GO­ING DUTCH

A week­end in The Hague

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

For most gay and les­bian tourists, Hol­land doesn’t re­ally ex­ist beyond Am­s­ter­dam. The Nether­lands (the cor­rect name, by the way) may as well end at the Prin­sen­gracht canal. Yet less than an hour away is the coun­try’s “other cap­i­tal”, Den Haag or The Hague, a city of great el­e­gance and va­ri­ety that makes it per­fect for a short break from the UK.

Ad­mit­tedly, The Hague does have a bit of an im­age prob­lem. Am­s­ter­dam is of­fi­cially the cap­i­tal but it’s in The Hague that you’ll find par­lia­ment, roy­alty and lots (and lots) of “of­fi­cial” bod­ies, in this self-styled “city of peace”, home to the Peace Palace and a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal courts. This gives it a rep­u­ta­tion as a city of of­fi­cials and ex­pats, a city for diplo­macy, not fun, yet it’s ac­tu­ally a lively, en­gag­ing, at­trac­tive place, of­fer­ing more than enough to sat­isfy – and sur­prise - the week­ender.

The Hague is rel­a­tively small (pop­u­la­tion 500,000) which makes it em­i­nently walk-able or cy­cle-able – or tram-able, with trams run­ning all over the city (get your­self an OV Chip­kaart at Cen­traal Sta­tion for un­lim­ited tram travel).

The best way to get ori­ented in the city is to take a tour and while there are all man­ner of horse-drawn car­riages and tuk-tuks do­ing the rounds, we saw bits of the city even the lo­cals don’t see with lo­cal tour guide Remco Dörr.

‘What do you want to see?’ is a great ques­tion to open a tour with and when we said we wanted to see a bit of ev­ery­thing but with a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on ar­chi­tec­ture and “a bit of gay stuff”, Remco did us proud (see info box for de­tails of how to book him). The city, which largely sur­vived wartime bombing raids un­scathed, has a rich ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage from tra­di­tional Dutch gables to art nou­veau sit­ting side by side. Throw in a smat­ter­ing of palaces, par­lia­ment build­ings old and new and an ex­tra­or­di­nary new sky­line of sky­scrapers, and it’s a re­ally pho­to­genic place.

One of the ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures well worth seek­ing out is the city’s “hof­jes” or court­yards. More than 100 hof­jes are hid­den be­hind doors, many built as almshouses around a gar­den, and most are ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic even if they are hard to spot. Pick up a map to find the most pic­turesque ones.

One of the city’s most fa­mous “res­i­dents” Ver­meer’s Girl With a Pearl Ear­ring is cur­rently off on a world tour that would put Madonna to shame while her usual home, art gallery the Mauritshuis, un­der­goes ren­o­va­tion, but the arts and gal­leries are still pretty stel­lar, as be­fits a city that was home to many of the Dutch masters.

We checked out two gal­leries that are def­i­nitely worth a visit. The Escher Mu­seum on Lange Voorhout (es­cher­in­het­paleis.nl) is ded­i­cated to the master of play­ful per­spec­tive and op­ti­cal il­lu­sion, with his wa­ter­falls flow­ing up­hill and men climb­ing never-end­ing stair­cases. The build­ing alone is worth a visit. It was a royal palace un­til the 1950s but its 18th cen­tury in­te­rior now has some of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary chan­de­liers I’ve ever seen. Make sure you make it

to the top floor, too, where you can in­ter­act with op­ti­cal il­lu­sions that will play with your senses and leave you won­der­ing whether you over­did it on those hash cook­ies in Am­s­ter­dam.

The other ma­jor arts at­trac­tion worth catch­ing is the Panorama Mes­dag (Zeestraat 65, panorama-mes­dag.com). To call it a gi­ant paint­ing is to do it a dis­ser­vice, as this is one of the largest panoramic paint­ings in the world, cre­ated by artist Hen­drik Willem Mes­dag in 1881. Stretched around the inside of a huge drum, 14 me­tres high and 100m in cir­cum­fer­ence, and de­pict­ing the nearby sea­side re­sort of Schevenin­gen, this art­work too plays with your senses, but un­like Escher, Mes­dag does this with such skil­ful use of light and per­spec­tive that it re­ally does feel like you’re stand­ing look­ing across the dunes to the beach.

Schevenin­gen, on the north-western side of the city, still has those beaches and dunes, and is now the most popular beach re­sort on the North Sea coast. Fa­mously, the name Schevenin­gen is so fiendish for non-na­tives to pro­nounce that sus­pected wartime spies were asked to say it aloud to prove they were Dutch. Say­ing “shav­ing him” while clear­ing your throat gives you a rough ap­prox­i­ma­tion.

