Sunday, 23 June 2013

Paris: C'est La Vie

C'est la vie. 
That's life. 
And that, my friends, is the motto of the Parisians.

Have you ever experienced the pure bliss of observing the way Parisians talk, walk, laugh, eat and live? 
On the metro and walks along the Seine, by spending time with locals and trying to understand them, and from the tables of quaint boulangeries in St. Germain, I have watched many a Parisian come and go.

When a Parisian drinks wine, he doesn't pour it down his throat. He indulges all his senses to smell it, scrutinise it, delight in it. 
One evening during a loud dinner at a popular restaurant, I caught a glimpse of two locals opening a bottle of red. As if on cue they stopped talking and watched in a respectful reverie as the ruby contents spilled into their glasses. When they took their first sip it was as if the noise surrounding them had quietened to a whisper, allowing them three seconds of savouring silence. Peace in the midst of pandemonium.

Bread is consumed with gusto, the crunchy baguettes broken by hand and plastered with butter. On the way to mouths, crumbling pieces are often taken on a detour through the air as a point is being emphasised. The French speak as much with their facial expressions as with their hands, their conversations lined with movement and emotion.

Bread, cheese, chocolates, cakes and cooked meals are troublingly tasty, yet the French look amazing - a fact confirmed by a study from the Daily Mail
This might explain how four of my Dutch colleagues got stuck in an elevator in a Paris hotel by exceeding the weight limit. After ringing alarms, blinking lights and high-pitched yells from the flustered receptionist, a few (possibly awkward) moments were spent inside the confined space to calculate, perhaps a trifle too late, the allowed average weight per person. It came to a mere 70 kilograms.


Delicious Dishes


The French like slow mornings, and streets and offices are graveyards before 9 am. An hour is set aside each day for lunch laced with tranquil talking, and coffee breaks at the bustling coffee stations are essential to a workday. 
"Work hard, play hard" is the French's motto and it is made categorically clear that you will not find anyone in the office during the month of August when all will be enjoying a four-week summer holiday.

Parisians love Paris. Parisians love France. 
They enjoy the city as much as any of the wide-eyed tourists and will list a million things for you to do and see in their beautiful city.
One of the first sentences I was taught by a colleague was: "C'est beau la France." Beautiful France. 
The sentence bounced back-and forth between our mouths like a tennis ball at the Roland Garros until I could pounced "beau" in a satisfactory manner. 
"C'est beau la France. C'est beau la Paris."

When I attempted sliding the corners of my perfectly pronounced "beau" like a puzzle piece into my new home in the Netherlands, I was stopped short.
"What are you doing?" my colleague demanded with an appalled look. "C'est beau la Paris!" he declared.
"Have you ever been to Maastricht?" I asked hotly, defending my new hometown with vigor.
He smiled and shook his head, as if the thought alone was preposterous. "Look," he waved his hands, "you don't have to date a hundred people to find true love. When you find it, you know it. C'est beau la Paris."
And that was that, clear and simple.

In Paris, things are straightforward, transparent, simple. You say it as it is and you take things as they come. 
When an ache started scratching at my throat, I mentioned (not complained, mentioned) to a colleague that I might be catching a cold. He looked at me with a clear expression and replied with a shrug: "That's life."
No benevolent words wrapped cautiously in tissue-papered empathy. Just clear, exposed fact. It was refreshingly austere.
The next day, my cold was gone.
C'est la vie. 
That's s life. And life is good in beautiful Paris.


C'est la vie on the Seine

La Beau Paris

Friday, 21 June 2013

Paris: How to Learn French

These days I feel as though I'm standing with one foot in the Netherlands and one foot in France. I am constantly travelling between these two counties and while I'm loving every second, juggling two new unknowns does add a certain level of complexity to everyday life. It is therefore no wonder really, that I feel frozen in an indecisive vacuum between two languages: Dutch and French.
Just call me Belgium (and throw in a few chocolates while you're at it).

Home #1: Maastricht, The Netherlands


Home #2: Paris, France


When I arrived at our French office two months ago, I realised with a jolt that I could not understand a single word of the free-flowing conversation surrounding me. Because after you have casually thrown around a few "Bonjours", whatever else you have been taught in French class a gazillion years ago (introducing your family members and ordering apples from the market) is really of no interest to the grave gentlemen around the boardroom table.

Long gone were the days where my friends and I happily took turns ordering "Quatre. Vin. Chaud. S'il. Vous. Plait" at the ski-slopes of Chamonix and danced with delight, as much at the spicey gluhwein thrust into our gloved hands as the fact that we could speak la language. As I took my seat at the boardroom table it dawned on me that gluhwein was alas not consumed during business hours, in the summer, in quantities of four. My hopes to dazzle my French peers faded like a departing metro train into an underground tunnel.

Fond Memories


At the office I continuously fretted about not being able to find the bathroom through the maze of office cubicles. My concerns were completely unwarranted of course, since I could not for the life of me find a water cooler, vending machine or tap. I needed to learn French before I suffered from dehydration, or worse; mutism.

Voila: My Guide to Learning French was born.

Setting the Scene


Imagine finding yourself in a different country: 
Different place, different modes of transport, different weather, people, time zones, currency, fashion and food.

Now take away your ability to communicate in your first language. 
If it is Afrikaans, bury that accent in a deep, dark place - especially those harsh g's and r's that will cause the French to offer you a throat lozenge with a pained expression.

Take away the ability to communicate in your back-up, always present, everyone-can-speak-it-and-at-the-very-least-understand-it language. English is not on the 101 things the French like A Million things the French like list. 

Pronouncing the "r"


Completely dispose of the way you pronounce a proper English/American "r". You will not be able to pronounce 90% of French names, and consequently come across as an offensive foreigner, if you nostalgically cling to that "r".

If you are Afrikaans-speaking and used to "brei", dig back deep to the age of 2 when you pronounced "rooi ribbok ram" as "ggg-ooi ggg-ibbok ggg-am", which left your parents in a frenzied state of worry and your siblings howling with laughter at your speech defect. 
Forget every expensive speech lesson you have consequently taken and use that "ggg" sound instead of an "r".

The Ideal 3-Step Plan


Write down your ideal, optimistic plan of how you will learn French. 
Mine looked like this:
  1. Take French lessons.
  2. Listen to French music.
  3. Bask in the ambiance of the French that is being spoken and soak it up.
Now, snap back to reality. 
Scrutinise your work and social calender for the next year and honestly ask yourself if you will be able to fit in extensive (and expensive) French lessons twice a week. Search the internet to see if you can indeed learn a new language by simply listening to it (I'll save you the time: You can't).

The Realistic 10-Step Plan


Revise your ideal plan to a realistic, workable plan.
My new plan consisted of:
  1. Take French lessons.
  2. Listen to French music.
  3. Bask in the ambiance of the French that is being spoken around me and soak it up.
  1. Use a French dictionary. Reading the words out loud is almost as entertaining as reading a Marian Keyes novel.
  2. Read French newspapers. Refer to nr 1.
  3. Read signs on the metro. Refer to nr 1.
  4. Listen to random people's conversations. Refer to nr 1.
  5. Listen to colleagues' conversations. Refer to nr 1. Or use Google Translate to avoid paging frantically while whispering the word to yourself in a demented manner.
  6. Order food in French. Warning: Only attempt if you don't have a sensitive stomach.
  7. Remember at least 1 new French word per day.
  8. Use post-its and label items at home in French.
  9. Think out loud... In French. Although I usually get stuck after "J'ai faim".
  10. Get a French boyfriend. According to reliable sources this is the best way to learn French expressions (and kissing).

