Nine Days in the Netherlands and Just One Book

H and I were worn out after a summer of house renovations plus a couple of minor but debilitating health problems. We had two Eurostar tickets booked back in early 2020 before Covid smacked the world round the face and we decided to use them to explore the Netherlands having visited Amsterdam many times but barely seen any of the rest of the country.

We based ourselves in a small hotel in a laid back, leafy neighbourhood of The Hague and were lucky enough to be upgraded to a neighbouring apartment in what was once the Spanish Consulate’s lodgings, much granderScheveningen beach than we’d expected but very comfortable with huge high windows looking out over streets largely quiet except for cyclists and dog walkers.

Our first couple of days were spent doing very little, plenty of green wooded space to explore with beaches at Scheveningen within walking distance, all set off with some lovely late summer sun. Gazing out to sea watching dogs frolicking while drinking a macchiato at a beachside cafe wasn’t quite what I’d expected to be doing but it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to start the holiday.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (Rembrandt)tWe didn’t get around to any culture until Tuesday morning when we walked into town proper and took in the Mauritshuis which houses an impressive collection of Dutch paintings including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which I’ve seen reproduced too many times to look at properly, and Fabritius’ lovely The Goldfinch. Lots of Rembrandts to admire, including The Anatomy of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, but only a few genre paintings, sadly.

We found several of those at the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft on Wednesday along with many other Dutch Golden Age gems plus a selection of the blue and white pottery which has made the town so famous. Some of that was a little show-offy for me but I loved the simply decorated tiles. Rather like a much smaller, lower key Amsterdam with its canals and neat but beautiful houses, Delft is a pleasure to amble around. I suspect it’s a nightmare in the high season but in early September there were just a few tourists like us making the most of the last blast of summer.

Leiden cafe sceneThursday’s outing was to Leiden, larger than Delft but with similar picture perfect canal side cobbled streets lined with elegant houses whose occupants make the most of what little space they have to grow flowers on the pavements outside their homes. With rain forecast for the next few days we decided to give museums and galleries a miss. The highlight of our morning was coffee and homemade apple cake in a tiny cafe so beautifully decorated that we felt as if we were sitting in a twenty-first-century Dutch painting entitled Still Life with Cake.

Autumn arrived on Friday which meant no more strolling in the sun so we took ourselves off to Escher in the Palace. I’ve beenEscher (Red Dogs) fascinated by Escher‘s discombobulating tessellated work since I first came across it. Some time ago, we went to an exhibition in Amsterdam which concentrated on the mathematical side of his art. He plays with perspective and infinity in a way which is quite dizzying.

Saturday was spent dodging showers mostly by hanging out at a particularly nice cafe and a brief trip to the Bredius Museum, a rather lovely eighteenth-century house. Worth the visit for its elegant, sunlit drawing room and Pieter Janssens Elinga’s fascinating perspective box but not the rather underwhelming art collection.

Sunday had looked like a washout on my weather app for most of the week so we’d kept the Kunstmuseum in reserve. The De Stijl kitchen (Kuntsmuseum The Hague)museum is a thing of beauty in itself with lovely door handles, tiling and stair rails. A good deal of the permanent exhibition is given over to Mondrian and the De Stijl movement whose ideas on art, design and the home neatly overlapped with the Bauhaus school. Mondrian may be its most famous artist but it was Theo van Doesburg who dedicated himself to disseminating the movement’s ideas, finding common ground with Bauhaus principal, Water Gropius. Strangely enough one of the De Stijl kitchen designs looked weirdly familiar, almost the exact same colour as our new one complete with wooden worktops.

We enjoyed our visit but perhaps the most memorable thing was Theo Jansen’s video of his fabulous sea creatures dancing on a windy beach which bothTheo Jansen (Strandbeest) entranced and amused us.

We left on Monday after a lovely restorative break, slightly nervous about getting across London on the day of the Queen’s funeral. The soundtrack to our holiday had been the squeaky toy sound of parakeets rather than the seagull squawking we hear at home, ironically much further from the sea than The Hague.

Cover image for The Vanishing Half by Brit BennettAnd the book? Just one, despite much lazing around. I quite enjoyed Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half about sixteen-year-old twins who run away from their small Louisiana home town after witnessing their father’s lynching. One returns years later fleeing her violent husband with their daughter, the other passes as a white woman marrying into a wealthy family. It’s one of those novels surrounded by so much pre-publicity hype that disappointment is almost inevitable. Nell Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance classic, Passing, made much more of an impression on me.

