NETHERLANDS' ART CAPITAL:
Most North Americans fly to Schiphol Airport, then onward to other European destinations or catch trains into fascinating Amsterdam. An express takes us south to Netherland's less visited capital, the Hague, to view its many art treasures.
Hague Peace Palace reflects the Dutch rallying the world to resolve conflicts.
On a walking tour we soon find The Hague represents both lofty art…and high ideals! "King Willem II's brother-in-law Tsar Nicholas initiated the first international peace conference here," our guide Henrik proudly recounts. "This initiative inspired philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to fund this beautiful Peace Palace. Completed in 1913, it didn't prevent World War I, yet led to the World Court and 150 international law organizations working here to resolve future conflicts." Beside a wrought-iron gate, an eternal peace flame burns amid a mosaic with an array of minerals representing each nation.
The classic Noordeinde Palace and public royal garden encompass one square block. An equestrian statue of Willem II faces the main entrance in a park. Henrik notes, "Separated from his aristocratic Russian wife Anna, Willem never entered this palace. When their great granddaughter Juliana became queen, she often left that regal home pedaling a bicycle, waving gaily to her admiring public!"
On a street lined with shops, a nondescript gate leads into a floral courtyard surrounded by row houses. Chatting with friendly residents, we hear how wealthy employers constructed this rectangle of cozy dwellings for elderly servants and how similar almshouses existed for the unfortunate since the Middle Ages. Departing, we're handed tasty Koffee candies!
Strolling into a shaded promenade, Henrik explains, "The fashionable elite once sipped…and spilled…coffee in their carriages while slowly circling the boulevards. A nobleman replaced these hot drinks with Koffees invented when his maid over-boiled a brew into a sugary mass." Dutch East Indies planters built mansions here; some serve now as embassies, another a museum displaying Escher's optic art. One 'party palace' became the elegant East Indies Hotel.
Hague Hotel Des Indes, is another party palace which reflects the wealthy epoch of the Dutch Empire.
A canal-like moat surrounds the original city, as early rulers disliked the aesthetics of walls. Inside, this rich imperial capital presents baroque, neo-classic and art nouveau buildings reflecting old world splendor. Gothic protestant churches soar heavenward. City hall, adorned with red shutters and step-gable roof, stands in the center. Even the trademark Pizza Hut boasts an ornate interior.
The Netherlands' parliament stretches alongside the former court pond and surprisingly encloses the city's earliest structures, the count of Holland's hunting lodge and adjoining 1248 palace. From the courtyard, one gateway opens onto today's glassy legislative building; another exits toward the grand three-story Mauritshuis.
Prince John Maurice built Maurice-House in 1641 on the edge of the royal court. Evolving into a prestigious art museum displaying an extraordinary Dutch Golden Age collection. These masterpieces typically convey delightful, insightful stories. Rembrandt's Simeon's Song of Praise depicts an uplifting biblical tale, while Jan Steen's works warn against wanton behaviors. We grin at Steen's portrayal of ensembles of citizens receiving comeuppance for silly debaucheries.
All admire Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, considered northern Europe's Mona Lisa. Yet on the opposite wall his lesser-known View of Delft overwhelms us with unsurpassed technique. Suspected of setting up a camera obscura inside a riverside pub, Vermeer captured Delft at a crystal clear moment amid white clouds, rippling cobalt blue water and golden shore.
Another nearby museum contains an unfamiliar masterpiece. Beyond an array of watercolors and oil paintings, stairs lead us into a sunlit rotunda. Here, Mesdag's amazing 14-meter high, 120-meter circumference panorama magically presents North Sea activities swirling around an 1881 village with The Hague rising in the distance.
A tram whisks us back to our hotel. After extolling Dutch art, we ask the desk clerk about The Hague appearing more spacious and green than other cities in Holland. She smiles, "Old nobility estates were utilized to create large parks and greenways. Our city is also greener in another respect! Buildings feature 'eco-friendly' designs such as our own low-energy radiant heating! And guests can use our bicycles!"
Old Hague further represents the opulence of the Hague, when it was capital of a vast economic empire
Thus, pedaling along bikeways through prim neighborhoods and leafy parks, we're soon visiting Mesdag's fishing village. The depicted neo-classic royal pavilion and 1886 Hotel Kurhaus remain on a beachside knoll. Nowadays one of The Hague's two popular beach resorts, millions come here yearly to frolic. Viewing open-air restaurants, kiosks and a long, two-level pier, we merrily roll along the esplanade. Off the wide 11-kilometer stretch of shoreline families create sand castles, couples picnic and kite-boarders sail through the surf.
This off-the-beaten-track capital has long promoted art, world harmony and wholesome lifestyles. We now realize The Hague itself, is a world treasure.
IF YOU GO
PHOTOS- Rick & Chris Millikan
1. 13th Century Hague Castle
2. Hague Hotel Des Indes,
3. Hague Peace Palace
4. Old Hague
5. Willem -New Hague captures the essence of the expansion of the Hague as well as a nod to its most important king, Willem.
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