A scary encounter turned to a blissful although slightly chilly day in Den Haag. See mind minding artwork, what to visit in the off season and just how special getting lost in this city can really be.
Go to Den Haag they said, it would be fun they said. It was an entirely different experience for me, and not just in visiting the city but the entire process of going, being there and wandering around the area. I was visiting the Netherlands for my Birthday, it was the offseason, and it was very cold! Before I get ahead of myself though, let me take you on the whole journey of experiencing the difference of Den Haag.
Getting to Den Haag:
I had my Eurail Pass in hand, palms sweaty, my first time traveling on European trains was a complete nightmare. I was determined to make this trip better and figure this out. My European friends still snicker at how unlucky I was for my first train ride, with the train catching fire, getting on the wrong train etc…. But this isn’t about that horrible train ride, this is about experiencing something again even though I’m afraid to do it.
Right…..onto the train I go….
I had the right car, the right ticket, the right direction and even found the second class seating like I was supposed to. Ok now that I’m in my seat, I should check the GPS when the train starts going just to make sure I’m going in the right direction towards Den Haag. I should just act natural, not speak because otherwise, these Netherlanders are going to look at me like a stupid American that freaks out on trains……oh if they only knew the horrors I have endured…. Stop being dramatic, and focus on the positive Janiel.
Right, ok train is now moving – the moment of truth……YES!!!!!! God be PRAISED I’m going in the right direction! Now I can just sit back and relax and be proud of myself for not flummoxing this one up like I did Prague. See, I can really do hard things!
A Scary Encounter:
It wasn’t long after I had sat down and congratulated myself when a suspicious looking character walked down the aisle of the train. My internal dialogue when something along the lines of, ‘Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact…..oh God, please don’t let him talk to me’.
I made the mistake of looking up because I could just feel him standing there looking at me, ‘Shit’, I thought. He smiled a toothy grin and sat down right across from me.
Just for the record, I always try to be nice and be kind to whoever I meet…..but I got some bad vibes from this man. He was tall, lanky, had big baggy torn clothes on, and oh how he smelled of the streets. I had previously worked in a homeless clinic in Las Vegas , and he smelled all too similar to that.
I gave him a half smile, and in my panicked brain, I tried to figure out how I could get away and still be polite. He started to speak to me in French, and I had no clue what he was saying. He realized I spoke English, and tried to speak English to me. He asked where I was going, who I was traveling with. I hate lying, so I told the truth and reiterated that I was going to Den Haag and had a very busy schedule. He wanted to get coffee and as he asked me slyly grabbed onto my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine. I told him politely that I didn’t have time and that I did not want to hold his hand.
I looked across the aisle at the couple sitting there and tried to beg with my eyes for them to help me. They were politely ignoring the situation and the male sitting across from me didn’t want me to pay attention to anything else but him.
Evasion and Protection:
I tried to distract him with other areas in the Netherlands, but he decided he was going to come with me to Den Haag. I didn’t want him to, I started to sweat a little and reverted into a fight or flight mental mode. I started planning with the GPS on my phone, the path I would take to the museum, the alleys I would take, using the public roads as much as possible.
He got up and sat right next to me, blocking the aisle and the escape. I moved over to the other chair right in front of him. It was like I was playing chess with him, and I was bound and determined not to lose. Maybe I was paranoid, maybe not, but I knew I didn’t like feeling cornered and smothered…..blame it on my prior bad experiences with men.
They conductor announced Den Haag, and I got up quickly, told him I had to go because I had a very busy day. I was able to collect my things and get up quickly enough to put a few people between him and I. Step one of evasion and protection complete, not to maintain the distance just out of arms reach. As soon as the doors opened I was off, not looking back, I didn’t care about being nice at this point.
Alas, he caught up to me with his long legs, I cursed my short legs and looked at my GPS. Ok, the museum was not that far away. I maintained a rapid pace, running across a street here or there to throw him off. It was early in the morning so not many people were out. He knew we were getting close and grabbed my arm to get me to slow down, pleading with me to come over to have coffee at his place. I had taken enough self-defense classes to known how to break his grip….a quick powerful smooth movement towards the thumb, with an immediate turn up the road and I was free.
My GPS took me into an alleyway that I knew was not the best place to be alone with this person, but taking another route would have meant more time with him. I quickened my pace, and he ran and got in front of me. I told him very strongly I was not going anywhere with him, and I traveled too far to miss this artwork I have been wanting to see since I was a child. I crossed the street again and a car drove by, blocking him temporarily. I took a photo of him just in case something were to happen, for evidence. “Ugh, I really need to stop watching horror movies” I chided myself for being too dramatic and that he was likely just trying to flirt…..but knew the instant I thought this, it was likely more than just flirtation bordering on something slightly sinister.
