The Dutch Royal City
The Hague is often called The Widow of
Indonesia as many of the
plantation owners and employees of the Dutch
came from here and returned to here. The exotic flavours
they brought back
show up in almost evey corner of this elegant Dutch
Morning sun streams in through large windows, bouncing off
white linen and silver, and making the red velvet chairs glow. In one corner,
men in conservative business suits and crisp white shirts sit drinking their
morning coffee and consulting their iPhones.
It’s eight am on Monday morning in the Hotel des Indes
favoured headquarters for lawyers, politicians and diplomats who conduct
business in The Hague.
And since this is the Royal City,
home of the World Court
and the Dutch parliament, there is much serious business to be done.
There’s a problem, though.
Step outside the revolving brass doors of Hotel des Indes,
and you face the seductive charms of the Lange Voorhout. A corridor of green linden trees, a famous
bi-weekly outdoor antique market, little secret gardens, and casual sidewalk
cafes make thinking about business difficult.
Welcome to the vibrant dichotomy that is The
Hague, a city that has been labelled the greenest city in Northern Europe as well as the world centre for peace and
Its decisions affect the whole
world, and its Indonesian rijstaffel is world famous.
Somehow these competing elements manage to strike a balance
– the serious business of world issues and governance finds a comfortable fit
with the not so serious business of enjoying the simpler pleasures of life –
dining, shopping, lounging in the sun and people watching, in this, one of the
world’s most cosmopolitan cities.
First you have the unexpected juxtaposition of buildings in
the old city. The elegant town houses and
embassies that line the Lange Voorhout as it parades up to the 13th
century Binnenhof, the buildings that house the Dutch parliament, could be
illustrations in a textbook of classical architecture.
But raise your eyes above the Binnenhof and you’ll see the
modern skyline, where tall skyscrapers are multiplying. It doesn’t feel like a disconnect,
however. There are traditional canal
house design elements suggested in several shapes. In typical Dutch fashion, the locals have
given each building a nickname – the pristine white city hall designed by
Richard Meier is called “The Candy Box”, the green domed one is labelled “The
Citron Press” and Michael Graves’
Castalia, the new Ministry of Health building, is deemed “The Tits of Den Haag” because of its two distinctive pointed towers.
But there are more layers to the architectural landscape of
the city. The Hague is the Art Nouveau capital
of the Netherlands.
Remember to look up often as you walk through the streets of Den Haag to see
the architectural details that have been preserved above shops and cafes.
away from the Binnenhof and find the Denneweg, then turn right along
Jagerstraat and left onto Smidwater. Here
you’ll find #26, a faithful example of Art Nouveau architecture that is privately
owned and in the process of being restored to its former glory. The mail slot is a very cool stylized cat.
contrast, just across the canal is #16 Nieuwe Uitleg, where the exotic dancer
and suspected spy Mata Hari lived.
Bijenkorf Department Store in the Grote Markt area is a fine example of The
Amsterdam School of architecture.
Radiating out from this sedate city heart are streets that
bend and twist, opening onto ‘pleins’, or squares, offering seductive shopping
and cafes that lure you to linger for a coffee and a stroopwaffel, the thin
waffle cookie with a thick syrup in the middle that the Dutch make so well.
The shopping is good. Along Hoogestraat you’ll find Ogen,
Eduard Pelger, Dunklemens (famous for its croquettes), all up market Dutch
shops. If remarkable undergarments
interest you, be sure to visit Marlies Dekkers’ shop on the Denneweg to pick up
a unique and provocative ‘little nothing’. Amble by the interesting shops in
the grand glass roofed Passage, or swan around in the cafes and sops in the new
Haagshe Bluf (The Hague Boast!).
The Nooreinde is acknowledged to be the most fashionable
shopping street. The Maison de Bonneterie is an upscale department store that
is frequented by Queen Beatrix. Pauw, Purdey
and Hoogeweegen Rouwers are rumoured to be favourite shops of the young Dutch
royals. Gallery Arte Fortunata features
artist Bas Meeuws whose photographs of floral still life, epoxy-sealed on metal,
are an homage to the golden age masterpieces of Bosschart and van Aelst.
And further along, on the Paleis promenade, cheek by jowl
with the shops and galleries, is the Paleis Noordeinde, Queen Beatrix’s working
palace. It is not open to the public,
but you can walk through the restful palace gardens on the opposite side.
