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Going Dutch – The Hague, Netherlands

Going Dutch
The Hague, The Netherlands

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

Hans Brinker
Hans Brinker
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 that night was completely full of slumbering people on a bike tour. The dipshit night guy suggested that we go in and pull out the hide-away bed, disturbing eight sleeping people, that when pulled out all the way not only blocked the only exit, but also put me directly in the path to the bathroom, making an uninterrupted night of sleep about as likely as being killed in a freak Krispy Kreme 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, and so on and so forth until I was near hysterics from frustration.

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 as I was in such a hurry that 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 (Escher, Mondriaan and Vermeer) and attractions (the Peace Palace, Parliament, Sealife and Omniversum), 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 managed to step 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 its heat wave glory. Scheveningen beach is massive and lined with hotels, casinos and cafes charging three euros for an eight ounce bottle of Coke. The beach was packed, forcing me to trudge slowly and distractedly past untold dozens of topless German tourists 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, mini-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 much later when 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, feeling nothing but a fine film of sand. Thinking that it was just my hands, I wiped them off on the sheet and tried again. Yep, a layer of 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.

We're not in Amsterdam anymore Toto
We’re not in Amsterdam anymore Toto
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 100 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 and 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 one centimeter short of poking myself with a sandy finger 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?

Madurodam model
Madurodam model
After dutifully acquiring the first of many Euro-sunburns 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 in Vejle, Denmark. The little models were spread out in all directions over the giant park and you were given a booklet with information and background on each model and the historic significance of its real-life counterpart. 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.

Arguably, I flouted some of The Hague’s best tourist offerings, but I think we can all agree that a European trip without sand, sea and bare bosoms is tragic waste of money. I’ll leave you with one hint, go to Amsterdam after The Hague. You’ll thank me later.