H and I were worn out after a summer of house renovations plus a couple of minor but debilitating health problems. We had two Eurostar tickets booked back in early 2020 before Covid smacked the world round the face and we decided to use them to explore the Netherlands having visited Amsterdam many times but barely seen any of the rest of the country.
We based ourselves in a small hotel in a laid back, leafy neighbourhood of The Hague and were lucky enough to be upgraded to a neighbouring apartment in what was once the Spanish Consulate’s lodgings, much grander than we’d expected but very comfortable with huge high windows looking out over streets largely quiet except for cyclists and dog walkers.
Our first couple of days were spent doing very little, plenty of green wooded space to explore with beaches at Scheveningen within walking distance, all set off with some lovely late summer sun. Gazing out to sea watching dogs frolicking while drinking a macchiato at a beachside cafe wasn’t quite what I’d expected to be doing but it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to start the holiday.
We didn’t get around to any culture until Tuesday morning when we walked into town proper and took in the Mauritshuis which houses an impressive collection of Dutch paintings including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which I’ve seen reproduced too many times to look at properly, and Fabritius’ lovely The Goldfinch. Lots of Rembrandts to admire, including The Anatomy of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, but only a few genre paintings, sadly.
We found several of those at the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft on Wednesday along with many other Dutch Golden Age gems plus a selection of the blue and white pottery which has made the town so famous. Some of that was a little show-offy for me but I loved the simply decorated tiles. Rather like a much smaller, lower key Amsterdam with its canals and neat but beautiful houses, Delft is a pleasure to amble around. I suspect it’s a nightmare in the high season but in early September there were just a few tourists like us making the most of the last blast of summer.
Thursday’s outing was to Leiden, larger than Delft but with similar picture perfect canal side cobbled streets lined with elegant houses whose occupants make the most of what little space they have to grow flowers on the pavements outside their homes. With rain forecast for the next few days we decided to give museums and galleries a miss. The highlight of our morning was coffee and homemade apple cake in a tiny cafe so beautifully decorated that we felt as if we were sitting in a twenty-first-century Dutch painting entitled Still Life with Cake.
Autumn arrived on Friday which meant no more strolling in the sun so we took ourselves off to Escher in the Palace. I’ve been fascinated by Escher‘s discombobulating tessellated work since I first came across it. Some time ago, we went to an exhibition in Amsterdam which concentrated on the mathematical side of his art. He plays with perspective and infinity in a way which is quite dizzying.
Saturday was spent dodging showers mostly by hanging out at a particularly nice cafe and a brief trip to the Bredius Museum, a rather lovely eighteenth-century house. Worth the visit for its elegant, sunlit drawing room and Pieter Janssens Elinga’s fascinating perspective box but not the rather underwhelming art collection.
Sunday had looked like a washout on my weather app for most of the week so we’d kept the Kunstmuseum in reserve. The museum is a thing of beauty in itself with lovely door handles, tiling and stair rails. A good deal of the permanent exhibition is given over to Mondrian and the De Stijl movement whose ideas on art, design and the home neatly overlapped with the Bauhaus school. Mondrian may be its most famous artist but it was Theo van Doesburg who dedicated himself to disseminating the movement’s ideas, finding common ground with Bauhaus principal, Water Gropius. Strangely enough one of the De Stijl kitchen designs looked weirdly familiar, almost the exact same colour as our new one complete with wooden worktops.
We enjoyed our visit but perhaps the most memorable thing was Theo Jansen’s video of his fabulous sea creatures dancing on a windy beach which both entranced and amused us.
We left on Monday after a lovely restorative break, slightly nervous about getting across London on the day of the Queen’s funeral. The soundtrack to our holiday had been the squeaky toy sound of parakeets rather than the seagull squawking we hear at home, ironically much further from the sea than The Hague.
And the book? Just one, despite much lazing around. I quite enjoyed Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half about sixteen-year-old twins who run away from their small Louisiana home town after witnessing their father’s lynching. One returns years later fleeing her violent husband with their daughter, the other passes as a white woman marrying into a wealthy family. It’s one of those novels surrounded by so much pre-publicity hype that disappointment is almost inevitable. Nell Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance classic, Passing, made much more of an impression on me.
Back to books on Friday…