Metro Station Reading


One French word per day might not seem like much, but after a year I am hoping to go wild and boldly ask for directions to the bathroom.
Bonne chance! To all of us. 
But especially to the French who will have to endure us struggling, garbling, annoyingly persistent foreigners who want to learn their beautiful language.

Disclaimer: 
The possibility does exists that, in the future, the title of this blog post might be altered to "How NOT to Learn French".

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Epen: Ijs

Summer. 
Long, blissful days. Green meadows and flowers in bloom. Cycling with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.
Traces of summer are all around the Netherlands, but few things shout "summer!" the way ice cream does.

The town of Epen is situated a mere 20 km outside Maastricht, in a valley of rolling hills (Yes, hills! In the Netherlands!) where cows roam serenely and the sun sets late over the lush landscape. 
And what, might you ask, can be found in Epen?
Nothing, except for a few ruminant mammals and farmhouses. And the best ice cream in the world.
Therefore busloads of tourists and locals flock to Epen during the summertime to savour the legendary ice cream served at Wingbergerhoeve.



Wingbergerhoeve


"Drie bolletjes ijs, alstublieft." I pointed to the palette of colours on display with the fervent excitement of a sugar-deprived child. Three scoops might seem extravagant under alternate circumstances, but in Epen this was considered a very modest amount. The biggest option, a whopping nine scoops of different flavours, was the size of a travel-suitcase and equally jam-packed. Fruit, syrup and waffles accompanied the mountain of ice cream and for decorative purposes, a dash of whipped cream.

The owner considered my three-scoop request for a millisecond, realised that I was on the brink of missing out on one of life's greatest pleasures and decided that he would do everything in his power to keep me from making this colossal mistake.
"Take six scoops!" he said, showcasing the various flavours the way a magician would reveal a rabbit in his hat.
He had switched to English, undoubtedly to ensure that I fully comprehend the consequences of my decision.



A Giga-Sized Ijs


After several persuasive attempts (him), and nervous glances at the growing ice cream-frenzied crowd (me), I finally had my (three scoop) ice cream in hand. And what an ice cream it was. A sweet, delicious, summer-packed delight, savoured in the stillness of the countryside with the sun setting on the horizon.

Ijs in Epen: Now that's what I call summer.



Three Scoops

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Maastricht: Red Trash Bags

The best thing about living in a new country, is that all the mundane, routine tasks are suddenly a new adventure.
It's exciting to cycle to the store and jump daintily off your bike. It's such fun to discover yet another cereal packed with sweet chocolate flakes. It's a thrill to greet the cashier with a friendly "hoi" and an adrenaline rush to see if this time round, she'll hand you the receipt when you ask for "het bonnetje alstublieft" instead of saying "bless you".

The worst thing about living in a new country, is that all the mundane, routine tasks are suddenly a new adventure.
It's frustrating to get lost on your way to the store (yet again) and to struggle with your bike chain in the rain. It's annoying to decipher whether "rundvlees" is something you can eat or something used to patch a tyre. It's awkward when you ask for the receipt and the cashier thinks you have something stuck in your throat. And it's downright embarrassing when you can't remember where you have left your bike (again) and you have to haul your newly bought rundvlees all over town in search of it.

Therefore it was not surprising that a feeling of imminent doom immediately settled in the pit of my stomach upon noticing the red trash bags lined up on the street one morning. I eyed the identical red humps cautiously, turned a corner and peered down an adjacent street, only to find another ten red bags squinting back at me. The feeling of doom increased exponentially, because my very own trash bag, strikingly smurf-blue in colour, was teasingly beckoning to me from amongst the sea of devilish red.

Since I was late for work (time flies when you're frantically shuffling on high heels to anxiously peer down half a dozen other streets), I brushed off The Feeling with the logical explanation that people in Maastricht must just really love the colour red. 
But when I returned that afternoon, all the trash bags had disappeared except for a sad little blue one that stood motionless in front of my door like a shell-shocked child too shy to knock.

