Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Netherlands

The Hague
We arrived in Den Haag around 10 am from London via Rotterdam.  The first purchase was a map of the city, just so we could find our hotel. We seemed to take the long way round but finally arrived without too many detours. The hotel was small and simply presented. We were thankful they moved our room from the third floor to the first on our arrival as the spiral staircase was rather steep and carrying our cases up further than one floor would have sorely tested our stamina.
Peace Flame
We then went to explore the city. The Hague is one of the best kept secrets of tourism; it is a charming city that has much to offer. It is has its share of canals and 17th century classic Dutch buildings. It is the home of the Dutch Parliament, royal family and the international courts of justice Near the Justice Building is a perpetual flame for world peace which was sent from every continent this is surrounded by various stones from all the countries of the world, a very optimistic symbol.
We visited the Mauritshaus, a 17th century mansion which is now a museum full of old masters and includes some of Vermeer’s paintings of which one is Girl With a Pearl Earring. These smaller museums are often more satisfying than the large ones as you don’t become totally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of paintings, You can spend more time really appreciating them.
Another interesting gallery is that of Prince Willem V which consists of a mass of paintings collected by him.
A typical view in The Hague
The Hague has the custom of high tea, even small cafes offer this. Two tier plates filled with cakes, pastries and sandwiches with a pot of tea. What a civilized way to while away an afternoon. There is definitely an air of wealth and refinement in this charming city
A day excursion to Delft was a 20 minute tram ride away. This was the centre of the Netherlands famous blue and white tiles and china. It is ironic that the blue and white ceramics from China inspired the original Delft ware and now all the cheap ‘Delft ware’ in tourist shops is imported from China. You can still buy Dutch produced Delft china but expect to pay a premium price.
In the centre of the town is the usual market square which is dominated by an imposing church called Nieuwe Kerk. A climb of over 350 steps to the top of the tower was worth for the spectacular view of the town.
Delft from church tower
As Vermeer lived in Delft it was only fitting they had a museum dedicated to him and his works. They had no original paintings only copies, however it was very interesting as it presented a lot of background about him and his works. There are only 37 paintings by Vermeer and three of those are disputed by experts. He wasn’t a prolific painter but as he had 16 children, that probably explains it.

Kurhaus Hotel
A short tram ride takes you to vast beach area with a promenade along the shoreline which stretches from a fishing harbor at one end to grass covered dunes at the other. One glance along the shoreline you get the feeling that its Blackpool meets St. Kilda. There is a long pier which houses a casino and a bungee jumping platform. The only real refinement in the area is the Kurhaus Hotel with its 19th century elegance whose past guests included Winston Churchill and Igor Stravinsky. A ‘Who’s Who’ of entertainers have performed in the vast Kurzaal Room beneath the glittering chandeliers. We had to have a coffee in the café to suck in the elegance before we returned to the city.

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