s maritime offerings. You can book a boat tour of the harbour, including the aforementioned port. Or if you want a shorter trip, take a water taxi around to the SS Rotterdam, the former flagship of the Holland-America line. You can wander around the ship and have a drink at the bar. The Maritime Museum, also a Museum Card member, highlights the port and shipping in general. And if you want to get out of the city a bit, check out the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier. It’s part of the Delta Works and you can get an explanation of how this engineering marvel keeps the country dry. You’ll even get to touch the barrier itself. Where to eat You can easily find a full meal at the Markthal, the fairly recently opened food hall whose building has a unique profile. The same goes for the more hipster Fenix Food Factory. But consider just snacking on the various bites (the croquette stand at the Markhal and the butcher at the Fenix Food Factory are especially delicious) on offer and spending your limited meal times at one of the other delicious restaurants. V11, a converted English ship, will give British visitors a taste of home, including an excellent Sunday roast. Or the De Matroos en Het Meisje, a fish restaurant with a prix fixe menu. For an upscale option Parkheuvel boasts a Michelin star and a French-inspired menu. For breakfast, go to The Bazaar and get the full breakfast spread (and bring your appetite.) If you’re just looking for a coffee and a snack, try De Zeeuwse Meisjes. The fenix Food Factory also has a good coffee place. And, if you want something sweet, try Baker’s Dough, a cookie dough restaurant. Where to stay The famous Hotel New York, which previously served as the launching point for the Holland-America line, is now a fantastic hotel with a lot of charm and a great restaurant and cocktail bar of its own. Get a room on the water side to enjoy the view. For a less expensive, but more adventurous option, Stay Ok offers rooms in Rotterdam’s famous cube houses, a slightly disorientating but architecturally interesting experience. How to get there Londoners, hop on the direct train and be there in three hours. For the rest of us the train is also a good option. Rotterdam is large but the city offers good local public transport, so you can get around by bus, tram, metro and even, as mentioned water taxi. Many thanks to Suus Peet, my Rotterdam expert, who gave me a list of things to do and see in the city that will take me years to work through.   More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: explore Leiden’s canals without the tourist hustle

