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.

How Holland Got Its Name

One of my favourite places to visit in my new home city is the Haagse Bos, and the forest is part of the story of how Holland became known as Holland.

Once upon a time forests spread from Hoek van Holland, where the Maas river meets the North Sea, across South Holland, across North Holland to Alkmaar. The forest was then known as “Die Hout”, the woods. “Hout” is still used in Dutch today but more often to refer to a wooden product than a mass of trees. Die Hout eventually became  Houtland, or Woodlands, and that morphed into “Holland”. In English Holland is often used for the whole country, but in the Netherlands it’s used to refer to the two provinces that are roughly where “Die Hout” once stood: Zuid Holland, which includes the Hague, and Noord Holland, which includes Amsterdam.

There are two surviving pieces of this once great forest, Haarlemmer Hout, and  Haagse Bos.The Haagse Bos is relatively close to my house and although it has a highway through the middle of it, a playground in the middle, and a royal home at one end, it retains a sense of deep forest. I go there to breathe the fresh green air in any season.

The First Air Balloon

This simple statue could be a tulip, or a vase, but it commemorates something more significant, the first hot air balloon flight in the Netherlands. The flight was made in 1785 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and it departed from the gardens behind the Noordeinde Palace, now known as the “Paleistuin” or Palace gardens.

The sculpture was created by two artists, M. van den Burgh and P. Donk in 1959 and unveiled in 1960.

That flight did not end well. The balloon was made of varnished silk which could easily be punctured and when the balloon landed 25 kilometers away in Zevenhuizen Blanchard was attacked by farmers with pitchforks. It’s a comical scene to our modern eyes, but no-one in the Netherlands had ever seen a man arrive by any form of flight before, indeed the first manned balloon flight was only two years earlier so few people in the world had ever seen it, no wonder the farmers were afraid.

There is a charming image of preparations for the first flight held in the Rijskmuseum archive, showing the preparation – 24 barrels of gas being released to lift the balloon, four men holding tethers while it inflates, and various citizens strolling past the extraordinary sight. The statue is of a similar shape, but clearly stylised for the period it was created.

Timeline of Balloon Flight

  • 1783
    First manned balloon flight, Montgolfier brothers, France

  • 1784
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard makes his first balloon flight, France

  • 1785, January
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries, an American, cross the English Channel in a balloon

  • 1785, July
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard makes the first manned balloon flight in the Netherlands

  • 1793
    Blanchard makes the first manned balloon flight in the Americas, from Philadelphia to New Jersey.

  • 1794
    First military use of a manned balloon flight at the battle of Fleurus

  • 1807
    Blanchard makes another flight in the Hague, this time from Huis ten Bosch

  • 1808
    Blanchard has a heart-attack while in a balloon above the Hague, and falls from the balloon. He dies of injuries from the fall about a year later.

  • 1960
    Commemorative statue unveiled in the Palace Garden.

Thanks to Jacqueline Albers of “I guide you through the Hague” who explained what the statue commemorated during a tour.

Image 2: Rijksmuseum, public domain

Museum Voorlinden

Museum Voorlinden is a new museum, by Dutch standards, having opened in 2016. It’s a a wonderful modern pavilion purpose built as a home for art, it’s surrounded by a garden designed to have flowers in three seasons and be interesting in all four seasons. The collection is modern and has at its base the private collection of Mr. van Caldenborgh.

Museum Voorlinden (source: Cordeel, the construction company)

The exhibition space is light an airy, with a specifically designed ceiling so that the gallery space is bathed in light. There were three exhibitions on view. The first is called “Less is More“, a sort of play on art meeting minimalism. Some of the pieces focused on impermanence, some on humans vs their environment and some explored the materials such as Trans-for-men (my favourite piece in the exhibition). This exhibition is on until January 2020 – so you have time!

The second exhibition I saw was a joy, an exploration of fabric and architecture. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist, is fascinated with space and each piece is infused with colour.

And finally, the exhibition I was most curious to see, I’ve wanted to see Yayoi Kusama’s work for ages. Her power with colour and shape, her ability to visualise in any medium is so impressive. She’s been copied and underestimated forever, and it’s relatively recently – thanks Instagram! – that’s she’s started to have the sort of universal recognition her genius deserves. I was not less impressed for having seen so many images of her work.

I’ve wanted to see Yayoi Kusama’s work for years, so when I saw there was an exhibition on at Museum Voorlinden i rushed off to see it, I was a bit slow noticing so ended up going in the last week. The two other exhibitions I saw are still on, but hurry for Do Ho Suh, it ends on until 29 September.

How To Visit

Voorlinden museum & gardens
Buurtweg 90
2244 AG Wassenaar
The Netherlands

Getting There
isn’t easy!
I cycled from the centre of the Hague which took about 25 minutes, the only public transport option is bus 43 or 44, to the Wittenburgerweg Wassenaar stop, but there’s a 20 minute walk from there to the museum.

Ticket Prices
Adults € 17.50
13-18 year-olds € 8.50
under 12 free
NOTE: Museumjaarkaart is not valid

Opening Times
11 am to 5 pm

I recommend buying your ticket online before your visit.

The Sugar Palace

Model of Mauritshuis made of sugar cubesThe Mauritshuis is an emblem of the Hague, and this model of the building is made of sugar, symbolising the source of Johan Maurits’ wealth. He was the Governor-General of the colony Dutch Brazil, and involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In his lifetime he was so famous for his wealth that one nickname for the Mauritshuis was “The Sugar House”. The current exhibition Shifting Image – In search of Johan Maurits examines how we might view Maurits today, and how our views of him might have changed.

The paintings in the exhibition each present commentary from different perspectives.

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It’s a great way of giving a range of modern views to Dutch history, and I admit I didn’t realise there had been an Afro-Dutch community in Amsterdam during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

The museum has created this exhibition as part of ongoing research, and includes an invitation for participation. It’s the first time I’ve seen an exhibition dedicated to examining the Dutch role in slavery in a major museum here, often mentions of slavery are obfuscated with passive language. It’s necessary.

The exhibition is on until 7 July, and includes a range of extra activities. It’s well worth a visit. Book now!