Den Haag was the next stop on my little Holland tour. It is a somewhat unusual Dutch city so far as it has no canals (but a lake in front of the parliament). I thought the city free tour was only average, but the Esher museum and the seafront were worthwhile visiting. After the tour I had a fun afternoon with Julia (from Darmstadt, but now in Berlin) enjoying the local food festival and, given she also blogs (see here), I got some handy tips.
What I learned about Den Haag
The Hague is the 3rd largest city in Holland with c1m population in the metropolitan area. It is home to the parliament and the royal palace though Amsterdam remains the constitutional capital.
Haagse Harry statue: It looks right out of a comic book and was designed by an artist who lived in the more artistic area of Den Haag (for locals there is a distinct separation of richer & not so rich people in the city).
There was originally a synagogue in the city, but the few remaining jews couldn’t support it anymore. Then Turks squatted this synagogue in 70s and made it their building. Now two minarets have been added and its a mosque.
Seagull mania: Being close to the seaside, there are plenty of seagulls about. They are pretty aggressive in their endeavour for food and take apart rubbish bags (apparently not red/yellow bags) and steal food right out of people’s hands/mouths – so watch out when you snack here.
Across the city you’ll find many storks – a symbol of Den Haag that stands for prosperity (and children).
Stay normal rule: apparently very important for locals is to stay normal. Hence, it is not difficult to spot people like the PM having a coffee in an ordinary cafe.
Language: With 60% foreign students and mot people well versed in English, there is a growing debate about what happens with the Dutch language. I have to add here, that Dutch people all too easily switch to english even for foreigners that are trying to learn their language – so give us a chance & be patient.
The Hague is home to the first mall in Europe, which looks similar to the one in Milan & Brussels. The origin is closely related to the chaperone rule whereby young ladies required supervision when they leave their house. Having everything under one roof provided a certain freedom for those upper class chicks.
Bike orphans & battle with drivers: As in any Dutch city there are loads of bikes. Currently there is a big debate raging between bikers and car drivers. The former provide for 65% of the city’s movement yet the cars get 10x the space. Bike parking is pretty organised and should you leave your bike in an area not being a dedicated parking space it might get picked up. There are in total c100,000 bike orphans in the city – picked up bikes that are not claimed by their owners.
The Hague has arguably the smallest city park I have ever seen ;o) In total less than 1sqm. Locals would love to have a bigger one, as the stone that heavily features in construction here heats up in summer adding 10 degrees extra at times. Well, you can always head to the beach though – something most other cities don’t offer.
Pharmacy anecdote: We stopped by an old pharmacy that retains much of its antique past. There is a joker figure above the entrance. This symbols ‘de jaaper’ (the jawner). He would travel with the doctor and if you don’t trust your medicine, he would try it for you so as to proof it doesn’t kill you.
Fahrenheit (1686-1736) is buried here in the Kloosterkerk.
Polderen: A term that I first came across in my waterland tour (see here). It basically means to debate a problem with all parties involved to find a solution. The origin is from the polder/water management where people realised that only if decisions are taken together a good outcome can be achieved since drainage of fields is interconnected.
Esher museum – graphic & twisted art
Esher was a Dutch graphic artist that made mathematically inspired woodcuts & lithographs including many ‘impossible’ pictures (like illusions). A few samples below. The museum was EUR10 to get in and is not covered by the museums card, but worth it.
Today I travelled some 90min south-eastwards to Nijmegen. Partly to see the oldest city of Holland (more than 2,000y – competing for that title with Maastricht & Voorburg), but mainly to go hiking nearby through forests, villages and the Rhine embankment (or Waal in Dutch). The sun wasn’t too hot today making for a pleasant 23km relatively easy stroll including a well deserved German lunch & beer just over the border in Zyfflich (what a fitting name for ascension day celebrations).
I arrived just after 11am in Nijmegen central from where I took a bus further east of the city, as I had read about some decent hiking there along the N70. Initially it was pretty much all forest. It was fun to be out in the fresh air, listen to music and some Russian audio class. After less than an hour I reached the town of Beek, which still remembers to date how it was liberated by US troops. After Beek you get pretty close to the German border. Only during a phone conversation did I realise that today was ascension of christ day – a day we traditionally celebrate in Saxony by going for a walk with friends (call it an open air pub crawl). So I quickly made a decision to treat myself to a German meal & beer (sorry Holland, but German beer remains the best).