DutchNews.nl destinations: explore Leiden’s canals without the tourist hustle

Once considered a broken down, blue-collar burg, Leiden has shed this reputation in recent years to become a sort of ‘mini Amsterdam’. Brandon Hartley shares a glimpse at one of the most often overlooked cities in the Randstad. At first glance, it might be easy to mistake the canals of Leiden for those in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district. They’re lined with picturesque houses, arched bridges, and the occasional house cat snoozing in the sun. While the city lacks the world famous museums and bustling nightlife of the real deal, it’s also a welcome refuge from the stag parties and tourist hordes that have laid claim to the nation’s capital. It’s also a city rich with history. Leiden is the birthplace of Rembrandt and was once home to the American Pilgrims before they hightailed it to the New World. In 1574, its brave citizens managed to withstand a months-long siege by the Spanish. They were later rewarded by King William of Orange with their very own college. Leiden University’s alumni list includes prime minister Mark Rutte, former Queen Beatrix and her son, Willem-Alexander. Albert Einstein also lectured there in the 1920s, which is why one of Leiden’s most popular taverns was named in his honour. The city was in decline and unemployment was high throughout much of the 20th century. Over the past generation, however, Leiden has bounced back and it’s a great place to visit for both history buffs and those looking for a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s larger communities. Things to do Hortus Botanicus Leiden Dating back to 1590, this botanical garden is the oldest in the Netherlands. You’ll find gigantic water lilies among the 60,000 plant specimens among its indoor and outdoor exhibits, which include a small Japanese garden. One of the Hortus’ ‘crown jewels’ is a Titan arum, a rare plant that’s native solely to western Sumatra in Indonesia. It gives off a notoriously foul smell when it’s in full bloom. Burcht van Leiden Located on a man-made hill in the centre of the city, this fortress dates back to the 11th century. It’s a great place to take in a 360 degree view of the city and the nearby Hooglandse Kerk, a gothic church built in the 15th century. Over the years, the Burcht has served as everything from a water tower to a stronghold for Ada van Holland, a 12th century countess who got into a bitter battle with her meddlesome uncle over her title. These days, the hill and the fort are used for public events, picnics, weddings, and sledding whenever it snows. Wander the streets Leiden is home to a series of gorgeous canals and cobblestone streets. The ones near the Pieterskerk, the final resting place of several American Pilgrims, served as stand-ins for Amsterdam in The Miniaturist. Pop into the nearly unpronounceable 't Suppiershuysinghe for a koffie verkeerd if you need a break. This centuries-old cafe is the very definition of gezellig but the adjacent public square’s blood-soaked history is anything but (it was used as an execution grounds for the neighbouring prison). Also keep an eye out for Leiden’s wall poems. At the last count, there are 110 of them all across the city. Naturalis This research centre and natural history museum is best known as the home of Trix, one of the world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons. At the time of  writing, she’s on tour and will be making stops at museums in Barcelona and Paris before returning to Leiden in 2019. Naturalis is also undergoing renovations but it’s open to the public and currently hosting an exhibit about poisonous animals. De Valk Fully restored in 2000, this majestic 18th century tower mill currently serves as both a museum and Leiden’s centrepiece. It’s another great spot to take in a panorama of the city or learn more about the inner workings of windmills. De Valk also features living quarters that contain original furnishings and decor. Where to Eat It’s tough to find a decent bagel in the Netherlands but Leiden is home to the country’s first traditional bagel bakery. Proprietor Frank Zweerus and his crew at Better Bagels specialise in making them fresh each day and often break out themed-ones inspired by everything from Pokemon to Maria ‘Goeie Mie’ Swanenburg, the notorious serial killer who killed dozens of innocent Leideners in the late 19th century. It’s a great place to stop for lunch but, if you’re on the go, Mamie Gourmande is another option. This authentic French bakery is one of the very best in the lowlands. Stop here for a delicious sandwich or a take-away quiche along with a frosty Orangina. There are also plenty of freshly-made croissants, macarons, and eclairs up for grabs. If it’s a Saturday, check out Leiden’s nearby outdoor market, which has been going strong for over 900 years. Vishandel Atlantic owns a stand and they’re among the top contenders for the coveted ‘best herring’ award every year. The Bishop, a bistro located in an historic building that once served as a brothel, is where to head for ‘hip’ international cuisine. For more family-friendly fare that won’t break the bank, there’s Oudt Leyden, a beloved cafe stuffed full of ‘Old Dutch’ decor that’s been around since 1907. Over the past century, they’ve served Dutch-style pancakes to Charles de Gaulle, Sir Winston Churchill, and members of the royal family. Where to Stay The Golden Tulip owns two side-by-side properties near Leiden Centraal station; the four star Hotel Golden Tulip and the more low-key Hotel Tulip Inn. For a more unique experience, book a few nights at the historic Nieuw Minerva. Located inside a 16th century canal house, a few of its rooms feature some truly extraordinary beds. The Rembrandt Room contains an exact copy of a gorgeous box bed once owned by the artist himself. How to Get There Leiden is easy get to by train and you can be standing in Leiden Centraal within 15 minutes of departing from Schiphol Airport. Making the journey by car along the A44 from Amsterdam takes about 45 minutes. If it’s springtime and you’re feeling limber, you can also cycle down from Amsterdam through the tulip fields outside the city and make a pit-stop at the world famous Keukenhof. A non-stop journey via bike from the nation’s capital takes a little over two hours. When to visit? Much like the old cliché claims, just about anytime is a great time to come to Leiden. Every spring, the SieboldHuis museum hosts an incredibly popular Japanese market to honour a visit made by the country’s emperor in 2000. The annual springtime Lakenfeesten feature a whimsical boat parade that’s always guaranteed to be a hoot. The Leiden International Film Festival, which takes place in the autumn, keeps getting bigger and better with each passing year. The city also hosts a floating Christmas market with an ice rink during the holiday season on a canal located mere footsteps from its monumental stadhuis. But Leiden is best avoided during its notorious 3 Oktober celebrations. The city is invaded for several days by rowdy crowds on the prowl for carnival rides, ear-splitting dance music, and tons of cheap Amstel pilsner. Some people love it, some people loathe it and, if you can’t stand drunken revelry, stay away.  More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

