May 2010

You already know my posts from Holland will not be chronologically ordered (there were so many things and I was more than few times too lazy to type every evening). So May 6th I went on one-day trip to South Holland to The Hague, Scheveningen and Delft (and I managed to stop for an hour and a half walk through Leiden on my way back).
Everyone in Serbia knows about The Hague and Scheveningen because in The Hague are two courts which plays very important roles in our lives: one is International Court of Justice (which was dealing with genocide issue in the war in ex-Yugoslavia) and the other one is International Court Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, or ICTY (where many of politicians from ex-YU republics were/are still on trials for their role in the war); Scheveningen is place where is the prison where are those politicians.
So my first association when hear these two places was indeed trials and I didn’t even imagining there’s anything else. As if The Hague are two buildings and Scheveningen one prison; and that’s it. Indeed this trip was in my “schedule”prior coming here and among things I really wanted to see were those mentioned buildings. I guess some of you might find this odd but I really had need to bee there and see it with my own eyes.

Of course that’s wasn’t everything I was hoping to see. When checking what else is there I was so surprised to discover how in my mind politics has completely covered real treasures those places have. Before this trip I didn’t even think about Vermeer and his life here, nor about Rembrandt or Rubens, or Escher.

Anyway I jumped on the morning train and was in The Hague about 10.30am. Luckily the weather was lovely although quite windy (but that’s fantastic for Holland). So first thing I was heading to was The Mauritshuis, one of the finest galleries in The Netherlands. It is placed in beautiful mansion which was bequeathed to the state after Johann Maurits death in 1697, and since 1821 it has been the home of the Royal Picture Gallery. And indeed what an amazing collection it is. I was stunned first by “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt; In the same room is the very last Rembrandt’s sefportrait and then in the next room the pearl of the museum, Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With a pearl Earring”. It was an amazing feeling to stand in front of “Dutch Mona Lisa”, the painting I know so much (nope, I didn’t read the book, nor saw the film). I was standing some half an hour looking it and listening audio guide when suddenly I’ve heard one quite weird sentence:“Jan Vermeer made the most famous pearl in western art by only two brushstrokes of white paint” and I thought “What?”. Then I approached even closer and was staring into the pearl and indeed is made by two different white: one that reflects the light and other that reflects the the clothes and that’s it. There is no definitive shape nor the hole in the ear. Amazing!

After the Mauritshuis I remembered advice from BookCrossing friend from The Hague and visited Escher Museum (which is oddly enough not included in the guides) and how good advice that was! I was completely lost in the impossible landscapes, optical illusions, and interactive things museum offers. I love how he used geometry in his art and all puzzle-like metamorphoses he made.

After Escher’s museum I finally went to Vredespaleis (or Peace Palace) in which is The International Court of Justice. The building (or should I say castle) is breathtaking. Sadly I couldn’t get in because I made stupid mistake and didn’t announce my visit which is mandatory. I almost begged but without any success. One simple phone call day before would solve the problem but hey, at least I’ve seen it from the (safe) distance. This means nothing but I’ll have to come back 😉
Enormous palace was completed 1913 and many of the member nations of the Court of Arbitration contributed to the interior’s (according to the guide) rich decoration. In 1946 the Untited Nation’s International Court of Justice was formed as successor to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
In a front of Vredespalais was a tram station where I could catch a train to Scheveningen so I did but after a few minutes I’ve seen a familiar building so I jumped off and indeed it was what I thought it is: The International Court Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (and I think Rwanda as well). It was very strange feeling to stand in a front of the building which was on news almost everyday. I even saw a van with some Serbian crew (I recognized the names). So I text message to Serbia where I am and got reply “I hope you were spitting it”. Strange thing is that every side involved in the war think the ICTY is against precisely their side favouring other two but indeed I would agree. I do think it at least a little bit less favouring our side but I’d rather not be part of that game so I’ll stop here.
Anyway, I’m so glad I fulfilled my, maybe perverse wish and visited both courts.
Then I catched a train to Scheveningen. As I said at the beginning, the only thing I could imagine about Scheveningen was a prison so I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I saw absolutely gorgeous little town on the coast of North Sea (yup sea again). I walked and really enjoyed myself in the view and nope, I didn’t went to see the prison. I really enjoyed my time there and actually didn’t know how much I love the sea because I was always thing about myself as more mountain-type but those waves and the salty air were incredible and indeed something I obviously missed a lot.
There is a joke about Scheveningen, that during WWII Nazis were able to distinguish Dutch from others by forcing them to say Scheveningen. This is indeed historical fact; the joke is that the allies (i.e. Americans) were pronouncing it something like “Shave-a-nigger”.