Taking pity on the bag, I took it by the sleeve and hauled it up the stairs. Then I jumped onto the internet in search of an explanation as to why my little blue trash bag had suffered such unjust prejudice. After reading through the numerous websites, Facebook discussion groups and articles, letters, notices and a smattering of dissertations and hypotheses on the subject of waste separation and collection in Maastricht, I was dually convinced that I needed a red trash bag. 

Nowhere, however, did any website mention where I could find such a bag. My local store seemed like a good place to start though, so off I went. At the trash bag section I stood staring in disbelief at the display. The shelf contained ample trash bags in all shapes and sizes: Big black bags, small blue bags (not unlike the one I had at home), see-though bags, white bags, green bags. But no red bags. Nothing. Nada. Helemaal niets. 
So I did what any frustrating foreigner in a new country would do. 
I bought a black bag.

It took a day for my black bag to suffer the equally cruel fate of merciless rejection.
I knew I needed some inside information, and I needed it now (there was an open can of tuna in the trash, for goodness sake!)
So one misty evening, I roamed the dark streets of downtown Maastricht in search of a local inhabitant who possessed the required wisdom. After an exchange of hushed whispers, promises of a South African braai, nervous glances and knowing nods, the secret was finally revealed.

The next day I was back at the same store, this time armed with insider knowledge and the Dutch for "one red trash bag, please." 
I boldly walked up to the cigarette counter inside the store, my heart hammering inside my chest. The cashier seemed to sense what I was there for because she leaned forward as I approached. I furtively glanced around and when convinced that I was out of earshot, I said in a hushed tone: "Een rode vuilniszak, alstublieft."
The lady nodded stealthily. The message was loud and clear.
"Groot of klein?"
Feeling braver by the second I intrepidly demanded a big bag: "Groot."
Quietly she ducked behind the counter, pulled open a hidden drawer at her feet and there it was: a red trash bag. 
A big, red trash bag.



The Red Trash Bag


That is how I learned the secret of residual waste disposal in Maastricht. It was a hard and treacherous road and therefore I have boldly decided to reveal the unwritten secret to other new inhabitants.

Now all that is left to do is to distinguish between residual, hazardous, course domestic, kitchen, and garden waste. Buy different containers for each type of waste, sort the waste and take the rest to selected recycling deports. 
Maybe a Ph.D. student can write a thesis about the process.
I, on the other hand, have wasted enough time on the topic of waste.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Amsterdam: Houses, Boats and Houseboats

On one of the the coldest days in May, a varsity friend and I decided to visit Amsterdam. 
In hindsight, a bicycle city tour might not have been the brightest idea, but of course we only realised that halfway through the tour when the cold wind and rain had already transformed our fingers and ears into puffy red ornaments.

Nonetheless, we were in Amsterdam and the city was meant to be explored! This time on yellow, instead of blue bikes. Besides, our local guide, whose surname was Beentjes (Little legs), had sped off like the yellow-jerseyed forerunner of the Tour de France and we had to pedal hard to keep up with his ironically long legs. 

There are 881 000 bicycles in Amsterdam, a staggering 1.1 bicycles per inhabitant. As Katie Melua indisputably pointed out, the number of bicycles in Beijing are ten times more, but if we lived in a world where song titles were based on bicycles per capita, Katie would have had to find a word to rhyme with "dam".
It also meant that our yellow cluster had to avoid 880 990 others as we maneuvered over bridges and around sharp corners. The back-pedal braking system furthermore promised to make the ride very entertaining indeed.


Yellow Bikes


If I had to do the impossible and summarise Amsterdam in one word, it would be this: Water. 
Water was everywhere and with 165 canals it was not surprising to find water around every turn in the city. On this rainy spring day, the water was experienced in abundance by all our senses. The backdrop of clouds heavy with rain, however, converted every picture into a work of art.


