Den Haag

I’m on my own as Peg flies to Valencia for a ten day visit. I am staying in the small village called Leidshendam, which sits between Leiden and Den Haag, The Hague, as its known in English. It’s a short walk to the bus. I flick my chipkaart at the reader as I board, feeling like a real pro at public transit, where you are charged by distance. The cost is determined and flashed on the screen when you check out, if you remember to do so. If not they have a website where you can do so and avoid a large charge. I know these things now.

Leidshandam
Leidshandam

My destination is the Escher Museum, on embassy row in Den Haag. However I follow my talking pocket first to the Academiewinkle, looking for art supplies. I unexpectedly find myself in the Royal Academy of Art, which together with the Royal Conservatory form the University of the Arts The Hague- that’s how they write it on their website, no comma. Founded, my goodness, in 1692. They must have been wearing Pilgrim outfits. They’ve been in this building since 1839, as I found out later. That’s what the old paint and total lack of decor suggest as I walk down the dingy corridors in the basement where they put the store.

So it’s not a stand alone art shop but one that primarily serves students- no problem. They always serve non-students as well so I went in with confidence. The friendly guy switches seamlessly to Engles (English), and found what I was looking for, hidden behind some just arrived inventory. I never would have it on my own. I leave with my stuff, expecting to see scantily clad models around running to the next life drawing class. Instead there were just students, no doubt some of the best the country, and even the world, has to offer.

After that longish walk from Den Haag Central I make another to Embassy Row. The Escher Museum is in what was once a royal palace. The Dutch still have royalty, strangely enough as democratically run as they are, all 17 political parties worth.

museum
Escher Museum

I start in the basement. That’s where you have to leave your backpack. The way down and up are via separate servant staircases, and climb the latter you have to walk through the MC Cafe. Not the McCafe, the MC Cafe. I’m mighty glad I did so. The woman at the counter said there was a special on, coffee and a cake for 6.25, not exactly cheap, but I went for it as it was well past tensies. Pushing early lunch even. I am glad I did. The caramel cake is out of this world! A crunchy – is that the word?- top and a creamy inside. My my.

coffee and carmel
Tensies with Queen Mother. She made that fab caramel cake I bet.

Maurits Cornelius Escher (1898-1972) was Dutch – I did not know that – and one of the most famous graphic artists- that I knew. He worked wood block for black and white high contrast effects, and lithographs for shading. His big thing was the play with perspective and creating mathematical themes, despite not having any but basic math skills. He explored infinity through transitions and the art equivalent of “…” (dot dot dot). Tesselations – I’d never seen that word before. It’s a tiling, in this case a graphic tiling using geometric shapes, called tiles, and it’s a mathematical concept as well. Think of the geometric designs in Islamic art and you can get a good idea of what a tesselation is. It’s also found in quilting. Escher’s art became well known among scientists and mathematicians, and in popular culture, especially after it was featured In April of 1966 by Martin Gardner in Scientific American. It was in the Mathematical Games column.

coast of amalfi
Coast of Amalfi
day and night
Day and Night
convex and concave
Convex and Concave

Escher attended the Technical College of Delft (1918) and then the Haarlem School of Decorative Arts (1919-22), where he studied drawing and woodcuts. He became enamored with the tile work in the Alhambra after a journey there, following visits to Italy, living in Rome afterwards from 1923-35. Mussolini repelled him so they left. He and his wife moved to just outside Brussels after a brief sojourn in Switzerland. In January, 1941 the war forced his move to the Netherlands. All this and more I am learning from the excellent written commentary.

The lovely palace that is home to the museum was finished in 1764. The Hope family bought in in 1796. Mr. Hope was a financier of royal families. Perhaps this is why Napoleon once stayed in the building. Queen Emma bought it in 1896. She added a beautiful staircase that appears to go to the second floor, but as I found out, you have to use the old servant staircases to and from that level. The Queen never went to the second floor (third floor as counted in the US), as it was for the servants. She also had them install hot running water, rare at the time.

The exhibits are excellently explained in very good Engles (although on their website ‘aloud’ is confused with ‘allowed.’ English. It is so difficult to spell). I learn a bit about lithographs. A special ink or chalk is used to make a drawing on a special stone, (thus ‘litho’) made to be water and ink repellent. Only the oily drawn lines absorb the ink the artist uses to draw.

Afterwards I wander a bit around town. It’s seem so cool to me to be in the Hague. It is so famous, so important, so lovely at least in the good weather. The pedestrian streets and bike paths are alive, cars and trucks demur at crosswalks. People sit outdoors having snacks or lunches. I join them for a light lunch, having already had dessert and, oh I’d forgotten, I had a tensie before I left Leidshendam. The slices of local cheese with bits of lettuce and whatnot sprinked on top, the bread and the beer left me a bit overstocked.

colorful umbrellas
In front of the Palace of Justice

Den Haag is one of the most important cities in the world. It is the seat of the Netherlands government, although Amsterdam is the capitol. Here the Prime Minister and the Cabinet meet, and you find the States General, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State.  Den Haag is the home of the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Europol and some 200 other administrative bodies.

