Although Amsterdam is the capital, The Hague is actually where parliament meets and where most of the government buildings are, plus a few royal palaces. The oldest government building in town is Ridderzaal (the Hall of Knights) built in the 13th Century by the Count of Holland. Now it is surrounded by a growing group of buildings known as the Binnenhof, which house parliament and other government offices. On the outside of the Binnenhof there is a large pond called the Hofvijver. We would often find ourselves walking down there or through the courtyard of the Binnenhof. There are a number of plazas there (and other places around town) where the Dutch love to have coffee or a drink in the open air, if at all possible.
Next to the Binnenhof is the Hague’s most famous museum, the Mauritshaus. Unfortunately, it is undergoing renovations and so it is closed. Some of the paintings are on tour to other countries, but many are in other museums. We saw 150 at the Gemeentemuseum, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and many other wonderful paintings. In the main collection we enjoyed an exhibit of paintings by Gustave Caillebot, along with photos similar to many of his Parisian scenes.
The main event during our stay was the retirement of Queen Beatrix (by abdication) and the investiture of her son Willem-Alexander as king. This occurred on Queen’s Day, which is always a National Holiday. Since this was a Tuesday, everyone mostly took a long weekend, and lots of things were closed. Shops and people were decorated in orange. There were concert stages set up at 6-7 locations around the city with music the night before. We waked around to two. All the festivities took place in Amsterdam, and we watched on TV. The ceremony was actually a session of Parliament, which installed Willem-Alexander as King. He then swore to uphold the constitution and watch over the country and gave a speech. Then every member of Parliament stood up and swore allegiance to the new King. About half invoked God, and the other half didn’t. I read that 16 members refused to swear, but I couldn’t tell the difference. There were many royal guests, including a lot of crown princes who probably wish their parents would be as sensible as Beatrix.
Another theme for our visit was that The Hague is celebrating Constantijn and Christiaan Huygens in 2013, although it doesn’t seem to be an anniversary year for either. Constantijn was secretary to 2 Princes of Orange in the 17th century, and also a poet, musician, and art collector. His son Christiaan was a scientist who studied light as a wave and discovered Saturn’s moon Titan. Another son, Constantijn II, was also a diplomat and secretary to the William of Orange who became King of England in 1688 along with Mary Stuart as Queen. The Grote Kerk, near where we were staying, had a big exhibit about them, and a number of smaller museums also particularly featured Constantijn I because of his influence with art collecting. I particularly enjoyed the Bredius museum and the Prince William V Gallery because they were small collections, so it was easy to concentrate on the particular pictures.
|Escher Museum staircase|
Another fun museum was the Escher Gallery, which is in a small palace that Queen Wilhelmina (the great-grandmother of the current king) used to use. Besides the Escher prints to look at, there were also descriptions of how each room had been used and how it was furnished. It was very interesting to see the development of Escher’s work. He started off more conventional with landscapes and natural objects, although he always liked mirrors, odd perspectives, and a geometric design. His tessellations and other familiar works are still fascinating, and it was just a small enough exhibition not to get tired or overwhelmed by repetition.
We took three outings away from town. One day while Ron was still doing research, I went to the Keukenhof Gardens by train to Leiden and then bus, about an hour’s travel. The Keukenhof claims to be the world’s largest spring bulb garden. It is quite impressive. I was there on a cool but sunny day with lots of other people, which actually was fun and festive. It was pretty much mid-season, so there were not many areas where the flowers had faded, nor many where the buds had not yet opened.
A second expedition was to the miniature town of Madurodam, which I remember visiting when six years old. It is still almost as magical. It is about an acre of scale model (1:25, I believe) of iconic Dutch buildings from around the country, such as royal palaces, churches, the Rijksmuseum, the shipping yards of Rotterdam, typical farmhouses and windmills, etc. So we got to see models of many buildings we will not see in person on this trip, and we got some ideas of places we would like to see. One of the fun parts is that it is like being in a huge model train set, because many sections do have trains or other moving parts. The effect is enhanced by their use of bonsai trees.
You cannot walk through most of the models – they are in small groups that you walk around. Most of the groupings are a mix of buildings from different towns. Only occasionally is a section all from Amsterdam, say.
|Delft Square & New Kerk|
We enjoyed our stay in The Hague; it was relaxed; we did not feel like we had to rush to see everything. Ron was able to do some research on St. Eustatius in the national archives. On May 5 we headed to Amsterdam by train.