He ran to catch up just as I turned the corner and saw the gated museum, luckily there was a cop out front. He grabbed the backpack I had on, and pulled me back around the corner, I twisted out of his grip and he said he cannot go in there with me. I told him that was ok with me, and that he should continue on his way to wherever he had been planning on going. I kept moving, walking, twisting to look at different things and watched as he slinked away back into the alley with a very angry expression on his face.
I descended down into the museum and went straight into the ladies room. This was the first time traveling as a solo female that I had been afraid, truly nervous for my safety. I did exactly what I knew I should do, walk with purpose, keep moving, hold my heavy camera in one hand just in case I had to use it as a weapon, and found the nearest tourist attraction that had police there. It took me a little while to calm myself down from this ordeal before I was able to go and purchase my ticket and finally see a Vermeer painting in person.
The Mauritshuis Museum is built in an old Palace of one of the Dutch Royal families main residences. Complete with a boat loading dock right on the canal, surrounded by gates. I bought my ticket, hands still slightly shaking, chanting ‘your safe now, you’re safe now’.
I went into the first room and went to the windows, lifted the blinds slightly and was faced with the alleyway where I had left my shadow. He wasn’t there, ok, maybe he had gone, ‘calm down Janiel – you came too far to not enjoy yourself here’ I whispered to myself under my breath.
The museum attendant looked at me in her navy blue sweater and gave me a warm smile. This seemed to help me refocus on the experience. I wandered the room, getting lost in the artwork here and there.
Then I saw her, the girl with the pearl earring. She was smaller than I imagined but stared into my soul – a beautiful woman trapped in a painting that would be shown to many throughout history. The slight bend in the neck, the wrapped hair, the slight coloring of her lips contrasting against the dark background. Seeing her was like seeing a woman of strength, yet relaxed.
If I were to meet her on a street, I could imagine her inviting me in for tea – getting to the root of my anxiety and then sending the many suitors vying for her attention after my sinister shadow outside. The strength of her stair chased the rest of the jitters within me away, and I became misty-eyed with relief and awe at how moving and realistic Vermeer’s works truly are.
Mauritshuis in Den Haag: open 10am to 6pm – Gold Age paintings like Vermeer – Plein 29, 2511 CS Den HaagNoordeinde Palace, one of the Dutch royal family’s main residences
The Noordeinde Palace Disappointment:
I left the Mauritshuis cautiously, and couldn’t see my sinister shadow anywhere and was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I was still a little jumpy, so I decided to go to the Noordeinde Palace. This is one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royalty, typically used for official state business.
I wandered through the streets towards the palace, peering out the windows, admiring the Dutch style. One thing I noticed more than anything else, was how clean all of the windows were. I mean, every single window was clean – several people were out cleaning windows even though was supposed to rain. How odd, yet, how intriguing this cultural idiosyncrasy was to having clean windows as a way of a status symbol in a way .
My phone vibrated in my hand as I was lost in this thought indicating that I had arrived at the Palace. I felt a bit of relief to be able to get out of the cool breeze, but as I looked around….realized there were no entrances. DRAT! It must have been because I was there in the offseason that I wasn’t able to enter. I was severely disappointed, I had been so excited to compare the how the Dutch Royalty decorated their official palace compared to that of the Holyrood Palace in Scotland. So I did what I typically do when disappointed by unforeseen circumstances, I Googled what the inside of the Noordeinde Palace looked like. I took the obligatory photo through the fence, and of the statue of the man on the horse out front. Sighed heavily, and punched in my next destination, the Escher Gallery.
I was wandering the city on my way to Escher in the palace and found this enchanting little courtyard in near the Ridderzal. This is the EXACT reason I have one day planned out for every trip I go on, where I allow myself to get lost in a city.
I was able to sit on a bench, not feel rushed to see this or that & interact with some lovely tourists who were there on holiday celebrating their family. It was a beautiful thing to witness and one of the things I really hold in my heart and taught me in a small way to appreciate my own family.
It was hard to leave this place because of this moment, but as with all good things — it did have to come to an end.
