Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Dam Bike in Den Haag

Today Louise and I travelled to the Hague, or as the Dutch say, Den Haag.  If we're making analogies, Amsterdam is to New York City what the Hague is to Washington D.C.; cultural capital vs seat of government.  

Quick complaint about Holland: they refuse to accept Major International Credit Cards.  I went to buy my train tickets this morning, and the teller goes, "Oh, we don't accept credit cards".  I was like WTF train station?  And my debit card only works at certain ATMs here.  It certainly makes things annoying.  Okay, done.

Louise convinced me to bring along the Sweet Ride, which has now been re-named in honor of my Mum, the Dam Bike.  The Dam Bike was useful, as will be explained later, but was also a total albatross to haul on and off of the trains to/from the Hague.  Especially as two lazy, indolent Dutch young men took up all the room in the part of the train meant for people with bicycles, who did not offer us the seats or even condescend to move their giant bags.  Louise and I decided that in a culture where a Red Light District exists, the men don't need to bother with being charming or thoughtful to women.  We noticed this in the bars we went to on the night of the big football/soccer game as well.  

Is that the Dam Bike in Den Haag?  Why yes, it is!

My main goal in going to the Hague was to see this:

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665.

It was pretty good, you know.  Whatever, only one of my major life goals was to see it in real life, and it totally lived up to my expectations.  The painting is larger than I thought it would be, but I was basing that judgement off of Vermeer's Girl in the Red Hat, which I forged my senior year of college.  Vermeer is easily my favorite painter of the Dutch Golden Age.  Rembrandt doesn't really do it for me.  Vermeer was forgotten by the art world for several hundred years and only became considered as one of the masters around the late 19th century.  Only 35 works are attributed to him.  No preparatory studies or drawings by him exist, and only a few details of his life are known.  His paintings are mostly domestic scenes, and what is most remarkable about them is Vermeer's use of light.

David Hockney, among others, think that Vermeer used a camera obscura to achieve his amazing compositional effects.  I think this is crap, and that David Hockney is just saying that in order to make up for his own lack of skills.  Vermeer was just that good.  (I also have read/seen some serious scientific investigations of Hockney's theories, so I'm going on more than my instinct).

I also love Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), court painter to Henry VIII, as opposed to Hans Holbein the Elder, also a painter and the Younger's father.  H.H. II's portraits, drawings and paintings, are fabulous; he also did a great series of woodcuts of the Dance of Death.  Both H.H. I and II were movers and shakers, leading Northern Europe out of the Gothic style and into the Renaissance.

The Mauritshuis: a little proud to have the Girl with a Pearl Earring?  Maybe.

This is some sort of large and beautiful historic governmental building right next to the Mauritshuis.

We arrived and it began to downpour.  Lou looks sad, I look like, "It'll still work out okay!  Maybe?" but inside I was thinking, "This Dam Bike is going to be a huge Dam Albatross.  I hate that poem!"

This rain cleared up rapidly, and we quickly found out that traffic between the two side of town would be closed for several hours in the afternoon because it was Veteran's Day, and there was a big parade with huge crowds.  Helicopters and airplanes flew in fancy formations over the Hague as part of the parade, and the Dutch loved it.  Louise and I clapped for all of the little old WWII vets who paraded down the street at the very beginning of the parade.  That's always the best part, and it made me miss my own Grandpa.  Some things were rather odd; one marching band was playing 76 Trombones, others played New York, New York and My Way. For real. 

In this picture, I am standing in the middle of a compass, and I am really hungry and still a little rain-damp.  My sweater also smelled faintly of wet sheep - ugh.

After lunch we met up with Hanne (pronounced like Hannah), a conservation student from Norway and one of Louise's co-interns at the Mauritshaus.  She took us to a fabulous 'secret garden' - a large private park inside the city.  It really was like walking through the woods.

Then the Dam Bike had it's time to shine.  Hanne took us to the beach.  She and I rode the bikes, and Louise rode on the back of Hanne's bike.  I would not trust myself to drive any other person around on the bike.  The beach we went to was technically a nude beach, but there were barely any people there, and the ones that were there were fully clothed.

The dunes by the shore.

Beautiful!  And very windy.

Hello, North Sea!

Heading home from the beach was tricky, as Louise had hurt her foot somehow and had a painful time walking.  We decided to take a tram, but the tram was too crowded for the Dam Bike to fit in it.  So, I took the map of the Hague and just drove the Dam Bike right back to the train station.  Somewhat nerve-raking, as it would mean that I would likely have to stop at some point and because the streets in the Hague are very poorly labeled.  I am getting better, much better actually, at stopping.  It turned out completely fine, and Louise and I had time to get a cup of tea before catching our train back to Amsterdam.


Anonymous said...

You and Lou are quite adventurous , I must say! I am glad that your biking skills have improved. The North Sea beach looks very natural and reminds me of some of the more remote areas around Nags Head.
I am surprised to hear that Holland doesn't accept Major International Credit Cards. What do the expect you to do? I guess pay everything in cash, but we all run out eventually, right? I don't blame you for being annoyed at this major inconvenience.
Anyway,continue to enjoy the area. I do love the painting Girl with a Pearl. I actually have seen pictures of it and it awesome that you actually got to see it! Later.

Mum said...

Hey, I called my exercise bike "the damn bike" because it caused me to walk like a cowboy who spent too long in the saddle. I am not sure your bike has that rating yet, or is there something more about your bike that you have not told us yet?

Ynn said...

I love that painting as well and am looking forward to seeing it "live and in person". I had seen the painting many times, but then read the book and did some librarian stuff on Vermeer. I agree with you about Rembrandt and prefer Vermeer. Frank and I are both looking forward to meeting Louise and getting acquainted with the "Dam Bike". I guess we'd best have some cash with us to convert into euros since credit cards don't seem to be much appreciated.

Mercedes said...

Im so jealous, you saw the Girl with the Pearl Earring!!!