Like most humans, I only make totally rational decisions 100% of the time.
So when this particular day was forecasted to be one of the coldest days in winter 2017 thus far, Simon and I decided it would be the perfect time to…go to the beach.
You know. Like you do.
Now, in my defense, I’ve lived in the Netherlands for over two years now, and I had yet to visit the beach even once. In fact, though I’d hopped in or on my fair share of planes, trains, and automobiles in the past couple of years, I hadn’t been to the sea at all since Barcelona, in September 2014 — before we’d even moved here.
I don’t want this to come off whiny. After all, I grew up thousands of miles from the coast, and currently live in a country where it’s genuinely surprising for the temperature to go above 20C. The beach is not, and has never been, part of my everyday life.
But maybe it helps explain why — even as the snow fell and the day dawned to a crisp -3 Celsius — we remained determined to head to Scheveningen, in Den Haag (the Dutch name for “the Hague”). We had a mission, and we would not be deterred by winter happening in February. What kind of people would that make us?
Don’t answer that.
We caught the train in nearby Ommen (there’s no train station in Dedemsvaart, lest we get carried away with such cosmopolitan luxuries). Luckily, Ommen’s station has a parking lot that’s rarely full. Unluckily, it was freezing. That has nothing to do with catching the train, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t forget. It’s kind of the theme here.
We switched trains in Zwolle and from there, took a two-hour ride to Den Haag. The Netherlands isn’t exactly renowned for its scenery, but I always enjoy riding the train through the country. It’s one of the only modes of transport I can take without headaches or dizziness, and it always feels a bit like an adventure. Plus there’s wi-fi; and after four years in NZ and Australia, I can’t help but get excited about free wi-fi in public. It’s basically a reflex at this point.
Once we got to Den Haag Centraal, our first move was to grab the tram heading out to Scheveningen. (SKAY-fey-ning-en. Kind of. Just say it really fast and people will get you.) Scheveningen is a district of Den Haag, known mostly for its beach, pier, and promenade. To be quite honest, most of it is rather ugly, full of squared off buildings in drab tones that look like something out of a 1980s sitcom.
That said, there was definitely something special about visiting in the dead of winter — when the beach was almost entirely empty, and the pier partly obscured by the mist in the distance.
As we’ve already established, I haven’t been to Scheveningen (keep practicing) during the summer; but I imagine it’s quite a different view when the wide expanse of sand is packed with people (and your eyes aren’t watering from the icy wind blowing in your face).
Besides the beach, there was another reason we wanted to visit Den Haag, and its name was Madurodam.
If you’ve never heard of Madurodam, it’s basically a tiny Netherlands. (“Nederlandje,” if you will.) It’s a park full of miniature versions of Dutch features, like the port of Rotterdam, the Rijksmuseum, Schiphol airport, Dam square, and more. Everything is connected by tiny little train tracks, along which rumble tiny little trains.
In other words: squeeee.
Conveniently located seagull for scale
Itty-bitty train tracks
Tiny harbor, huge clog.
I’ve wanted to visit Madurodam for longer than I’ve even lived in the Netherlands. Finally actually being there was kind of surreal, as dramatic as that may sound.
It’s totally cheesy, but it’s also a lot of fun, and a great way to “see the Netherlands” if you can’t actually, well, see the Netherlands. Plus there’s that added layer of hilarity where the Netherlands is already a fairly small country, and yet felt the need to build an even tinier version of itself. I mean: what’s not to love?
A few shots from my phone; my camera was nhf the cold and shut down halfway through. (What a baby, eh?)
After Madurodam, we hopped back on the tram and made our way into the city center. On a less frigid day, we’d have been a bit more keen to walk around and explore. But at this point, after a few hours outdoors, we were more interested in warming up. (Was someone talking about being a baby?)
Instead, we took a short walk to the Grote Markt (“great market”), which is usually a safe bet when looking for a bar or cafe in a Dutch city. We found a cozy spot, ate dinner, and watched as the city turned from dusk to night.
Though this was my third time in Den Haag, it was actually the first time I did anything fun — both previous occasions were solely for immigration business (snoozefest, party of one). So it probably goes without saying that so far, this visit tops the list. Next time, I hope to see a bit more of the city itself. Also, being able to feel my face would be nice.
Visit Scheveningen / Madurodam: Den Haag/The Hague is about an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam and about 30 minutes from Rotterdam. From the central station, take tram 9 towards Zwarte Pad. Get off at the stop called Kurhaus to visit the beach, or the stop called Madurodam for… well, you can probably figure that one out yourself.