Armed with just one small backpack, I set off for the first of my solo adventures: Delft.
I arrived in Delft by train, and started by trying to find the Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk, two of Delft’s main attractions. I spent about ten minutes wandering around the main street, trying to navigate by phone to find the city centre. Eventually, I looked up, and realized that, Delft being a relatively small and short city, I could see the Oude Kerk from where I was. I gave up on google maps and arrived at the Oude Kerk four minutes later, just by walking in the right direction. Lesson learned: when you’re lost, try looking around. Or up.
The Oude Kerk was very cool; the name Oude Kerk means “Old Church”, and it was founded in 1246.
The church is full of really elaborate, stained glass windows. It’s also the resting place of many famous Dutch people and heroes, including the painter Johannes Vermeer, who was born and lived in Delft.
Next up was the Nieuwe Kerk.
Construction on the “new church” began in 1381, so it’s only new in comparison to the Oude Kerk. The Nieuwe Kerk came with the option to climb its tower for only 1.75 euro extra and, for some bizarre reason, I thought to myself: sure, that sounds like fun!
I am a moron.
Most people who know me well know that I’m incredibly afraid of heights. What most people don’t know is that I’m even more afraid of stairs; both fears stem from falling down a full flight of stairs when I was five, and landing on my face, knocking loose all of the teeth in my mouth.
Normal flights of stairs, I’m totally cool with. It’s just when there’s stairs in long continuous flights, or when they’re really slippery, or open-backed, or spiralling, that I get a bit nervous about.
The tower climb to the top of the Nieuwe Kerk has 376 stairs. They go up in a spiral, with only one break partway up to look at the mechanisms of the bells (which ring every half hour). The stairs are narrow, steep, and almost all are open-backed. As well, most of them were little more than plain wooden slats, some were missing hunks, and many would creak precariously when you stepped on them. In other words: my worst nightmare. For 376 steps.
Start of the staircase of horrors.
It was not fun, and it was certainly not pretty, but I’m proud of myself for making it up. It also proved another perk of travelling alone: I was able to go at the pace I was comfortable with, not worrying about how long I was taking or letting somebody psych me out. And in the end, the view from the top was pretty damn good.
View from the top.
After I came back down, I spent a long time walking around the church, letting myself go slow and catch my breath again. The Nieuwe Kerk turned out to be just as cool as the Oude Kerk, aside from the terrifying tower climb. The church is the resting place for the famous William of Orange, as well as almost every deceased member of the royal family after him.
Monument for William of Orange.
Part of the monument for William of Orange: the dog lying at his feet is meant to symbolize the Dutch peoples’ enduring loyalty to him.
The church has a really great and informative exhibit on William, the royals, and the history of the church itself. The church itself has had to withstand a lot in its 600+ years of existence – a huge fire that devastated the city of Delft, likely caused by lightning striking the New Church; the iconoclastic riots and damage; an immense gunpowder explosion in the city of Delft; another fire… by the time the video presentation listed a second lightning strike that struck the church and damaged the spire, me and the British guy standing next to me had to turn to each other and laugh – like, “seriously?? That church just can’t catch a break!”
The Oude Kerk also had to suffer through all of those events as well. As a result, parts of those churches have had to be redone several times – for example, the stained glass windows, if I’m remembering correctly, were damaged in both the fires and in the gunpowder explosion, and have had to be replaced three times (!!!).
Sample of some of the stained glass that was all throughout both churches. This photo was taken in Oude Kerk.
Following the Nieuwe Kerk, I rewarded myself with some ice cream (even 2 hours after my tower climb, my legs were still shaking), and then moved on to the Vermeer Center. Here, I learned a lot about his style and how he worked. Surprisingly little is known about his life, and the center does a good job of explaining everything that is known.
Finally, I headed to my hostel for the evening, which was very conveniently located just a few doors down from the Vermeer Center. One of the things I really enjoyed about Delft: everything was close by. I spent a quiet night at the hostel, chatting with one of my bunkmates (who was from Quebec!) and getting food at the nearby Albert Heijn (grocery store).
The next day, I got up early and briefly stopped at the Museum het Prisenhof, where I learned more about the life of William of Orange and got to see the bulletholes left in the wall from his assassination.
Final reflections: Delft was small, easy to navigate, and very cute.
I left Delft that morning… next stop, Rotterdam!