In the opposite direction of the same tram line was Delft, my third planned destination for that day. And after some half an hour ride I was there. Friends who were there told me it’s gorgeous but I couldn’t imagine how right they are. Indeed it’s so cosy with small and numerous canals and bridges, squares and churches. OK churches are everything but small but anyway I’m so glad I decided to go there as well. Delft is by the way world famous fir its blue-and-white pottery as well as the resting place of William of Orange (1553-84), one of the most celebrated figures in Dutch history. He commanded the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule from his headquarters in Delft, and his victory resulted in religious freedom and independence for the Dutch people.
Delft was also the birthplace of Jan Veermer who was so underrated during his lifetime that he died in extreme poverty. Well, so many painters had the same destiny. I just remember that I’ve heard on audio guide that “Girl With a Pearl Earring” has been bought for only 2 euros! Nope even then that wasn’t much!
So after spending few hours in Delft it was time to go back but then in the train I thought “Why not get off the train in Leiden, spend an hour or so there and then catch another one?” which is precisely what I’ve done. This was indeed second time I was here but first time was after biking some 50 km (I posted about that) and then I wasn’t keen on going deeper in the town.
Leiden was founded 1575 precisely by William of Orange, a year after he relieved the town from a year-long siege by the Spanish. As a reward for their endurance, William offered the citizens of Leiden a choice of the building a university or the abolition of tax. They choose wisely and the city’s reputation as a centre of intellectual and religious tolerance was firmly established.
The dark was fell long time ago when I left Leiden.
I’m very happy to say that after this trip The Hague and Scheveningen will not be places where our “Balkan heroes” are but home of Vermeer and Escher and lovely coastal town.

Today was a fantastic day! Don [Marlene’s father] drove us [Marlene, Ro, Maureen (Marlene’s sister), Sigourney (Maureen’s daughter) and me] in Volendam, lovely little (quite touristic) fishing village in the North Holland on the mouth of river Ij. The village is famous because its inhabitants still wears traditional Dutch clothes. To be honest I really thought that wearing a wooden clogs is a myth but then Marlene told me that she was wearing them and also she bought every year new pair for Ro! Indeed you can by them in the shops here with all proper sizes and everything but I never thought some would use them. Well I was 100% wrong! One of the first images when we arrived in Volendam was a guy in jeans on the street wearing wooden clogs! (no jeans aren’t part of Dutch traditional clothes).

So anyway, inhabitants of Volendam made their town famous because of the clothes with those high pointed bonnet on women’s heads that became one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes. The houses are lovely as well. Everything was quite in (as one of my friend said) “Hansel and Grethel” style 🙂

And the we took a picture in traditional costumes as well. Don is playing an accordion, Marlene is testing her muscles with an enormous piece of Dutch cheese, Sigourney is showing some smaller pieces, Maureen just picked fresh tulips from the garden, Ro is grinding the coffee and myself showing my pray from the fishing. And of course we all wearing lovely wooden clogs!

By the way Volendam is the place where Picasso and Renoir spent some time.

After a nice walk, coffee and taking some photos we headed back home. Luckily today was The Day of Open Mills! I’ve never been in one before so this was a perfect opportunity. And where would be better place to do so than in Holland! We passed beside few and then stopped near one where the miller explained us the history of that precise windmill (which I didn’t understand cause he was speaking Dutch, later I got translation) and the working mechanism. He was so nice when he realized that I don’t speak Dutch he explained me in English and even opened the highest part of the windmill (which was closed for visitors) so that I could see it.

Many would think that windmills have been used to grind the corn and wheat but actually the main role was to drain the land of lakes and marshes , and extend the shoreline to create fertile farmland. Don’t forget that much of the Netherlands lies below the sea level.
The whole mechanism is made of wood and was working using the power of the wind. I was confused cause I thought it’s moving in one stable rhythm but miller said the case was quite opposite. Then outside I saw system of ropes that are modifying the changes in the wind.

Also nearby windmill there was a little shop where people were buying flour made in that same windmill. One man was shaking a sack of flour homogenizing it. he explained me that they have few flour types with different level of pulverization and they are mixing them in some precise measurement and then by turning the sack upside down he homogenizing it in the final flour. It’s totally traditionally made! And beside that little shop there was a tent where one girl was selling pancakes made from the flour from that mill. We took some (they were delicious) listening not quite Dutch melodies which one older man was playing on his accordion.

I must say that the route was quite scenic and in lovely little towns we were passing through we were making stops to take pictures. For instance Monnickendam (which we visited on out way to Volendam) is beautiful. When we continued our journey back Don was explaining me history of that part of the Holland. He showed me also some places which aren’t on tourist’s maps like steal factory, the steam train still working and railroad that it uses especially to transport steal from the factory (you know, steam locomotive is something you really can’t see in Holland). We also went to the IJmunden harbour which is quite huge with big cruisers and numerous fishing boats. In the harbour there are three huge locks which are enabling the ships to go from the sea into the dutch-canal-system and vice versa. There is a fourth one which can only be used for letting the surplus water out of the canals into the sea (North Sea) [this part was edited thanks to Don]. The harbour was curled among wast dunes and among the dunes there was hidden Atlantic Wall.

