The Hague is home to the world’s most famous history, herring and vermeer

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This is the latest installment of It’s Still a Big World, our bimonthly series on underrated destinations.

The wind was blowing at about 20 miles an hour, so the elastic tower at the end of the pier was closed. It was a Tuesday in August in Scheveningen, a seaside district of The Hague, and the waves of the North Sea were so unruly that even surfers had stopped it. I probably should have felt relief about it (my mom certainly did when I told her), but the self-imposed risk of jumping from a 200ft tower seemed like a welcome respite after 18 months. of fear inspired by the pandemic.

Also, I liked the idea of ​​doing something exotic in The Hague, the third largest city in the Netherlands, known largely for its powerful judicial institutions: the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. United Nations. It is also still the seat of Parliament and the Dutch royal family, although thanks to the whims of various counts, princes, kings and politicians, as well as a few occupations and the Eighty Years’ War, Amsterdam is became the official capital in 1983.

So, opt for history and civics classes (and the Vermeers). Stay for the adrenaline rush.

Scheveningen Pier, jutting out into the North Sea, is just one of the attractions of The Hague’s seaside district.

Liza Weisstuch

There was no need for disappointment, however. My bungee jumping plans gave me more time to linger over a grilled sea bass lunch with samphire, roasted fennel, and crab shell mousse at one of the dozens of so-called clubs. Beach. (Despite looking and feeling like permanent buildings, seaside restaurants are disappearing in October.) Plus, I had had my adrenaline rush on my way to the beach that morning when I cycled through the streets of The Hague, something I had never attempted at home. Biking in New York is a kamikaze mission, an extreme sport, even for a thrill-seeker. But throughout Holland famous for bicycles, there is no weaving around whistling buses, burping sanitation vehicles, double-parked delivery trucks and taxis with doors opening like jacks. -in-the-box vindictive. In The Hague (it is The Hague to the Dutch), there are only cycle paths. And the larger ones, no less. And local culture dictates that riders prioritize bikers. Still, as someone who hasn’t ridden a bike since J. Lo and Ben Affleck’s very first go-around, there have been some highlights.

However, if you are going to re-acclimatise to the city bike, this is the place to do it, especially since there is a huge park in the middle of the city that stretches out towards the sea. ranks among the most densely populated areas in the world, but this city claims more green space than anywhere else in Europe. (No, that’s not a conundrum: more green space means less residential space, so more people crammed into a smaller area, hence the density.) To get to the water, you drive through Scheveningen Woods, which encompasses 50 acres of forest dotted with monuments and crossed by cycle and walking trails. As you approach the sea, you see Meijendel begin to unfold for miles and miles. The nature reserve is a patchwork of dunes, forests and lakes. Underground there are bunkers built by the Germans during WWII.

A street scene at sunrise in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Henryk Sadura / Getty

It’s confusing and remarkable: as remote as this landscape may seem, this city is as central to the global community as New York or Geneva. Less than three miles from the quiet dunes, where wild horses aren’t in a hurry, is the Peace Palace, built with financial support from Andrew Carnegie in 1913 to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 1943, the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations, was established there. The building testifies to the global harmony that the occupants wish to establish, a fusion of international ideas: the grand staircase is in Italian marble. Germany provided the forged gates, the clock tower is Swiss made, and the stained glass windows depicting warriors in kilted are, of course, from Scotland. It is breathtaking.

I was only a few hours away from my four-day stay, enough time to explore the city, when I realized it was a city of contrasts. On my way back to my hotel that evening to drop off my bike, I passed the old American Embassy, ​​a brutalist structure as bulky and uncompromising as the Peace Palace is graceful and precise. My hotel, Voco The Hague, which opened in July, also delivered a captivating study on how to merge the old and the new, the industrial and the natural, the volume and the light. Refurbished into a bank built in 1923, the atrium has a maple tree in the middle, an installation of thousands of metal butterflies, and a glass ceiling, all giving the original dark infrastructure a jolt of enchantment.

Hotel voco – The Hague.

Courtesy of voco – The Hague

The next day, I left the pedaling to someone else. I toured through The Hague Street Art (THSA), an organization dedicated to urban beautification and showcasing young artists. I would travel by rickshaw. At some point in the days to come I would visit the Mauritshuis, the museum known for its collection of Dutch paintings from the Golden Age – Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and, most famous, “The Girl with the Pearl Earring “by Vermeer and” View of Delft. “But this afternoon was a lesson in total immersion in the creative energy that electrifies the city right now.

