Friday, August 26, 2011

Netherlands part 2: Den Haag

a "dancing house" next door to the Queens working Palace
After two and a half days in Amsterdam, we moved on to see more of the Netherlands. Our next stop was Den Haag. We choose this city because it is in close proximity to other cities we wanted to visit and they had a hotel property where we could use points to stay thereJ It worked out well.

When some people we met in Amsterdam heard we were going to Den Haag, they were surprised. They asked “why would you want to go there? It’s so boring!” Well… we enjoyed staying there for two days, and there seemed to be plenty of museums and things to see. Although, we can only see so many museums before getting board. So… they were right. There isn’t much to do if you stay longer than two or three days in Den Haag unless you LOVE museums and wouldn’t mind going to one each day.  

What you should know about Den Haag:
·         It is the home of the Queen of the Netherlands and is also the seat of government/ parliament for the country (even though Amsterdam is the capital)
·         MC Escher was from Den Haag and there is a museum with his works in Den Haag (it was right across the street from our hotel!)
·         All foreign embassies in the Netherlands are in Den Haag and it is a major city hosting the United Nations (among New York and Geneva)

We took the train to Den Haag from Amsterdam central station; it took about an hour to get there and was much more expensive than the trains in Italy. It was about 19 euros for the two of us (one way). The city is easy to navigate and a lot quieter than Amsterdam. It seems to be more of a business city (with older professionals), and is a little more serious. This makes sense since it’s the seat of the Netherlands’ government.

Outside the Binnenhof

Inside the Binnenhof
Knights hall in the Binnenhof
The jury is still out...
Once we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we started walking around to explore the city. It was mid-afternoon and too late to see any sights with paid admission, so we went to the sights open to the public. We saw the Binnenhof (Parliament building), the Queens “working castle” and tried the local fare. Josh had recommendations from people to try the raw herring. He was told that it may sound gross, but it’s surprisingly good. Well, we stopped at a street vendor outside of the Binnenhof and Josh tried it. He wasn’t sure what to think… I tried it too and it was soft with a cooked texture (even though it was raw). The flavor of the fish was salty and it came in a bun with raw onions. For me, I will never it eat again! Onions and I don’t get along very well… As for Josh, the jury is still out on what he thinks of raw herring. Afterwards, we found a little bar for dinner and a drink.

The following day we had big plans. We planned on making a trek to Kinderdijk to see the world famous windmills. We started off with a Starbucks (so excited to see Starbucks in the Netherlands!!!), and took the train to Rotterdam. From there, we had to take the metro to the outskirts of the city, then a bus to Kinderdijk. I estimated that it would take about two hours to get there…. Well, one of the buses wouldn’t let us on, so we had to wait for the next one 30 minutes later. After three hours we finally arrived!! It’s a great opportunity to see some history and some really cool monuments. We rented two bikes and enjoyed the nicely paved bike paths and the scenery. Not to mention it was fun getting the cows to moo! It was like being in a large national park, only on a bike. The weather was PERFECT that day! So we enjoyed every minute out on the Kinderdijk. It was a nice, relaxing day.

The windmills were built around 1740 to keep the area from flooding. The water was pumped by the windmills out of the polders (low lying area of land surrounded by dikes) and into a reservoir. When the river nearby was low, the water was pumped from the reservoir into the river by other windmills. Now the work is done by diesel stations, but a few windmills are still in use. Most of the windmills are just sights now, although it looked like people lived in them. Maybe they were the “caretakers”?


My favorite picture of the day

We found some Italian friends to take some pictures of us :)

this windmill is still used
According to Wikipedia (2011) the “Cat and the Cradle” came from the folklore of Kinderdijk. The name Kinderdijk is Dutch for "Children's dike". In 1421 during the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed unflooded. It is said that when the terrible storm had subsided, someone went on to the dike between these two areas, to see what could be saved. He saw in the distance a wooden cradle floating. There was no hope that anything would be living in it, but when it approached, movement was seen. When the cradle came nearer, someone saw that a cat was in the cradle trying to keep it in balance by jumping back and forth so that no water could come into it. When the cradle eventually came near the dike, someone fished the cradle out and saw that in it a baby slept quiet and dry. In some of the stories the cat kept it balanced and afloat. This folktale and legend has been published as "The Cat and the Cradle" in English.”

After our trip to Kinderdijk, we went back to Den Haag for some beer and amazing Indonesian food.  In the Netherlands they have Amstel (not the light version) and Josh was so excited! So we found a place that served Amstel and I had a Le Chouffe (one of my new favorites). We also enjoyed more of the fried food of the Netherlands. They have local favorites such as a kroket and frikandel. Krokets look like a fried egg roll, but are filled with a potato filling and ham (or at least that was it seemed like). The frikendel was a long sausage wrapped and fried. Both were very tasty! But the kroket had by voteJ Also, the Indonesian food we had that night was amazing!! It was our first time trying it, and it didn't disappoint! 

On our final day in the Netherlands, we went to the MC Escher museum. Since it was right across the street from our hotel, we had to see it! In Junior High I did a project on MC Escher and copied a few of his works, so it was really fun to see the original pieces. The museum is housed in a previous royal residence that was used by the royal family until 1990. The royal ambiance is still kept in the palace, and some of the royal families items are on display there. It was like vising a museum within a museum. This was by far my favorite museum so far (apart from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam). There is a great exhibition with Escher’s works with great explanations of his growth as an artist. I love his uses of geometry and perspective to create illusions. On the top floor, there are opportunities to see how he created some of his works and there are opportunities to create your own works. It was fun! We were also able to take a picture where Josh looks like a giant! I would highly recommend this museum if you ever visit Den Haag.

Escher studied in Italy at the beginning of his career

He even studied San Gimignano! or as we call it, St Jimmy John's

one of his famous pictures- "Falling Water"

Well, time to go home to Milano! We really enjoyed our time in the Netherlands (especially the cool temperatures) and we are already looking forward to our next visit. We hope to get back soon! But for now… time to go back to the mid 90’s and sunny weather of Milan.

Josh the Giant

My favorite part of the Netherlands: this is tough… I really enjoyed Amsterdam, but I also really enjoyed Kinderdijk. I have to say my favorite part of the Netherlands is just the laid back atmosphere and feeling of the country. That combined with the cooler temperatures, I felt very at home there.
There were some strange art installations on the street of our hotel
I love lamp!!

Next trip: a weekend in Italy, including the opera in the Verona arena!

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