I must admit I was totally ignorant about the existence of Atlantic Wall but luckily one of Don’s passions is history (and as far as I noticed, especially wars) so he explained me bunch of things about it. The wall has been made by Nazis as a defense from the Allied forces. The wall is a system of coastal fortifications stretching from the very north of Norway till the shores on the french-Spanish border. Indeed the wall is mainly covered with weed or sand, some parts integrated with the dunes but he showed me some places where is still visible as well as a bunkers in which Nazis had huge canons.

It was such a nice history lesson about which I didn’t have a clue which was really icing today’s cake.

Beatrix of the NetherlandsYup I said I’ll write next time about Queens’ Day but today happened something quite strange: I’ve seen the Queen! OK the circumstances at the end weren’t so lovely but still. Namely after visiting few museums (among the rest Hemp Museum where you can smoke a little bit weed) during the day I ended on the Dam Square in Amsterdam where was about to begin the big event: it is Remembrance Day, a national memorial ceremony. All flags show mourning (they aren’t on the top of the stick (don’t know expression in English)) and each May 4th there is a ceremony on the Dam Square in which the Queen also take participation and at 8.00 pm there is a 2 minutes of silence.

Edgar DavidsIt was quite crowdy on the Square. The speeches have been made first in the church on the square and then there is a procession from the church to the Square to leave the flowers on the memorial monument to the Dutch who lost their lives in World War II which is also on the Dam Square.

I was in the crowd and I saw Dutch Queen, Beatrix of the Netherlands (I was some 5 m from her) as well as some famous people (and among them Edgar Davids).

Anyway, during 2 minute of silence suddenly some man started to yell (and I thought what a stupid, stupid joke). Then there was another scream which I believe it was some Dutch word and then we heard a roar, very strange sound as if a massive train is passing beneath us. That is when people were started to scream and stampede began. The metal fences were down, everyone was running away from the sound. My backpack was on the ground and camera in the hands so I was clumsy; managed to grab backpack, guarding camera but couldn’t avoid the lying fence so I fell. It wasn’t pleasant whatsoever because people in panic ARE dangerous.

Luckily I was on my feet soon enough to avoid to be covered with more bodies. I jumped over one fence in the area that was restricted few minutes before where there were no many people so I was able to watch what on earth is going on. People were hysterically crying, both kids and adults; many were carried by policemen and ambulance and no one knew what was the cause of the those screams and what was that really frightening sound.

Of course first association for all was last year’s Queens Day when many people lost their lives in the attack. Today however, luckily there were no such a consequences but I realized how deep trauma event from the last year has left on Dutch people. And that was the scariest part: knowing that people in such a perfect and ordered lovely, wealthy country live in utter fear without even realizing it. All they need is a trigger, a shout of a sick man and voile: psychology of the mass in on the stage.

Marlene was completely in panic. She sent me text message immediately to check if I’m alright. Rowena called to tell her that she just saw me on TV (there was a live broadcast from the Dam) and she turned on TV and start to type me a message when all this happened. She raised her eyes from mobile phone to TV and saw panic and stampede. Later when they said it was a sick man who was screaming Rowena explained what happened: “Oh it was just Milan not behaving himself”

I thought how would we in Serbia reacted: probably just thinking “What an idiot!”, maybe someone would be irritated and solve the problem with his own hands but I doubt it would provoke such a panic. But I totally understand Dutch people. They just didn’t accustomed to such violent excesses and after experience from the last year I doubt they’ll be cured anytime soon.

I didn’t have a time to write my blog regularly because I was out whole day and then in the evening I wasn’t quite in the mood to type. Anyway, Amsterdam happened few times in the meantime. On the first day (which was quite nice) I decided to take a canal cruise through A’dam’s canals (utterly touristic). I was sitting outside of the boat so that I could make a photos without glass (the boat was covered) and therefore couldn’t hear the story guide has been telling about the buildings before we were passing, but anyway I’ve read about that in the guide. The only thing was that after cruising I went to walk and then took almost the same route which I realized only after few hours and checking photos I’ve made.

