On Friday, the entire class took a fiiiiiiieeeeellllld trip! To the Hague!
While Amsterdam is the most populous city of the Netherlands and the capital of the entire Kingdom, many people do not realize that nearly all of the actual government buildings and happenings are a city a short train ride to the south-west of Amsterdam– the Hague, or, in Dutch, Den Haag. So, at a blissful 8:30AM, the entire contingent of UC students (about 50 in total, 30 at Utrecht University and 20 at the smaller Utrecht College University) clamored onto a bus and began the trip from Utrecht to Den Haag. It’s not a particularly long trip, at least by Californian standards.
Soon we arrived in the Netherlands’ third largest city (a step up from the fourth largest!). My first stop was to the Mauritshuis, a museum established in 1822 that hosts the Royal Cabinet of Paintings. Hosting a wide variety of art from the Dutch Golden Age (the 17th century), it was quite a treat seeing art from Rembrandt and Vermeer. Our guide was, of course, from Massachusetts. The 17th century building hosts over 831 paintings, but the building itself is rather small, and I feel that I was able to see almost everything. It was incredible seeing all of the Dutch Golden Age masters– I found that I’m a big fan of the details and understanding of texture, lighting, and surfaces that the Dutch masters were big on. I learned that the Dutch were also the ones who invented the landscape apparently. A lot of great paintings! The museum was full of exquisite Rembrandts (most notably “The Anatomy Lesson”) and Vermeers, of course, the most famous being the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
Following the Mauritshuis, we hopped next door to the Binnenhof, the government center. We walked past the “Little Tower” (left in picture, Mauritshuis on the right) where the Prime Minister works, and into the main government square. The most incredible thing– no security checkpoint. Beyond one all black Mercedes that had four fully armed guards in it, there was absolutely no security checkpoints, not noticeable police. Police have been very minimal here, I think across three cities and two weeks I have seen two police officers.
Our first stop at the Binnenhof was the Hall of Knights, which is by far the coolest name for a government building. We started in the basement, constructed in the 12th century (iirc), and moved up to the main hall. Once a year, the King and the rest of the royal gang meet up with all the government in the HALL OF KNIGHTS to give the Dutch equivalent of the State of the Union. It is a big deal and very ceremonious, and is basically the only thing the king… does. And he doesn’t even write the speech. It was a pretty impressive building, and the oldest building in the Hague. Originally a hunting lodge for the Count of the Netherlands, it grew and grew until it became the capital of the emerging province. It has quite the history, changing hands as the country was conquered by various empires, even being a gym under Napoleon.
Next up was a visit to the senate chamber. The Netherlands has two houses, one equivalent to the House of Representatives and one equivalent to our Senate. We went to the small senate chamber, that seats 75 members when Parliament is in session. It’s a beautiful room, with big green seats, covered in paintings from the floor to the ceiling. I have been to the U.S. Senate Building, and let me tell you, this one takes the cake. It was very cool getting an inside look in how the Dutch government lives, especially after attending a lecture on the Dutch parliamentary system.
We then had lunch at a lovely little restaurant near the Binnenhof, a spacious place with a cool vibe, completely decked with Cuban flags and symbology. Having gone to Cuba a couple summers ago, I was excited to eat some more delicious Cuban food. So imagine my surprise when they served us tomato soup, gouda and gread, and deep-fried ragout filled balls with a crunchy layer of very fine bread-crumbs ad mustard, because, the Netherlands. A very typically Dutch lunch.
After several hours with the UC groups our organized time in den Haag (which, by the way, is an old Dutch word for “the forest”) came to an end. Me and two of my friends, Ryan and Payam, decided to stay for the rest of the day and go back to Utrecht by ourselves.
The first stop on our trip was to an awesome museum that mainly houses the Panorama Mesdag, a huge 360 degrees painting of a beachside Dutch town by Hendrik Willem Mesdag. Included were other Mesdag paintings, which I really liked, which were almost exclusively of scenes from Scheveningen, the beautiful beach by the Hague. Then we walked up the road to the Peace Palace, a beautiful building near the International Hall and Court of Justice. To our dismay, they weren’t offering tours that day, so we could only see the outside. We then walked all through the Hague looking for a place to eat. We settled on a nice steakhouse that was offering a dinner special, and so we tied up the day with kangaroo steak and a bottle of the house wine. They charged us for the water. This country hates hydration.