A weak winter sun was shining through a veil of high cloud when the transfer coach dropped us off at Rotterdam central station and although I suppose it was rather rude we didn’t spend any time in Holland’s second largest city but made straight for the ticket office because we had plans to visit nearby Delft.
We paid the modest fares and found the correct platform and within minutes we were being efficiently transported to Delft on an appropriate blue and white double-decker train which took about fifteen minutes to reach our destination. On the way we passed through city suburbs with blocks of flats each with a glass enclosed balcony and used as additional living space which made them curiously like specimen jars that we could peer inside and examine and this seemed quite normal as the people inside went about their lives in a totally ambivalent and unselfconscious way.
We left the train on a bleak platform next to a muddy building site which turns out to be the ‘Spoorzone Delft’ a ten year project that consists of a railway tunnel, a new railway station with municipal offices, around twelve hundred dwellings, a number of office buildings, a city park, water parks, bicycle facilities, car parking and new roads and we had to circumnavigate the building site to make our way into the city centre.
Away from the train and tram station the tiny streets were busy and for pedestrians in a strange place we had to keep our wits about us because, just as in Amsterdam, there are three things to watch out for in Delft – road traffic, trams and bicycles. We are used to dealing with cars but trams are different because you really don’t want to be smeared out by a twenty-tonne Combino flexi-tram at top speed because that would really spoil the day.
What makes crossing the road confusing is that even at the same pedestrian crossing all of these different forms of transport seem to have their own traffic light system and there are multiple sets of lights so you have to pay close attention to avoid the sort of accident that I nearly had when I saw a green light and started to cross but hadn’t noticed a red light in the tram lane and if Jonathan hadn’t been alert and stopped me I nearly put a scarlet streak across the front of the red and cream GVB as it rattled past right in front of me belatedly sounding its distinctive klaxon horn.
Bikes can be hazardous too and everywhere there is the melodious sound of tinkling bells to alert pedestrians because it is all too easy to stray absent-mindedly into a bike lane and this can be dangerous because as far as I could see a lot of bikes didn’t have brakes and how the cyclists must curse the visitors who are unfamiliar with the sort of bike culture that exists in the Netherlands and are forever getting in the way.
Actually there is a sort of well choreographed ballet in the streets, a symphony of movement where Dutch people appear to have a sixth-sense about street flow which allows pedestrians, cyclists and motorists to share the same spaces but without getting in each other’s way. Bikes weave across junctions and pedestrians instinctively know when to cross roads and cycle paths without being run down. No one appears to be paying attention or looking where they are going but everything moves smoothly and without incident. That’s only until visitors come along however because we don’t have the benefit of this same spatial perception as the Dutch which can make life dangerous for locals and tourists alike as we stray into cycle lanes and misinterpret the crossing signals and bring chaos where there was order.
The December sun was low in the sky but was straining to claw its way through the thin cloud and as we walked into the city centre the sky shattered like a broken jigsaw and by the time we had walked along the outer perimeter canals and reached the market square there was a blue sky and a victorious sun rising above the buildings.
After the cramped alleys and the narrow streets the Market Place was in complete contrast – a vast cobbled open space with elegant gabled houses, shops and bars and with the Renaissance town hall with its red shutters at one end and at the other the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its almost one hundred and ten metre tall spire (the second largest in the Netherlands after Utrecht) rising majestically into the sky like a needle.
Usually I try and avoid shopping if I possibly can but I was confident that Jonathan wouldn’t get carried away and there were a couple of items that I specifically wanted to take back as gifts so it seemed like a good idea to get this chore out of the way as quickly as possible and we trawled the Delft pottery shops for hand painted houses for Kim and a special present for new grandchild and then spent perhaps longer than we had planned in a cheese shop where we sampled the various different flavours before making our selection. Decisions made we left the shops with the intention of returning later to make the transactions and we made our way to the Vermeer Museum.
I liked Delft and I was glad that we had decided to come here.