The Eyesore on Lange Voorhout

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  , South Holland,
Friday, December 24, 2010

We plowed through the Dutch tundra on a double-decker train to make it to The Hague, or in Dutch, Den Haag. With about half a million inhabitants, it's the Netherland’s third most populous city.  The Netherlands is unique in that the government and capital are not the same location.  As mentioned previously, Amsterdam is the capital, but the Dutch parliament and the Queen both reside in The Hague.  The name of the city is a shortened version of its original name, Des Graven Hage (The Count’s Wood, and "The Hague" being the anglicized version of “Den Haag”), when the land was purchased by the Count of Holland as a hunting residence.  Over the years, The Hague was urbanized slowly and today the city center is an agglomeration of palaces and mansions many of which have become embassies to various countries.  The Hague may not be the capital of the Netherlands, but it is the judicial capital of the United Nations, with the United Nations International Court of Justice located at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

The Peace Palace was constructed in the early 1900’s to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration and has become the judicial capital of the UN since.  We tried to schedule a tour of the palace, but it was going to be closed for Christmas which prevented us for scheduling far enough in advance to go on a tour.  Inside, however, there are many gifts from all over the world from different countries (i.e. the clock in the clock tower is from Switzerland, fountain from Denmark).  Outside the gates of the Peace Palace is the eternal peace flame to signify world peace (I don’t think it’s working…), but there is a ring of stones around it, all donated from every country.

We walked through the city and passed many embassies that were housed in large mansions or palaces.  Near the Canadian Embassy (a nationality I quite often pretend to be), there was a plaque on the ground covered in snow.  We tried to uncover it so Annemarieke could read it, but, before we could finish, a man saw what we were doing and tried to explain to us that it said that the trees around the 1813 Square were planted for a very special reason; however, I don’t think I quite caught what the reason was, but he was nice to help us!

We walked through The Hague’s beautiful streets and admired some of the ridiculously nice mansions.  We past the Hotel des Indes, the “most luxurious” hotel in town, and, by the looks of it, I’d say that’s true.  As we looked out over Lange Voorhout, a small park sandwiched between rows of mansions, there was something wrong.  Amidst the mansions was quite the eyesore, a grey block sitting on the corner.  To our shock, it was the Embassy of the United States.  Again, the Canadians win with their classically beautiful embassy around the corner, while the US sets up a fortress in the middle of town.  I was glad when I found out that the US Embassy would be relocating to a new building sometime in the next year, but I also found out that the building it is in now has been added to the city’s list of historic monuments (...oops).  So, the building is here to stay, regardless of its inhabitants.  On the good side, when the US moves out, maybe they will take down the 12-foot tall fence that surrounds the compound.

On our way to the Binnenhof, we crossed under De Passage, a covered shopping area built in the late 1800’s.  Most of the shops catered to a wealthier crowd though.  Binnenhof has been the site of the Staten-Generaal (Dutch parliament) since 1446.  Binnenhof is located where the Count of Holland originally built his mansion on the bank of the lake, Hofvijver.  Inside Binnenhof lies much of the governing bodies of the Netherlands, as well as the Ridderzaal, a great hall where the thrones of the royal monarchs are held.

Our next stop was the M.C. Escher Museum (because all famous artists are Dutch) which is housed in a former palace, lastly inhabited by Queen Emma at the end of the 18th century.  The tour features almost all of M.C. Escher’s work and information about the palace in general.  There was an interactive floor at the top that featured mirrors, 3D objects encouraging you to replicate Escher’s 2D artwork, and other illusions that are the basis of many of Escher’s work.

Before sunset, we made our way from the museum to the Noordeinde Palace, Queen Beatrix’s local residence.  The palace was converted from a medieval farmhouse in the 1500’s and switched ownership many times in its life.  It has only recently become to be used as an official royal residence in 1984.  The strange thing about this palace is that it isn’t situated by itself, such as Buckingham Palace.  This one is in a row of other buildings and establishments on either side of it.  Behind the palace are extensive royal gardens, but the front of the building is somewhat inconspicuously on the street.

Overall, The Hague is gorgeous modern city with many more sights to see.  It was one of my favorite places in the Netherlands that we visited.  We met up with one of Annemarieke’s local friends who showed us a good time.  There is also a miniature-sized city filled with replicas of famous Dutch landmarks (exact 1:25 scale) in The Hague, which was closed due to the heavy snowfall.  With plenty of excuses to go back, I’m sure I’ll end up in the Netherlands again sooner or later.  The Netherlands is a beautiful country full of wonderful people, and, as tiny as it is, I’m glad it has survived all it has endured over the centuries (i.e. merging with other territories, war, and enemy occupation) to still be a world leader.
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