Monday, October 1, 2007

Den Haag and Delft

For the record: October came in at a very cool 48°, brrrr. I don't want to know what that is in Celsius as it will only feel colder out there. As I write this I celebrate a new week and new month, wondering how the kids made out getting back to the US.

The fascinating thing about travel is that when plans go astray, opportunities arise. Today was one of those times. Our original plan was to head to Den Haag (otherwise known as “The Hague”), to see Vermeer's painting "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" at a museum called The Mauritshuis. We took our now familiar #300 bus to the airport and picked up the train to Den Haag, passing through Delft on the way. The Hague is a pretty, compact city, with large government buildings, a modern center and the ever present (it seems) drizzle. It is a pleasant short walk past a park and large canal from the train station to the Mauritshuis.

Monday mornings have a certain feel to them I think, particularly if you are just observing and not participating. Not sure they want to start another week, people just seem resigned to their fate. No bounce in anyone’s step. There were the regular deliveries being made, including an interesting cheese delivery. You don’t see that in the US.

As we approached the Mauritshuis, we could see the huge "Girl" poster on the side of the building, our pulses quickened and we were thrilled to see that there was NO line at the entrance to the museum. We were quickly un-thrilled to see that the museum was closed … duh, Monday … we should have known better - nobody wants to be anywhere on Monday. Since we came through Delft on the way to Den Haag, and we had round trip tickets, how bout we go there? Yes.

Two things we noticed on the way back to the train station: the Henkie's Hoekie stand in the parking lot was not yet open (darn) and we got bikes. There were a slew (or better word if you can think of one) of bicycles outside the train station, which raised a couple of questions in my mind: how do you ever find your own upon return? and if one falls over ... ?

We made our short, 9 km. trip to Delft (which is just inland from Den Haag, and on the river seen in Vermeer’s paintings) in 20 minutes on a train that looked as though it had seen better days. Instead of row seeting, the car contained little compartments with sliding doors. On the train, which was almost empty, we were joined in our compartment by a young man who was going to a job interview in Tilbury, we think, and he was interesing and interested. Nice people.

What a pretty town! The woman in the magazine store at the train station sold us an excellent tour map of the city and when I asked her how to take the bus (in Amsterdam for instance you buy strips of tickets at the stores, or windows at the train/bus stations and they (or you typically) stamp them when you get onto the bus and cancel the appropriate number) she said “No bus … you walk” with such authority that we decided to walk. We are glad that we did.

It is a compact town, as picture-worthy as any we have been in (and that includes Annecy, France which is still number 1). We stopped at each and every spot marked on our map and read all about each. There are two main canals each with a number of (pick an adjective - pretty, charming, quaint, etc.) small, perfect bridges to cross. One thing we don't understand is why there are no railings on the side of the canals, and why there aren't more midnight dips resulting from an inebriated first step out of a hastily parked car.

An observation: the Dutch seem to be happy people, quick with a smile, and very friendly (not withstanding the morning fugue most everyone in the world seems to wallow in each Monday). We were standing on a corner looking at our map, and a very well dressed man stopped to ask us if we were lost and if there was anything he could do to help. A first in Europe.

There is style everywhere, even the door of the little Roti Schotels & Broodjes (whatever they are) shop which made us think of our Surinamese friend, Anne. Kat was clearly in style in her red scarf in front of a red-doored home (note the screens inside each window for privacy). After making the circuit we ended up at the main square which is surrounded by souvenir shops, (we bought a Delft tile and pin) and traditional pancake restaurants. We particulary liked the display of chainmail in the window of the “William of Orange” however Kat doesn't like pancakes, and I think of them as early morning fare. I settled on an omelet and Kat a ham and cheese sandwich and fries, all of which were very good.

At about 4:30 we trained back to Leiden (becoming routine now), then Schiphol where we went grocery shopping at the airport (pretty good selection and since the airport is also the train hub, it makes sense to have a mini-supermarket there) so we have a picnic just waiting to happen. We were able to keep the goodies cool in the room refrigerator (they think of everything).

(A note: Since Delft was not one of our planned stops, we were not as prepared as we otherwise might have been. Vermeer was born here, lived most of his short life here, is buried here, and it would have been a very short walk to the spot where he painted his View of Delft, that hangs in The Mauritshuis. Next time.)

We hope to take the car to Den Haag tomorrow morning then head back to Paris for a 4:00 car return. Kat went down to the lobby to do some internet stuff (while we were gone e-mails from Rick and Edward came in, so it’s comforting to know all is well back in the states.) So that’s it for now.

(ps. I did check out the "Northern Lights" and they were fantastic. And it looks like they might just shine on for one more night.)

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