The Boekenzolder: A Bookworm’s Hidden Paradise

One gloomy Saturday, I put on my waterproof boots and set out to Den Haag station to catch a train going to Leiden. We had our minds set up from several weeks before: this Saturday we are going to go to Leiden.

Living in the Netherlands, I’ve tried my best to visit as many cities around the country as I can, taking advantage of my weekend free time and my Museumkaart subscription (in which you pay once to get access to almost all museums in Holland for free for a year). I love museums, and I love exploring new cities.

As we arrived in Leiden, merely 15 minutes by train from the city where I live, we saw that not only was it gloomy outside, it was also drizzling. I sighed, thinking, typical Holland. However we kept our spirits high and our umbrellas higher. My first destination of the day: the Volkenkunde Museum, in English the National Museum of Ethnology. The walk took only 5 minutes and I arrived in the warmth and familiar sounds of a museum.


The Volkenkunde Museum – I kept mispronouncing the name as Voldemortkunde… I just couldn’t remember its name – has an expansive collection of cultural history of the whole world. It is divided into two floors: the first floor includes the permanent exhibitions of Asia, and the top floor of North America and Oceania. But what lured us to visit this museum in this particular day was because of its temporary exhibition: Cool Japan.

After strolling along the China, Indonesia, and Korea exhibitions, viewing old statues and descriptions of life one thousand years ago that our ancestors lived, I finally emerged on a circular room with a screen showcasing a clip from an anime with a collection of Japanes action figures on the center. The exhibition was very thorough, displaying information from the Japanese martial arts, the history of Japanese pop culture, an eye-hurtingly pink room discussing Kawaii culture, and a dark room discussing Otaku culture with a shelf of manga books on one side and a collection of Japanese arcade game machines on another side of the room.

We left the museum with a smile – I know we both enjoyed the temporary exhibitions so very much. Although with no prior knowledge to ethnology and culture of the world, we found that the other permanent exhibitions were not as captivating and at some times quite boring. However, it was a very fun museum experience, and I was glad to be able to visit the temporary exhibition which will only last until the end of October.

Afterwards, it was already past noon, the sky was still grayish, and my stomach was growling. We walked briskly to a cafe I already picked out called De Catwalk, which was luckily, only another 5 minutes from the museum.

A small but cozy cafe located near the canals of Leiden, De Catwalk hosts a variety of coffees and sandwiches, salads and bagels with a very affordable price for a student on a budget like me. On sunny days they have chairs and tables outside for us to enjoy the lovely Netherlands-style buildings along the canal, but on this day those chairs were wet and we opted for the warm and snug table overlooking the view.

I ordered a bagel with carpaccio, homemade pesto and nuts. My boyfriend chose another bagel with Brie cheese, bacon and honey. For refreshments, I felt like something healthy and filling so I chose a healthy smoothie made up of avocado, pear, apples, and mint. It was a lovely lunch for my hungry tummy, the bagels are wonderful and the company even more. I actually liked the bacon-honey bagel more, the combination of salty and sweet was perfect!

Afterwards we set out to the bus stop, because the highlight of the day was the Boekenzolder, something I’ve been meaning to visit for ages. The way to the location was slightly challenging – about 10 minutes by bus, and then another 10 minutes walk to the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the rain stopped and the air was cold and crisp.

The Boekenzolder was created with the concept that you can take any book you want from there, and donate whatever you want, and also drop off some books you’d like people to read. A simple and smart concept, and heavenly for me! Check out this article to learn more about this free “bookshop”.

The main problem for a foreigner living in the Netherlands who loves reading is that there isn’t much opportunity for us to buy or get secondhand books that are in English. I have nothing against secondhand books – I buy, read, and borrow them all the time, although I know a lot of people prefer buying new books and having a collection of pretty, pristine, untouched books. Not me! I love old books, how the pages are folded and how the spines are sometimes broken. It shows how the books have a history, how someone before me has read and loved the world I’m currently reading. So I was excited to hear that this one has a quite large selection of English books.

As I entered the Boekenzolder I was greeted by the familiar smell of old books and the friendly “Goedemiddag!” of a handful of people holding books. The people taking care of the place was lovely and welcoming, asking me if it was my first time and showing me the English section, and letting me know that I’m allowed to take home ten books for absolutely free.


I was left in the middle of shelves higher than my head, filled with books of all colors and kinds. I was in heaven, and I couldn’t help but grin in happiness! Afterwards I actually spent around an hour inside, browsing through the books and choosing the books I’d like to bring home.

In the end, I picked out five books and donated one book from my small collection of books at home. These are the books I took home:

  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (currently reading): a recently published thriller that is famous and still showcased in bookstores, this is termed as a combination of Agatha Christie and The Girl on the Train, two things I really liked. It does have some mixed reviews but I’m in the mood for a thriller so I’m excited to dive into it. This book isn’t in the best condition, it has cracked spines and as a paperback it looks very worn.
  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson: another mystery/thriller novel, this author has been everywhere when people talk about thriller books, so I can’t wait to read this one.
  • The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma: another famous book, this one is nominated for the Man Booker Prize and other than that, I know nothing more about it. This edition I found in pristine condition, almost as if no one has read it before! It is set in Africa and since I rarely ever read books set there, I think it’ll be a very interesting read.
  • Fred & Rose by Howard Sounes: this is my only non fiction pick from the haul and this is a true crime book about a husband and wife killer. I was walking slowly to the exit with four books on my hand when I saw this one on the non fiction section, and I’ve been telling myself to read more non fiction books, and this one doesn’t seem very well known but might be an exciting book for me, since it has a similar crime vibe as the novels I currently enjoy.
  • A Darker Shade of Blue by John Harvey: I saw John Harvey’s name in lots of books in the thriller section and I’ve heard a lot about him, and one book wrote on the cover that he is the ‘king of thrillers’ so I decided to pick up this one, his short story collection, for me to dip in and out of occasionally and to see if I like his writing style. If I do, I’ll definitely pick up his novels after this.

I left the Boekenzolder, and the lovely city of Leiden with a huge smile in my face and a heavy backpack. I can’t wait to read the five books I got, and return them back to the Boekenzolder for more people like me to enjoy them.

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5 thoughts on “The Boekenzolder: A Bookworm’s Hidden Paradise

  1. Another interesting post! Enjoy reading it. Do you recommend the Museum in Leiden when we come vist there? How was the Indonesian collection there? Something new you learnt there?

    I havent read any of the books you mention. Do let us know which ones your best pick!

    Look forward for your next post. Keep the good postings rolling!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I do recommmend it, especially if you like history and culture. The information is comprehensive, and the location is really close to the station.


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