Water: Above and Below


If I had to summarise Amsterdam in three words, I would handpick the three elements that enhance and emphasise the city's canals and transform every image thereof into a striking scene of splendour: Houses, Boats and Houseboats.

The houses lining the canals are fascinating. Like colourful lego blocks that have been stacked gallantly high, they tower over the canals with their colourful facades. Their big glaring windows and pointed rooftops seem to drag them towards the water's edge, as if they're leaning in towards the ripples whispering at their feet.


Colourful and Crooked


If you get a suspicious feeling that the houses are sloping towards you like towering terrors, your inkling might be caused by more than cannabis spores wafting in the wind. The houses have deliberately been built top-heavy and crooked. In the sixteenth century residents were taxed on the width of their houses; therefore houses were built narrow and high. (The residents of the red house above are probably shuffling along sideways in the narrow space).
The houses slope towards the water so that big objects can be hoisted up by means of a hook, which is proudly sported at the top of each house.

This was one of the reasons Anne Frank's family could stay hidden in a house in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Although the family's business premises seemed like a narrow building from the street, it lead into an annex in the back that could be accesses through a secret entrance. Eight people stayed hidden in the small space of 75 m2 for two years, after which they were sadly discovered.


Anne Frank's Hiding Place
(next to the house with the pitched roof)


Boats were sprinkled on every canal in Amsterdam like colourful drops of confetti.
Magical.


Boats, Boats, Boats


Picture Perfect


Colourful


2 500 Houseboats are floating on Amsterdam's canals, their decks displaying everything from sun-chairs to potted plants.

Rent-a-Boat


Houseboats


We cycled past museums, coffee shops (where you won't find coffee), cheese shops (where you will find cheese) and parks. When we reached the Red Light district, our guide did the responsible thing and signalled for us to get off and push our bikes down Walletjie street. Apparently accidents occur easily when cyclists' heads are twisted at a 180 degree angle in order to gawk at the window displays. If you're waiting for any pictures of the RLD, I will have to disappoint you. It is strictly "verboden".

Around Amsterdam


IAMsterdam


Cheese & Flowers


After cycling, we had a lunch of kroketten, poffertjes and koffie verkeerd, the Dutch version of a cafe latte. It might have been koffie "verkeerd", but it was oh so right.


Poffertjes and Koffie Verkeerd


Since the newly renovated Rijksmuseum had recently been re-opened to the public after a ten year makeover, we had to pay "De Nachtwacht" a visit. What a visit it was! The painting, renowned for it's size, is also well known for the contrast between shadows and light and the depiction of movement.


De Nachtwacht


The painting, completed in 1642 by Rembrandt van Rijn, was actually cut smaller in 1715 (gasp) because it couldn't fit into the space where it was originally displayed. Today the painting is so precious that it is difficult to put a value to it. 


Nachtwacht Details


In the picture above, the motion and emphasis by means of light are clearly visible. It is speculated that Rembrandt included himself in the painting and one of his eyes can be seen peering out from behind two figures. The women, standing in a pool of light, is said to resemble Rembrandt's wife, Saskia. 


Inside the Rijksmuseum

The rest of the collection is also worth viewing and consists of magnificent paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals. Most characters depicted in the paintings of the Rijksmuseum are also fully clothed, unlike the ones in the Musee D'Orsay. You can decide for yourself weather this is a pro or a con.


Rijksmuseum


There are loads more to be seen and done in Amsterdam - a city that welcomes all with open arms.
IAM Houses. IAM Boats. IAM Houseboats.
IAMsterdam.

And I.. IAM cold and wet. 
But thrilled that I got to explore a little bit of Amsterdam.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Hague: Scheveningen Sculptures

After visiting the Panorama Mesdag, I met my friend at the actual Scheveningen beach which, despite the howling wind and icy raindrops, reminded me of the Durban beachfront with its promenade. I didn't stick my toes in the ocean, fearing I might lose them altogether if I tried and judging by the blue hues of the brave windsurfers exiting the waves, it was definitely the responsible thing to do.