Whether you can pro­nounce it or not, it’s a great place to kick back and re­lax, with a huge sandy beach lined with cafés where you can take a ta­ble round an out­door fire­place or a huge day bed on the beach and spend the day watch­ing the world go by and soaking up some rays (and check­ing out pos­si­bly the ugli­est pier ever built). Ev­ery Au­gust the beach also plays host to an in­ter­na­tional fire­works fes­ti­val that sees eight coun­tries com­pete over four nights with some truly spec­tac­u­lar dis­plays.

If you pre­fer your beaches a bit more au na­turel then get on your bike and hit the F1, the ma­jor cy­cle route that hugs the North Sea coast. Just a few (flat) miles out into the dunes and you’ll find nud­ist beaches, a gay beach and plenty of space to spread out your towel.

Be­fore leav­ing Schevenin­gen, how­ever, try to catch Catch (Dr Le­lykade 43, Schevenin­gen, catch-bysi­mo­nis.nl), the hottest new restau­rant in town. Sit­ting right by the har­bour, as the name sug­gests it spe­cialises in seafood and serves up chic glam­our as well as fab­u­lous food.

The Hague it­self is pretty well pro­vided for in restau­rants, too, but it’s worth get­ting away from the tourist ar­eas in the city cen­tre. Want to eat with the lo­cals (and the many ex­pats)? Head

“The city has a rich ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage from tra­di­tional Dutch gables to art nou­veau sit­ting side by side. Throw in a smat­ter­ing of palaces and an ex­tra­or­di­nary new sky­line of sky­scrapers, and it’s a re­ally pho­to­genic place”

to­wards Anna Paulow­naplein and try Room for food (Anna Paulow­naplein 16 , room­den­haag. com) or Wicked Wines for a drink (Bazarstraat 42, wicked­wines.nl). We also spent time in the town cen­tre hang­ing out in chic cof­fee bar Home­town on Buiten­hof 4 (home­town­cof­fee.nl), op­po­site the old par­lia­ment, or try the cro­quettes for lunch at Bij Hem, a cool café down a side street (Molen­straat 21a, bi­jhem.eu)

Molen­straat is part of one of the most ex­cit­ing ar­eas of The Hague, the in­creas­ingly trendy Het No­ordeinde dis­trict. Just off one of the main up-mar­ket shop­ping drags and right on the doorstep of the No­ordeinde Palace, the royal fam­ily’s main res­i­dence, this area of nar­row streets and al­leys is be­ing rapidly re­gen­er­ated, but at the mo­ment it’s still a lo­cal’s se­cret and hasn’t made it onto the tourist trail.

The area has got a feel of Shored­itch about it – hip­sters are mov­ing in and do­ing up the older build­ings to bring them back to life with trendy bou­tiques and cafés springing up. For men’s clothes try über-stylish Common Kin (Paapes­traat 22, com­monkin.nl) or sharp shirts from The Art of Cam­ou­flage (Prins­es­traat 74, theartof­cam­ou­flage.com). It’s also where you’ll find the stylish Park Ho­tel (Molen­straat 53, parkhotelden­haag.nl) that’s got that magic com­bi­na­tion of be­ing in­cred­i­bly cen­tral but in­cred­i­bly quiet, with views over the palace gar­dens.

The Hague’s gay scene isn’t huge – with the LGBT mecca that is Am­s­ter­dam less than an hour away, it doesn’t need to be - but it’s cer­tainly worth seek­ing out De Land­man (Den­neweg 48, cafede­land­mann.nl), a gay “brown bar” or tra­di­tional Dutch bar, dat­ing from 1762, mak­ing it one of the old­est café-bars in the city. Oth­er­wise it’s the usual mix of a clutch of small bars, a cou­ple of saunas and oc­ca­sional club nights but, as you’d ex­pect from the Dutch, there’s no such thing as a non-gay friendly bar or ho­tel.

The word that kept com­ing to mind as we wan­dered round The Hague was “sur­prise”. While the build­ings, peo­ple and life­style all seem ef­fort­lessly el­e­gant, it’s cer­tainly not starchy or a “civic” city. It’s re­laxed and easy to spend time in; stylish and even cool, and con­stantly con­found­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s a great start­ing place to get to know Hol­land beyond the tourist be­he­moth that is Am­s­ter­dam.

BEACH CAFÉS AT SCHEVENIN­GEN; BE­LOW VER­MEER’S GIRL WITH A PEARL EAR­RING

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP:

CHAN­DE­LIER AT THE ESCHER MU­SEUM; CAFé SO­CI­ETY; THE HAGUE SKY­LINE; EVENING BEACH CAFéS AT SCHEVENIN­GEN

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