The Netherlands: Day 1 – The Hague

First things first- it wasn’t until we moved to London that I had a few things clarified.  Some are obvious, some less obvious.  The Netherlands is the name of the “kingdom”/country as it exists today.  Holland is the name given to the provinces of North and South Holland, which is where most of the population lives, and economic and political activity occurs.  (Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam.)  Holland is also the “brand name” for the country, and is the name most often associated with tourism and travel. The people and the language are Dutch and The Netherlands still has a monarchy.  

The Hague is the political capital of the country, where the Parliament and Supreme Courts reside, and also most of the international embassies.  The Hague also has a headquarters for the United Nations.  But Amsterdam is the official capital, the financial center of economics and culture, and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world.  

Let me back up a bit.  When planning our trip to the Netherlands I looked at flights and they were really inexpensive.  It’s true what they say about flights around Europe being really cheap. (As low as £15 one way.)  But what we’ve discovered is that it’s NOT cheap to rent a car big enough for the six of us, and it’s not convenient to haul car seats through airports, let alone the four children.  A friend from work told Richard that when traveling to the west coast of mainland Europe, the EuroTunnel is the way to go. It worked out really well.   Flying to big cities is fabulous if you plan on staying in the city and using public transport.  But I knew we would be going all over the country and we would need a car, so we just took our own!

We left on Wednesday afternoon, the kids were in between terms and on holiday for two weeks and Richard had the Friday before and Monday after Easter off work for bank holidays.  We put everything in the car and didn’t have to mess with kids or luggage until we got to the apartment.  Soooo nice.  It took about an hour and a half to get to Folkstone where we board the train.  We had booked a reservation in advance but it wasn’t crowded and since we arrived early they put us on the first train going out.  We drove right up, and drove right on to the train. There are bathrooms on the train and you can get up and stretch your legs.  The train goes down into a tunnel underneath the English Channel and in only 35 minutes we were in Calais, France.  

From Calais it was about a four hour drive to The Hague (Den Haag) and we drove into the city just after dark.  It’s a really beautiful city.  I completely forgot to take pictures of our apartment but it was nice. It was in the heart of the city, which was great for atmosphere and charm, but inconvenient for parking.  Fortunately Richard worked out a good system and would drop us off, find a place to park and then walk back.  The apartment did have big windows that opened out over the street, which made me a little nervous with the kids.  And the stairs were SO steep, just like all those flats we used to see while watching House Hunters International.  It was so funny, when we got home and the kids were walking up and down the stairs they were laughing about how their muscle memory in their legs was telling them to take higher steps than they needed to.  

It’s always nice to stay in a place with more than one bedroom and a kitchen to make some of our own meals. With websites like HomeAway and AirBnB it’s been pretty easy to find reasonably priced places to stay for a family.  After the kids explored the apartment and claimed their beds (I totally remember doing these things when we traveled as kids) we all went to bed. 

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The Netherlands has a reputation for being a bike-loving country, but Richard and I still could not stop talking about how many bikes there were. They were everywhere, I would watch them whiz by beneath the windows of our apartment every morning.

Richard said he had seen a neat building on his walk back from parking the car the night before so in the morning we decided to walk to the car and see some of the city.  It was really cold outside, really windy so it was hard to really enjoy it, especially for the kids.  
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The Royal Palace, where the king has offices for work, but I think he lives in a different royal residence in Amsterdam.

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The Peace Palace

The building Richard had seen turned out to be the Peace Palace.  You have to pre-book tours of the palace itself, but there was a visitor center next to it and we were so cold we jumped at the chance to get indoors.  We were given audio guides (my kids LOVE audio guides) and spent about an hour inside learning about the peace palace. 

I won’t get into the history of it, I definitely suggest reading about it, but the palace is a monument to world peace. I loved it so much. I also won’t get into my ever-growing inclinations toward pacifism, but I consider myself a huge advocate for peace.  (I suppose most people do.)   The palace is also home to the International Courts of Justice, (very interesting to read about) The Permanent Court of Arbitration (also interesting to read about), The Hague Academy of International Law, and the Peace Palace Library. The library was a request/demand of Andrew Carnegie, who more or less funding the building of the peace palace. 

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The Discover Peace Wish Tree – Inspired by Yoko Ono’s wish trees. “As a child in Japan, I used to go to a temple and write out a wish on a piece of thin paper and tie it around the branch of a tree. Trees in temple courtyards were always filled with people’s wish knots, which looked like white flowers blossoming from afar.”

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The World Peace Flame, surrounded by a circle of stones from 195 countries – Cam and Eli are finding their favorites.

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As a side note- I took a big leap and took my camera out of automatic mode for this trip. I shot everything in manual mode, which means I ended up with some strange exposures such as this one, but I know I need practice, and if I didn’t just do it than I would never get around to it.

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The smallest car I’ve ever seen.

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