After my rather wonderful but highly chaotic trip to Luxembourg, I hopped over to Den Haag to visit my cousin Tamsin and her partner Guido, who you might remember from our midnight jaunt around a haunted fairground in Kigali.
This trip took me via Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Which led to some hilarity when I arrived in Schiphol and was texting Tamsin narky messages about how they still hadn't unloaded the luggage from Luxembourg - because I forgot that I changed halfway. When I finally found the right belt, mine was the last case going round and round.
I always used to dream of a jet set lifestyle, a job that would fly me around the world, but I must admit, I'm really over that. Flying can be a real endurance test sometimes, and airports are the patent leather shoes of capitalism, all shiny and attractive, but they scratch easily and rub... I'm not sure where I'm going with that analogy.
|€13 for a sandwich, a packet of crisps and a small latte.|
I could have had an entire night out in Kigali for that.
On the happy side, I did get a message from Chris. Someone told him he could get all the way from Luxembourg to Paris by train in two hours. He'd never been, so made the most of it.
Tamsin and Guido picked me up at the station - despite me getting on the wrong train and arriving on the other side of town. My brain was pretty fried by this point - well, frozen. One or the other. It got as low as 2c in The Hague.
They have a lovely apartment in Scheveningen.
They've also adopted a neighbour's two cats, which were nicknamed Muffin and Bob by a previous couchsurfer. We're not too sure what their real names are, but they're cuddly.
Guido was determined to instill some Dutch culture in me - even though he had to start with the basics (the difference between Holland, the Netherlands and Dutch, which is as complex to outsiders as Britain, Great Britain and the United Kingdom).
He had more luck with food. He's a fan of salmiak, salted liquorice. Whereas I'm used to black, sweet liquorice, that's known as 'English liquorice' in the Netherlands. This is much lighter, the colour of caramel, and very salty. I'm not entirely sold on the concept, but it's not unpleasant either.
He found my weakness when we visited Scheveningen Beach. They were starting to pack up all the beach bars for winter, but we braced the cold and went for a walk along the pier.
I even found a piano at the end of the pier. It looked like it needed a lot of love, and once again brought home how unfair it is that so many pianos are just abandoned in Europe and left to rot, when so many people are looking for them in Africa. I was contacted today by someone looking to buy a grand piano for his daughter.
The food Guido discovered I'm crazy about was raw herring. You buy it like this...
And eat it like this...
It was the best fish I've ever tasted. So good. One thing I miss a lot in Rwanda is oily fish. You get fried sambaza (whitebait) and grilled tilapia, but when I visit the UK I eat myself sick on smoked salmon and mackerel. Looking at that picture, I'm already craving it.
Naturally, the other thing we did was beer. Working our way through the list.
Bar snacks were an integral part of this. Indonesian food is really big in Holland, in the way that Indian food is in the UK, largely because of our colonial histories. This is bapao, a steamed bun, and kroketten (croquette).
After that, we did a little bit of culture. Nice to see the Dutch white bikes still going strong, though now rentals rather than free.
We drove past the Peace Palace when I first arrived, and went to look at Noordeinde Palace on foot, which is the King's office. Outside, there's a statue to William II of Orange, who is much loved in the Netherlands for founding the Dutch royal family, but not so much in the UK, due to his son (William III of Orange) who became King of England and is famously tied to the Orange marches and four hundred years of war in Ireland. It's a mixed bag.
"This bronze statue of William of Orange astride his horse is the oldest freestanding statue in The Hague and was unveiled in 1845. It shows the prince as a general in armor wielding a marshal's baton."