Living in Den Haag

Though I just finished one blog post, arriving “home” from Madrid yesterday and my walk to work this morning inspired me to write another about how much I love my new city.

For one thing, and no offense to all the others in the world, the Amsterdam Airport is amazing. Super clean bathrooms, well organized and laid out, great shopping right in the arrivals terminal for those who are awaiting for visitors, and the easiest airportàtrain (or vice versa) transition I have ever seen.

 Speaking of the train, I love love love my OV Chipkaart. You load money onto it, activate it, and it works to get you on trains, buses, and trams with just a tap at a machine when you get on and again when you get off. So much easier than a paper ticket, waiting at a ticket machine, and picking your destination. Plus, I can get on the very last car of the tram, which is closest to my apartment when I get off at my stop, rather than paying the driver in the first car. After living in the Bay Area, Rome, New York City, and visiting many other places with public transportation, I think I have enough experience to say the Dutch have it right. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but after a long morning of traveling on three metros, a bus, a plane, a train, and a tram – as well as many moving (and non-moving walkways) to get back to The Hague, I truly appreciated the easiness of transportation here. At the same time, I miss my car immensely, and will be thrilled to be back in Williamsburg with her once again at the end of August.

Den Haag also seems to be one of the kindest cities to me in terms of weather. Now, anyone who has been here (or read my last blog post about Madrid) knows that it is not always lovely. The North Sea can be a fickle mistress with the 20+ MPH winds and freezing rain. But when I need the weather to be nice, it is. J For example, last Thursday when I needed to take the tram and train to airport for my flight to Madrid, the horrible, torrential rain that had been pouring all day long just stopped twenty minutes before I left. All dry sailing for me! And when I journeyed back to Den Haag yesterday, I was sad to leave the dry heat of Madrid, so the Netherlands cast its beautiful 70-something degree weather and gorgeous sunny skies upon me. It’s a very polite city weather-wise. Really all “-wise.” The people are amazingly helpful and courteous, and it is just a lovely place to live.

A double-edged sword of this area, though, is the sun. Being in northern Europe during summer, the sun rises around 4 or 5am, and doesn’t set until about 10pm. This is absolutely amazing for going out to the beach or just walking around town. But as someone with east-facing bedroom windows and who doesn’t check her watch often enough, I often am forced awake long before I want to be and don’t realize the time at night until way past my bedtime. If I had the choice of any other way though – I wouldn’t take it. Remembering the depths of winter in Williamsburg is enough to make me grateful for my current northern location and its gorgeous sun.

Another beautiful thing about this city is the diversity. Everyone told me before I left to come here that I was going to blend in with the locals because of my blonde hair and blue eyes. And I have to say, that I am so happy it’s not like that. The Hague, and really the Netherlands overall, has a really rich and diverse history and population. Though colonialism was not positive for the colonies, it brought a lot of varied peoples to the Netherlands, as well as a huge variety of food, clothing, and cultures.  I haven’t had the chance to try all of the different restaurants yet, but even just walking around town or taking the tram is great to hear all the different languages of people who aren’t just on vacation but who actually live here. The vast number of embassies in the city, and the presence of the ICC, ICTY, and Europol also just add to the diversity. As an UN organization, the ICTY hires from all over the world. There is the required common language of English or French, but every continent and countless countries are represented not just among the staff and interns, but among the judges. It is really inspiring to see how high you can rise if you work really hard and take advantage of every opportunity.

There is also something just so peaceful about this city. It takes me about fifteen minutes to walk to work each morning. As I leave my apartment, I see businessmen biking with one kid in a car seat on the handlebars and one on the back. I see retirees walking their dogs down the streets with gorgeously traditional Dutch buildings. Turning onto the boutique and restaurant-filled street of Frederik Hendriklaan (“The Fred”), the air is full of the delicious aromas of freshly baked bread and pastries, the de Kaasspecialist (Cheese Specialist) has its beautiful rounds of cheese in the windows and on the shelves by the hundreds. There are already people sitting outside at the corner café having coffee and breakfast (a local specialty is bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles).

Regarding touristy stuff, I remember enjoying the museums and architecture of the city when I visited four years ago. I have yet to do anything touristy since being here this time, but when my parents come visit in two weeks I will be sure to rediscover that incredible part of the city as well, and write all about it.

This is really just such an amazing place to live in. I loved Madrid, but there is something about coming back to Den Haag that makes me recognize how lucky I am to call it home.