Farther out from the centre in the well treed neighbourhoods
that are home to many ambassadors, there’s the imposing bulk of the Peace Palace,
home of the International Court of Justice.
If it wasn’t already difficult to concentrate on work in
this lively metropolis, there is the added allure of the beach. A fifteen
minute tram ride brings you to a whole new face of The Hague.
The beach culture at Scheveningen
city dwellers out to swim in the North Sea,
walk the miles of white beaches and gentle dunes or to lounge in the sun on
plump sofas with a glass of cold beer in one of the many clubs along the
The candy-confection Kurhaus
Hotel sits like a Victorian lady in the middle of the boardwalk busyness.
There are evening fireworks shows over the pier
Another compelling distraction is the museums of The Hague, the city’s real
treasures. The Mauritshaus, labelled the
most beautiful museum in the world by the New York Times, is hands down my
favourite museum. The building has just re-opened after extensive renovations. It is a small museum, but
its collection, displayed in high ceilinged rooms painted in jewelbox colours,
is spectacular. It contains some of the most famous
works from the old Dutch Masters, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl
Earring and View of Delft, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr.
Nicolaes Tulp and Carel Fabritius’
The Escher Museum,
housed in a former palace on the Lange Voorhout, the Museum Het Paleis, displays
the convoluted works of the famous Dutch Graphic artist.
The Gemeentemuseum (Municipal Museum) specializes in classical modern
art, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Monet, Sisley, Degas, Bacon and a large collection of
Mondrians. The building was designed by Hendrik Berlage, a Dutch architect who
pioneered modern archtiecure.
A visit to Panorama Mesdag, the
oldest 19th-century panorama in the world that's still in its original site, is
like a journey to the past. It is a
cylindrical painting from 1881, created by Hendrik Willem Mesdag of The Hague School.
It shows a vista of the sea and the dunes at Scheveningen.
These are all special museums,
beguiling to any art lover, and they add a cultured edge to the city.
There’s plenty of inducements to linger over dinner. You can
dine here very well. The Hague is often called The Widow of
Indonesia as many of the plantation owners and employees of the Dutch East
India Company came from here and returned to here.
Garoeda is one of many Indonesian restaurants specializing
in the Rijstaffel, or Rice Table, a dizzying collection of dishes served on a
bed of rice.
is more Dutch than Indonesian in style,” says my guide Remco. “We don’t like to
waste anything, so the ladies who ran households on plantations wouldn’t throw
out the leftovers. Instead they had them
served in a collection, with rice, at the end of the week.” Now it’s a culinary tour de force of Indonesian
specialties, but it was originally the result of Dutch parsimony.
Reflecting the multicultural nature of its people, The Hague has many international
restaurants. Wox is a new Japanese
fusion restaurant near the Hojviver, the pond that surrounds the parliament. You can watch Dutch parliamentarians coming
and going from its windows.
Saur is one of the best fish restaurants in the city, while
Taste is a wine bar with an outdoor patio that looks out to the hojviver and
the Mauritsthaus. T’Ogenblik is a sweet café that was recently voted the
restaurant with the best service in the Netherlands.
Cafes like It’s Raining Fishes
and Pulchri have hidden
garden patios for a quiet meal and there are quaint prooflocals like Djuiden on
to enjoy a chilled jenever, the Dutch
style gin, at the end of an evening.
to stop at the Pizza Hut at the Noordeinde 140, not for the pizza but to look
at the interior. The building dates from
1707, and the ceiling decoration and fireplace are original.
And when work get too oppressive, locals can slip away to
sit in one of the 100 or so hidden hofjes, enclosed garden residences
originally built as almshouses to house the elderly poor, but now lovely
secluded garden apartments.
It may be difficult to stay focused on work in The Hague, but it is very
easy to enjoy the pleasures of this worldly city.
Air Transat, Air Canada, fly
regularly to Schiphol
Airport. Catch the train out of the airport and you
will be in The Hague
in about forty minutes. There are frequent
trains each hour.
Getting Around: This is an easily walkable city but there is
also a convenient network of trams that will take you all through the city and
out to the Dunes.
Where to Stay
Hotel Des Indes
Lange Voorhout 54-56