When I choose places to go, some I choose for their obvious touristic value, others I choose for more out of curiosity. The Hague was clearly of the latter category.
To explain my curiosity, answer this question. When you hear the name "The Hague" on the news, what comes to your mind? What comes to my mind are the international war crimes tribunals from the Bosnian conflict and other world bodies. Sometimes when I hear of The Hague, it sounds like either a place because of the awkward inclusion of "The" in the name. I've also seen news articles refer to The Hague as synonymous with the international community serving there -- headlines have said "The Hague Indicts X" or "The Hague Convened Y".
I can assure you that it is a city, a fairly big one at that, with an international diplomatic flavor that one might expect. In fact, it was so big and fascinating that I left feeling that I hadn't budgeted enough time for it in my busy travel schedule.
There seemed to be three flavors to the Hague -- the claustrophobic old downtown hosting the Dutch Parliament and other national buildings, the classy Embassy Quarter to the north that serves the international community, and the ultramodern city that surrounds everything.
I admit that my first hour was spent in the least impressive parts of the The Hague... The train station is in the industrial south, surrounding by some (I think) ugly big ultramodern government buildings -- one looking like a cigar, the other like a massive forty-story barn. Neither were particularly appealing to me, and the sun was behind them anyway, so I deferred taking a photo of them and went straight downtown. The first photo shows a nice shot of a statue honoring King Wilhelm I and the Dutch Palace of Justice in the background, but otherwise I found much of the downtown to be unclean. As it turns out, I followed the street to the left of the photo, when the better route was to go right. You'll see why later in this travelogue.
It was once I got to the Embassy Quarter that I really began to appreciate The Hague. The Quarter began at the Grote Kerk and the Haagse Toren -- a tall red brick tower that is easily visible from most of the downtown. I walked up the road (I believe it was called Torenstraat) and encountered the Prinzenpalaas and its magnificent little park. From then on, I walked past street after street of beautifully restored brick apartments like those in the second photo. There are a couple memorials in the area, such as at Annapaulowa Square that has a sculpture of Anna Paulowa sitting on a park bench amidst a particularly beautiful set of apartments. Several embassies occupy apartments like these as well.
The most impressive building, however, is the Palace of Peace, shown in the third photo. This is the home of the international tribunals, such as those trying the war criminals from the Bosnian conflict.
I was very surprised not to notice any signs of the war crimes tribunals taking place. Despite my visit being on a Sunday, I expect to find some indicator that the trials were on-going -- graffiti, posters, placards, students or demonstrators staging rallies or sit-ins, either calling for Hang Milosevic or Free Milosevic. However, the area around the Palace, and just about the entire Embassy Quarter for that matter, was spotless! It was also well patrolled by the police, which might have been the reason.
The Hague is only a couple kilometers away from the famous beachfront town of Scheveningen, but in the interest of time I didn't go out that far. Instead, I walked John F. Kennedy Blvd at the northern edge of town, then east past the huge and ultramodern convention center, then south past some of the larger embassies. This swing concluded with a stop at the "February 13" monument shown in the fourth photo, commemorating the liberation of The Hague from Nazi control in World War II. The streets off the photo to the right appeared to lead to some of the more exclusive neighborhoods -- larger, single-family houses complete with security fences and such.
Following the main road south back to downtown, I encountered the Binnenhof (Inner Court) and its picturesque surroundings. The Binnenhof is the home of the Dutch Parliament -- a large compound of brick buildings fronting a pond and some of the best restored storefronts downtown. The Binnenhof's inner square, shown in the final photo, is fully open to the public. The two-spired building you see is the Ridderzaal, or "Knight's Hall". Just beyond the Ridderzaal is the back entrance to the Binnenhof, leading you past The Hague's best known museum, the Mauritshuis, a beautiful manor.
As it turned out, when I passed by the Mauritshuis, I found myself back at the Palace of Justice. So, like I said earlier, if you find yourself at the statue of King Wilhelm I facing the Palace of Justice, follow the way to the right, not the left. You'll enjoy the scenery much better.
Now that I've seen The Hague, I know it as far more than a "place" or an "entity". It's a big city playing a major role on the international stage -- and it sure looked like it belonged there.
Trip taken 20 October 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin