cjwatson is working in The Hague for a bit, and since it overlaps with half term Ghoti was able to take all their children to join him. And fivemack and I came out for just the weekend in the middle. In a trip lasting less than two days, I managed to trip over a kerb and fall flat on my face, bending my glasses out of shape and cutting my cheek. There was a probably expensive (unless it can be sorted out) muddle over paying for the hotel. I had a really bad coughing fit in the middle of the night which triggered me back to childhood when my asthma wasn't well medicated. The food court where we were eating caught on fire and we had to evacuate. Plus lots of the usual tribulations of travelling with a large group and trying to keep everybody fed and hydrated enough to be functional.
I had a totally wonderful time even so, and I'm extremely glad I went. Normally a travel tale of woe includes issues with getting to or from the destination, but in fact that part was completely smooth. It only costs a little more in time and money to spend the weekend in The Hague compared to Cambridge; I'm not going to do it every week because that much flying would be sinful (train isn't quite sensible from this side of the country), and besides it doesn't quite work out to travel straight from work on Friday, so I had to take Monday off work to have any time in the Netherlands at all. But it was totally easy; I went with FlyBe from Birmingham which was much nicer than Ryanair, and the worst thing that went wrong with the travelling was getting food in the airports. In Giraffe in Birmingham they completely forgot to bring me cutlery, and after asking repeatedly I ended up eating my tortilla with a teaspoon. And coming back through Schiphol I was served a pasta dish that was insufficiently heated through and couldn't be bothered to argue about it.
But anyway, I left Keele late morning and got in to The Hague about 7 pm Saturday evening, and everybody was happy to see me and I wasn't too shattered from the travelling. We went out for Ethiopian food, the kind that comes on huge edible platters of injera. And just did loads of talking and catching up with eachother, which continued rather later through the night than might have been ideal, especially with the delay due to all the crises.
And Sunday I had a full day for touristing with everybody together. We went to Utrecht, relatively distant from where we were staying but The Netherlands is a small country with fantastic public transport, so it wasn't hard. And the reason was to visit the Miffy museum. It's the best specifically aimed at young children museum I've been to; it assumes that pre-school children are serious and want to learn as well as just push buttons and be entertained, while it also teaches the meta skill of how to enjoy museums, with a science and about your body bit, an art gallery, a road safety section and so on, and has plenty of opportunities for play. In some ways it was pitched a bit young for the littles who are experienced museum goers, given that they're not only a bit older than the main target audience, but homeschooled in Cambridge and are totally familiar with the Fitzwilliam, the Sedgwick and so on, but they were absolutely not snobby about thoroughly engaging with everything on offer.
We had a light lunch of Miffy-shaped pancakes and buns, and then continued into the main city museum. This had a reconstruction of Bruna's studio and some more adult-oriented information about his life and art; it was fascinating to see a video of him painting the apparently simple children's book illustrations with incredibly meticulous attention to the placement of each line. Judith and cjwatson and I looked at an exhibit about crime and punishment around the world; that sort of thing can be voyeuristic and calculated to shock, but in this case photographer Jan Banning was entirely sensitive and respectful, presenting photos of courts, judicial officials, prisoners and archives from Georgia in the US, Columbia, France and Uganda. Judith asked brilliant questions and started to build up a picture of what a penal system is. And we looked at a bunch of random artworks, some classical paintings, some Modern Art, some Surrealist stuff and so on; we were a bit rushed and not very systematic. fivemack found the amazing dolls' house (even though none of the museum staff seemed to know where it was being exhibited).
In spite of the fire, where nobody was hurt or even much disturbed by needing to evacuate – indeed I surprised myself by how calmly I remarked, er, this place is on fire, maybe we should leave? – we had fun sampling Dutch fast food, particularly the ability to buy various hot, deep fried items directly from a vending machine. And home for a relaxed evening of playing and watching football on TV and reading stories. I haven't really watched TV football for years, mainly because it's often not available on terrestrial TV and I'm not interested in going to the pub to watch a match, but it was a really nice way to spend time with Benedict who's more of a soccer fan than most of the rest of us.
I think The Hague is really quite under-rated as a city, it's easy to think that because international politics happens there it must be boring and full of skyscrapers and men in suits. But there's plenty going on culturally and it's a lovely place. Generally I always feel like The Netherlands is the right kind of friendly, people generally mind their own business and don't expect to be best buddies with strangers, but everything is set up to be usable and convenient. I'm usually nervous of dealing with transport and navigation in an unfamiliar country where I don't know the language, but in The Netherlands my experiences have been consistently easy and pleasant at every level.
Yesterday I left after a late and leisurely breakfast and had a very easy journey to get in in good time to run the Simchat Torah service at shul for a scant minyan, and nobody younger than my about to be bar mitzvah student. Even though travelling out on Shabbat and returning on the festival day is not how I want to be, it was really good for me to get a proper break after the intensity of the festival season. And a weekend away, even if it was a bit rushed, will help renewing my enthusiasm for work now we're a month into the term. But mostly it was wonderful to be able to join in with part of my loves' adventure.
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