Halfway of todays hike I got to a village called Zyffich – best name possible for such a day the German speakers will agree. They even had life music there … everything cheesy you can imagine including Roland Kaiser’s “Joana” (couldn’t help myself but to put it on while writing this). After an asparagus soup and a Königs Pilsner I continued back towards Nijmegen. You cross picturesque villages, grasslands, cattle & sheep (and again a fresh milk machine!) and as you get back to Nijmegen – the mighty Rhine & large bridges.
I ended up spending little time in Nijmegen itself. The inner city has some older buildings around the main market place, which was nice. But no appetite today to head to a museum etc. History around here is rich though and dates back to the Roman times (under its first name Oppidum Batavorum)who erected a military camp in the city’s current place in the 1st century BC. It was in particular important for the Roman empire after they lost to the Germans in the Teuteburger Forest (9AD) after which the Rhine remained the ultimate border and Nijmegen was further strengthened on this backdrop.
Well, enough history now. It was fun going for a hike again.
For the last two weeks of my time in Holland I have put together a list of places to see and things to do. Utrecht was an easy decision. Only 30min on the train from Amsterdam and a very pretty town. I had been here for a business trip many years ago, but spent the little free time I had watching a Ludwig Ehrhard docu. Now I had the time to get lost in the streets & canals … and so I did amidst pure sunshine.
It was a sunny day and I left it a little late to leave Amsterdam, but got to Utrecht before 11am. I had booked a free walking tour, but this one didn’t take place and the improvised second tour didn’t fit my schedule. So off to see the town on my own. A few highlights:
Mueseum Speelklok: It was the only museum I visited given the nice weather. It displays all sorts of automatically playing music instruments. I liked most the one that plays a violine automatically (originally designed as coin operated machine to play in casinos). They offer free tours for adults and kids and have several corners for kids to get busy while seeing the museum. Even today, you can see some of the music machines on Dutch streets (like I did in Gouda & Amsterdam).
Utrecht cathedral & Dom tower: Utrecht has always been the religious center of Holland and its Gothic cathedral (Saint Martin) was the largest for a long time. However, the collapse of the nave changed that and left the tower standing free. Now, the 112m tower is the landmark of the city. While I was visiting, the cathedral had a photo exhibition on display showing portraits of incureable ill people taken by several artists sponsored by LEVENXL foundation (https://www.vereeuwigd.nu/). Inspiring and a nice alternative way to utilise the large church space. I also encoutered my first contactless donation station …
Canals: Utrecht, as most Dutch cities, has plenty of water about. Originally used for trade and transport, they are now a firm part of how locals & tourists spend their spare time. Very exnjoyable are the little cafe’s canalside where you won’t find it hard to relax and recharge.
Utrecht university: The university is one of the oldest in Holland (est. 1636) and a major factor for the economy with a budget of cEUR800m, some 30,000 students and 5,500 staff. It ranks no1 university in Holland and 13th in Europe. I have to admit that I certainly didn’t have such a nice buolding to study in as the students in Utrecht do! And also nowhere near as centrally located.
“Sol Iustitiae Illustra Nos” [Sun of Justice, shine upon us.]
– University of Utrecht motto
Utrecht overview: Utrecht is a town with 350k inhabitants (and counting) that is the religious center of Holland since the 8th century. It’s city center boasts loads of old and well preserved houses some dating back to the middle ages. In the Dutch golden age, Utrecht was the most important city surpassing Amsterdam. It remains a large cultural center for Holland (2nd most cultural events after Amsterdam), hosts serrval educational facilities and is a transport and trade hub due to its central location (the railway headquarters are based here).
My easter Monday day-trip took me to Haarlem only a whisker away from Amsterdam. Weather was pretty uninviting as I did sightseeing under grey clouds and with constant drizzle (well, until I made my way back to Amsterdam when it turned better). So off to the museums! I managed three (all covered by the museums pass) and saw some other landmarks like the restored Molen van Adriaan (windmill), the Grote Kerk (cathedral), stadhuis (city hall) and the Amsterdam gate (original city gate from the 1400’s). Pleasant day trip.
