Delft: Vermeer and porcelain in quaint Dutch city

By Emily Fredrix

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 21 2011 1:00 p.m. MDT

FILE- This May 2, 2004 file photo shows people as they ride bikes by a reproduction of the Johannes Vermeer painting "The Guitar Player," in downtown Delft, the Netherlands. You don’t have to be in Delft long to see what inspired Johannes Vermeer. Meandering up and down countless bridges that stretch over canals, and past storefronts and slender houses, the quaint Dutch life sets in.

Dusan Vranic, FILE, Associated Press

DELFT, Netherlands — You don't have to be in Delft long to see what inspired Johannes Vermeer.

Meandering up and down countless bridges that stretch over canals, and past storefronts and slender houses, the quaint Dutch life sets in.

It's this life — with its scenes of domesticity, milkmaids, and yes, that girl with the pearl earring — that the famed Dutch master so cherished during his lifetime in the city in the 1600s. And it's one that comes alive for anyone who visits this city of about 100,000 people even centuries after Vermeer's time.

Granted, Delft is often overlooked as a tourist destination considering its larger, more cosmopolitan neighbors: Amsterdam is an hour by train and Den Haag (The Hague), some 25 minutes.

But quaint does have a place and a time — and Delft exemplifies it. From the famed blue-and-white Royal Delft porcelain factory, to old Gothic churches, streets bordered by canals, and miles of bicycle paths, Delft is an ideal stop in the Netherlands. It's also close enough for daytrips to Den Haag to visit the M.C. Escher Museum and, if you're there in the spring, to see the famed tulips at Keukenhof.

Here are highlights:

ROYAL DELFT: Delft, the town, is synonymous with Royal Delft. An entire industry of so-called Delftware began in the 17th century (during Vermeer's time) but just this one factory remains today. It's open for tours and even offers would-be painters the chance to get a feel for the craft through workshops. Visitors get a thorough look at the history of the porcelain and watch it in the present-day too by seeing any of the factory's seven painters or handful of artisans who make the pottery. There's also a cafÉ and a shop where you can buy Delftware. Workshops must be booked in advance and start at $21 (14.5 euros), which does not include the pottery. Regular entry is $11.50 (8 euros). Skip the guided audio tour; there's plenty of information on the walls and in pamphlets, http://www.royaldelft.nl/ .

CENTRAL DELFT: Delft's charm is best experienced by ambling. Walk along the canals, admire the architecture, watch out for bikes and enjoy. There are several must-sees, including the towering, brick cathedral in the old city center, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) — http://www.oudekerk-delft.nl/ — which dates to at least the 1200s. Vermeer was buried here in 1675.

The Vermeer Center showcases the life and work of Vermeer, who was born in Delft in 1632. The center, which is housed at the former St. Lucas Guild — where Vermeer served as dean of the painters — has examples of his work, a recreation of his studio, and more. Entry is $10 (7 euros), http://www.vermeerdelft.nl/ . The Museum Het Prinsenhof tells the story of William of Orange, who led the Netherlands Revolt, a clash between the Protestants and Catholics in the late 1500s. Also on display there are art and other wares from the city's 17th century Golden Age, http://www.prinsenhof-delft.nl/ . Entry is $10.70 (7.50 euros).

Search for the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) but don't let the name fool you. Work on this cathedral, on the market square, started in 1396, http://www.nieuwekerk-delft.nl/ . Entrance fee of $5 (3.50 euros) gets you into both the Old and New churches. On a visit here with my boyfriend, we became intimately acquainted with the bells of the Nieuwe Kerk, hearing them each morning from Hotel Emauspoort, where we were staying.

Our room at the hotel was actually one of two Dutch caravans set up inside the courtyard. The trailer-like caravans look like wheeled wooden circus wagons, though they're equipped with heat, shower, toilet, and TV. They're named for a famous Dutch clown character, Pipo, and his wife Mammaloe. Caravans are about $135 (95 euros) per night. Inside the hotel, a themed-Vermeer room costs $216 (150 euros), http://www.emauspoort.nl/eng/ .

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