Leo from Couch Surfing has kindly invited us to stay with him for a couple of nights while we’re in The Netherlands. He lives in Leeuwarden so that’s how we come to spend a day exploring the capital of Friesland. Our connection with Leo started after Paul put up a public trip to The Netherlands on his Couch Surfing profile. Leo made contact with us and said that if we plan to be in Leeuwarden we can stay. That’s all the encouragement we needed to make plans to be in Leeuwarden. We arrive last night after our day in Westerbork and feel instantly welcome. And it’s also a chance for us to experience a snippet of life inside the windows of the older style Dutch homes we pass when walking through cities. The kind with the large windows and high ceilings.
Leo has already left for work when we wake. He’s left us a spare key so we can come and go as we please. We decide to have something of a rest day that begins with a walk to the bakery and supermarket for fresh bread and ham. Leo has left some for us but we particularly want the experience of walking to the bakery to choose our own bread. There are so many types of fresh bread available here and we just don’t have the same choice at home (actually, the fresh bread at home is totally different to the light fluffy fresh breads in The Netherlands).
Breakfast eaten we walk to Decathlon on the other side of the city. It’s my favourite shop in Europe. I buy roller blades that I intend to use for exercise at home. I haven’t skated in two decades but want to relearn. Roller blades are cheaper here in Europe than at home. We also buy two tennis rackets with bag and balls for sixteen Euros ($AU24) because we’ve been saying for years that we’re going to play tennis together once or twice a week. Now we have no excuse. 2017 is going to be our year of fitness and we now have toys to help us get there without making fitness a torture challenge.
Leeuwarden is beautiful for walking so it hasn’t been a hardship to walk the 5km (3 miles) return to Decathlon and back. We stop often to take photos of life on the canals. There’s a range of boats and, as with every watery place I’ve traveled, fishermen.
After dropping off our purchases and eating more fresh bread with ham at Leo’s house we set off for the afternoon to explore Leeuwarden. There are some museums here but we’re having a lazy day so just wander the streets a bit aimlessly, flitting from one place that captures our interest to the other.
The city is old but also modern. The buildings and facades date back centuries but the shop fronts are contemporary. This is clearly a regular city, not a tourist town. It’s refreshing to be in a place like this where there are no tourists carrying Lonely Planets racing from one “must see” to the next. A place where the atmosphere is just normal not aimed at getting cash from our traveling wallets. Bikes are parked along the canals. Cars line the streets. And old buildings watch it all.
Our find for the day is the PoesPas Cat Cafe (address: Noordvliet 11). We are both a bit thirsty and keen for a hot chocolate so start to look for a cafe. As fate would have it, the one cafe we pass is PoesPas. You are supposed to book but it’s a quiet day so we can enter. There are about six cats living here in this space. They are obviously much loved and rule the space. The cats walk on tables, play on climbing gyms and can also take a break by retreating to a quiet area away from the guests. It’s a cute place to stop for a while (unless you dislike cats 😉 ).
Given that it’s our second night at Leo’s house we decide to cook him dinner. We buy some groceries and cook up a Dutch dish: huttspot (carrot, onion and potato mash) with meatballs we bought from the butcher shop. Then we spend the night chatting with our host, sharing stories of our respective travels and homes. It’s the part of Couch Surfing that we enjoy the most. That and learning new recipes (we learned one from Leo last night).