Jurjen Simmelink, owner of Enter The Hague travel agency, comedian, animal rescuer, evangelist of the local culture and bearer of impressive calf muscles, met me with his brightly colored cart strapped to his bicycle. For the next few hours he drove me, along with Yscha Aelène, project manager for THSA, through the streets of the city and then to Binckhorst, a long-standing industrial area with artist studios, nightclubs and a swimming pool. indoor surf board in front of the car. dealers. Luxury housing estates are under construction. (“Street art protects these buildings from graffiti,” Jurjen said.)

Dutch Houses of Parliament with on the far left ‘Het Torentje’ (La Petite Tour, office of the Dutch Prime Minister) reflected in the Court Pond (Hofvijver).

Rob Kints / Getty

This protection is colorful, engaging, thoughtful and fiercely local. A diverse exhibition of murals by artists from the region includes minimalist illustrations by Erwin Verkade, a vivid and confident portrayal of actor Elliot Page by Collin van der Sluijs and the poignant realism of Lily Brik.

We finished at The Hague Market, a series of rambling stalls said to be the largest market in Europe. And a $ 1.3 million investment in solar panels also makes it the greenest. Here you can buy everything from Italian plums and German strawberries and sausages to Thai knits, underwear and washing machines. There is also a cheerful candy store where “medicijnman” Philip Kalman sells salty black licorice in dozens of shapes, sizes and intensities. It’s a treasure if you’re in it. And many are. The line rolled up throughout the store. I abstained because the stuff reminds me of Play-Doh soaked in eucalyptus dish detergent. But I don’t like olives either.

The Peace Palace, an administrative building under international law, in The Hague, the Netherlands.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

The market is where Shelley Vrolijk, a jovial fishmonger, has her stall. Even though the city has changed over the decades, one tradition never falters: pickled herring. Shelley’s grandfather opened the booth 75 years ago, and she took it over in 2011 from her parents. His father still goes down to the quays of Scheveningen every morning to collect fish for frying, smoking and salt.

“I looked skyward, rolled my head, and with those savory bites, fellowship with the Dutch maritime traders of centuries ago.“

She explained that while locals in other towns choke their herring with chopped onions, slice it (gasp!) Or even eat it in a sandwich (the horror!), The correct way to eat it is “by the tail.” “. (“My dad says it’s the right way. If you want onions, you get a lecture,” she said unmoved.) Tilt your head back, she asked, and hang up. the by the tail above your mouth. Jurjen demonstrated. Fully acknowledging that I am a stranger in someone else’s house, I looked skyward, rolled my head, and with these savory bites, fellowship with Dutch seafarers from centuries ago when rambunctious blond children chased each other around a picnic table. Their parents were perfectly unruffled, completely engrossed in their fried fish.

Shelley Vrolijk, a fishmonger at The Hague market, sells herring and other seafood at a stall opened by her grandfather 75 years ago.

Liza Weisstuch

Or at least we could have wrapped ourselves there. On the way back to my hotel in the Royal Central Quarter, my guides pointed out to me a mural in a narrow alley lined with restaurants: a portrait of a woman’s face. Yscha and Jurjen wanted to show me something cool, they said. They delivered.

The face is painted on a large corrugated metal surface. Stand to the right and the woman is looking ahead; walk a few steps to the left, and the other side of the slats reveals its profile. And on that day, take a few steps back and you can see the real model herself and the boyfriend who painted her. (Not an hour ago, Yscha was telling me that you can hardly walk or cycle 10 minutes into town without waving to someone you know. Point proven.)

A SOGOshow mural created by Gordon Meuleman and Sophia Den Breems is just one example of how local artists are raising the profile of The Hague’s street art scene.

Liza Weisstuch

Sophia Den Breems and Gordon Meuleman are artists who call themselves Sogoshow when they collaborate, as they did in this portrait. I joined them for a pint at a table outside Impio, an elegant, international-minded tapas restaurant that opened in the alley in April. They told me about the pandemic interrupted beer project they were working on for a small local brewery called Heineken, how they work together as a couple. (“Over the years our work has blended into a style of its own,” Gordon told me. “It’s not Sophia more Gordon, Sogo is a third artist alive in our heads.”) They were both born in The Hague and never imagined they would see the day when people all over town would stop and get off their bikes to take pictures of murals, theirs among them.

Chef-owner Bjurran Piron came over to greet the group (all friends) and bring another platter of smelt fried with juniper and Sichuan peppers. We talked for a while about what it was like to open a restaurant during the pandemic and his time in Cambodia. It was there that he got a tattoo on his arm “Never come home” in Dutch. At that time, surrounded by creators in a historic city, it read to me like a welcome mandate.



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