What an adventure today was for us. We set out at about 10:00 am this Sunday morning. We rode the tramway (streetcar) to The Hague (Den Haag). We were there within city limits in about 15 minutes.
The Hague was quite invigorating for a Sunday morning. I can't imagine what a week day must be like (though we will find out when we leave to go to Cologne and to Paris, for that's the departing city). Once again I was so overwhelmed by the activity and the hustle and bustle. People everywhere, as well as streetcars, bikes and motor scooters.
My impression of what I thought the Netherlands would be like has been proven wrong time and time again. It is not a country of only quaint little scenic and picturesque views of row homes, tulips, canals, cows and pastures. We saw The Hague from its ghetto to the nicer homes and old traditions to the latest and greatest that technology and retail has to offer. The transportation system is so on point. It includes buses, trolleys, trains, and underground subways, all connected with such precise order. Today they were all free. A "free Sunday" it's called.
Both Delft and The Hague are ultimate cities for consumers. The stores and abundance matches and surpasses a lot of important cities of US, I believe. There is nothing lacking here and nothing that seems inaccessible. The people in both cities are so fashionable and so cosmopolitan. I have been to LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston and the verve of The Hague may surpass. The people and tourists seem to take full advantage of all that's offered. It's so impressive, I can only imagine what Amsterdam must have in store for me.
First we went to a park called Madurodam. This park is full of reduced replicas of important points-of-interests throughout The Netherlands. It's splendid. You would think it would be for children, but adults find it quite entertaining too. I know I did. We got there via the streetcar. We took one from Delft to the Den Haag Railway Station and then another one toward the beach (which is called Scheveningen). At one stop, a massive amount of people were waiting to get on board. We were packed like sardines. It was almost frightening. One of two times today that I almost lost Simon occurred on this ride. I couldn't get through the door due to the number of people. My backpack was preventing it and there was no room for others to move. Simon had fortunately made his way through and was waiting on the platform. The train could have closed it's doors and driven off at any time, but fortunately I got off in time. It was really something.
After spending time at Madurodam, we headed on to Scheveningen. While on the bus we spoke to some students/workers out for Sunday leisure time. They were a guy from France, a guy from Austria, and a girl from Bulgaria. It was quite fun to speak and interact with them. They spoke English (well, somewhat) and that is what prompted me to start a conversation with them.
Observation one for today: Most Dutch people do speak English, though some not so well. Even the people who have immigrated here speak it a little bit. I have felt so guilty throughout this vacation because I know so few words (my own fault for not practicing diligently). But people automatically think I speak Dutch and begin speaking to me and I'm caught speechless and looking stupid. Simon said I shouldn't feel guilty because he says he's able to tell that these people don't mind and love the opportunity to practice their English with me. That has been the case. I've only encountered one rude bus driver who yelled at me for not moving the right direction or something. Otherwise, these people have been so friendly and approachable, when I've had to interact. We also met two other Dutch girls with whom we had lively conversations. Simon is very outgoing and loves to strike up conversations, but I am getting better at it as well. I'm truly out of my element here and I just love it!
Anyway, at Scheveningen, it was as though we stepped off the tramway into paradise. A wonderful breeze from the North Sea, blue skies, people everywhere, malls, stores, casinos, which is a typical scenery for a lot of US cities, but you somehow know that you're in a foreign place and it all seems so atypical and different.
We entered a mall (passages, they're called) which lead to the beach. Literally thousands of people were walking the boardwalk, going to and fro. Thousands! Happy kids, strolling couples, eateries, activities, resorts, and the typical International representations of nationalities and races. Just beautiful, beautiful exotic and typical Dutch people.
After the boardwalk we walked to the tramway that took us to the Mauritshuis Museum. There we explored the halls and rooms displaying the works of Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens and other famous artists. There we saw the Girl with a Pearl Earring. It was an absolute wonderful experience and I was in awe of the collection there. I was very excited to be there.
After the museum, we strolled for a while and walked through the Parliament where the government is run. It's breathtaking. The Hague for the Netherlands is what Washington DC is to the US. The Hague also holds the international court, where trials for crimes against humanity and genocides are held; however, we didn't visit this court.
We walked through the streets and past canals, homes, and buildings that have existed for so many centuries but are still in their same forms and in use today for various offices, embassies, and other uses. One use is for a mall called De Passage, located inside an edifice from the 1800s. It's The Netherlands'oldest shopping center. As with a lot of shopping centers I've seen here, it is filled with a lot of popular, exclusive and high-end stores that would rival any other fashionable city. It's so easy to tell that there are many well-to-do people here...as well as the ones who struggle.
It was near De Passage where I nearly lost Simon. We were walking through an ocean of people when I looked behind me and saw that he was not there. I froze. Many things went through my head about whether or not he was mugged, had fallen down hurt, or something. I wondered how I would approach the police about finding him or if I should dare take the tramway back to his home (if I could find my way). But I did not panic. I waited, moving a few feet in each direction and searched for him in this sea of faces. Then I finally saw a few feet ahead his hand waving for me. What a relief.
After the walk through De Passage, we took the underground train to an Indonesian restaurant called Soeboer. It's been around since 1958. I've never eaten Indonesian food. We had a king's spread. Which from the looks of other tables, is just how it's done. We had over 15 dishes in front of us from which to choose. It's a favorite restaurant of Simon's and upon entering he spoke to the woman who runs things. She was happy to see him and said she would give us a good meal. She was very cool and friendly. We got a good meal.
After a very long day, we headed back for Delft. We arrived within ½ an hour. As we walked from the stop to Simon's home, I decided I wanted a Diet Coke (or Coca-Cola Light). Simon had to meet someone at his home soon after so he couldn't go with me to the Shell station not far from his home. We decided that he'd go on home, along with the items I'd purchased for the day, while I go to the convenience store. If I had not returned in the hour, he would come looking, I guess. I joked that he could call the police. But I felt really confident about being on my own. I was hoping there would be no need for me to have to speak and that I would just walk in, get the soda, and give the clerk a 5.00 Euro. Well, I was almost home free but upon checking me out the clerk started to make small talk. I finally had to let him know that I didn't speak Dutch, but English. As Simon had suggested and I had noted too, his face lit up and his demeanor became more friendly as he helped me select the correct coinage and offered a plastic bag. I was able to use my most frequently used phrase out of the door...Dank u weil, Meneer.
Yet another perfect day during my vacation.