How long is a weekend?
The answer depends really on your perspective. If you go for a few too many beers after work on Friday night, it can mean that by the time you’ve properly recovered there’s time watch the football and wash the car and you’re back to work on Monday before you know it.
However, seen as an opportunity to broaden your horizons, 48hrs can be a chance to go and do something really exciting before Monday rolls along. Somewhere close enough to touch from the UK is the Netherlands and aside from the obvious choice of Amsterdam there are other fantastic places to explore too.
With that in mind we headed for a weekend in The Hague.
Harwich to Hook of Holland
We hop, skip and a jump over the water with Stenaline from Harwich to Hook of Holland. Leaving our base in Norwich at 6:30pm we’re on the boat enjoying dinner by 9pm. After a great nights sleep we arrive bright and early and are actually in The Hague by 9.30am on Saturday. We’re staying at the city centre Novotel, its a 15min walk from central station or a 5 min tram ride. Talking of transport, for €6.50 you can buy a 24hr travel card that will give you unlimited local bus, tram and train travel. Transport links are excellent too and we didn’t have to wait for more than 5 minutes for one to arrive all weekend.
The nice people at the Novotel not only allow us to leave our bags at the Hotel early, they also let us check in, instantly endearing me completely to this modern, fresh and funky establishment. The rooms are bright and stylish, our suite has a fabulous power shower with posh smellies, complimentary waffles and enormous HD TV. There’s free coffee and fruit all day in the lobby / breakfast room and it’s positively overflowing with good vibrations.
And so, despite the fairly grey weather we head out in search of adventure, first stop is…
It’s not always the easiest thing in the world to drag kids away from their mobile phones or computers, but Madurodam is a huge model village – a throwback to a golden age of entertainment, when every seaside resort had a pier, donkeys and ‘kiss me quick’ hats aplenty. Many of the old model villages in the UK have gone by the wayside, but thankfully this one has remained here since 1952.
Madurodam has moved with the times though and after an extensive renovation a few years ago it now features interactive elements to the wonderful architectural recreations of Dutch life. Personally I find the buildings fascinating anyway, but these added extras help to add another dimension to the exhibits. From Windmills to the Rijksmuseum to Schipol Airport everything Dutch is lovingly reproduced in exact miniature.
You can control the lights and music at a full on mini-music festival and stack containers on the dockside using a mini crane. There’s also a place where you can be 3D scanned into a ‘model’ person. Later they email you a 3D vision of your character complete with a link to buy a real-life version if you’re so inclined. You can find out how many Dutch cheeses you weigh and ‘virtually’ fly around Holland like Superman.
Traveling through Dutch history is certainly good for the appetite, we’ve a table booked at ‘Little V’ exactly one minute from our hotel and located in The Hague’s small, but perfectly formed Chinatown area. I really hate to be so gushing, but everything about this restaurant suited me perfectly.
Try the ‘Hot Mama’ cocktail, sorry but I only remember it had fresh chili’s in, kids (or teetotalers) are looked after too, we tasted the caramel and sea salt lemonade. Fabulous! You just know when a casual restaurant puts this much effort into their drinks the food can only be good.
We had the 3 course sharing menu (available for 2 or more) and the delights just kept coming. Starters is a sharing platter, Vietnamese rolls, papaya salad, salad rolls, followed by a delicious hot and sour chicken and shrimp soup. The food comes out quickly, Chili and limes tear through the authentic flavours; fish and noodles.. and there’s a bustling, friendly atmosphere that starts with the staff and rebounds back from the large groups of friends who seem to make this a great Saturday night meet-up destination.
For my young companion the real highlight is the home-made chocolate mouse, not strictly authentically Vietnamese, but distinctly splendid.
For more info on Little V’s Vietnamese Restaurant click here >
We head back to the hotel, suitably refreshed and after a good nights sleep we head out on Sunday morning to wander the city, it’s blissfully quiet probably as many of the shops don’t open until later, but it’s enough to make us want to come back again soon.
Other places to see at The Hague
The Escher Museum, situated in the Lange Voorhout Palace is dedicated to the amazing Dutch artist M. C. Escher. His drawings mind-boggling illustrations and optical illusions are even more spell-binding close up. Open from 11.00 – 17.00 Tue to Sunday. For more info visit www.escherinhetpaleis.nl
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is an excellent art museum featuring the largest collection of Mondrian paintings in the world, including the artists last work ‘Victory Boogie Woogie’ (pictured right). Temporary exhibitions are held next to permanent works by Degas, Monet and Picasso to name just a few. In addition there are also rooms dedicated to Fashion and Musical Instruments.
For more info visit www.gemeentemuseum.nl
Open from 11am to 5pm Tue-Sun
We were only in The Hague for one night and hardly scratched the surface as far as places to go and things to do. Incidentally, if you have young kids, the Sea Life Aquarium just off the beach is also a great place to visit if the sun fails to make an appearance.
After a couple of trains we’re back again at the Hook of Holland to embark and head home. By the way there’s a fantastic fish and chip restaurant/cafe right next to the ferry terminal, we grabbed some lunch, checked-in and watched the Dutch coastline disappear with a big bag of Fish and Chips on our knees.
On board we spend the afternoon walking the decks, relaxing in the cabin and watching a movie in the cinema. It’s 10pm by the time we’re back in Norwich, we’re tired but content from a weekend well spent.
With all the debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe raging at the moment, visiting The Hague only served to increase my interest in connecting with Europe and a country that often feels a million miles away, but is actually just across the water.
Click here to read ‘Expanding young minds in Amsterdam’