Of paintings and palaces in the ‘World’s Judicial Capital’

The Peace Palace is home to many international judicial bodies.
The Peace Palace is home to many international judicial bodies.

The Hague was my last destination before going back to Manila. I had stayed with my friend, Jed Alegado, who studies in the International Institute of Social Studies, since parting ways with my friends in Amsterdam. On my first day in the city, I took a relaxing day trip to Antwerp, Belgium so I wasn’t really able to go around Hague.

On my last day in Europe, Jed was kind enough to take time off his classes and take me around the city for a few hours.

Den Haag was everything I read about in the travel guides. The seat of the Dutch government and royalty, this city is far from the wild streets of Amsterdam. There aren’t that many tourists going around the city’s sites. It was filled instead with students and working professionals of different races.

If there’s one thing that Hague is famous for, it’s justice. Known as the “Judicial Capital of the World,” Hague is home to many international courts, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court.

The city is also home to most foreign embassies and consulates in the Netherlands, aside from more than 100 other international organizations. Hence, Hague is a very peaceful and orderly place compared to other Dutch cities.

While The Hague is visited mostly for official business, the city, too, has its share of places to see. You go to The Hague not to experience night life like that of Amsterdam’s but you go there to explore its institutions, take breaks in its parks, immerse in the beauty of multiculturalism, and appreciate art.

1) Noordeinde Palace

Our first stop was the Paleis Noordeinde, which is the official working place of King Willlem Alexander since 2013. Built in 1533, Noordeinde is one of the 3 official royal palaces owned by the Dutch Royal family.

The palace of the House of Orange.
The palace of the House of Orange.

For obvious reasons, the palace is not open to the public but its 17th century facade can be seen from Noordeinde street. This palace is also where many political and stately affairs are held.

Every year, during the opening of the Dutch parliament, the king rides a golden coach from Noordeinde to the parliament day. After the procession returns to Noordeinde, the Dutch Royal family addresses an adoring crowd from the palace balcony.

2) Binnenhof

The Binnenhof overlooks the Hofvijver lake.
The Binnenhof overlooks the Hofvijver lake.

The Binnenhof (Inner Court) complex has been the seat of the Dutch government since the 13th century. Currently the oldest House of Parliament still in use in the world, the complex houses the Dutch prime minister’s office aside from the two chambers of the Dutch parliament.

Inside the complex is a medieval courtyard enclosed by buildings and palaces. The center of the complex is the Ridderzaal or the Knight’s Hall, where the king addresses the parliament every year. A neo-Gothic fountain is also found at the very center of the courtyard.

Ridderzaal or the Knight’s Hall is at the center of the Binnenhof.
Ridderzaal or the Knight’s Hall is at the center of the Binnenhof.

The complex used to be surrounded by moats but now only a few remain. The complex overlooks the Hofvijver lake and the park opposite is a nice place to admire the infrastructure.

The inner courtyard is accessible to the public and there are guided tours to the complex. Demonstrations, protests, and official state visits are also held in the area. It is also possible for citizens to attend sessions of parliament.

3) Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis Art Museum is located inside the Binnenhof complex.
The Mauritshuis Art Museum is located inside the Binnenhof complex.

Of my entire travel across Europe, this is where I found the best art collection. Located in a 17th century palace overlooking the Hofvjiver lake, the Mauritshuis art museum houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings consisting of more than 800 objects.

While the building itself is small, the collection of the Mauritshuis focuses on the works of some of the greatest Dutch and Flemish artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johaness Vermeer, and Paulus Potter.

The ticket to the museum is a hefty €15 but it is worth every cent given the beautiful classical art you’ll see. The best part is that tourists are allowed to take photos of the extensive art works.

Though all the art works here are magnificent, some of the must-see paintings I recommend are:

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt van Rijn (1632)
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt van Rijn (1632)
The Young Bull, Paulus Potter (1647).
The Young Bull, Paulus Potter (1647).
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer (1665).
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer (1665).
Self-portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn (1669).
Self-portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn (1669).

4) Peace Palace

The international peace flame located right outside the Peace Palace.
The international peace flame located right outside the Peace Palace.

The home of the world court, the Peace Palace is located in the Scheveningen district of The Hague. Some of the world’s most important judicial institutions – including the ICJ, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and the Peace Palace Library – hold their office in this building.

In front of the palace is a small rectangular garden with the different translations of the word “peace” inscribed in marble. There’s also a peace flame which was lit in 1999 and has been burning ever since.

The public is not allowed to enter the building without any official business but the palace’s facade is nonetheless a popular destination for tourists and protesters.

Where to eat and shop

I needed to do some last minute shopping before I left and The Hague was a perfect destination. There were many clothing stores located in the city center and I saw many major international brands while walking around.

Denneweg and Noordeinde streets have many Dutch art, antique, and specialty shops which cater to various tastes. I found it hard, however, to find typical souvenir shops. I guess most visitors in The Hague don’t really look for typical souvenir items.

Finding good food is not a problem in Hague because the city is full of restaurants that cater to various gastronomic needs. We ate at a good Indonesian restaurant in the city center for lunch and had a sumptuous Chinese meal for dinner at night.

For Filipinos, there’s an Asian shop near the city center where you can buy Filipino spices and sauces. This is where my friend Jed buys his supplies to cook Filipino food when he misses it.

Where to next?

After our short trip around the city, we went back to Jed’s apartment to so I can prepare my bags. Hague was a fitting end to my trip – I had to experience its calmness and order after 2 weeks of taxing work, and 2 weeks of unfiltered, youthful travels.

I left for Schiphol Airport a few hours after and made it just in time for my flight back to Manila. Up until I was about to board the plane, I was still in disbelief of how a trip I’ve been planning for for years had already been over. In my mind, I was transported back to the hills of Lillehammer, the parks of Oslo, the streets of Gothenburg, the palaces of Copenhagen, the coffee shops of Amsterdam, and the museums of Antwerp.

I felt sad, as I do whenever I leave a country, but thankful of all the experiences I had with my friends in Europe. I will always look back at the month I spent in this region as one of the best travels of my life.

I’m only halfway through 2016 and, as I write this, I have two more travels to come. Next up, Nepal and the United States of America!

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