Everything looks the same. So many times I thought “I have to take a photo of that, and that, and this, and that …” only to realize that those photos are almost the same. Another curious thing is that I’ve managed (in spite of the fact I had a map) to get lost so many times! Everyone told me Amsterdam is not big city but then I didn’t expect it’s so small. So many times I was heading towards one point and after so much walking without finding it turned out that I must have passed that point long ago and almost reach the point which is not on the map whatsoever! Also it happened numerous times that When I finally managed to locate on the map where I am after only few minutes I’ve been lost again! Today (on the lovely meeting with Dutch BookCrossers I had) I’ve heard explanation.Namely, on the BC convention hosts were explaining how the streets of Amsterdam aren’t straight but in the shape of a horseshoe, following the canal rings. What they forgot to say that after every half an hour (or so) the whole horseshoe pattern is moving anticlockwise and all streets aren’t at the same position on the map as they used to be before that click. Gosh that was so frustrating! But then after few days of not having the slightest idea where you’re going everything become quite clear and simple. (today I know perfectly where should I go to reach Van Gogh’s Museum and then where should I go to reach CaffePlaza to meet other BookCrossres)

But to go back on the first day… After finishing canal cruising I went to walk through the streets and bridges of A’dam. And suddenly in one moment I’ve heard knocking on the glass next to my ear so I instinctively turned my head in that direction. OK I know A’dam has Red Light District and of course I was planing to visit it but I didn’t know where exactly it is and even less that I’m in the middle of it. When I turned my head I saw big (really big) almost completely naked woman in her 50ties (or even more) winking me and inviting me inside. I must say the scene wouldn’t be pretty even if I have been prepared. If I wanna be completely honest it was scary, but of course I’m not used to those kind of window shopping so I needed a little more time to realize that’s OK; it’s OK to look at those women, to wink back or even to accept invitation. So The Red Light District turned out to be the first place I visited in Amsterdam and it was quite interesting. Also the real window stars can bee seen when night starts to fall although indeed there is a pick for all sorts of preferences.

[now I’m gonna time-jump again]

I saw great exhibition in Amsterdam Historical Museum: “The Hoerengracht (1983-1988)”. This world-famous iinstallation is a walk through reinterpretation of a section of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. With its display of richly decorated rooms of window prostitutes, the work is more than a superb example of assemblage art. It is a monument to the Wallen (window prostitution) of the 1980s and this is the first time the work is shown in Amsterdam. the exhibition examines the connection between art and Red Light District. Alongside Kienholz’s (authors of the exhibition Edward and Nancy Kienholz) work, international contemporary artists comment on the theme of window prostitution. “Role Exchange” by Marina Abramovic, for example, explores what happens when an artist and a prostitute change places. For four hours they changed places: prostitute went to the exhibition opening while Abramovis took her place in the window. I was so excited when I saw this installation: There are two screens: one was showing Marina in the window smoking and smiling to the viewers (me) and the other, prostitute chatting with people at the exhibition opening.

As I said I didn’t want to be in the museums when the weather was so nice so I walked whole first few days. I went in the Westerkerk and its tower (the tallest in the city at 85m). The church also has the largest nave of any Dutch protestant church. Rembrandt was buried here though his grave has never been found. The panoramic views of Amsterdam from the top of the tower indeed justify the rather gruelling climb. We were lucky cause the weather was so nice so the views were fantastic.

Beside the Westkerk is [in typical Dutch spirit] Homomonument, monument dedicated to the homosexual women and men who lost their lives during World War II. The pink triangular badge which gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps later became an emblem of gay pride and was an inspiration for this monument which consists of three large pink granite triangles.

In the same street where is Westkerk is also Anne Frank House but when I saw how huge queue is I decided just to pass it. I might go there before return although I’m not keen on spending hours in the line. By the way I visited (just on short) Van Gogh’s Museum today and and it was such an emotional experience. However I’m not going to write about that now. I’ll go there few more times for sure so it’ll be separate post. I’m just mentioning this because when I peeked out of the museum on the street I saw 1km line of people waiting to enter the museum. The same situation was with Rijksmuseum. And today it was raining incredibly (first day with rain whole day long). I didn’t wait cause I purchased Museum Card which allows beside free entrance in almost all Dutch museums, skipping the waiting line 🙂

Anyway, day before Queen’s Day is of course Queen’s Night. It is the day when many people arrives in Amsterdam and the party is starting. By the way, on Queen’s Day Amsterdam at least doubles its population (750000), not only with foreign tourists (like me) but with Dutch from other cities as well. All of a sudden there’s complete blockage of all streets in Amsterdam by people. Every single square has a stage with DJs or different groups. I was cruising from one to another; they were mainly house music which was OK but not to much fun. Then there was stages where people were having great fun but it was sort of Dutch folk music and I must say that certainly is not my mug of tea. It reminded me on some German, Alpine yodelling (not the same but leaves that impression), with middle aged men with accordion, guitar, violin but the audience was screaming the words. It was silly. And then I’ve found the stage with the disco music from 70s-80s and that was a blast! They were singing Bony M songs with all choreography and costumes and I had really great time! Oh and then rain shower started but I didn’t even mind that! It was such a great time indeed.

And then next day (Apr 30th) was the Queen’s Day, the biggest, craziest holiday in The Netherlands … but I think I’ll write about that, next time.