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

Uxbridge Gazette - - Get Away -

HAV­ING vis­ited Am­s­ter­dam be­fore, I had a good idea what the Nether­lands was all about – quin­tes­sen­tial canal houses, cafébor­dered 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

Fries Mu­seum

Leeuwar­den’s beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture makes it a won­der­ful city to ex­plore on foot or boat

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