Photo of Binnenhof acknowledgement to Wikipedia.

Den Haag 2009

24th October 09 - 25th October 09


Anyone prepared to get out bed at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning, particularly after only having had about 5 hours sleep, rush off to Stansted Airport and suffer the indignities of Ryan Air, simply to get to a concert for one night on the continent, is either totally insane or worthy of "brownie points", as Dave Bainbridge suggest. I decided to drive to Stansted rather than take the train, shuttle bus to the terminal in time for departure at 06h55, arrival in Eindhoven around 09h00. The clocks in the UK had shifted, so the flight duration of 45 minutes seemed to send Ryan Air crew into frenzied, rushed panic. My brand spanking new North Face rucksack purchased the day before being my only luggage, check-in was a doddle. At Eindhoven, the 401 airport bus took me directly to the railway station through the neat yet sterile suburbs of the city, past the gleaming Philips football stadium. Not having done too much organising, I had been forewarned by (Dutch) Jenny at the office, so it transpired as Jenny had predicted, that the simple act of purchasing a rail ticket at the ticket issuing machine would be problematic when using my Visa card. Indeed, the ticket office also refused to accept it (only Maestro) and so I was grateful to Jenny for having lent me 40. The rail journey proved pleasant if uneventful, notwithstanding the questions from a fellow group of inquisitive passengers from down south on an outing for the day, as to what I was doing in their country. The fact that it was for a concert took them by surprise.


Luden Café on Lange Poten


Art Nouveau façade of Luden Café

  After a connection in Den Haag central station, I arrived in Zoetermeer. Upon leaving the station building, I crossed Mandela Square (surely they could have chosen something more appropriate to honour his great name), my enthusiasm was soon tempered when I realised that the town centre was at least half an hour's walk away. At least the rain was only just holding off, though my problems were only just beginning. Once I found a tourist information office, I mused somewhat optimistically that finding cheap accommodation would be a formality...maybe. I located a huge modern shopping centre that looked no different to most others and wandered around helplessly in search for the elusive beacon that is the 'i'. Instead I found a police station and the helpful woman officer on duty enthusiastically gave me directions to a Tourist Info Office which, unbeknown to her, had long since closed down. Helpful staff at a travel bureau next door went online, yet it soon became apparent that the only accommodation I was likely to find in Zoetermeer was a hotel, at a cost of at least 75, not quite what I had in mind.

With time on my hands till the concert in the evening, I decided to head back to Den Haag. Not wishing the long walk back to the station first though, I decided to hedge my bets on taking the metro that passed by the shopping centre, which headed directly into that city. With no ticket office or ticket machine to speak of, I was advised to buy a strip of tickets at.....the shopping centre. It's so blindingly obvious, unless of course, you're a tourist like me.  Just stand in a single-file queue for half an hour at a newsagent with a single, solitary attendant behind the counter, then discover that, no, they don't sell them any longer. If you can somehow muster the patience to stand in another queue somewhere else for another half an hour (remember it's a Saturday morning), then you will eventually be rewarded with the purchase of the aforementioned ticket strip - it's that easy! Having boarded the swanky metro, the ticket has to be inserted into a slot in a small box in the cabin and punched, once you've figured out or merely guessed as to the number of zones taken up by your journey. The good thing I realised later is that the ticket can be used anywhere in the country. So you eventually learn the system but for tourists like me, it takes a while longer.

The building on Lange Poten which once housed the Department of Justice, on the west side of Het Plein.

From Den Haag Centraal I took tram 21 (I asked) to Den Haag Hollands Spoor (HS) and after initially heading off in the wrong direction, I eventually located the Stayokay Hostel in Scheepmakersstraat. Expecting a dishevelled, rundown establishment, I was delighted to find it was just what I wanted, with available rooms, or should I say beds - one share's a dormitory with five others, at a cost of 28, which I didn't mind at all. Then the funniest thing happened. This Dutch guy burst into the hostel and confronted Stayokay staff with some question about directions to Groningen (it's miles away). He had obviously been to a watering hole of some description but wasn't incoherently drunk, just up for a conversation. Turning to a group standing before me, he addressed them as "jonge mense" but as his gaze shifted and focussed in my direction, he yelled as he pointed at me, saying "you're not so young!" Announcing his age as 44, at the top of his voice, he demanded to know how old I was. His curiosity not yet satisfied, next came the inevitable "which country are you from?" and then started guessing. On the third attempt he got it right and after my acknowledgement, which seemed to surprise him more than it did me, he asked again "South Africa?" before telling me about someone he knew who had been there and blah-di-blah-di-blah. Though he was being very direct, in no way did I feel threatened. On the contrary, I found it somewhat amusing.

The façade of the former Department of Justice building, on Lange Poten.


The Passage, the oldest covered shopping arcade in the Netherlands.


View of the cupola of The Sting Store (nicknamed the cookie jar) at in the direction of Grote Kerk.


The Sting Store.

It only got better after that. In the dormitory, I met an Afghan refugee who had been in Holland for more than 10 years, having been granted asylum. He was a school teacher and had been through a rough time, not having seen his wife (who had been abused in prison) and two children and a desperately ill mother. Asad had decided to request repatriation to Afghanistan, in so doing ending his asylum status in the Netherlands. He appeared disorientated, depressed and deep in thought and took a shine to me when I expressed genuine interest in his background, his current situation and his plans for the future. No-one had shown him that kind of interest before, he claimed. Just then an Aussie by the name of Bruce (I tell not a lie) entered the dormitory and lambasted Asad for having smoked in the room. In fact he was a chain smoker. As forthright as Aussies typically are, he proceeded to tell me that he worked for Australian waterworks in Darwin (pronounced "Daaahwin") and was on a six month journey through Europe visiting real and model train museums, after leaving the missus back home (I can honestly say this with a straight face). After a shower and a rest, I left for De Boerderij, ready for action, retracing my earlier route.

