The height of culture
LOTTIE GIBBONS heads for the Netherlands to check out a gigantic attraction in the pretty city that’s currently European Capital of Culture
HAVING visited Amsterdam before, I had a good idea what the Netherlands was all about – quintessential canal houses, café-bordered streets, and cobblestone streets.
And, of course, one of the big attractions of Amsterdam is that it’s only one-hour flight and short train journey away. Leeuwarden though, is different. There’s no regional airport for starters. You’re required to take a two-hour and 25 minute train after your plane lands in the Dutch capital.
For some, taking a lengthy train ride after a flight rules out the idea of a short city break, but on the journey you’re taken through stunning countryside, seeing the luscious green fields, frolicking ponies and many windmills.
Upon arrival in Leeuwarden, everything, on the surface, looks familiar. But this city is so much more than just a mini-Amsterdam. This year Leeuwarden-Friesland is celebrating becoming a European Capital of Culture, hosting events throughout the year.
Among the array of festivals, shows and concerts taking place in the Frisian city, perhaps one of the biggest of the year was the Giants of Royal de Luxe’s visit.
Over the course of three days, the towering giants took to the streets. and spectators could witness the spectacle of ‘The Diver’, ‘Xolo the Dog’ and most notably ‘The Little Giant Girl’ negotiating the tight alleyways and cobblestones.
I was in awe of the mechanics that go into the show. The Little Girl Giant is made purely of steel, poplar and lime wood and weighs 800kg, yet the Lilliputians handled her with what appeared to be ease, putting on a graceful display, controlling the Giant’s every movement.
A highlight was watching Xolo, the Little Girl Giant’s pet dog, take a gulp of water from a basin. Seeing the lifelike tongue lolling and the creature appearing to swallow every mouthful was mesmerising.
Without doubt, such events have helped boost tourism, visits to Leeuwarden with 400,000 anticipated to visit this year.
But these cultural celebrations are not the only reason to head for this unique city, rich in history.
It became known as Leeuwarden in ninth century AD, but its story began in the 10th century.
That long, rich history, makes for a fascinating mixture of archaic and modern architectural influences, the city centre’s traditional feel contrasting with modern streets lined with the likes of Zara and H&M.
But for those looking to learn a little bit more about the northern part of the Netherlands, a visit to the Museum of Friesland is a must.
What’s special about the museum is that it encapsulates Leeuwarden in one building.
The modern architecture of the museum includes a giant extended roof, raised 25m from the ground on steel and wooden columns, and an all-glass façade. But spectacular contemporary structure houses relics of Leeuwarden’s past. Frisian art and culture is showcased, and exhibits delve into the varied history of the area’s people, including the devastation endured during the Second World War.
The Jewish memorial, located in front of the former Jewish Dusnusschool, is particularly poignant.
Leeuwarden once had a thriving Jewish community, but in 1943 the arrival of the Nazis saw 3,000 removed from the city. Only around 100 returned.
The monument shows that even as it looks towards the future, Leeuwarden will never forget its past and, most importantly, its people.
Strings attached: The mesmerising Royal De Luxe giants are a magical sight ©Hendrika Lageveen for LeeuwardenFriesland
Leeuwarden’s beautiful architecture makes it a wonderful city to explore on foot or boat