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.


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.

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