Depending on where you are, it is easy to explore Holland using various kinds of transportation. In Leiden, buses # 43 and # 45 clearly say “Den Haag”. (Yes, they are the ones which do not show on the e-boards up above). Have you ever wondered why it is The Hague, Den Haag in Dutch, while all the other city names come without any article? Den haag, or die hage, means fence. When count Floris IV in circa 1230 decided it was a good piece of land for his hunting lodge, he simply had it fenced in as his own, hence the article. The name first appears in documents dated 1242. The Hague, population about 500,000, is not the capital, though it is the administrative center of the country. The International Court of Justice is situated there. From Leiden Centraal to The Hague Centraal, it’s about 45 minutes by bus. It goes via a few picturesque villages, past some imposing villas, along several canals, lakes and fields. Once you get to the terminal, check the bus schedules and memorize where your departure platform is. Go down the stairs, follow the signs which clearly say, CENTER. It’s about a 1 km trek in between tall modern buildings before you emerge in front of the old City Hall. Take a moment to look at the signs and decide what you want to explore. The Hague is one of those towns where you are tempted to stop and take a picture of every building, every church, palace, square, monument, or the general panorama with the river and the embankment. If you like visiting the churches, be forewarned: Grotekerk, the biggest and perhaps the most impressive church in town, is only opened on certain public holidays. You can walk all around it, and then relax in a café situated in one of the wings, which serves mostly organic foods. There are two royal palaces, one is the Queen’s residence, and the other is her work-place. When she is at work, there is a flag above her study window. Binnenhof, built in the thirteenth century, houses the government. One can walk all around the buildings, as well as the inner yard. A stroll along any street will bring you to museums, picture galleries, exhibitions, as well as shops and markets. De Slegte is a huge bookstore where you can find books in any language, both new and used, for any price. I have spent an enjoyable hour there browsing all over the English section. When the clerk saw that I was looking at every shelf in turn, he asked me if I needed help, then brought me a chair and let me be.
I asked about a toilet, and was advised to use any MacDonald’s: go upstairs, pay 25-50 cents, no purchase necessary. This seems to work in any town.
After a full day of walking, sight-seeing, taking pictures, relaxing in a café, it is time to go back. You cannot get lost: wherever you are in the old town, turn around until you see the tall new buildings, then just walk to them. Lots of signs on the way inform you, “Haagse Centraal”, or CS (Central Station). Once back on the trek, look for the huge sign which says “BUS”. Up the stairs you go. Surprisingly, buses run on schedule. Do not forget to tell the driver where you are going, and watch the e-board inside the bus: sometimes, you have to pull the cord or press the button to signal your stop.