Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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The Hague, The Netherlands

Posted on 8/16/03

Hans Brinker, the kid that stuck his finger in the dam hole and saved the country from a flood.

I chose to visit The Hague after Amsterdam because I thought the contrasting cities would be a fun, wacky change. Boy was I right. Amsterdam and The Hague couldn’t have been more different if one of them were constructed completely upside-down. In Amsterdam you could get involved in every imaginable sin 24 hours a day with just a few minutes of prep time. The Hague was all business with the World Court as it’s center-piece. Amsterdam was old, cramped and drenched in history. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that The Hague had been built in the past 30 years, with progressive street designs, huge squares and modern buildings with wonderfully spacious bathrooms. Amsterdam had a palpable anything goes atmosphere. The vibes I got in The Hague were subdued and content, but serious.

I walked around The Hague for four hours on the day of my arrival. I didn’t see a single pan-handler, tripping doper or even a statue guy. I’m told that there’s a red light district hidden in there somewhere, but it sounds like you really have to be looking for it, unlike Amsterdam where it’s in your face like a bee to orange soda.

I stayed at the Stay Okay hostel which was a disaster of disorganization and ineptitude. Something went wrong just about every time I walked in the door of that place. They lost my reservation, then they stuck me in a room that I discovered upon returning at 11:30 at night was completely full of slumbering people on a bike tour. The dipshit night guy suggested that I sleep on a hide-away bed in the full room that, when pulled out all the way, not only blocked the only exit, but also put me directly in the path to the only bathroom servicing the eight person room, making an uninterrupted night’s sleep about as likely as being killed in a freak Krispy Kream doughnut accident. After demanding a real bed in another room, the aforementioned dipshit night guy eventually found another bed for me, but failed to change anything in the computer, so when my key card wouldn’t read the next day, the desk staff proceeded to give me a new card, coded for my old room, etc, etc, etc.

The reason why I started bitching about that was so it would come as no surprise to hear that when I requested the map/information brochure for The Hague from a member of the crack-team of desk knobs, the girl handed over the Italian version and I didn’t unfold it and discover the blunder until I was almost two miles away. Judging from what I could piece together from the Italian brochure, The Hague had a lot to offer in the way of art and museums, but I was really only interested in one thing; Scheveningen beach. I had been in Europe for over two months by that point and somehow I had not stepped foot on a single, true ocean beach in that time. My only concrete plan in The Hague was to rectify that situation. The sky was a hazy mess the day I arrived, yet the air temperature was still hotter than an Amsterdam peep show booth, so I delayed the beach trip until the following day when the sun came back in all it’s heat wave glory. Scheveningen was huge and lined with hotels, casinos and cafes charging three Euros for an eight ounce bottle of Coke. The beach was packed. I walked for quite a while before I found a place with an adequate amount of personal space. I unfurled the sheet that I had stolen from the hostel to use as a beach towel, punched up some tunes on my MP3 player and laid back on the sheet for some quality time with the sun.

What seemed like a stiff, but nice ocean breeze while I was standing turned out to be an incessant sand storm six inches off the beach. I could feel the sand lightly pelting me as I lay there, but I didn’t think much about it until I reached up to wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead and got a gritty smear instead. I sat up and touched my face again and felt nothing but a fine film of sand. I thought perhaps it was just my hands. I wiped them off on the sheet and tried again. Yep, sand was covering every inch of exposed skin. Just then, another bead of sweat carrying a few sand particles snaked down the bridge of my nose and landed in the inside corner of my right eye! Emergency! Emergency! I moved to clear my eye instinctively before I realized that my sandy fingers were just adding to the problem. Aig! I tried cleaning my hands off on the sheet, but it had too much sand on it to do any good. The pain started to become unbearable. I lurched off the sheet, yanked it off the ground and started shaking it off, causing everyone down wind of me to get a pasting of sand. Once I was satisfied that the sheet was sand free, I used it to wipe my face, but this only succeeded in spreading the sand around and irritating my skin. By this point, I was sure that some of the sand was under my contact lens and doing permanent damage to my cornea. I needed to get it out. I staggered down to the water, barely managing to avoid stomping dozens of people as I only had one watery eye to work with. The bed sheet got under my footing and I fell face first into the sand again. Now sand was hopelessly caked all over my face. Totally blind, I reeled in what I thought was the general direction of the ocean, but instead I staggered several steps to my left into a giant pit that three little kids had been furiously digging for about two hours. The fall wrenched my ankle and jammed my right arm about three inches into my shoulder. Apparently the little kids thought I had jumped into their pit because I wanted to be buried, because all three of them started shoveling sand onto me. I struggled to my feet, swearing and wailing in pain while I swung blindly at the little kids. I must have looked like a sand monster and sounded like a sand monster that had just stubbed his toe. The kids panicked and ran off. I crawled the last few feet to the water and plunged in, briefly forgetting that my wallet, map and key card were in my pockets, but by then I was in so much agony that I would have jumped into three inches of water, head first with the Dutch crown jewels in my pockets. I had sand in pretty much every orifice. I desperately clawed at my eyes, pulling out my contacts and trying to flush my eyes out with the salty seawater, which didn’t feel too great, but compared to the sand it was like a sterilized saline wash. When I was finally able to open both of my eyes, I saw that I had an audience of about 1,000 people, including the extremely unhappy people that I sprayed with sand and the parents of the frightened children in the front row waiting to bitch my ass out. Just then, a seagull swooped down and shit on me…. OK, none of that really happened. What actually happened was that a bead of sand-free sweat went into my eye, I reached to clear it and stopped myself one centimeter short of putting a sandy finger in my eye and then the visualization of what might have transpired if I had put that finger in my eye washed over me and I decided to share it with you. Fun, wasn’t it?

After a fair amount of time at the beach and painstakingly removing sand from my entire body I went to The Hague’s littlest tourist draw, Madurodam. Madurodam is a theme park of miniaturized models (on a 1:25 scale) of Dutch historic sights and attractions. The place reminded me a lot of Legoland®. The little models were spread out in all directions and you were given a booklet with information and background on each model and it’s historic significance. Although I found this very cool and educational at first, by the time I had managed to view and read about all 170 exhibits, I was confident that I had suffered through enough miniature models and Dutch history to last me well into my decomposing grave.

While in The Hague, I established a tight travel schedule for the following 18 days that would take me through nine cities in five countries in time for me to meet some friends in the Costa del Sol for a week of “vacation” at the end of August. Like all this wasn’t enough of a vacation for me in the first place. Ha ha! The schedule that I had laid out infused a small amount of anxiety in me over the precious little time that I had allotted to explore each city and thoroughly write about it. Well, no pain, no… well, I didn’t really have that much to gain, but who cares?

At the urging of some natives, I planned to spend my last two days in The Netherlands in a small southern city called Maastricht, where I could lay low, finish the essays on The Netherlands and mentally prepare myself for the next two weeks of high speed traveling and writing.

Go to Maastricht

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