Imagining the Abstract with Escher:
Wandering down the streets, through perfectly aligned trees I noticed how fancy all the homes were. It would make sense being that in the early 19th century this is where the Royal family lived, and so all of the surrounding buildings would have been part of court or those in power. Escher in the Palace Museum is not a typical cement box type museum, but a repurposed palace full of history. There is a small sign out in front, and you almost feel as if you are intruding into a home when you enter because of the doors.
This is an oddly intriguing museum for all who love both Art and History. Combining two very opposite exhibitions for visitors. This house was the former home to Queen Emma, who was part of the Dutch Royal Family in the early 19th Century. You will be able to see where she lived, what her life was like, where she gave speeches and the rumors that surrounded her.
To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with this part of the museum, but it may be worthwhile to visit for those who love Dutch History.
Different sections of this former palace are also reserved for the intricately abstract, and mind-bending photos of Escher. I have always loved his art and remember seeing one of his first graphic designs, The Drawing Hands, and how it entrapped my mind circling around their infinity like symbolism.
One thing I was entirely surprised by was that Mr. Escher was a dreamer and a world traveler. While some may look at his life of art entwined with mathematics and think of him to be odd or eccentric, I found his works and his life to be absolutely brilliant. My creativity skyrocketed after visiting this place and truly made my trip to Den Haag worth it. Get your Escher in the Palace Ticket here.
Escher In The Palace: 11am-5pm (optical illusion museum) – Lange Voorhout 74, 2514 EH Den Haag, Netherlands
A blustery day at the beach:
I’m very good at getting lost, I know this about myself and this is why I do not travel without some sort of GPS capability. So when I reached the 2nd to last stop on my way to Escher in the Palace and ended up at Scheveningen Boulevard Beach I decided to make it an experience instead of panic about it. I jumped off, saw people heading up a hill with coats, towels and some kites. I decided to follow them and see where the locals went to play.
Cresting the top of the hill I was greeted by the longest running white sand beach I have ever seen. There were also fun metal art pieces, that made me grin and giggle away the stressful morning completely. There is nothing more relaxing to me that watching the ocean waves crash into the beach and smelling that sea breeze. It was a bit chillier than I was planning on, and the torrents of wind pounding the beach front was making my eyes water from the cold. It was exhilarating and made my adrenaline start pumping from the chill that was seeping into my bones.
I wandered along the Boulevard, taking photos of the interactive statues that were available. I think it was the perfect random addition to complete my trip to Den Haag (The Hague). I love getting lost in the city and seeing how locals do things. I was able to witness something I typically would not have searched out and was pleasantly surprised to find something that would bring peace back in my trip despite the cold.
I couldn’t feel my face, and my teeth started to hurt from the cold winds hitting me because of my perma-grin. I squealed and ran in place a little bit, which didn’t help thaw anything out, and likely made me look a bit mad really, so I decided to head back to the city trams.
Traveler Tip: The EURail pass doesn’t work on the Trams, so make sure you buy a ticket for them. Otherwise, you can get a ticket, I didn’t know this and was given a one-time free pass because I had my EURail pass. Make sure you buy the right pass for the right city and the right time of day. A ticket in Amsterdam will be different than the one for public transport in Den Haag. Day tickets are less expensive than Night-time tickets. So go to IAmsterdam and buy your public transport tickets there.
Other Beaches and Coastal Walks in Den Haag:
- Kijkduin Boulevard
- quieter beach than Scheveningen (more touristy)
- is a great place to walk, find something to eat, enjoy the sunset, and laugh seeing the funny sculptures
- Noordwijk & dunes
- off the beaten path beach that has a different feel and is along the tourist route
- Walking and cycling network Bollenstreek – 11.6km to 51km depending on where you want to go
- Haagse Bos – (forested area to bike through)
- address: Bezuidenhoutseweg, The Hague, The Netherlands
Rounding out my day:
I spent more than half the day in Den Haag and feel it was not quite enough time to properly explore it. I was only in the Netherlands for 10 days and wanted to get small taste of multiple cities.
If I were to go back, I would plan to go in the summer so I could explore more of the beaches here, see the palace, and then ride a bike through the forested areas like a local.
Despite bad or scary things happening on a trip, you don’t always have to let them destroy your experience. Just focus on the good things, and realize it was a moment in time and does not mean you will have the rest of your day ruined. Just be smart, have a plan, believe in your own power and carry-on.
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Things to do near Den Haag:
- has scaled model of the city you can walk through George Maduroplein 1, 2584 RZ Den, Haag
- 15 Best Things to do in Den Haag
Where to stay in Den Haag:
Tours of Den Hagg:
As always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, See you on the Flip Side!
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Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 22 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 18 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is devoted to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org