The Hague (Netherlands part 2 of 5)
The Hague was high on my agenda for this trip. The Hague derives its global fame from the fact that it is the seat of over 150 justice organizations, including the International court of Justice and the International Criminal court. It used to be the capital of the Netherlands and although Amsterdam was declared capital in early 1800s, the Dutch government, justice institutions and the Royal family are still based in The Hague (Den Haag). I thought it was an extraordinary city with a special feel. It is cultured, elegant and a cosmopolitan without being crowded or “weathered”. Its location on the sea is also unique, with beautiful beaches and a nickname “the royal city by the sea” , a name that has stuck.
There are a number of museums in The Hague, the most important being the Mauritshuis with important works of art by Dutch masters Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen and more. Johannes Vermeer spent his life nearby in the small town of Delft where he produced some 24 paintings over his lifetime, many of which are considered masterpieces. Delft was on my destination list, especially to see where William the Silent Prince of Orange was assassinated (the bullet hole is still visible and has been framed on the wall) but that was not to be on this trip.
Maurtishuis Museum and The Girl
Speaking of Vermeer, one painting I had to see in person was the “Girl with the Pearl Earring” aka “The Girl”. The painting came into popular culture when a film by that name was made, launching an industry of products based on the image. The mass popularity of the painting does not diminish the haunting image of a mysterious girl with a drop pearl earring and an exotic turban wrapped around her hair. The painting was sold in the late 1800s for mere two Dutch guilders and was neglected for years before being bequeathed to the Mauritshuis museum in early 1900s.
To see the painting we took the train from Amsterdam to The Hague, a pleasant and scenic 50 minutes ride that unfortunately was interrupted one station before the Hague for electrical failure. Everyone had to leave the train and we followed a lovely journalist who lead us to another local train that was to take us to The Hague. When we arrived, our tickets did not work with the exit machines so we had to wiggle our way out of there and walked from the train station to the center of town, only few minutes away.
I immediately fell in love with The Hague. Much less crowded than Amsterdam, on the day we arrived it was full of people dressed in their finest, and I mean their finest, fascinators hats and all. It so happened that this was parliament opening day and the King and Queen of the Netherlands were in town to open the parliament/budget day. It was interesting to see the beautifully dressed people sitting in the cafes around the main square but it also meant that most of the museums and roads were closed in preparation for the royal procession including the Mauritshuis museum housing the masterpiece we came to see. The good news was that all the formalities will be over around 2:00 pm and by 3:00 everything was getting back to normal and the museum will reopen. A big relief.
Cafe Brasserie Dudok
Once we realized that the museum is closed until 3:00 pm we decided to go with the flow, walked around the plein, (central square) lined with grand historical buildings and cafes and along Korte Poten, a pedestrian street with beautiful shops. Of course visited a local market (Marqt) and stopped for coffee and apple cake at a famous Cafe Brasserie Dudok, recommended by my law school friend Louise who lived in The Hague for a couple of years. Dudok is a popular cafe known for its pastries, all baked in-house. The apple cake is said to be one of the best and demand for it caused them to expand from the original location in Rotterdam and open cafes in other cities including The Hague. The apple pie was indeed delish and I saw a very tempting selection of other pastries including lemon meringue pie, chocolate truffle cake, cookies, muffins and more. They also have an afternoon tea tradition that I would have liked to indulge in but did not manage to fit it in.
Hop & Stork Chocolates
Around the corner from Dudok I stumbled upon a fabulous chocolate place and we had to stop and sample and of course buy some chocolates. Hop & Stork is located in a small shopping arcade built in 1885 and now houses the shop, the chocolate “factory” where you can watch their chocolates being made and a cafe serving coffee, teas and pastries. The chocolates themselves are delicious as they are stunningly beautiful. The store was establish to bring the Belgian “joy of chocolate” to the Dutch people. Apparently French, Swiss and Belgians consume 12 kg of chocolate per person a year, while Dutch only consume 4. This shop is sure about to change these statistics.
Marqt – The Market
The market (Marqt) is just around the corner from Dudok and of course we paid a visit. So many beautiful local and international cheeses, breads, vegetables, fish and other foods and so centrally located, this is definitely a place to keep in mind if you are cooking in the Hague.
Royal presence on Budget Day , opening of Parliament
Eventually we settled at one of the intersection to watch the royal parade. Luckily we had perfect weather for this experience. We waited close to an hour (unheard of for me generally speaking) and then the procession begun with hundreds of gorgeous horses, musical bands and elaborately uniformed guards and soldiers. The royal family and other dignitaries arrived in horse drawn carriages with footmen walking on each side. The carriage carrying the king and queen arrived to cheers and waiving of orange signs, orange balloons and orange scarves. This is the house of orange, which explains the orange touches on many of the people’s clothing today.
Dutch people seem to love their royal family and were excited to see them pass by, waving to the crowds. When the procession ended we moved, together with the crowd, towards the royal palace where the final ceremony was to take place and where the royal family would be waving from the balcony. It was crowded but still fun to be a part of an experience that was truly local and a bit foreign to us in north America, although we too have our form of “royalty”. The carriage eventually returned and the crowd rushed towards the gates, carrying us with them. I had enough by then and was ready to go but there was no way out as we were surrounded by a cheering crowd. The royal family soon waived from the balcony for a couple of minutes before retiring and the crowd begun to disperse, carrying us with them to the center of town.
Face to Face with The Girl
As soon as the festivities were over and crowds dispersed we headed to the Mauritshiois museum and finally stood “face to face” with The Girl. Vermeer painted her in 1665 but there is no consensus as to who she was and her identity remains a mystery. Whoever she was, standing in front of this universally recognizable image was thrilling. Light and shadows interplay in a unique Vermeer style and you lock eyes with a girl from a different time, a different place and it is as if you are connecting. To see this painting you would have to travel to The Hague because after loaning it to Japan, the US and Italy, the museum announced that the painting will remain in house and will no longer be available to other institutions. Mission accomplished.
We stayed until almost closing and then headed to the main square for a bite to eat before heading back to Amsterdam by train. The restaurants and cafes in The Hague were full of people having their drink with bitterballen, evidently a match made in heaven. Bitterballen is a classic Dutch appetizer made of seasoned meat ragout rolled in bread crumbs and fried. I’ll keep my opinion to myself. The three main appies people were having were these bitterballen, french fries they call frites and a fried spring roll wrapped around mozzarella cheese. It was clear that the common denominator was fried, fried and fried again. We settled at an outdoor table, ordered drinks (non alcoholic for me) and a platter of these appetizers (the fries are mine) and leaned back to relax and watch the scene. I definitely liked The Hague.