My impressions of the Iona gig at De Boerderij, 145 Amerikaweg, Zoetermeer, the reason for the weekend trip, are documented in my Concerts section. Doors opened around 19h30 and the concert swung into action around 20h30. With events winding up at 22h15, I took a metro back into Den Haag, Stayokay hostel and my much-needed bed for the night. Four a.m. was beginning to catch up with me. I wandered downstairs after showering and joined Bruce at breakfast. Later I was joined by Asad.  I packed and checked out, deciding to explore Den Haag for the day, after taking tram 21 from Rijswijkseplein, the nearest stop to the hostel. The bad weather had cleared and it turned into a glorious, sunny day, though somewhat blustery. From Centraal I strolled off down Korte Poten into Lange Poten. Few people were out and about as I reached Het Plein, a large square fronted by side-walk cafés gradually opening for the day. This is where I first encountered the first of a number of stunning old parliamentary buildings that define Den Haag as the seat of Dutch government, but, somewhat anomalously, not the official capital of the Netherlands, a role set aside by the Dutch constitution for Amsterdam.  


Grote Kerk or Sint-Jakobskerk.


View down Molenstraat, Den Haag.


Bicycles are synonymous with many Dutch cities - some entrepreneurs have created swanky designer bikes.




View down Prinsestraat, not far from Paleis Tuin.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands lives and works in The Hague. All foreign embassies and government ministries are located in the city, as well as the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Supreme Court), the Raad van State (Council of State) and lobbyists. The Hague is also the de facto judicial capital of the United Nations, being the location of its primary judicial institutions. A big part of the Dutch history is still visible in The Hague, with a lot of street names referring to the former Netherlands East Indies. A large part of the west of The Hague was destroyed during WW II. Het Plein and the Grote Markt are the two main squares in the centre of The Hague. Adjacent to one side of Het Plein lies Tweede Kamer (second chamber), which together with the Eerste Kamer (first chamber), are the lower and upper houses forming the Staten Generaal (Estates-General). The entrance to Tweede Kamer, however, is a modern rather incongruous-looking arch next to the old building which was once home to the Department of Justice. Until a few years ago the Ministry of the Interior, the Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) and the Ministry of Justice were on the west side of the square, the Ministry of Defense on the south side and the Foreign Ministry on the east side, but most of these have now moved to new premises. The buildings on the west side are being converted for use by members of Parliament. In the centre of Het Plein is a bronze statue of William The Silent. William I, Prince of Orange (April 24, 1533—July 10, 1584) or simply William of Orange, as he was also known, was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648.

View of Binnenhof looking across Hofvijver.


Courtyards of the Binnenhof.


Binnenhof façade.


View through one of a number of archways connecting the inner courtyards of Binnenhof.

If you're thinking at this stage (after this history lesson) that it's a perfect opportunity to pop in at one of Den Haag's best known coffee shops, then I might have been tempted to recommend Café Brasserie Dudok, but for yet another experience in poor customer service. After waiting 15 minutes for my order to be taken along with a number of other folk, I waited more than 20 minutes without receiving my order, whilst the others received theirs, along with other customers who had arrived after I had. It was a simple order - a cappuccino and a slice of cake - they didn't have to bake it either! When I saw other customers having emptied their cups and polished off their cake, after having passed some more time sending a mobile text to friends and family, with still no sign of my order, I was incensed!  I got up and walked out. I passed through The Passage, the oldest covered shopping arcade in the Netherlands, restored to its former glory and extended, eventually reaching De Grote Kerk, which can easily be spotted by its 330 foot tall clock tower.  Known also as St. Jacob's Church (Sint-Jakobskerk), the building dates back to the 14th century. It is a truly splendid building however it seemed shut to the public.

Here I found another coffee shop at a square with the church to one side, where I had more luck than with my order. Refreshed, I took a walk through Paleistuinen (Palace Gardens), beautiful yet modest in size. Paleis Noordeinde, adjoining the gardens, is the “workpalace” of the Dutch Queen Beatrix. On my way back I reached the Binnenhof, where the House of Parliament are located, adjacent to a pond (a natural dunelake) known as the Hofvijver.  Visitors are able to stroll through the arches and courtyards of the Binnenhof until one reaches the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, adjacent to the Tweede Kamer, which houses a collection of works by famous Dutch painters. The Hague originated around 1230, when Floris IV, Count Of Holland, purchased land alongside the Hofvijver, in order to build a hunting residence. In 1248 William II, decided to extend the residence to a palace. He died in 1256 before this palace was completed, but parts of it were finished by his son Floris V, of which the Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall), still extant, is the most prominent. It is still used for political events, such as the annual speech from the throne by the monarch.


Binnenhof archway and Coat-of-Arms.


Binnenhof façade.


Skyscrapers viewed from Heerengracht.


I arrived at Centraal within minutes of the departure of the 14h51 train to Eindhoven, arrival 16h00. A quick bus trip to the airport, I relaxed in the airport restaurant preparing some notes for my diary, mellowing to a glass or two of red wine in the process, with departure scheduled for only 19h35. Chaos ensued when all departing passengers were routed via customs with only two officials on duty, causing a bottleneck with the closure of departure gates appearing imminent. But that presented me the opportunity of chatting to a gorgeous Dutch blond with beautiful eyes and a lovely smile, a social worker by profession, who went by the name of Doris.  A shame I did not get her contact details.


[Iona at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer - the Concert]

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