For the Love of Reading – Book week

It’s book week this week, reading is one of my favourite things to do. I’m not fussy about format so I will read e-books, listen to audio books and read the traditional paper versions. However nothing compares to the absolute joy of browsing a bookstore. So here’s my summary of English language books around the city. Most bookstores in the Netherlands will have an English language section but these stores are focused on English.

ABC, The American Book Center

Lange Poten 23

ABC is all about English language books, predominantly from US publishers. They also have magazines, games, agendas and gifts. ABC also offers a self-publishing service with Betty the Book Machine. The book selection is curated by staff, and they will sometimes provide staff picks for specific books with short reviews. I’ve ordered books from them that were not on the shelves and their service was good!


Noordeinde 39

Bookstor has a rather eclectic collection of books, lots of Penguin editions along one wall and second hand books along the other. There’s also a small selection of whimsical prints available. During the pandemic lockdowns the Bookstor did something rather lovely, you could buy a mystery selection of books which were then delivered to your home. It was such a delight to have something someone else had chosen.

They also serve coffee, and cakes. They have a terrace at the front of the store and a secret garden out the back. Shhhh! Don’t tell everyone.


Herengracht 60

Douwes specialises in legal texts, but don’t be daunted, they also have a range of fiction in English on the first floor. The selection is small but so interesting I find it a great place to browse and rarely leave with just the one book I came in for.

The English Bookstore

Number 22-24 in the Passage

A small bookstore, part of De Vries Van Stockum which is also in the Passage.

It’s painted a calming green and has a bright white chandelier, and a small selection of lovely books, mostly fiction. Mostly more literary fiction as well, rather than the “best seller list”. Worth a browse.


Lange Poten 41 (City centre) & Frederik Hendriklaan 217

Paagman has two locations in the Hague, I’ve only visited the one in the city centre, but I notice that the Frederik Hendriklaan site is open until 9pm Monday to Friday – for any book emergencies.

The city center store has a cafe, and a second hand department where I have found some pretty good bargains on fiction.


Noordeinde 98

Stanza specialises in books in languages other than Dutch, at this store you will find books in English, Spanish, Greek, German, Italian, Portuguese and Eastern European languages, at a second store on the same street, Librarie Stanza, you will find books in French.

Their aim is to provide surprising titles they think their customers would like, and they have a few of my favourite writers. It’s a charming store where the latest novel by Louise Erdrich and Patti Smith’s “A Book of Days nestle next to “Slime: a Natural History”.

All these books are in easy walking distance, here’s a handy map to prove it.

Did I miss any great bookstores in the Hague? Let me know, I’m always happy to, ahem, research bookstores.

When I hear someone say they're going to the bookstore "I'M COMING!"
Even whispering it from two rooms away.

Vermeer was here

There’s an incredible exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum showcasing the largest collection of his works ever assembled in one place, a total of 28 of the 37 paintings known to exist. From the moment the exhibition was announced I knew I’d have to go. I bought tickets in January and today I went.

It’s an astonishing exhibition, grouped by theme which is a great way to do it, and the explanations in each room help put it in context. There’s also a timeline in the last room of all the known paintings to help you see the chronology of the paintings – my one quibble with the exhibition would be that the tiny scale of the timeline means you can’t see the images unless you’re right up close and given the popularity of the exhibition it is almost impossible to ‘read’ the timeline. And there was a whole empty wall next to they could have used.

I’ve seen the Dutch-held works plenty of times, and seen a few held in museums around the world, but to see them all at once was truly wonderful. You could see similarities across works, and even costumes or props re-used. Such as the painting of Cupid used in the two paintings below, which resembles a painting from Vermeer’s own collection of art, a painting by Cesar van Everdingen.

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Johannes Vermeer, 1657-58, oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, Johannes Vermeer, 1670–72, oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London

The painting on the left, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, has recently been restored, until 2019 the painting of cupid behind her had been painted over to give a plain white wall. The rediscovery and restoration make it even clearer that the letter is a love letter. The change is so recent that the Vermeer books in the giftshop still include the old unrestored version of the painting.

