Saturday, August 29th 2015
We awoke to find that it was a fine day, propitious for exploring. We set out for the bus stop but first I wanted to take this photo:
During the day, the sun passes above and behind the hotel causing flaring in the lens. The early morning is the best time to take a photo of it.
The bus took us to Amsterdam Centraal station and we looked around for somewhere to have breakfast. Breakfast in the hotel is usually expensive with little choice for vegetarians so we prefer to find our own breakfast in town.
Another advantage of eating out is that you don’t know what you are going to find. It might be croissants and coffee or a traditional cooked breakfast or something else entirely. Today we found a crêpe bar which made a pleasant change from run-of-the-mill breakfasts.
After breakfast we took the train. You can perhaps see our destination on the train announcement display: Den Haag. The Hague, as we call it in English, occupies a somewhat anomalous place in Dutch political life. It is not the capital of the Netherlands – that honour belongs to Amsterdam – but it is the seat of government. The King and Queen also live in the Hague where they have two residences. It is the third largest city of the Netherlands.
We disembarked amid the bustle of the station that has the unsurprising name of Den Haag Centraal. We travelled on what is something of a novelty for British rail travellers, a double-decker train. Sitting on the upper deck allows good views of the countryside you pass through.
Den Haag Centraal is a large station comprising 12 tracks. It was completed in 1973 when it replaced the old Den Haag Staatspoor (opened May 1870). We were struck by the impressive ceiling.
Compared with the Gothic charm of Amsterdam Centraal (opened 1889), Den Haag’s station is of a rather dull ‘fishtank’ design.
We set out to explore and, as usual, we wandered as fancy took us. We thus arrived unexpectedly at Delft, which is a famous old town quite distinct from Den Haag, known for its much prized blue and white pottery. We found ourselves walking along this narrow street which is called Schoolstraat.
It was beginning to feel like lunchtime so we were quite pleased to happen upon this restaurant. It is called ‘t Koetshuys, which I think means ‘The Coach House’.
The interior had an historical feel to it and we found a welcoming atmosphere (being attended to in fluent English, of course).
After lunch we continued exploring. There are at least three canals, running along in parallel, in this district, and other bodies of water, and I have no idea of their names. They are crossed at intervals by hump-backed bridges. There may be barges and other craft on them.
This doorway kept me busy for a while and I am going to bore you with my thoughts and questions about the building it belongs to. First, note the Latin inscription in black immediately above the door, which makes reference to a ‘gymnasium’. It looks as though the building was once used as a school, which may possibly explain why the street is called Schoolstraat.
Next, note the sculpted gentlemen in Paddington Bear hats. I take it that they are merchants and they seem to be handling cloth of some kind. The name in lettering below the sculpted plaque reads ‘SAAI Greine en Stoffe-Hal’. I haven’t found translations for Greine or Stoffe but Stoffe suggests cloth to me and Hal surely indicates that this was once a merchants’ trading hall. If anyone can cast light on this do please let me know. (Update Oct 10 2015: Translations for these words have been kindly supplied by Baldwin Hamey – see comment below.)
The doorway has a date and this is in Roman numerals but these are somewhat strange to the eye used to Roman numerals as these are normally practised in the UK. Here is the date:
I am used to deciphering Roman numerals as this is done in Britain but the way it is done in the Netherlands puzzled me. What are these backwards-way-round Cs? In the end I looked it up and discovered that there are many different schemes of Roman numerals. One method (probably dating back to the Roman Empire) used a I (one) in brackets to indicate 1000. The brackets look like a C and a mirror-image C. Later, these 3 characters would be replaced by the letter M. So the first three characters in the date mean ‘1000’.
A I (one) with a single right-bracket means ‘half a thousand’, i.e. 500. This symbol later evolved into the more familiar D. The remaining characters, CCLXXV can be understood according to usual conventions.
The date is therefore (I) = 1000 plus I) = 500 plus CC = 200 plus LXXV = 75 or, adding it all together, 1775!
The Oude Kerk
This is the Oude Kerk (Old Church). I’m not sure how old the church is or whether the adjective ‘old’ has simply been added to distinguish it from newer churches. The church’s main claim to fame is that within it is a vault that served as the mausoleum of Johannes Vermeer (b. 1632) and his family. The artist died in 1675, having been preceded by three of his children.
This house attracted my attention for its fine and decorative design. Its size combined with the narrow street made it hard to photograph. The name, Gemeenlandshuis, is descriptive its present purpose, meaning a house used as HQ by one of the waterboards. Affixed to the façade is a notice in Dutch and English which reads as follows:
Very large and luxurious, late Gothic private house with stone façade and a nice turret. built for Jan de Huyter, largely about 1505. Since 1645 seat of the Dyke Conservancy Board of Delfland. Coats of arms above the entrance designed by Pieter Post (1652).
Here are a couple more scenery photos without any further comment:
The Hague is divided into eight districts and one of these is called Scheveningen. Among other things, it is famous as a seaside resort.
We made our way to the seaside and found a long beach of sand. For some reason, this made me think of the beach in Jacques Tati’s film Mr Hulot’s Holiday. There was a slightly old fashioned feel to it. The mood was more Broadstairs than Southend, one might say. People were taking their ease calmly, enjoying the sunshine and the various amenities.
Along the beach was a sort of undercroft which provided space for shops, bars and restaurants. Some restaurants also had tables out on the beach.
Scheveningen, as a seaside resort of course has a pier. It is actually Scheveningen’s second pier, the first, a wooden structure which was opened in 1901 and called the Queen Wilhermina Pier, was destroyed by fire during the Second World War. The current one was opened in 1961. We did not go onto it but you will find some more about it here.
It was now quite hot, too hot to continue walking up and down in the sun. We repaired to one of the beach cafes for cooling draughts of iced tea. After resting and cooling down, we started out again and made an enticing discovery.
I idly noticed this stall selling drinks and snacks and it was Tigger who spotted the interesting notice advertising Vlaamse Frites met mayo. The British love their chips but I doubt whether any nation makes than so badly as the British. Soggy, greasy, half burnt, half-frozen lumps of potato do not qualify as ‘chips’ in my vocabulary but it is all too often what is shoved at you under than designation. You have not had chips until you have had them in Belgium or the Netherlands. Here you find what, at the risk of mixing metaphors, I might call the champagne of chips.
Proper chips (not the hair-thin straws called ‘French fries’), properly cooked, crisp but not burnt, served in a paper cone with a dollop of mayonnaise on top. These ‘Flemish chips’ come close to being the natural destiny of potatoes. The mayo is so delicious that it is a game in itself trying to make it last all the way down to the last chip.
It was still so hot on the exposed beach that, having finished our chips, we retired to another bar for some more iced tea. Then we began the slow return to the station. We passed the above two objects, one an abstract monument or sculpture of some kind and the other an immoblised fishing boat. I didn’t see any label or explanation of either and prefer not to engage in guesswork. If you know anything about them, please let me know.
To return to the station, we decided to take a tram. Trams are making a comeback in some towns in the UK and I think we should welcome them. The Dutch, though, do trams extremely well. Theirs are slightly old-fashioned and fun to ride. All too soon the journey was over and we disembarked at the station to catch our train back to Amsterdam.