Yesterday morning we began my twenty-ninth birthday with a climb up de Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church) on the Delft market square. The New Church was completed in the 1400s, which makes it the sprightly younger sibling of the Oude Kerk (1246). As legend has it, two local men had a vision on this mucky spot in 1351 that God wanted a church right there, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The building of the church took a hundred years (I read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth last month and now have an increased awe for the manual process of church construction) and like most structures of that time, it at various points was struck by lighting, burned, partially collapsed, rebuilt, added onto. Since 1584, members of the Royal House of Orange (beginning with William himself) are buried in and below the church. Today you can tour the interior (quite interesting, thankfully with headsets in various languages) or pay a separate fee to climb the tower.
Three hundred and seventy six steps will get you up there, and I would strongly dissuade anyone who has a fear of heights or claustrophobia. I did not have either until I was partway up this tower yesterday! We were the first entrants at 9 a.m. when the tower opened, and so had the entire climb to ourselves. I believe there was a counter that indicated a maximum of sixty people would be allowed at one time. The tower steps are tightly winding, worn with age, and often spaced so that you have a good clear view down below you—gulp. As we walked up I commented that they must send people down by a different route, because how could you possibly pass anyone on stairs this narrow? Nope. We took the same exact route down later, thankfully still alone, because by that point I was gripping the handrail and feeling the sweat of all the anxious climbers who had gone before me, and reminding myself to take deep breaths and put one flip flop in front of the other.
On the way up, you can see the original bells, cast in 1660 (now mostly retired due to intonation changes), and take a couple other small pauses before you arrive at the top. And then you have to work up the nerve to look down, because you have arrived at a great height, and the view is incredible.
We stood up there for probably twenty minutes, picking out all the places we knew and just taking it in. If you have the opportunity and can manage the climb, this is a great way to get your bearings in Delft. Or a great way to get perspective on your birthday!