There is one painting held by the Mauritshuis that I’ve never felt super sure about. It doesn’t have that quiet feeling of a stolen moment that I associated so strongly with Vermeer, but seeing it today in context with two other early works it finally made sense and that’s “Diana and her Companions“.

Diana and her Companions, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1653-1654. Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

As I live in the Hague I visit the Girl with a Pearl Earring fairly often, but today she seemed paler and less interesting in her surroundings. I’m not sure if it’s the black background she was hung against or the company she was keeping.

The exhibition is currently on until the 4th of June but is sold out, the Rijksmuseum currently has this statement on their website

“Interest in the Vermeer exhibition is very high. Unfortunately, there are no more tickets available at the moment. The Rijksmuseum is working hard to give more people the opportunity to see the exhibition. From 6 March, we will provide a new update via the Rijksmuseum website.”

So keep your eyes peeled, and book your tickets quickly if more become available, they will sell out again.

If you can’t make it to Amsterdam, or don’t manage to get tickets, the Rijksmuseum has created a virtual experience that lets you view each image in detail and presents insightful detail of the paintings, including connecting all paintings that share a prop or feature. You can also watch an exploration of each image narrated by Stephen Fry (the Dutch version has Joy Delima as the narrator).

And if that sounds like too much work, this Artnet article lists all the works in the exhibition

Don’t take my word for it; the reviews of this exhibition have been absolute raves, The Guardian called it “one of the most thrilling exhibitions ever conceived“, Washington Post “there will never be another Vermeer show as great as this one” and Forbes “worth a trip to Amsterdam“.

So what is showing at the Mauritshuis while the Girl with a Pearl Earring is visiting Amsterdam? Apparently five works inspired by her, but that’s also been controversial, I might have to drop by and see for myself.

The Scheveningen Fishwife

She stands, calm and resolute, facing the sea. But who is she? And who is she waiting for?

She’s the wife of a fisherman, and she’s waiting for his return. This monument is to the women left behind to go on with their home, their family and possibly a family business while their husband was at sea. More than 1300 of those men never returned and their names are engraved in stone on a memorial facing the sea one level below her. There’s also a digital monument that includes details of the people lost, the ship they were lost on, the event, and some images. Playing around with the search function I found that the youngest listed on the monument were just 11 years old, and the oldest was 71, his ship was destroyed in a mine explosion in 1918. Sadly there are often family connections among the dead as ships were crewed by family members. And I found one case of a loss in 1918 followed by his son’s death at sea in 1919. The earliest event recorded is 1814, the most recent is 2008. Sadly there is room on the wall for more.

The Scheveningen fishwife stands over the beach watching for them all.

But who was she? I did a little digging: The artist is Gerard Bakker, and he asked Ina Pronk to be the model for the sculpture. She felt honoured, and thought she could understand the strength needed for the pose.

She recounts seeing the finished sculpture with the artist “when the sculpture was ready I went with Gerard (the artist) to the church. I thought, today is a celebration, the sculpture will be unveiled. I entered the church, and it was full of women. Scheveningen women in mourning dress. And they said “today I can bury my husband”, that touched me deeply, and it can still make me emotional.”

My father was a sailor, I was always aware that it was a dangerous profession. His training included learning to fight fires, handle chemicals, and perform medical procedures. He talked about the real risk of pirate attacks on a specific route, and on one trip picked up a man in a lifeboat whose yacht had been wrecked on Middleton reef. But these men, working on smaller boats in the North Sea in a time before GPS, before radio contact, before all the tools that my father had were a whole extra level of bravery.

Once I knew her story I stood beside the Scheveningen Fishwife and looked out to sea with her.

Handmade – Quick Christmas Gift

I’m so pleased with how this turned out, and it’s super quick so still possible to knit one for someone’s special Christmas present.

You will need

100g Chunky wool
6mm circular needles with a short cord, you might still need to use magic loop to knit the neck
30cm narrow ribbon, I used 12 mm wide satin ribbon.

