An outing to pretty Delft: Quaint canals, church towers and crunchy chips

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The view from the train windows – the characteristically flat landscape of The Netherlands

After resting a little at Hotel Emma, our home in Rotterdam for the week (blog), we were ready for a little adventure. We decided to take the train to Delft, a very pretty town about 16 km north of Rotterdam. We were joined by two of Richard’s colleagues from work, Donald and Carla.

I must say, I was very impressed by the train – it was clean and safe, it arrived and departed on time, other passengers politely waited their turn to get off and on, and it was such a smooth quiet ride that we could have a normal conversation. We even had comfortable seats and could enjoy the view from the windows.

Introducing Delft

Reggie read me some paragraphs from her travel guide. I learned that the town of Delft dates back to 1075, which makes it almost 1,000 years old!

“But in October 1654,” continued Reggie, “‘an enormous explosion at the national arsenal destroyed much of the medieval town. The centre was rebuilt at the end of the 17th century and has remained relatively unchanged since then – houses in Gothic and Renaissance styles still stand along the tree-lined canals.'” (Eyewitness Travel – The Netherlands, 2014: page 230)

We arrive at Delft Central Station – The City of Technology

“Delft also has the largest and oldest Dutch public technological university,” added Richard. “It’s known as ‘Technische Universiteit Delft’ or TU Delft’, and is one of the best universities for engineering and technology in the world.”

So that’s why I posed next to this colourful mural welcoming visitors to Delft.

Delft was simply gorgeous. The streets were lined with quaint shops, colourful flowerpots hung on the railings of bridges, sightseeing boats cruised up and down the pretty canals, and everywhere we looked were beautiful old buildings.

Reggie was darting about with her camera, trying to capture nice angles; she kept having to sidestep the ever-present bicycles and just missed being run over by a reversing truck.

“Watch out!” I called just in time.

“Phew! Thanks, guys,” she exclaimed, looking a bit flushed. “This place is just so photogenic!!”


Saturday seemed to be street market day, as there were stalls set up all along the canals in the old city. We ambled along slowly, peering at the displays. I noticed that Donald was looking closely at some blue and white painted bowls.

One of the many stalls selling pretty pottery

“Flat Kathy, have you heard of Delftware?” he asked.

“No, what is that?”

“It’s this distinctive blue and white painted pottery that has been produced in and around Delft since the 17th century,” he explained, picking up an intricately painted bowl and showing it to me. “I want to buy a small bowl to take back home as a present.”

“It’s also called ‘Delft Blue’,” added Reggie, reading from a website she had found: “‘Between 1600 and 1800, this earthenware was popular among rich families who would show off their Delft Blue collections to one another. Delft Blue was not made from the typical porcelain clay, but from clay that was coated with a tin glaze after it was fired. In spite of this, Delft Blue achieved unrivalled popularity, and at its peak, there were 33 factories in Delft. Of all of these factories, the only one remaining today is Royal Delft.'” (Website)

Now isn’t that interesting? These delicately painted plates, bowls, tiles and ornaments sure are pretty!

A bite to eat

All that walking around had made us hungry, so we found an outside table at De Wijnhaven restaurant for a late-lunch/early-supper of beer, sandwiches and Flammkuchen (a flat kind of pizza-like pastry with various toppings). Richard even gave me a sip of his Westmalle Trappist beer – hmmm….

We also had our first taste of Dutch frites! Completely unlike the local South African slap chips, which tend to be thick, chunky and soft, and traditionally drenched in salt and vinegar, their Dutch cousins are thin, firm and crispy – and they are served with mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, peanut butter, and various other peculiar toppings.

Reggie and I shared the biggest double-decker chicken sandwich I’d ever seen… as the mayo was too spicy for us, the others helped us with our sandwich, while we ‘helped’ them with their frites.

“A fair exchange, don’t you think?” Reggie winked at me cheekily, as she reached across the table for a few more crunchy frites!

The Nieuwe Kerk

Feeling reinvigorated after our meal, we walked down to the Groote Markt (Market Square), with the incredibly tall Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) on the one end and the gorgeous Stadhuis (Town Hall) on the other.

Reggie and I stood on the Groote Markt, gazing up at the magnificent church tower of the gothic style Nieuwe Kerk.

The Nieuwe Kerk with its 108.75 m tall multi-layered spire

“Wow… It’s really tall,” I declared. “How high is it?”

“It’s 108.75 m high, and is apparently the second highest in The Netherlands, after the Domtoren (church tower) in the city of Utrecht,” replied Reggie, after consulting Miss Google.

“Why does the top section look so different?” I asked, curious.

“Well spotted, Flat Kathy,” replied Reggie. “It was completed in 1496, some 100 years after construction began on the stone church. Unfortunately, it burnt to the ground in 1536, during a big fire in the city of Delft, which destroyed more than half of the city’s houses. In the 19th century, lightning struck the church tower and destroyed it. The new spire is thus much newer. It was designed in 1872.”

“So is that fire damage up there on the top?”

“Actually, no,” said Reggie, “it’s not. This website says that the sandstone that was used, Bentheimer sandstone, was darkened by acid rain. So basically, it’s caused by air pollution, and there’s little point in cleaning it.”

“Let me read you a little bit more about the church, Flat Kathy. It says here: ‘Delft is inextricably linked with the Dutch royal family. Almost every deceased member of the royal family since William of Orange has been interred in the royal crypts at the New Church. The most recent interrals took place in 2002 and 2004, when three members of the family were laid to rest here.’ (Website) Currently, there are 46 members of the Dutch royal family interred here in the royal crypt. And it looks like the church is currently under reconstruction.”

The Stadhuis

We turned around to have a look at the gorgeous Stadhuis (Town Hall).

“This isn’t the original Delft town hall,” explained Reggie. “The old medieval building burnt down in 1618, and so the same architect, who had worked on the Nieuwe Kerk, was asked to design a new building in 1620, incorporating the old 13th century tower. It has a very pretty facade, doesn’t it?”

The Oude Kerk

In addition to the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft also has an Oude Kerk (Old Church), which we had walked past earlier.

The Oude Kerk in Delft has a leaning tower

“The Oude Kerk apparently dates back to 1050, when there was a wooden church standing on the site,” Reggie told me, putting on her tour guide hat once again. Over the years, it has been expanded, and it’s now a 75 metre high building with a gothic tower and beautiful stained glass windows. Major restoration work was necessary at various stages during its lifetime.”

“Is it my imagination, or does its tower lean a little?” I asked.

“You’re right, Flat Kathy, it does lean over about 2 metres(!). It says here that the Old Church was constructed on the ‘Delf‘ – which is an old word for ‘canal’. Ahh, so that’s where Delft gets its names – from the many delfs or canals!”

The Oude Kerk

“Oh! that’s so interesting!” I exclaimed.

“Anyway, so when it was decided to build a church tower in 1325, they didn’t have anywhere to put it, so they diverted the canal and filled it in. As a result, when they built the tower, the weight of the stones started to compress the layers below, and it started to subside. The builders managed to stabilise it, and then continued to build straight up, so that’s why there is apparently a noticeable kink in the tower. Locals fondly refer to it as ‘Scheve Jan’, or ‘Crooked Jan’!” (Website)

“I must say,” I declared, “one of my favourite parts of traveling and visiting all these places is the opportunity to learn something new every day. It’s marvelous, don’t you think?!”

My friends nodded in agreement, as we slowly made our way back to the train station, along a couple of side roads.

What a delightful place this is – I’m pleased I had an opportunity to visit Delft with my friends.

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