|Day 37: Capital of The Netherlands - Den Haag
From Amsterdam we took a Tram to the train station and were able to catch a train as soon as we arrived! Which meant that we got to Den Haag (The Hague) at 10:30, even after taking our time in Amsterdam this morning :) Bonus.
Our hostel was only a quick 5 minute walk from the train station. After dropping off our luggage (too early to check in), we headed back to the train station to rent some bikes. Seriously, if you ever go to the Netherlands you have to plan on spending a lot of time on bikes ... it is so easy to be a cyclist, everyones uses them, and the country is so flat. Again, you really can't experience the Netherlands properly if you don't do it from the seat of a bicycle!
So we took to the streets of Den Haag, which are so much sleepier than Amsterdam. In fact, we soon found (and Laura remembered) Den Haag to be a very quiet and unexciting place. Which, I suppose, was kind of nice after the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. It was still quite a contrast, not to mention odd for a National Capital.
We sped up the main street to the Dutch Parliament, the Binnenhof. It took us some time to find the local VVV (tourist information), and after a photo-opp outside the outer walls of Binnenhof it was noon and we were hungry. There were many very posh shops along some very narrow streets (Buitenfhof) right across from the Parliament, but we were able to find a reasonable bagel cafe.
Binnenof is nothing like any other capital you have seen before. It's history is, I would argue, likely the most storied and chaotic of any world capital. The buildings certainly reflect this. If you are looking for fancy and flashy architecture, don't go to the Binnenhof. BUT the really cool thing about it is that the central building, the Ridderzal (the Knight's Hall), is a 13th Century Castle-like structure and very impressive in its Medieval simplicity. It reminded both of us of The Friendly Giant, although there was no drawbridge, or giraffe. We were initially annoyed because there were repair trucks and pressure washers everywhere around the buildings, and that sort of took away from the overall look.
PLUS it was RAINING AGAIN. Europe has not been kind to us with weather ... so far Groningen is the only place where it did not rain.
We only spent about 30 minutes at the Binnenhof, and since there wasn't another tour of the interior until 3 hours later ... we strolled around the outer walls, generally finding that there isn't much to see (except statues of William II of Orange). We glimpsed an outside view of the art museum, Mauritshuis, and proceeded to walk around the lake over which the Dutch Parliament reflects. It was a pleasant walk, offering nice views of the Binnenhof while walking along tree-lined paths. We came out opposite the Gevangenpoort [Prison's Gate] museum just beside the Buitenhof, where we had eaten lunch at the aforementioned Bagel Cafe.
We headed north out of the capital, past the Peace Palace ... site of the United Nations War Crimes tribuals, among other things. Once again we were loving being on the bikes!
Our next stop was basically on the boundary between Den Haag and Schevinegen, a Theme Park made up entirely of miniatures called Madurodam. This was particularly interesting for Caleb (Laura had been there before) because of a piece of Wind Orchestra music that he conducted last year which was inspired by the sites inside Madurodam. All of the miniatures inside are scale representations of various cities, buildings, and geographical features of the Netherlands. It was really quite fun, despite the busy-ness of it all (many families with kids, plus the usual tourist groups), although once again our fun was interrupted by RAIN. Nonetheless, we enjoyed walking around, taking pictures, and seeing things that we have experienced in real life in the past few days - in Miniature! There were some fun interactive exhibits that took your small change in exchange for some yummy Droste chocolate, or a small pair of wooden shoes. Definitely a fun was to obtain souveniers :)
We were glad we did Madurodam before heading to the beaches of Scheveningen, because just as we were leaving, the rain stopped, and the sky cleared, and we got our first glimpse of BLUE SKY since ... Groningen.