In the winter, a wander along a blustery Texel beach is a popular way to blow the cobwebs away - lekker uitwaaien, as the Dutch would say. Robin Pascoe visited the biggest of the Wadden Sea islands. Just a few minutes by ferry from the navy town of Den Helder, Texel's regular population of over 13,000 is constantly inflated by a steady stream of holidaymakers all year round, mainly from the Netherlands and Germany. Texel is a something for everyone kind of place. The dune landscape is a haven for bird life and around one third of the island is a designated nature reserve. In the summer, tourists flock to its enormous sandy beaches, and the popular west coast villages of De Koog and De Cocksdorp, where most of the holiday villages and hotels are located. Despite Texel's popularity, it is easy to escape the crowds - but you will need to book the more popular restaurants in the evening. The local tourist office, which is extremely helpful, has a very comprehensive website in English. Things to do Museum Kaap Skil Oudeschild, the little fishing port on the south east coast, is home to the Museum Kaap Skil. The story of the Texel adventurers is told in vivid detail in the basement, while upstairs is case upon case of 'treasure' reclaimed from the surrounding seas. Outside, you can visit a working mill, several traditional fishermen's cottages and a warehouse containing part of a massive collection of finds made by beachcombers which is truely bizarre. Lots to entertain children as well. The Slufter The Slufter is a nature reserve on the west of the island, covering a large area of dune, marsh and sandbanks and populated by a huge variety of bird life. In total, the Slufter covers about 700 hectares, but that includes a huge stretch of tidal flats. There are several guided walks of different lengths and a wheelchair ramp down to the walkway for the less able bodied. Lighthouse The red lighthouse nestling in the dunes at the northern end of the island is open to the public, if you can climb the 118 steps to the gallery. The view, even on a rainy day, is stunning. There are two nice restaurants nearby where you can escape the wind and have a big bowl of pea soup instead. Wezenspyk A dairy farm with a cheese shop, plus a short guided walk across the polder to a traditional and restored Texel barn - you will see these distinctive barns all over the south of the island - so its interesting to get a peek inside. Wezenspyk has won prizes for its Texel sheep and goats cheese and we did, of course, buy them on the premises to bring home. Ecomare This combination of a sea life rescue centre and natural history museum is situated on the western side of the island and is a permanent home to two porpoise and some 15 seals which can no longer be released into the wild. The aquariums have a wide variety of native sea life - see how many flat fish you can spot - while the museum section includes the skeletons of several whales and other strange creatures which have washed up on the shore. Great for kids. Where to eat Texel has its fair share of snack bar/pancake/burger and chips joints, as any holiday destination, but it also has some highly rated eateries as well. Top of the bill is fish restaurant T' Pakhuus on the harbour front in Oudeschild which is described by Lekker magazine as a 'culinary pearl' but was fully booked when we were on the island. We had a perfectly respectable, if somewhat noisy, steak and chips dinner De Kastagneboom in Den Burg, the main town, and a very good four-course meal with local fish and lamb - and  their own liqueurs - in Topido, De Cocksdorp. We can also recommend lunch at beach bar Paal 17, even in winter. Where to stay There are hotels galore and the Texel tourist office has a wide range of privately-owned holiday houses and an easy to use website in English. We stayed at Vijverhof on the edge of a forest, which has a large, secluded garden, solar panels and sleeps up to 12. If you are renting a holiday house, check whether the price includes final cleaning, sheets and towels and energy costs. These are often added on as extras.  How to get there Drive, take the train or a bus to the ferry terminal in Den Helder, then take the ferry. It's an hourly service - every 30 minutes in peak periods - and you can't book. A return ticket costs €2.50 per person and €18.20 for a car of less than 2.5 metres. If you do take a car buy a parking ticket online for your whole stay - it saves a lot of money! If you are fit and love cycling, you don't need to take a car at all - there are lots of places to hire bikes - but it can get heavy going cycling into the wind so don't under estimate the long trip back after a day out. Anything else? Combine a visit to Texel with a boat trip over to neighbouring Vlieland from De Cocksdorp or island hop up the entire Wadden chain.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Unfortunate Train Name Edition – Week 44

