It’s amazing how long a weekend feels when you leave your comfort zone and routines and just take things as they come.
Back in February, I finally decided to visit some friends I knew from childhood, and with whom I coincidentally shared a city in 2014-2015 in Hamburg. I also wanted to visit some friends of the family who were partially responsible for helping me get to Hamburg for the study-abroad. I booked the tickets on a late night, being able to take advantage of some sales-prices and my DB BahnCard25, and before I knew it, travel day had arrived. Of course, the main goal of the trip was to reconnect and have good times, but I also got to see some pretty impressive cities while I was at it.
First stop: Den Haag. It took a while to get there, though. The trip I had planned to Den Haag Centraal was with only one change. I ended up taking 5 trains and one bus due to a technical failure in Bad Bentheim, but miraculously, I only ended up arriving two hours later planned, so it turned out to be alright.
And what a sight awaited me. To be honest, I always thought of Den Haag, or the Hague, as it is otherwise known, as a nice little coastal town of the type one sees in England. Little houses, small cafes, no high rises… The city blew my expectations away. Sure, there’s a whole beach district with absolutely beautiful, wild dunes (upon which the city was originally built, in fact) and wild Scottish cows running about freely.
But it quickly became apparent to me that I’d ended up in the 3rd largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world cities of Europe.
I also had a few reminders that Holland still, in fact, has a monarchy. Sure, one doesn’t hear about them as much as the British monarchs, but they’re there, and their palaces in Den Haag are always nicely taken care of. I’m actually not totally clear about politics in the Netherlands. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, but unlike the UK where devolution happens yielding power to the nations, the UK has provinces…yeah. This isn’t a politics class though, so that’s where I’ll leave it.
But I can’t say enough about the architecture, both interiors and exteriors. The city is over 600 years old, but like many major cities in Europe, it has learned to feature the old and new right next to each other. I mean, just check out the skylight in the H & M building below (for those who don’t know, H & M is a low-end designer label). It is clear that Den Haag has a rich architectural history, with a lot of modern designs and no fear of experimentation.
However, I think the part I liked most, other than seeing my friends again, was seeing a beach in winter. It has a beauty all of its own. Coming from Florida, I’ve never had the opportunity to see the coast covered in snow and icy tide pools.
My friend and I had a very cold walk on the beach, and she told me about the way that whole buildings are set up on the beach in the summer for all the people who visit. They’re taken down in winter, but one could just see how people were slowly getting the containers on the beach, opened and ready to set things up again.
As one can see, Den Haag alone would have been enough for the entire weekend, or longer. But I had to leave less than 24 hours later to make it to Duisburg. I had a half-hour delay there, too (I mean, what is it with the Deutsche Bahn lately? Or is it just whenever I ride it? Maybe it was just winter), but I made it easily enough.
I’d been to Duisburg a lot when I was younger, at one point even spending two weeks there to do an internship with the President of the Federation of German-American Clubs (who is also one of the family friends I mentioned), but I didn’t realize the city’s social, economic, or historical significance at the time. I mean, it’s the WORLD’s biggest inland port. It was responsible for a lot of the commerce of North-Rhine Westphalia. It’s also an old city, dating to the Middle Ages, and was a court of the Frankish Kingdom, but a lot has been done lately in the city to make it interesting and a “happening” place.
Unfortunately, I had just as little time in Duisburg as in Den Haag, and I didn’t even get to take photos, but I just wanted to mention it, to put it on the map for many American readers. It’s not far from Dusseldorf Airport, so even a day-trip there before flying on is well-worth it. It helps to have friends living in cool places, though. I’m glad they were willing to let me dirty sheets for only one night.
Hopefully this post doesn’t come off as too flat. I was actually planning to write and explain a lot more, but I’m running out of time. I wanted to post it before it becomes irrelevant. And if anything, there’s pictures!
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