Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Hague, Madurodam and Royal Delft

The Hague
One of the most known cities in the Netherlands is the city of The Hague (in dutch Den Haag). It is the seat of the dutch government, parliament and royal court, as well as the place where Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands lives. It is well known internationally for being the city that hosts the International Court of Justice, in the famous building know as Peace Palace (Vredespaleis). Here you can also find all the embassies in the Netherlands (even though Amsterdam is the capital).
For me I have to admit, it was a very impressive and lively town, but quite chaotic. Arriving at the central station, and looking at the map of the town, I was at a loss to decide where the city center was or even where the city actually stretched. That is because the "Den Haag Centraal" train station is quite far from the city center and also the city of Hague is part of a bigger metropolitan complex.
The Hall of Knights

After managing to find the city center, you find yourself surrounded with numerous great traditional buildings. The Mauritshuis, the famous art museum, The magnificent Binnenhof, the 13th-century hunting lodge of the counts of Holland, housing the First and Second Chambers of the Staaten-Generaal (the dutch parliament and senate if I'm not mistaken), and in the middle of its courtyard one cannot miss the Hall of the Knights, the gothic-style building with its two towers and the gold colored water-fountain. (I thought it was a church at first.. hahaha!).
Hofvijver and the buildings of the Dutch parliament

After a walk around the Hofvijver, the pond of the Bunnenhof and walking around the city, we rode the tram to one of the most famous attractions of the Netherlands, Madurodam!

A freighter ship on fire while the Rotterdam Port goes to the rescue
The miniature city of Madurodam was first opened in the Scheveningen district of The Hague in 1952, and was named after George Maduro, a law student from Curaçao who fought the Nazi occupation forces as a member of the Dutch resistance and died at Dachau concentration camp.
The entrance fee was 14 euros, but it was worth it! All the major and famous buildings of the Netherlands, old or modern, in one place! I wouldn't know which one to mention first!
Yes! Its a miniature!

Cathedrals, farmhouses, castles, windmills, actual parts of cities (like the Dam square and the old district of Amsterdam), famous stores or whole neighborhoods! Watching a big ship catching fire while a "Rotterdam Port" fire brigate boat goes to the rescue, trains of all kinds going all around the place, the famous and vital bridge and dam system of the rivers and canals of the Netherlands in action, planes landing (not taking off!) in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, parades around churches, live concerts and all of that in great detail and miniature size!
Utrecht and its Dom Tower
Dutch tulip field miniature

There was also a place where with one euro you could experience a factory-to-consumer experience of a souvenir falling in a truck from a factory then driving to you! I think it was supposed to be for children but many older people also used it for fun.
Amsterdam's Dam Square.. Mini edition!

Right outside Madurodam, there were signs for many of the major capitals of the world. Hmmm, 2166 km away from Athens!

Delft Town Hall
Just twenty minutes by train from The Hague (halfway to Rotterdam) you can find yourself in Delft, the town mostly known for the famous dutch blue-colored porcelain and its technical university. The town is also known for being a typical dutch town with canals, for the painter Vermeer and is greatly associated with the royal dutch House of Orange-Nassau.
Royal Delft Porcelain
Again the train station here is a mess because of constructions but on the way to the center you can enjoy a typical dutch town. Canals, bridges, traditional houses and churches. We enjoyed some Italian food (my argument about trying some of the local dishes fell on deaf ears) and then some ice-cream at the Nieuwe Kerk square, where also the City Hall of Delft is. Then going around the town for the rest of the major sights, like the Oude Kerk (is it bending or is it just my imagination?) and the Beestenmarkt.
Delft Nieuwe Kerk

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Φιλότιμο: the (lost?) greek sense of honor

For the greek people, there is one particular word that can't be actually translated into english, or as far as I know, any other language. That word is "filotimo" (φιλότιμο). It consist of the words φίλος(=friend) and τιμή(=honor). Google translates it as "pride". Me, if I had to translate it using only one word I would choose "earnestness". But still that wouldn't be close enough. It's a word that combines earnestness, honor, pride and dignity, but instead of an excessive or noble meaning, it has exactly the opposite. It's used to describe the pride and honor of the common people and it includes a set of unwritten rules that can keep the wheels of society running smoothly and still allow the people to walk with their head up high. It enables people who never met each other to interact with each other in a way that they can be kind and none of them tries to deceive the other. Everyone perceives it in his own way, but the result is pretty much the same.

An interesting finding while searching the internet was this blog post: It shows a non-greek's view on "filotimo".

