In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Den Haag, Netherlands

Dutch Park-n-Ride
On April 23 we flew from Lisbon to the Netherlands by way of Frankfurt airport.  We took a taxi to Leiden where we met our Wimdu host who drove us on to our apartment in The Hague.  This turned out to be luxuriously spacious and bright.  The kitchen even included an electric orange juicer.  The street was quiet, overlooking a canal, but just a couple of blocks away were some busy streets full of restaurants and markets.  The city center was an easy walk.  There are lots of trams and buses to take one around the city.  Most of The Hague is 4 to 5 story buildings with some high rise areas.  There are canals everywhere.  The most dangerous thing we found about walking around town was all the bicycles - also roller skaters, motorized wheelchairs, scooters, etc.  They come at you from any direction, because they don’t seem to feel they have to obey road rules.  Also the occasional uneven brick in the sidewalk would try and trip me up.  But we managed to avoid injury.

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.
Escher Museum

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.
Keukenhof tulips

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. 
Flower fields
There were yellow, white, purple, red, pink, orange, blue, and striped tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in all kinds of bedding arrangements. Around the periphery of the garden, and along the train and bus routes, there were also flower fields – an acre of yellow daffodils, then one of purple hyacinths, and smaller plots too.  It was definitely an archetypical picture of Holland, although I have actually been surprised at how little flower plantings there are in the city.
Ridderzaal Madurodam
Madurodam farm

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. 
Madurodam panorama
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
Our final excursion was to Delft, a short train ride, and actually still considered part of den Haag’s city limits.  It is a charming town with canals (surprise) and small town houses and a lovely large square in the town center.  Besides being a ceramics center, it is known as the home of Vermeer, and the old Artist’s Guild Hall has been converted into a Vermeer Center.  It does not actually have any Vermeer originals, but has reproductions of his 36 known paintings with interesting information about how and where they were painted, and the people in them, and some of the influences on his style.  There was also a guide book so we could walk around town to places where he had lived.  The other sights in town are the New Kerk and Town Hall on either end of the town square, and the Old Kerk a few blocks away.  This is near the Prinsenhof (Prince’s home), a convent which housed William the Silent of Orange, who led the rebellion against Spanish rule and was assassinated in that very house in 1584 by someone who hoped to be rewarded by Spain for the deed.  This was the first murder by gun of a head of state.  The bullet holes are still in the wall. 
Delft house

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.

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