Scheveningen Beachfront


We leaned into the wind and headed for the colourful cafe's that dotted the beachfront, stopping to look at the creative bronze figurines scattered across the promenade. They were designed by Tom Otterness in 2004 and after an absence of two and a half years the "Sprookjesbeelden aan Zee" (Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea) have been back at Scheveningen since March 2012. 

The biggest statue can be seen from afar with its head thrown back to gulp down a herring, dangling 12 m in the air. Please note: It is not just any old fish. It is a herring. I know this because 1) The statue is called the "Haringeter", and combined with 2) This is the Netherlands!, it's pretty easy to put two and two together. If you're South African, think biltong and you'll understand the fascination.

Speaking of (red) herrings: Herring season, which was supposed to start early in June in the Netherlands, has tragically been delayed this year due to the cold spring weather. Since the Dutch love their herring, the postponement of the season might leave locals with a bad taste in the mouth (no pun intended). 

Back on the beachfront I could not decide whether the sculptures of little men and animals were extremely cute or horrifyingly cruel. I even glanced back at the name to make sure I'm not standing amongst "spookjes" (ghosts), but the "r" was definitely wedged in there, rendering one to believe that you are looking at fairytale characters.

It was almost like staring at one of those optical illusions: First you notice the little people with their big eyes and charming hats. And then, with a start, you realise that they've been imprisoned and are bound by chains. And that their eyes might be that big and round, not due to excitement, but due to extreme fear. 
Psychiatrists will have a field day in Scheveningen, interpreting the answers to the question: "What do you see..?"


Funky / Frightening Figurines


Even so, children seem to love the statues and I'm sure they will clamber all over the chains and tears on "Vlaggetjesdag" without giving it a second thought. Besides, the alternative would be to watch grandma mimic the Haringeter and wolf down herrings by the bucketful. It's a toss-up really, between which memory will haunt you forever: A statue or an elderly family member throwing back their heads to devour a tiny, raw fish.
To me, the statues are becoming more attractive by the minute.

One thing is for sure, Scheveningen certainly provides enough entertainment for big and small and has clearly been an inspiration to painters and artists since the previous century.
And now, also to modern-day bloggers.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Hague: Musings & Madurodam

Whenever I arrive in a town or city for the very first time, I like to walk around and explore the streets and alleyways, take in the towering buildings and smooth rivers, watch the people and wonder about their lives. 
Because every place has a different vibe and feel. It is in the air breathed by passersby, in the smell of freshly baked goods and produce, in the voices of the crowds and the sounds of shoes on sidewalks.

Sometimes it's instantaneous: A feeling of overwhelming excitement about this place, this moment. Or a hushed whisper that this city's mould was not made to fit your form.
Other times, it takes longer to grasp the rhythm the city is swaying to.

In Maastricht, the attraction was immediate: A river framed with willows and cobble-stoned bridges, bicycles weaving effortless to and fro, laughter and music spilling into the streets, older couples sitting on benches overlooking the shimmering water. Beautiful buildings, art galleries and shops. Boats and churches. A small speck of heaven.

The Hague exuded an air of urgency and focus, like an older, more responsible sibling of Maastricht. But while trams and busses snaked through the city centre and stores bustled with people, it was equally picturesque: Modern office buildings and art galleries were well balanced with historical squares, framed by fountains and dotted with statues.


Beautiful Buildings

Roads and Rivers


I took a walk to "het Binnenhof" and "het Buitenhof", although I am still unsure if I was inside the Binnenhof and outside the Buitenhof, or vice versa. The tower located at the Binnenhof, is where the King addresses the nation, while the tower situated in the Buitenhof, is where the Prime Minister is addressed. 
If you are wondering whose tower is the biggest, the name says it all: The Prime Minister's tower is called the "Torentje" (little tower).