Back to books on Friday…

29 thoughts on “Nine Days in the Netherlands and Just One Book”

  1. Lovely to read this as I’ve spent a lot of time in the Netherlands and know most of these places. I used to go into Delft a lot and while it can be busy, it was one of my favourite places. Glad you had a good restorative break!

  2. It’s years since I visited these places – in fact I was a student. Our last trip to the Netherlands was supposed to be Dordrecht, which we’d discovered briefly by accident a few years ago. But .. y’know…. pandemic. Not yet re-arranged. Thanks for this Dutch preview!.

    1. So pleased you enjoyed it and I hope you’ll get to Dordrecht soon. It was such an easy holiday not least because public transport works so daytrips were a pleasure. Definitely plan to explore more of the country.

  3. Love your travel posts. I’ve only ever been to Amsterdam but clearly there’s so much more to see. I’ve read the book and wasn’t wild about it – too many coincidences if I remember correctly.

  4. Ah, what a lovely round trip of the Netherlands you’ve had! I used to go there quite frequently but haven’t been back in years. September sounds like a much more peaceful time to visit.

  5. Delft is a wonderful place, just made for strolling (providing of course you don’t try to do that in the peak of summer tourism). We didn’t see as much of The Hague as we would have liked but you are tempting me to make a return trip now.

    The Vanishing Half didn’t wow me. I thought she could have explored the issue of identity even more.

    1. Lots to do in The Hague, Karen, and very easy to get there with Eurostar now they have an Amsterdam service. Well worth a return visit!

      Impossible not to compare The Vanishing Half with Passing for me which handled the theme so much better.

  6. Looks like a wonderful trip; glad you enjoyed Delft. I remember loving it too, little though I was. I got a pair of little ceramic shoes which I still have somewhere; and speaking of Delft, a book I’m always recommending to everyone is Wings Over Delft bu Aubrey Flegg, its classified as young adult I think but an excellent read which goes into a range of theme from painting and portrait making to science and philosophy.

    How sad the Bennett was disappointing. I’m saving Larsen for the 1929club and was planning to get to Bennett after that.

    1. Thank you, it was lovely. I think I know the kind of shoes you mean. If they’re ceramic clogs, you can still buy them. And thanks for the recommendation.

      I hope you enjoy Passing. I think my reaction to the Bennett was tempered by comparing the two.

  7. Sounds a good holiday. Your reaction to the Bennett is one I often have. So much hype and then not really very good. Try not to get caught now! Off to the Lakes tomorrow but hoping to catch up with you soon.

  8. Well, I thought that might be the case. I was also very impressed with Passing and when I read what this book was about, I could see the comparisons immediately, and decided not to go for it. That said, I still want to read her debut novel The Mothers.

  9. So glad you enjoyed your break and found it restorative, Susan. Just the thing to set you up for the advancement of autumn and the shorter days. Delft sounds lovely, as does Leiden. I do enjoy your travel posts – they’re like little vicarious visits to the destinations in question!

  10. What a lovely trip! I went to Amsterdam years ago, accompanying my now-husband, who was at a Microsoft conference. I found it a bit more unfriendly than I’d expected, but had a lovely side trip to Haarlem and somewhere else (a museum by an inland sea with old houses?) with some colleagues from our Dutch office.

    As for Vanishing Half, I was fortunate enough to read it from NetGalley before it was massively hyped, so I really enjoyed it!

    1. It was! Haarlem sounds well worth a visit. I wonder what the other place you mention was. Amsterdam was our first holiday destination together zillions of years ago when we camped and stayed in dormitories. It’s changed so much since then, one of those cities that’s become overrun with tourists.

  11. That sounds like a wonderful trip, I hope you’re feeling thoroughly restored. I love the sound of your accommodation and surrounding area. I enjoyed the Brit Bennett but agree Passing is far superior

    1. Thank you. We couldn’t believe our luck at being upgraded. It’s so much more relaxing to be self-catering. I think I would have enjoyed the Bennett more if I’d not already read Passing. It left such an impression on me.

  12. Catching up on some of last month’s blogs I missed somehow. Looks like a lovely and varied trip. Some great ideas here for places to visit when we’re next in the Netherlands. I’m reading Passing now, for Simon and Karen’s 1929 Club.

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