It really pays off to make friends in other cities!
22.04.2015 - 29.04.2015 15 °C
In celebration of the end of classes, I decided to take advantage of an offer to visit some friends in The Hague. They were my roommates in my hostel in Prague, and they invited me to come up and visit them. As I have discovered, direct travel is rarely an option in budget travel; my 19 euro bus to Amsterdam left from Paris. So I just turned that into a quick stopover with my friend Mike, who I hadn’t seen since my weekend in Paris in October. (We both marveled at the fact that that was nearly seven months ago!)
The weather was absolutely beautiful when I arrived, so we spent a couple of hours sitting and catching up on the big place down the street from his apartment. The Place de la République, it has a reputation as the main demonstration site in Paris. In the direct aftermath of the attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices (also in the neighborhood), there were huge rallies there, and one can still see the evidence, left as a memorial. But apparently people are starting to wonder how long it will stay untouched:
(I took the photo on the left in October, and the one on the right last weekend.)
The main motivation for extending my layover in Paris was the fact that I had not yet had the opportunity to visit the Musée d’Orsay, which specializes in art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is probably the period that holds the most interest for me, so I really needed to get there at least once! And I was not disappointed. The limited amount of time I have spent in Paris has been enough to convince me that I would not enjoy living there, but I would totally reconsider if I could work here! The museum, famously housed in a former train station, is just incredible. The space is very well adapted to museum display, and the building is as much a work of art as its super interesting contents.
Their extensive Impressionist gallery was absolutely packed, presumably due to the high profile of the artists featured (Monet, Degas, Renoir, etc.). Though I love this period too, there were just too many people for it to be very enjoyable. But in comparison, practically every other hall was quite manageable. Luckily for me, there aren’t really swarms of people who want to see Odilon Redon’s work! And, of course, I also found some other cool stuff, too.
After the museum, I had just enough time for a leisurely lunch, so I bought a sandwich (I’m really gonna miss these giant, super crusty baguette sandwiches…) at a boulangerie and crossed just to the other side of the river from the Orsay into the Jardin des Tuileries. It was so gorgeous outside, and there must have been two thousand people hanging in the park – it’s immense. Due to its fame, was well as its location just between the Louvre and the Orsay, I think a good amount of the people were tourists. But at the same time, one thing that I have observed here is the fact that French people, no matter how businessy, really know how to chill out and take lunch breaks seriously. So there was also a lot of what appeared to be business lunches/picnics or people just enjoying an hour or two in the sun out of the office.
Shortly after lunch, I jumped on the bus for a 7-hour drive up to Amsterdam, followed by a short train ride to The Hague. My friends live in the charming little city of Voorburg, which butts right up against The Hague, but is recognized as its own city. It’s super nice – many of the important political people who work in The Hague live in quiet Voorburg, which really just feels like a suburb. It’s also the oldest city in the Netherlands – more than 2000 years old. Also, some people have the great fortune of living in windmills! How Dutch is that?!
We did a bit of exploring in The Hague city center, as well, which was about a thirty minute walk away. The stereotype that there are three bikes per citizen is probably more accurate than not. They are everywhere, and I had more than one close call. That is not helped, however, by the fact that motorcycles are considered bikes, and therefore are often driven on sidewalks…
For my first dinner in the Netherlands, I had the wonderful pleasure of eating a Dutch specialty – kapsalon. The magical baby of poutine and a kebab sandwich, it is a dish of fries, covered with döner meat and gouda, popped in the oven to get nice and melty, and then topped with lettuce, tomato, carrots, and an amazing garlic sauce. It was so freaking good but so incredibly heavy – the only way I was able to finish it was the fact that I had barely eaten anything all day.
I was also there – intentionally – over a holiday. April 27th is Koningsdag (King’s Day) to celebrate the birth of the current king, Willem-Alexander. It’s a huge national deal, and on King’s Night (King’s Day Eve) Den Haag has a big multi-stage music festival and a fair. So we all hung out, listened to some music, and walked around downtown, which was quite packed.
On Monday, for the real holiday, we decked ourselves out in as much orange as we could (it’s the color of the Dutch royal family, and a King’s Day tradition) and hopped on the train to Amsterdam, the main base of the festivities. We had heard that the whole city would be packed, and it was true. As soon as we stepped off the train, we just became part of a swarm of orange that filled every street. The main streets were lined with booths selling food and merchandise, there was either live music or a giant speaker on almost every corner, and a good percentage of people were already drunk (it was about noon). So we just joined in.
And found some interesting artwork along the way.
But as far as appreciating the amazing and beautiful place that Amsterdam is, I probably picked the worst possible day to visit. Not only were there so many people that is wasn’t really possible to just stop and enjoy the view, the party pretty much destroyed the city for the day. We walked down streets where the stones were barely visible under the trash, the canals were littered with crap, and we passed more than one heap of beer cans and cups that was almost as tall as me. But luckily I was able to get a couple of clear shots; because it really is quite a stunning place, and I would love to see it on a better day!
I’ve been doing so much solo traveling this year, which is fantastic for having 100% freedom with your itinerary. But I must say that there are some awesome benefits to sharing travel experiences with friends.