HOLLAND BY TRAIN.
Holland is very tourist-friendly. Naturally there are some people who may give you the wrong directions or simply ignore you. But in an absolute majority of cases, a foreigner traveling around the country gets help whenever needed. Bus and taxi drivers, railway station clerks, passers by, waiters, shop assistants all speak English. Nobody ever asked me if I spoke English, consequently, fellow tourists just addressed me in this language, same as I did. When you come to think of it, this is really amazing.
To go anywhere from Leiden by train, go to Leiden Centraal. There are ticket machines, which may be a bit confusing; there is also a ticket office to your right. Buy a return ticket, which you may use during the whole day, and ask the clerk any questions you have. You will get answers, schedule printouts, directions. There are also large yellow boards in the station, they tell you arrivals and departures times. There are e-boards and signs everywhere.
Utrecht is definitely a place to see. It is less than an hour from Leiden by train. Once you get out of the train, you find yourself in a huge underground shopping mall. Expensive designer shops, boutiques, “alphabet” chain stores like C&A, H&M, gift & souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants… don’t let them all distract you. Follow the signs which say Center until you emerge into the street.
Almost at once you see the cathedral tower at a distance. Walk to it, enjoying the sights, don’t worry if at times you lose it: it is still there. Utrecht is the see of the Archbishop, as well as the center for various religions which peacefully co-exist in the country. The gothic cathedral dates back to the 14th century, it is always open, one can go inside, look at the amazing stained glass windows, sit on a chair enjoying the quiet atmosphere. It is free. Near the entrance/exit, there is a box with a tactful announcement: if every visitor deposits 2.50 euros, it is enough to have the cathedral always open. The university was founded in the 17th century. There are many beautiful streets which look like they have never changed through the ages, though I believe all the buildings have got modern plumbing.
New buildings are skillfully introduced among the old ones, so that the whole ensemble remains intact. I could see some new constructions far away from the historic center, which seems very sensible. As everywhere in the country, there are lots of canals, and hundreds or maybe thousands of cyclists.
Numerous signs help visitors find their way around. Naturally there are plenty of museums and historical places. If you come for a day, however, I would suggest that you simply walk. Look at the streets and canals, enjoy yourself, and take zillions of pictures. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.