When I have two close friends who live in the same city, I consider it a sign from heaven and I have to go and visit. So my trip to the Hague was decided and it took a fabulous turn that I did not expect. Marc de Brichambaut, a judge at the International Criminal court, suggested we discover Rotterdam, the largest harbor in Europe with its 40 kms of business along the Meuse and Rhine rivers. Ambassador Wijnaendts, a close friend who had been posted for 8 years in Paris, organised a private visit of the Mauritshuis, where we were told that the girl with a pearl earring did not wear a pearl !
There is one general rule in all the cities we visited, Dutch people walk, run their bikes and ride the train. So you have to get accustomed to a different lifestyle from Paris. No driving in your little car and parking anywhere you like! We walked around Rotterdam, admiring the contemporary architecture which reminded me a little bit of downtown New York, with the Meuse and Rhine rivers all around. The buildings designed by Rem Koolhaas are a complete architectural shock and are meant to revamp the Wilhelmina Dock.
The superb 802 m long Erasmus bridge designed in 1996 by Ben van Berkel and Carolin Bos, was a perfect vision from the water taxi that took us to the Nederlands Fotomuseum where Wout Berger, a Dutch photographer I spotted ten years ago at the Kranendonk gallery at Paris Photo, was presenting his new book and show.
This specialist of nature, has photographed polluted sites in the Netherlands in 1989 and in 2016. He shows the two pictures side by side and mentions that nothing has been done in almost thirty years to clean the wastes… I did not understand much of the speeches in Dutch but enjoyed the Prosecco with raspberries that was served and the photographs ! The exhibition of Bruce Davidson pictures was quite excellent also.
Drinks at the Holland Amerika Line Hotel, a wonderful old hotel on the tip of the island facing the United States, plunged us into the history of migration. It is a unique romantic week end destination as my Belgian golfing friends met on the street confined! As is Leyden, the ancient university town, full of canals and beautiful old buildings. It is a strong scientific research spot and we enjoyed the visit of the Botanical garden which has a series of greenhouses with orchids, equatorial forest species and Chinese medicinal plants. It is surrounded by water with rowers canooing on the week end.
I ate there my favorite shrimp croquettes something I always look forward to in Belgium and Holland. We also visited the Mayflower main sites, especially the Church of Pieterskerk (St Peter) where plates of the pilgrims reminded us of their life in Leyden before emigrating to America. This is something I had recently learnt in Rebecca Fraser’s book “The Mayflower generation” and which enhances the religious dimension of the emigration.
But the highlight of the trip was the visit of the Mauritshuis with its Vermeers, Rembrandts and Holbeins. The museum has been beautifully modernised and there are no crowds so you can peacefully admire the amazing decor and the chefs d’œuvres.
Our brilliant guide, told us that the earring of “The Girl with a pearl earring” by Vermeer could not be a pearl because it is much too large. Silver maybe ? looking at it from close up is very interesting because you notice her very straight nose and the fabulous pinks of her face.
On the way out we passed Hotel des Indes which reminds us constantly of the Dutch Empire in South East Asia, and the “Compagnie des Indes” which generated so much art: it has kept a delightful atmosphere.
It is very envigorating to visit Holland because bicycles are highly recommended for travelling around and everyone on the street seems healthy and handsome. Amsterdam remains the most visited town of course, but so much can be seen elsewhere, even when it is not the tulip season. Unfortunately, it seems that the iceskating races on the canals cannot take place anymore, because of the warming of the climate… (Paris-Rotterdam in 2H30 mns with Thalys)
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