111km (69 miles) NE of Amsterdam

Be sure to take time to look around Friesland's pleasant, unassuming capital. But don't make a visit to Leeuwarden a substitute for getting out into the province's wide-open spaces. It may be the provincial center, but the town's burghers themselves affirm wryly that visitors wash up on their doorstep only when it rains. An important trading town as far back as the 11th century, on a gulf of the Wadden Sea that has since been drained, Leeuwarden (pop. 92,000) is a university town and has a large student community.

Getting There -- Leeuwarden is the hub of Friesland's thin rail network and has good connections from around the country. Trains arrive hourly from Amsterdam; the ride takes 2 hours and 17 minutes (transfer in Amersfoort), and a one-way ticket is 27€ ($43). The rail and bus stations are both on Stationsplein, south of the center city.

By car from Amsterdam, the shortest way -- a distance by road of 137km (85 miles) -- is on A7/E22 north across the Afsluitdijk, and then north and east on N31 and A31.

Visitor Information -- VVV Leeuwarden, Sophialaan 4, 8911 AE Leeuwarden (tel. 0900/202-4060; www.vvvleeuwarden.nl), is 2 blocks north of the rail station. The office is open Monday from noon to 5:30pm, Tuesday to Friday from 9:30am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 10am to 3pm.


A bronze plaque placed by the DeWitt Historical Society of Ithaca, New York State, adorns Friesland's Provinciehuis (Provincial House) at Tweebaksmarkt 52. The house, a few blocks south of the Fries Museum, dates from 1570 and has a 1784 facade. The plaque was presented in 1909 to the people of Leeuwarden in gratitude for their having been the first to vote for recognition of the fledgling United States in 1782. (Holland was the first country to extend recognition to the U.S.) A letter written by John Adams in 1783 expresses his personal thanks. Another document of interest relates to Petrus Stuiffsandt, the same Peter Stuyvesant who had such an important role in America's beginnings, and who was born in Friesland. The Provinciehuis is open at variable times; inquire at the VVV office. Admission is free.

Just west, beside the canal at Korfmakerspijp, is a statue of Mata Hari.

Mata Hari -- The most famous figure in Leeuwarden's history was born here in 1876 as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, but gained notoriety as Mata Hari. Margaretha grew up in a wealthy family, and at the age of 19 married an army officer and left for the Dutch East Indies. She returned to Holland in 1902.

With her marriage falling apart, Margaretha left for Paris, where she performed as an Asian dancer. There she adopted the name "Mata Hari" -- meaning "eye of the day" or "sun" in Malaysian. Her nude dancing became a sensation. During World War I, she had affairs with high-ranking Allied officers, and allegedly passed pillow-talk military secrets to the Germans. In any case, her naiveté and yarn spinning led to her downfall. She was executed by the French in 1917.

Tale from the Crypt -- The crypt of the village church in Wieuwerd (Wiuwert), 12km (7 1/2 miles) southwest of Leeuwarden, evidently has the power to prevent corpses from decomposing. Four from an original eleven naturally mummified bodies dating from the early 17th century can be seen -- nobody seems to know what happened to the other seven! The church is open April to September Monday to Saturday from 10 to 11:30am and 1 to 4:30pm; admission to the crypt is 2€ ($3.20), and free for children 5 and under.

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