I have a backlog of semi-drafted posts from earlier this year. I’m planning to work my way through them. This is the first – from April this year.
It took 35 years or so for us to get to the Netherlands together. Many years ago I went to Amsterdam with a friend and I’ve been saying ever since how much I’d enjoy visiting there again with Malcolm. One day. And finally that day arrived.
Well, almost. I couldn’t find suitable (affordable) accommodation in Amsterdam, so I looked instead at Delft. I’m so glad I did, because otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gone to Delft, and we would have missed a gem of a place.
Delft is where Vermeer was born, lived, worked, died, and was buried.
We stayed in a small house in the central old town, perfectly placed for us to explore the town on foot. We spent many happy hours walking along canals, exploring small residential streets, visiting churches, markets, cafes, and just sitting watching people cycling and walking the city.
Such a walkable, cycleable city, with hardly any motor vehicles in the city centre, and those there were moved slowly and carefully.After a couple of days we realised what was missing: the noise and the fumes of traffic. It was quiet, peaceful, with a sense that people mattered.
We were deeply envious of their transport system, which can truly be described as a system – not just independent bits and pieces that feel haphazard, but a fully integrated system of walking, cycling, public transport, and finally cars – the reverse of everything we experience at home. And what was fascinating was the impact of the transport system on everything else – our (wholly unscientific) observation was that people looked on the whole so much healthier than at home (especially noticeable in children and young people – markedly reduced numbers of overweight and obese children and young people); the air we were breathing was cleaner; the city a genuinely pleasant place to be – and so many people were out and about enjoying it, even on weekday evenings. It was clear to us that these were mainly local people – families, adults, young people, students. And it was all so convivial.
We travelled out for the day to The Hague, to Amsterdam, and to Rotterdam. We saw wonderful art, beautiful bulb fields, and interesting urban regeneration. All these trips were easily done on public transport, and information about how to do it and where to go was easy to find. We bought and enjoyed food from local shops and the wonderful twice-weekly markets. We relaxed in local cafes and bars.
It all illustrated for me the fact that a real transport system has so many positive impacts way beyond just getting you from A to B.
Delft is somewhere we will definitely return. I just wish that the council in my home city, Bath, would be willing to learn some of the lessons – much of the income in both Delft and Bath derives from tourism, but the approach couldn’t be further apart.