Cast on 45 stitches

Join the circle using the invisible joining method, which will leave you with 44 stitches in the round.

Rib the neck of hotwater bottle cover by knitting two stitches then purling two stitches, continue for six centimetres, or the length of the bottle’s neck.

Increase one stitch using the yarn over method between each purl stitch in the pair, this creates small eyelets in your work, you will use these to thread the ribbon through on finishing. Total of 55 stitches

Knit in the round for 27 cm, or the length of your hot water bottle.

Cast off, I used the three needle method so that I closed the bottom of the hotwater cover, and I did it with the wrong sides facing so that I got a detail row of stitches across the base of the cover. But if you don’t like this method, cast off in the round and stitch the cover closed, or use Kitchener stitch.

Thread the ribbon through the holes you created and tie a pretty bow.

The wool I used was from Cross & Woods, dyed by Yipee Yarn for them, and the colour is Witches’ Cauldron.

I chose it because it made me think of heather on Scottish hills, but now I find myself referring to the hotwater bottle as “my little nighttime cauldron”.

King’s Day/Koningsdag

For the first time in three years we’re having a King’s Day. It’s cool, and only a touch weird.

It’s my first King’s Day in The Hague, so I’ve been checking out what to do. There will be parties, a fair, and of course the traditional “free market” where everyone sells their pre-loved items on the street. It’s only free in the sense that you don’t need to pay any VAT or have a licence, you still pay for the goods. A fair bit of haggling goes on, and if you can hold your nerve items get cheaper as the day goes on.

It’s a day when everything is orange, I saw the traditional orange Tompouce in Albert Heijn today, but if you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own in about half an hour.

The fun has already started with some bands playing in various squares around town – thankfully none is too close to me, but the real fun starts tomorrow with the open markets around town, the full list is available online, I’m probably sticking to the central options; Piet Heinstraat, Plein, Noordeinde. And just for the fun of it, I’m not shopping for anything specific.

There are two other options I will try to check out tomorrow, one is a plant market on the Lange Voorhout – more specificially a geranium market (yes, that’s what it really says in Dutch). The other is historic trams from the 1910s which will run between Central Station and the Statenkwartier every 10 minutes (more info – Dutch only). There may be pictures tomorrow.

If you own any orange clothing tomorrow is the day to wear it. I shall be wearing orange sneakers and an orange tiara.

I was mocked when I bought the tiara more than 10 years ago, but I’ve worn it pretty much every year!

Say hi if you see me.

Queen's Day Tiara
My Queen’s Day Tiara

COVID’s Second Birthday

Most sources use a December date as the date of the first case of COVID and sometime late January or early February for cases in Europe. But this academic paper has analysed the data and suggests earlier dates for both events; it seems that some patients may have died of COVID in Europe before medical professionals were aware of the disease or were testing for it, and proposes November 17 as the most likely date for the first case in China which occurred as a result of a zoonotic spillover. And today 24 January marks the 2 year anniversary of the first confirmed case in Europe. So, some time in the last three months we hit the two year mark – happy two year anniversary to SARS-CoV-2.

I started to pay attention to the pandemic in February 2020, because a friend in Italy had told a friend here to take it seriously. Just after the Oscars on February 9th I went to see Parasite at the movies. I remember wondering when I would next go to a movie. After that I stopped any non-essential social interactions. I started working from home on the 5 March, ahead of the Government imposed restrictions on the 12 March. So at this point I’ve been living with some level of restriction for 22 months, and I still haven’t been to the movies.

Reuters created a high level view of those restrictions, here’s the graphic for workplaces which is the most relevant to me.

The graph doesn’t include dates, but you can see that every time restrictions are added the infection rate drops, any time restrictions are lifted infection rates rise. The drop that corresponds to June 21 is when vaccinations became widespread, and the sharp peak after we went to “recommend closing” is partly restrictions being lifted but I think is also Delta hitting us.

