I was returning to the railway station after a successful day wandering the streets of Leiden when I noticed, painted high on a wall, William Butler Yeats’ poem, A Coat. After an afternoon exploring the ancient lanes and alleyways of this historic city the lines, “I made my song a coat, Covered with embroideries, Out of old mythologies, From heel to throat”, struck a resonant note.
This wasn’t the first piece of literature I’d seen painted on buildings. Perhaps fitting for a city renowned for learning, and teeming with students, there are literary quotations on walls scattered all across Leiden. It’s fun to walk around spotting Leiden’s ‘Wall Poems’, I came across five or six including poems from William Shakespeare and Syrian poet, Adonis. Enough to brighten any stroll as you explore the winding streets and broad canals.
Not that this city needs a lot of brightening. When I wasn’t passing down some ancient and narrow passage, probably used by pedestrians for hundreds of years, I was elbowing my way along streets crowded with people and extraordinary sights. All this activity was rewarded at the end of the day with a delicious Belgian beer in one of Leiden’s oldest bars, the Café de Bonte Koe (the Colourful Cow). If you find yourself in Leiden, don’t miss out on a visit to de Bonte Koe.
Whether it was the three people sat in a shop window playing out an 18th Century tea party (quite an odd sight); golden mackerel in the local market; crowds of people passing a warm day on a floating restaurant on one of the many canals; or an old music box on wheels playing a tune on a street corner, Leiden seemed to be going out of its way to entertain.