This word has been quite famous in the past and is used in many common phases, for example "Από τότε που βγήκε το συγνώμη, χάθηκε το φιλότιμο" = "Since people found out they can say they're sorry, filotimo was lost", or "Υπάρχει και φιλότιμο" = "Filotimo (thankfully) still exists". There was also this popular black and white greek movie called "Laterna, poverty and filotimo" about some really poor musicians with a laterna (barrel organ) who found a rich girl running away from home to get to her loved one and help her even though her father is paying a awful lot of money for anyone who can tell him where his daughter is.
Laterna, poverty and filotimo

But nowadays, in our industrialized, globalized Information Age, I'm afraid that notion is slowly disappearing. Watching my generation, and the ones that are coming after it, I'm starting to doubt if a part of the young people actually understand what that word means. And also some of the older people, who took advantage of the "prospering" economy the last couple of decades in ways many people wouldn't approve, seem to have forgotten all about it.
Especially with the latest news about the greek economy, I think its hard for the foreign people to believe that the Greeks have any sense of honor in their country. There are only a few who understand what is actually going on. The rest have just been in Greece for a short time, or just watch what the media serve them, so they think that the Greeks actually leave in a lawless country where anyone can do whatever they want, and the state doesn't give a damn. Sadly, the last part is true to a certain extend, but the rest is way wrong.

To clarify any possible misunderstandings, I'm not saying in any way that the Greeks are perfect or anything like that. Far from that. There are many mistakes throughout greek history, and the greeks' way of thinking or perceiving many things is wrong. But thankfully the greek people still have "filotimo" and that can be really helpful, especially in difficult times like this. Or at least I want to believe that they still do..

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A sunny day overlooking the river Meuse in Maastricht

The river Meuse running through the city of Maastricht

Making sure you get at the right part of the train is the first thing you need to make sure of because the dutch trains going to Maastrich also split and go to Heerlen. So, getting on the wrong part might lead you to Heerlen instead of Maastricht. The landscape does seem a bit different than the rest of the Netherlands. At last some slopes again! That brings back to mind the landscape of Shire in the Lord of the Rings movie.

Maastricht Train Station

Maastricht, with it's ideal and strategic location on the river Meuse, seems to manage to keep the balance between the traditional and the modern, in favor of the former. You can also see the influence of the different cultures, the Dutch, the Belgian and the German. Almost everything here written in Dutch, English, French and German. Maastricht is also capital to the Dutch province of Limburg (strangely enough the actual town of Limburg is in what is now Belgium).

To European people, this city is mostly famous for the Maastricht Treaty, the treaty that introduced the European Union and the Euro.

An interesting finding was that the famous D'Artagnan of the three musketeers, was a French captain under king Luis XIV who perished while besieging the town, and that inspired the famous writer, Alexandre Dumas to write his famous novel, The Three Musketeers. You can also find a restaurant with his name in a sunny spot of the city.

Maastricht Town Hall

The main sights here include the church of Onze Lieve Vrouwe (Our Beloved Lady), Sint Servatius, the Stadhuis (town hall), the various bridges linking the two shores of Meuse together and the Ceramics center.

Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk

Coming here in spring one has to try the local asparagus soup, that the whole province is proud to produce, and so did I. And I have to admit was quite rewarding!
Asparagus-soup with cream, onions and ham.

Also quite famous is the Limburgian Vlaai ( marmalade pie) which makes a nice combination with coffee at the cafeterias in the big squares or at the small alleyways.
The town is also famous for it's unique white beers, mainly Gulpener and Wieckse Witte.

What was also very enjoyable was lying on the grass at the Charles Eyck Park park, watching the river boats passing the Meuse river. In general there are many green spots around the city and especially the young people seem to prefer them a lot!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Koninginnedag, codenamed "I see drunk orange people everywhere day!"

On April 30 is the Dutch queens birthday celebration. As a fact it was actually the previous queen, Juliana who had her birthday on April 30th, but Beatrix decided to also celebrate her birthday on April 30 instead of January 31.
For the Dutch people, it is a day of national unity and celebration. The dress code is simple. Just wear something orange, in honor of the reigning house of Orange!
Most foreign people do get confused, because there is no orange on the flag of the Netherlands.
I spent this day in the city of Eindhoven, which had many celebrations like all the major dutch cities. I know that there is a really big celebration in Amsterdam, but being close to home certainly has it's benefits.
The feast and the level of alcohol brings back to mind the carnival in Eindhoven. It was fun trying to discover what orange colored everyone was wearing. The most common was a t-shirt, a hat or a dress. But there were also people wearing orange socks, ties, shoes, sunglasses, tights or anything you could imagine.
Just like the carnival, the (in)famous road of Stratumseind and all of the numerous bars along it, were cramped with people singing loudly dutch songs or dancing to the beat.
Stratumseind, Eindhoven