It’s an old city (circa 1320) replete with many fine examples of Golden Age, Art Deco and other architectural styles. It is the country’s third-largest city, with a population of 800,000.

We took a walking tour the other day, one of those where you tip the guide and otherwise there is no fee. We started at the Mauritshaus, now a museum, walking around it to the natural lake, once a source of fish for the inhabitants. There you see the Binnenhof (meaning Inner Court), now housing the Parliament, where the nation’s 17 political parties meet, and the PM’s office, which is in a small tower. The PM can be seen bicycling to and from work often, with a hundred thousand or more other residents doing the same, the guide explained. Parliament’s home is a large Gothic structure dating from the 14th century. It was begun by William II starting circa 1248 and finished under his son Floris V. There were four others name Floris? This I do not know.

parlianment rear
Binnenhaus. That little tower on the left is the office of the PM, next to the Maurithaus
parliament
Binnenhof

You might wonder how a nation can govern itself with so many parties. Perhaps the key is the country’s long term common enemy, water, lots of it very near, going by the name North Sea. The control of water is complicated and it’s always beckoning. With this common concern compromises and peace keeping are at the top of the agenda.

Perhaps you have also wondered how The Hague became the center for peace making. If not, start now.

The story starts with Tobias Asser, who initiated the first global Conference of Peace in 1899 (and again in 1907). These led to the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which served to settle international disputes. Andrew Carnegie funded the Peace Palace as its home. Following the founding of the League of Nations, The Hague housed the Permanent Court of International Justice, replaced by the International Court of Justice under the U.N.

Royal Dutch Shell is the world’s 5th largest business revenue producer, head quartered here. The Hague is the second most visited city in the country after Amsterdam. The King and Queen live here, and are of the House of Orange as in the once English king. He (the former, not the latter) gives an annual statement of the country’s goals at the Summer Palace, just a short distance from the Winter Palace, each built to allow maximum comfort from the season’s harshest weather, both on the tour of course.

The Hague has its share of museums, most notably the Mauritshuis, built by the governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil. We went there. It is not a huge museum but has some very famous paintings. There are a number of Rembrants, including perhaps his most famous self portrait, and two Vermeers, including Girl With a Pearl Earing.

pearl ear
Girl With Pearl Easing, Vermeer
rembrant self

Aside from Maurithaus: the Bredius (art and restoration of the building), Museon (science), Kunstmuseum (modern art), , the national postal museum Museum voor Communicatie, , Louis Couperus (novelist), Museum Beelden aan Zee (modern sculpture), the Gevangepoort, former prison, Haags Historisch (history). I went to the superbly done history museum, which sits across from the Binnenhaus. The introductory graphic alone is worth the price of admission. It shows the map of the city and points out what happened in what area along with the dates, starting with prehistory. The coastline was closer in then, to about where the city now stands. Sand and peat bogs extended the coast. Well before the time the Nazis blazoned an antitank ditch through the center of the city the coastline came to where it now lies. The RAF mistakenly bombed a neighborhood, the rubble salvaged for construction. The museum has an corona collection and charts the ethnic changes brought about by immigration.

Den Haag. Garybob says check it out!

market
Stumble across this street market in front of Palace of Justice- band, food stands, fruit and veg and cheese

Delft

July 7, 2019
 
Here’s another charming Dutch town, dating from the 13th century, important historically as well as being to this day the home of technological R&D in the Nederlands emanating from Delft’s University of Technology.  It is also famous for Delft pottery, porcelain made using Chinese techniques developed in the 14th century and much prized in Europe from the moment of its arrival.  Delft pottery came to be in the 16th century.  It remains popular.  Sales last year were in the $36M range.
 
Delft is a popular tourist destination, for its charming architecture and the excellent Delft porcelain museum, as well as shops galore.  There are weekly street markets, at least in summer, like in many Dutch towns of this size.

 

One of several remaining gates of the walled city

Delft’s city hall

Willem the Silent, the first of the House of Orange to reign in the country, is buried at the Nieuwe Kerk in 1584, where there is a monument to him.  The succeeding members of the royal family are also buried there, the latest being Queen Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard.  The church, dating from the 14th century, has a magnificent spire. 

Source: Wikipedia

The Oude Kerk dates from 1246.  It has a noticeable lean that builders tried to correct as it rose, without success.  Its most massive bell dates from 1570.  Due to its nine tons and the resultant vibrations, the ring it only on special occasions, such as the burial of a Dutch royal family. 
We toured Prinsenhof, Willem’s residence during the revolt from Spain.  Aside from some excellent portraits, it is also the interesting as the location of his assassination, ordered by the Duke of Alba, King Phillip’s representative.  You can still see the bullet holes on the staircase, enlarged by probing fingers before it was protected by a plastic cover.
 
Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) was born in this city.   Delft streets and home interiors were the subject of his fabulous paintings.  We visited the Vermeer Center.  There are no original paintings, while the reproductions are of modest quality.  The narrative is excellent, however, and all the explanations and the short video are in English.
The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602.  Delft then became a trading center, producing its wealth of architecture.