Delft

For many travelers, few spots in Holland are as intimate and attractive as this charming little town. With time-burnished canals and cobblestone streets, Delft possesses a calm that recalls the quieter pace of the 17th-century Golden Age, back when Johannes Vermeer was counted among its citizens.

Imagine a tiny Amsterdam, but with smaller canals, narrower bridges, and fewer people, and you have the essence of Old Delft.

But even though the city reveres its favorite son, and folks have one foot rooted in the past, another is planted firmly in the present. In fact, today's Delft teems with hip cafés, and—being a college town—revelers can be seen piling in and out of bars almost every day of the week. It's quaint, but it's no museum piece swaddled for safe-keeping. Nonetheless, if living it up isn't your thing, the revelry is easy to escape, and there are plenty of quiet residential corners where you could imagine Vermeer strolling the streets looking for his next subject.

If you are arriving by train in the coming years, your first impression, however, may be somewhat different. Major construction work in and around the railway station has seen the train tracks move underground, and created a shiny new station building that opened in 2015. Eventually the city's approaches will be greatly beautified. But as of this writing, residual work is still ongoing, and is scheduled to last until at least 2016.

Rest assured, however, that once you pick your way through the chaos, the old center is largely unaffected and every bit as beautiful as it ever was. Well, almost: sad to say, virtually nothing is left standing that Vermeer immortalized in his View of Delft—once proclaimed "the most beautiful painting in the world" by Marcel Proust—other than the soaring Gothic spire of the town’s Oude Kerk. To find "Vermeer’s View," head from the train station along Zuiderstraat or hew instead to the canal bank over to the Zuidwal avenue, which leads to the site of Rotterdamse Poort: it was on the far side of this big canal that Vermeer stood when painting his famous cityscape.

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