The most restrictive period (so far) was last winter, the government introduced a curfew, meaning it would have been illegal for me to leave my house between 9pm and 4.30am. The idea of living under a curfew brought home to me once again how serious this is – a government in a free democracy doesn’t introduce such measures except in desperation. But the practical impact on my life was negligible, I hadn’t been outside my house in those hours for months.

Where are we now?

Working from home, most the fun stuff is closed, cinemas/theatres/museums are closed, there are restrictions on sports, cafes /restaurants can offer takeaway and delivery only, non-essential shops reopened recently. Schools are open and vaccines for the under 12s have been approved. Although Omicron seems to be less dangerous (lower hospitalisation rates) it’s so much more infectious that our health system is still overwhelmed. Hospital workers themselves are sick lowering the number of professionals available to work in healthcare.

Everyone is fed up. Businesses are struggling. The number of “to let” signs around town is rising. Protests are increasing, and becoming more aggressive. There are plenty of anti vax campaigners intent on misinforming people – depressingly, however most people are vaccinated and people are getting their boosters.

The cultural sector is extremely frustrated, so last week a number of institutions opened as hair salons and beauty parlours to make the point that events are still closed and they could be lower risk than personal care services. Frankly I’d love to get a haircut while an orchestra played.

Concertgebouw hair salon


In many ways I’ve been lucky so far – I am vaccinated, I’ve been able to work from home the whole time. I have a good place to live and adopted a pandemic pet a few months ago who is sweetly entertaining. I think I’ve managed to avoid catching COVID, I had a number of symptoms over Christmas but have tested negative since. But I’m tired, tired of being alone, tired of figuring out what restrictions I have to worry about now, tired of working from home, tired of feeling anxious about meeting others, tired of discussions about vaccinations and masking, REALLY tired of people framing it as a freedom issue as if it’s OK to choose to add risk to the lives of the most vulnerable people. Just Tired.

And we will have more of this, more variants, more restrictions, more vaccinations, more challenges. At least for this year, beyond that, who knows?

Memorial Day

Today is memorial day. Some things will be as they always are – there will be 2 minutes of silence at 8pm when even the cars will stop around the country. There will be a broadcast across Dutch TV of a ceremony on TV. There will be a poem read by a student who wrote it to commemorate those who died in war. Flags are at half mast, and flowers are laid at monuments – including virtual monuments.

Some things will be different. There will be no crowds at any of the events, we are asked to stay home and commemorate with two minutes silence.

One of the local news sites has published images from the Hague during the war from the City Archives. The one of a tank at Scheveningen harbour struck me.

Gemeente Archive; Panter vehicle on the Scheveningen Boulevard.1940

This year I’m thinking about a group of 112 people belong to Gypsy, Sinta or Roma groups. They are commemorated in a monument near here, I think it’s the first monument I’ve seen that is specifically dedicated to this group. There was a national raid on 16 May 1944 and families were were collected by Dutch police on the orders of Berlin and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Only thirty survived.

I went for a short bike ride this evening to capture some of the memorials, normally there would be people in all these places, the only people I saw were delivery guys on bikes and, in the Binnenhof, Koninklijke Marechaussee and a lone trumpeter.

Prinsenhof Museum Delft

One of the things I’ve really missed during lockdown is the opportunity to visit museums. Museums were closed from 12 March to 6 May, open with restrictions over summer and have been closed again since 3 November. So when Museumkaart offered the opportunity to visit a museum following a negative sneltest for Corona I took the opportunity. I chose to visit Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, It’s relatively close to me and I’d never been there before. I booked a ticket to museum and a test. Last Friday I got the first chance to visit a museum in half a year. I was excited about it, and the lovely lady who gave me instructions about the route through the exhibits told me she was excited to be working and seeing people again. We all miss seeing people.

There were two exhibitions, Jingdezhen. 1000 years of Porcelain and the permanent historical exhibition about William the Silent – more about him in a later post.

Jingdezhen. 1,000 years of porcelain

I’d read about Jingdezhen in Edmund de Waal’s book “The White Road“, so I was eager to learn more. The exhibition applies a high level view of China’s turbulent history and shows the impact on Jingdezhen’s porcelain industry.