A little bit of history: Haarlem is the capital of North Holland with some 160,000 inhabitants. Historically the city has been pretty important and used once to be the second largest. Fortunes came and went with shipping tolls, breweries and textile trade o the plus side but also several big fires, Spanish invasion, the pest and Amsterdam taking over trade wise. Today it is a vibrant commuter city with plenty of gastronomy, theatres and even a Philharmonie.
Teylers museum: The oldest museum in holland established in 1778 focusses mainly a science and natural history. Currently they are showing the ‘monster animal’ exhibition displaying real and fictional beasts from yeti to the loch ness monster. Overall, not something i take a huge interest in yet still a nice building with some impressive halls.
Big foot fottprint?
Frans Hals museum of fine art: named after the dutch golden age painter frans hals who lived and worked in the city who pioneered the visible brushstroke technique (previously deemed a flaw) and advanced the genre of portraits. His clients were mainly the rich & famous of the time (well, who else can afford it). the museum displays his works as well as many other artist that were influenced by him, also modern art and paintings acquired by local donations.
Frans Hals self portrait
The smiling cavalier . 1624. London, Wallace Collection
Haarlem historical museum: A peep back in time, as the city museum tries to preserve the cultural history of town. I liked most the outfit of a pest doctor – looks like this costume inspired the well known Scream mask …
Since my last update from Amsterdam a few things have moved on. Sadly, my flu is not one them and keeps me on low energy mode and often indoors after school (well, the weather was far from inviting to go outdoors anyway!). But that didn’t stop me from still doing a few things, catching up with friends Liselotte & Jan and completing my A1 in Dutch. Happy Easter everyone.
Catching up with Jan: Jan was the first dutch person i managed to catch up with. And fun it was to review the Russian farm stories over a beer or two. He also moved on in life, with his studies and now even has a girlfriend (… clearly he ignored my horror stories in his considerations ;o). Hope to catch up with him over kings day for his crash car race.
Catching up with Liselotte: We met back in Thailand training at Diamond Muay Thai since Liselotte is well into kickboxing. Liselotte took me to nearby Westerpark. There was a nice sunday market (I scored a nice sausage there) and, in the cold weather, we enjoyed a few glasses of mulled wine before hitting a bar with old school arcade games. Liselotte is hard to beat and I literally lost every match until i found the right street figher character to help me out. fun afternoon with even a few easter bunnies hopping around.
A night out in the red light district: One Friday night turned out to be really good fun when I met a Latvian couple visiting town. We met at the old sailor pub (see cover picture) in the red light district and had some good entertainment watching the crowd gazing at the women in the windows. Funniest was when a guy tried to take a picture of one of the pro’s (a no go!) … he almost lost his mobile as the girl jumped out of her box and grabbed it.
Netherlands – England match: the english were in town for a pre world cup friendly (well, no world cup for the dutch side) and they make it felt. 6000 supporters need entertainment. And to be fair to them, i loved the atmosphere they created with their chants (‘please dont take me home’) around the embankments of the red light district and the fun conversations (here a youtube video of a guy jumping into the canal). Never really felt there was a safety threat though c100 got arrested. England won 1:0 by the way.
School already behind me – A1 in Dutch: on Friday we completed our A1 level course and it does help. Key issue remains laziness to try it out given everyone and his dog speak english pretty well. The group changed a bit with a new girl joining and the Indian restaurant owner not turning up anymore. I had lost a little drive given the flu, but overall think made some good progress (a statement that holds for all participants). In fact, i was racing through the dutch grammar and writing homework (not entirely without mistakes for full disclosure) and felt that i acquired some good talking basics. We even had a little look at swearwords on our last day – a lesson that shocked & entertained alike. Very Dutch – rather then picking it up on the street, the word is spread in a controlled manner … just like dope in a coffee shop ;o)
Thanks go to the patient & fun teachers and all the best to my fellow students. Teacher roos said good bye with a bottle of prosecco – nice touch i think and a first for any of three language schools in been too since last summer. Let’s see, maybe i am back for A2 later. For now … vakantie!
Interview at booking.com: on Monday morning i went to a 3h assessment center for a german speaking partner executive role at booking. They are originally from Amsterdam before being bought by a US player and a major employer (16k globally) as the #1 booking site globally. So far i haven’t heard back. Maybe after easter.