DutchNews podcast – The Unfortunate Train Name Edition – Week 44

This week's podcast has a transport theme as a judge calls time on Amsterdam's beer bikes, the Anne Frank Foundation cries foul on Germany's national rail operator and Russia has a hissy fit over air cargo slots at Schiphol. We also tackle the mystery of the cat that travelled 150km to a Belgian town with an appropriate name. In our discussion we analyse the two-day debate in Parliament to welcome the new Dutch government. Top story Government 'will ignore result of Big Brother referendum' News Russia threatens to close airspace in Schiphol row Sint Maarten agrees to Dutch conditions for reconstructing Amsterdam wins long-running war on beer bikes Migrants from Europe and America boost Dutch population Anne Frank Foundation objects to name of German train Max Verstappen triumphs in Mexican Grand Prix Missing cat turns up in Belgian town called Muizen And if you want an expat insight into what goes on in Dutch neighbourhood meetings... 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨The boyfriend has jumped into the fray. This is not a drill. He's now arguing with the Gemeente guy. 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 — Molly Quell (@MollyQuell) November 2, 2017   More >


DutchNews podcast – The Shoes That Should Be Sterilised Edition – Week 43

DutchNews podcast – The Shoes That Should Be Sterilised Edition – Week 43

In this week's we give you the lowdown on who's who in the new Dutch government and find out why the health minister's shoes made a splash at the swearing-in ceremony. Others to make a splash this week were the protester who disrupted a dolphin show in Japan and the students who came up with a novel way to stop green roofs leaking. In sport, we find out why Max Verstappen is still angry about being pushed off the podium and which Dutch player is officially the world's best footballer. Top story New government takes office after marathon coalition talks conclude News MeToo campaign on sexual harassment spreads to Netherlands You can read Gordon's blog post The Weinstein Spectrum here Students win award for roof coating made from old condoms and tampons Traffic jams to get worse despite roadbuilding plan Illegal bird killing worse than suspected Sport Max Verstappen fuming as overtaking penalty costs him podium finish Lieke Martens named FIFA's footballer of the year      More >


DutchNews podcast – The Bus Baby Eagle Edition – Week 21

Our latest podcast features the mother in Breda who checked in for one on the bus but checked out for two, why a Dutch-trained American eagle is minding Donald Trump in Brussels, and how a court decided an Iraqi refugee was 'not gay enough' to stay in the Netherlands. We also discuss the fall-out from Ajax's defeat in the Europa League final and whether we're any closer to a new Dutch government. Top story Work starts on Amsterdam Eurostar terminal News Gay refugee refused asylum Baby born on bus in Breda Wageningen tree takes to Twitter Record traffic jams on Ascension Day Police hunt 14-year-old boy playing with toy guns (NOS) Ajax lose Europa League final Drone eagle patrols skies over Nato summit Discussion: where now for the coalition talks? Dutch coalition talks reach stalemate as D66 picks up some of the blame Schippers warns party leaders that a minority cabinet looms All at sea: Rutte and Pechtold discuss the formation problems at a beach bar  More >