Take a look through these images, take a guess at which is the oldest, and which is the newest. (Answer below).

Clockwise from top left:

  • Eggshell porcelain bowl (ca1973)
  • Large vase with 100 treasures in relief (ca1890)
  • Hexagonal lantern, with swastika and coin motifs (1850 – 1900)
  • Teacup with “ricegrain” technique (2020)
  • Plate decorated with Van Alderwerelt coat of arms (ca 1760)

Were you right? I was surprised when I found out how “new” the eggshell porcelain bowl is.

Jingdezhen has survived a thousand years because it could adapt. It kept the secret of porcelain production until 1700, maintaining their mastery of a craft against the poor imitators of Europe. The first porcelain produced was simple shapes and simple designs, with etchings into the clay as decoration, like this small bowl. (Disclaimer, this is from the V&A because my photos from the Prinsenhof exhibition were terrible.)

A small bowl made in Jingdezhen during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) showing the Qingbai (blue-white) glaze pooling into the etching of two small fish in the base of the bowl.

As the Chinese traded along the Silk Road they created designs that would suit their clients, large flat dishes decorated with flowers suited homes in the Middle East and India, wine jugs with sytlised tulips destined for Persia, items for the Japanese tea ceremony, and eventually family coats of arms for Europe.

When Chinese exports began to dip in 1644 due to civil war – the kilns of Jingdezhen were destroyed – Delft potters began decorating their earthenware goods in imitation of the Chinese style, it was the beginning of “Delft Blue”.

When the civil war ended the kilns were rebuilt the Chinese repaid the compliment by innovating on glazes based on European enamelled glass. Such as this vase from 1916. This is the porcelain of modern times, although the motifs often draw on traditional themes.

The most exciting example in the exhibition was a large bowl with fish swimming in the interior and scenes from the workshop in Jingdezhen around the outside showing all the artisans at work.

Museums are still closed due to corona, this was an opportunity offered via the Museumkaart. However this exhibition is scheduled to last until 9 January 2022, surely we’ll be able to visit by then? It’s worth visiting, I may even go back.

The museum’s site is mostly in Dutch but they do provide basic visitor info in English, and for the exhibition itself there was a handy guide book with information on each item. Getting there was easy – there’s a tram from The Hague that stops right outside the Prinsenhof gates.

images all mine, except the Song Bowl which is from the V&A site.


Garden Party (Fête Champêtre), David Vinckboons (I), c. 1610

Some of the restrictions we’re living under just got relaxed.

Curfew has ended

It has been illegal to leave our homes between 9pm and 4.30am (later adjusted to 10pm to 4.30 am). Realistically this has had zero impact on my life since (a) it’s cold and (b) nothing is open. But psychologically I associate curfew with war, so I felt shocked when it was announced.

Shops can open

Essential shops have always been open, but non-essential shops were closed before Christmas and opened again just recently but only for shopping by appointment. I have used that appointment system about 3 times.

Cafes and restaurants can serve customers on a terrace

This is the one I have been waiting for, I want to be able to sit at a cafe, and be served food on a plate and coffee in a cup. Lots of my favourite places have been very creative with their takeaway options and I love them for it, but it’s not the same experience.

We won’t be quite as merry as the garden party above – we still have to maintain social distance, no more than two households at table, everyone must have an assigned seat, and the opening hours are limited to 12 – 6pm.

Still I have booked a table for lunch on Friday and I know I will enjoy it.

Image: Garden Party (Fête Champêtre), David Vinckboons (I), c. 1610 from the Rijksmuseum collection.

Quotable in The Hague #001

For the first time since I was fifteen my passport has expired, given that there’s no travel on the horizon it didn’t seem urgent, but now that things are improving it’s time to sort this out. That began with a trip to a local photographer. I wore a mask except for about a minute while he took the photo. Then he showed me the photo for my approval…

(i.e. me)
*looks at image on screen*
Oh, I look so tired
PhotographerWell, after a 20 hour flight you will look very tired, so you’ll match.