2011 marks the start of my fifth year in Leiden. Since I spent a little more than five years in Amsterdam before moving here, it seems fitting to write a post comparing life experiences in the two cities.
In 2001, moving to Amsterdam from the Midwest was a huge culture shock in terms of transportation. I went from a car-loving culture to remastering the art of bike riding. Once I got over the frequent crashes, I loved the freedom of biking instead of driving. And Amsterdam was the perfect size to get around on two wheels. Healthy, environmentally friendly, and fast - what a winning combination!
In Leiden, the bikes are plentiful. But since we live smack dab in the center of a rather small village, I've discovered a new, even more convenient way to get around: walking! Like Amsterdam, everything is within 15 minutes from my front door, but now I just have to put on a pair of shoes and pop an umbrella in my purse. Sometimes I think I've been ruined for life in many places - especially if I insist on having everything within easy reach of home. Both cities provide a great quality of life. No getting behind the wheel every time I need anything.
I adore Amsterdam and always will. But I still grit my teeth when I remember the hoards of tourists that flooded its streets, especially in the summer. Fair weather days were an exercise in dodging map-toting individuals unfamiliar with the meaning of bike lanes. Even worse were the groups that hopped on rental bikes and clogged the roads with their rusty peddling skills.
Leiden, I dare to argue, is just as beautiful as Amsterdam, but is strangely almost tourist free. I'm not sure how this charming city has stayed off the mainstream tourist circuit, but thus far it has.
Amsterdam wins in terms of quantity of museums. World-famous offerings like the Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh Museum in a relatively short distance from each other? You can't beat that. I'm also a regular visitor to Amsterdam for English-language cultural events, like through the John Adams Institute.
Leiden does have its share of noteworthy museums, and even more than Amsterdam is a city structured around its world-famous university. The city is less international (though still very much so) and the expat community is thriving, but I do miss having a plethora of options like I had in Amsterdam. Not to mention a little more English in the air.
Both cities are build around gorgeous canals, allowing for breathtaking scenery all year round and the option of boating through the city when the weather allows. I will admit the bar and restaurant scene is far superior in Amsterdam, though Leiden boasts its share of visit-worthy gastronomy. And nothing can beat the cosmopolitan vibe of Amsterdam. But it is just a half-hour train ride from Leiden. I may have found the best of both worlds.