The Hague is The Netherlands’ less than a fascinating city, at least for us. We visited The Netherland’s third-largest city and national capital primarily for one art museum—the Mauritius—and its proximity to two cities for a day trip, Delft and Rotterdam. Still, we explored some of its highlights on a raining afternoon and had some nice meals.
Exploring The Hague
- Het Plein is a square where the 1200 AD Count of Holland chose to build a hunting lodge in which he could escape city life demands. Rotterdam and Amsterdam both soon built embassies/lobbying offices around it and a town soon developed. Today, government ministries surround the square. At its center is a statue of William den Eerste (aka, William of Orange) who mobilized the Netherlands revolt against Spain and won the country’s independence.
- The majestic, 13th-century Gothic, Counts of Holland Castle now serves as the Parliament building. It has a small wing dedicated to the Prime Minister’s office. The front of the castle sits scenically on the banks of a small lake. The king’s working palace is located across the street from the Parliament.
- Binnenhof is the government center. Its outer court displays the flags of each of the country’s provinces over a canal. Its inner court contains a lovely, colonnaded courtyard surrounded by the inside walls of both houses of parliament. The majestic, 13th-century Hall of the Knights (restored in a somewhat idealized style in the 19th century), which is now used for ceremonial functions, sits in the middle of the courtyard.
- Escher Palace is one of the many city palaces (this one the winter palace of Queen Mother) that has been converted into a museum. It showcases the drawings of artist/architect E.C. Escher who renders 3D images into enigmatic 2D drawings.
- Royal Palace looks relatively modest from the front. It appears much, much larger from the back so citizens would not feel it to be an extravagant waste of money. It is currently used only for offices;
Lange Voorhout is a grand avenue built around a treed esplanade, that used to house palaces. The Hotel des Indies (which was the Nazi’s headquarters in WWII) and King William II Palace anchor the avenue. The street contains a number of historic buildings, a number of the largest of which now house embassies.
- Hotel des Indes anchors one end of Lang Voorhout. Baron van Brienen, a counselor to King William III, built this 19th-century luxury hotel primarily to host royal and diplomatic guests from Indonesia (the Netherlands last and largest colony) and parties. It became and remains the city’s most luxurious hotel. It became the Nazi’s headquarters in WWII. On an interesting note, Jewish people successfully hid in the top of the building, right over the Nazis.
- King William II Palace is a small, 1850, urban mansion whose currently small garden originally occupied two entire city neighborhoods;
The Hague Old Town
We then made our way to the center of Old Town. Its main square used to be home to the city’s fish market and which gave rise to the city’s symbol of a stork. One enterprising official apparently, decided to train storks to clean the town square at the end of the day by eating the waste from the market. The square is currently home to the:
- “Big Church”, a large, 15th-century, Gothic Catholic church which the Protestant church stripped of its details. While it is generally empty, it is sometimes used for exhibitions and events.
- Old City Hall, a fun, 16th-century Renaissance tower with red shutters, that was expanded in the 18th century via the addition of a large wing.
Buitenhof is a street in Old Town that divides the government offices from the commercial part of down. Today stores line the street. Among this area’s more noteworthy sights are:
- Noordeinde’s elegant shops with its Art Nouveau storefronts and its 1920’s-era, hand-crafted department store that was designed as a counterpoint to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles of the time.
- The Passage, an elegant, glass enclosed, 1885 shopping arcade that is generally of Neo-Classic style, although a subsequently added wing is more Deco style.
Beyond the central city is the Vredespaleis, or Peace Palace. Andrew Carnegie funded this huge, elaborate turreted cathedral of peach to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration that the 1899 Hague Conference designated. Although it was intended to maintain peace by providing a neutral body for working out disputes, the outbreak of WWI caused it to fail. It has since been repurposed as the International Court of Justice, the so-called World Court.
This small, world-renown museum owns about 800 works from the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent works from other North European (especially German and Flemish) Old Masters from the 15th through 19th centuries. A rotating subset of these are displayed in the 17th Classical-style century mansion of Count Johan Maurits. Maurits was Brazil’s governor who militarily secured additional territory for and managed the sugar plantations of his employer, the Dutch West India Company. The downside of his work was that he began the practice of bringing African slaves to Brazil to work the sugar cane plantations.
Ethical issues to the side, the mansion and the art are magnificent. The rooms, with their molding, wood floors and in the case of the ballroom and a couple of salons, wall and ceiling murals, and the pretty, but somewhat incongruous ceiling murals atop the third-floor landing are themselves, works of art.
Paints include works by masters including Rembrandt, Rubens, Brueghal, van Dyck, Jacob Jouraens, Hans Holbein, Jan Steen, Vermeer and many others, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Steen were particularly well represented during our visit. Although it’s almost impossible to select “favorites from such an amazing collections, we were particularly impressed by works including:
- Rubens and Brueghal’s collaboration on Adam and Eve;
- Michel Sittow’s Portrait of a Man;
- Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (the artist’s first major commission) and the contrast between his youthful, self-confident 1629, and sorrowful, elderly 1669 Self Portraits;
- Vermeer’s tranquil, idealized View of Delft and his iconic Girl with the Pearl Earring;
- Jan Steen’s wise and humorous, As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young; and a number of
- Hans Holbein’s sensitive portraits.
The Hague Restaurants
- Cottontree City, where were both very happy with our dishes: tender, juicy pheasant, (with sauerkraut, whipped potatoes) and sautéed scallops (Jerusalem artichoke, chorizo, smoked sausage and au jus). We were divided on the tuna tartare (with avocado) but overall we liked the restaurant. Our wine was a Red Rhone grenache and syrah blend. It was fruity, with a bit of spice, a bit of an edge on the back.
- Restaurant Wox is a pleasant fresh, small-plate, seafood and sashimi restaurant. Tom enjoyed his tiger prawns in nicely-spiced caramelized chili sauce with beans. Joyce was less than impressed with her seabass in a less tasty chili-butter sauce with spinach. Tom sampled a local Double IPA, this a Kompaan Hand Lager.
- Jamey Bennett is a popular, well-recommended café and restaurant where we stopped for a drink and stayed for dinner. We ordered three small plates. The raw tuna pizza on a thin, one-leaf phyllo dough crust topped with truffle mayo was, by far our favorite. The Iberian pork ribs with cola glaze and Macadamia nuts was fine but lacked taste. The pan-fried red sea bream fillet on a bed of pumpkin with smoked shitakes, sesame and daikon sounded the most interesting, but was the most disappointing as it totally lacked flavor. Wine was an earthy 2015 Baron Ley Reserva Rioja that had little fruit or finished.
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