Inside-Out: Binnenhof & Buitenhof


A bubble tea sign brought back memories of 2009 in California's Chinatown, trying on "tang" tops and experiencing the sweetness of bubble tea for the first time. Not surprisingly, the cafe seemed to be the gathering place of all Americans in The Hague. With a drink in hand, I pulled up a chair and did some Dutch dictionary reading about "de rots aan zee waar opa vaak op zit". 
Interestingly, the sentence had nothing to do with the state of grandpa's consciousness, but rather the frequency of grandpa's position on said rock. (What a relief! A tried grandpa on some rock next to an ocean is quite a disturbing thought.)


Bubble Tea Break


Back on the streets I had just given up hope of ever grasping The Hague's complicated tram schedule, when I stumbled upon a tram indicating that it was heading to Madurodam. I jumped on board, miraculously pressed the stop-button at the right station and stepped out to an intriguing sight: A park full of miniature buildings that represent actual buildings scattered throughout the Netherlands.


Madurodam


Children were running around with bulging eyes, trying to process the exhilaration of being inside a a doll-house sized universe where miniature buildings, boats, and people stretched out as far as the eye could see. I rushed off behind them and we pointed and cheered at a roller-coaster brought to live with a coin. Madurodam is enough to bring out the inner-child in everyone - yes, even the most serious accountant.


Detailed Perfection


There was a replica of the Binnenhof that I had just visited, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and even Helpoort in Maastricht which I have yet to encounter. I added several opulent buildings to my Netherlands must-see list, like the Paleis het Loo whose gardens seemed beautiful even on a miniature scale.


One Giant Leap


And so, while checking off Madurodam on my Netherlands itinerary, I added several others to the list.
But first: Finding a tram that will take me back into The Hague's city centre.
Sometimes, to achieve giant leaps, one has to start with a small step.



Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Hague: Panorama Mesdag

With the colours of Keukenhof still vivid in my mind, I found myself back at Schipol Airport where I boarded a train and stepped out at the Hague Centraal 30 minutes later.A friend from varsity, who lives and works in the Hague, met me at the station and gave me a quick tour of the city centre as we walked back to her apartment.

The next day while she had to go to work, I headed out to explored the rest of the city, armed with a map and her very useful Afrikaans-Dutch dictionary (because you never know when you might find yourself on the brink of starvation and need to ask for "een appel alstublieft!").

According to the map I was very close to the Panorama Mesdag and when I saw the warm and inviting interior, I immediately stepped out of the cold wind and gladly paid the entrance fee. Although the locals reckon that you can just take a bus to Scheveningen and step out into the real, not to mention modern, deal 5 minutes later, the museum was well worth the visit.

I joined a group of German tourists in the centre of the museum where we gazed out to the canvas 14 meters from where we stood. 
"Da ist es," a German husband motioned to his wife, hopefully pointing to something on the panorama. 
Because the panorama itself could not be missed.

Gazing Out

The scene of Scheveningen, painted in 1881 by Hendrik Mesdag, rose 14 m high and the landscape of 120 m long stretched 360 degrees around the viewing platform. The detail and scale was incredible, creating the illusion of overlooking the ocean from atop a sand dune.


Scheveningen Scenes

As I was pondering how the Scheveningen landscape was transferred to the canvas in such a flawless manner 132 years before, a voice to my left provided the answer.
"Da ist es, Heike."
We all turned with Heike to look at the glass cylinder to which her husband was pointing.


Glass Cylinder

Hendrik Mesdag first drew the scene on the glass cylinder and thereafter transferred it to the canvas with the help of his wife and assistants. 
Four month later the panorama Mesdag was born - the oldest panorama still in its original location.


Panorama of the Panorama

It is said that Willem Mesdag himself can be seen in the Panorama, painting beneath a blue umbrella on the Scheveningen beach.


Painter in a Painting