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November 5, 2003 -- Why did the Pilgrims leave Leiden? In the early 1600s, hundreds of English Puritans flocked to this eminently civilized Dutch city, home to one of the country's first universities. After about a decade in Holland, a boatful of them left for the New World on the Mayflower -- and the rest, for most Americans, is history.

What's inconceivable to anyone who's ever been to Leiden is why anyone would abandon this charming and tolerant town for a cold, brutal wilderness. Leiden is even more picturesque than Amsterdam; it gives you all the windmills, canals and coffeeshops you expect of Holland without the crazed hordes of vomiting collegiate tourists. (There are even two huge windmills directly visible downtown.) But the city isn't quiet -- home to the Netherlands' largest university; it's full of bright-eyed young Dutch students carving out their futures.

I spent two days in Leiden this May with my girlfriend, and when we got home we decided to get married. While I can't promise the same results for you, there's something quietly intimate about hiding out in a small city that's big enough to discover, but doesn't have the tourist-attraction pressure of Amsterdam. Two people can focus on each other there.

The Netherlands are tiny, anyway, so you'll find yourself less than half an hour from the airport, 40 minutes from Amsterdam, 12 minutes from The Hague and 20 minutes from Delft. Leiden is a perfectly-located base for a Dutch treat of a holiday, and a great place for romance. For our full guide to Leiden, see www.frommers.com/destinations/leiden.

This winter, Untours is offering a pretty reasonably-priced way to experience true Dutch gezelligheid -- that means "coziness," and it's considered one of the highest Dutch virtues. Their two-week winter package provides airfare and a fully furnished apartment in the center of Leiden (one of their apartments is right off the pedestrian-only main shopping street, a few blocks from several canals). It's a bit of a walk from the main railway station, but there's a public bus to take you there. They'll also throw in a 10-day, second-class rail pass for each person. Train fares within Holland are really cheap, but the pass will save you a few dinners' worth of dough. Prices from various US gateways (all prices per person, double occupancy, before taxes) include:

  • New York, Boston: $999
  • Philadelphia: $1,024
  • Baltimore, Washington: $1,054
  • Chicago: $1,099
  • Miami: $1,119
  • Dallas, Orlando, Tampa: $1,124
  • Houston: $1,149
  • Detroit: $1,164
  • Phoenix: $1,174
  • Denver: $1,199
  • LA, San Francisco: $1,239
  • Seattle: $1,249

The trip is available for arrivals between Nov. 5 and March 10. Call 888/868-6871 to book or go to www.untours.com.

When I crunched the numbers for this trip based on the $250 flights from New York to Amsterdam I've been seeing around recently, I got the apartment coming out at a little less than $100 a night. That's about €85, a bit less than the €100 you'd pay for an average three-star hotel in Leiden. I think it's a good deal for the gezelligheid of living like the Dutch do. As for marriage proposals -- well, that's your responsibility.

We love to hear from our readers. If you've traveled in Leiden, just click here to tell post your trip reports and tips. And if you've used the services of Untours before, we'd love to read about that as well on our Tour Operators Message Boards.