Would you call the street shown in the link below beautiful? I think I'd call it beautiful even without the flowering vine. I'd call it clean, harmonious, well proportioned. It's the kind of street I'd like to start my day in - and my own local neighbourhood, thanks to an enlightened local authority, is 'getting there'. This is the Netherlands. From the blog Amsterdamian.
I recently flew the EU flag by visiting The Hague, marking the second anniversary of Brexit (Londoners, of course, voted to Remain). Nothing turned out quite as I expected. Here I talk about my trip with fellow journalist Jan Henselmans.
What brought you to The Hague?
I've loved The Hague since my first visit three years ago. But I come for the art mainly. And the architecture. The Hague is my idea of a balanced city: beautiful nature; beautiful buildings, and a certain majesty that comes from people's very own endeavours, the Dutch sense of purpose, that I like a lot.
What was different since your first visit?
A bit more traffic noise (for the first time in the Netherlands, I heard emergency vehicle sirens: they don't need to sound them normally); more traffic tailbacks at the lights; more speeding between the lights.
Any family connections with the Netherlands?
No. But my maternal grandfather and great grandfather were engineers, so there may be a cultural link.
What surprised you?
Something went wrong with the cargobike hire I'd booked before leaving London (that was the first surprise) so I did a massive amount of walking. I also got lost several times – a reminder of my Asperger's side – but I did come up with a startling new theory on the Dutch tronie* and I finally got to eat stamppot.
* a painted head or bust that represents a stock character or type rather than a real person – Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is a famous example.
Can you describe your Asperger's side?
Asperger's is a high-functioning form of autism and it's for life. Like many women, I try my best to fit in with everyone else but there are certain things I can't do, like ride a bike – oh, and 'small talk'. I've learned to cope with things I'm uncomfortable with – crowds, echoey noise, bright lights – by avoiding them. On the way back to London, taking a train from The Hague to Amsterdam to connect with Eurostar in Brussels, though, I ended up in Amsterdam Zuid.
I had a meltdown, i.e. my senses overloaded.
Can you explain?
It's a wonderful station, full of designer shiny metallic surfaces and the latest in lighting (It's undergoing a massive refurb and the platforms are being lengthened). I tried 3 times to catch the correct train before appealing to Informatie. I was in tears. Thank you, Dutch Rail. Your man at Amsterdam Zuid was an angel from heaven. I was put on the right train and arrived safely at my destination. I was – am – so grateful.
How did you discover stamppot – it's usually a winter dish?
In the supermarket! It was a bit cold and rainy that day and I had walked my feet off so I reached for it instinctively on the shelf. 4 minutes in the microwave for a really authentic tasting mélange of mashed potato, grated carrot, meat jus, speck (cooked pieces of streaky bacon) and herb butter.
What about your tronie theory?
Well, it came to me standing in front of a Rembrandt in the Mauritshuis. Appropriate enough you could say – I've always loved Rembrandt.
Has there been any reaction?
Not yet but you can read about it on my arts blog The Crawford Arts Review.
Have you visited other Dutch cities?
Amsterdam a few times. I first went there as a student. Delft, Utrecht and Leiden (I still have social science colleagues there), Arnhem and Veluwe for the Kröller Müller Museum. Oh, and Dordrecht, but the new build section is sadly not in the fine spirit of most Dutch architecture I've seen. And I must say, now that Eurostar goes direct to Amsterdam, stopping at Rotterdam on the way, I'll be adding Rotterdam soon I hope.
What art did you see in The Hague?
I'm interested in most art so everything – everything I could.
And modern art?
Of course. The Gemeentemuseum; the galleries in Noordeinde.
Do you have any suggestions for how The Hague could be more welcoming to visitors?
Centraal Station: I wish a designer could come up with a way to link the disparate elements with all their different histories and purposes into a single transport hub. It could be done simply by creating a lattice of LED lights and erecting it above the whole complex. The various entrances could be marked by colour coding that could be seen from a distance.
Things that could be improved?
I think there's already a study underway (reported in Dutch News) about the effect on the health of people who ride bikes and cargobikes of being in close proximity to scooters and motorbikes. It surprised me that motorbikes and scooters are actually allowed to share the bike lanes – they're noisy too.
Overall strongest impression?
I like how chatty and friendly people are on public transport – I think nearly everyone uses it when they're not riding their bikes. When I wasn't walking I was taking a tram.
Any other discovery?
Grolsch special edition.
Would you go back?
I'm already planning to go back.
What's next on your art agenda?
I've just finished Rodin and the art of ancient Greece at the British Museum. And I'd love to take on David Hockney. He's done a digital mashup of Hobbema's Avenue of Trees at Middelharnis. It's his favourite painting. It also happens to be my favourite painting. It's in the National Gallery. Somehow I think he doesn't quite get it.