Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Huis ten Bosch

Never having been to Utrecht, I welcomed the chance to climb the Dom Toren, the cathedral tower, the highest in Holland. From the top on a dull January day I saw the narrow Dutch houses with their pointed roofs grouped around a number of town squares, separated by canals, the harbour, marina and luxury housing project; the posh 200 dollar a night hotels; the two recreated galleons, De Liefde, which capsized in the Far East in 1600, and Kanko Maru; and the fjord-like estuary and the hills beyond. I descended and in the adjacent Utrecht Plaza theatre caught the end of a performance of a Chinese acrobatic group.

It was chill Dutch weather on the canals. Despite the lack of wind, the windmills kept up their regular rotation. Mauritsplein was quiet today. Most people there were tourists, the majority Oriental. They hunted the souvenir shops for clogs, cheese, sponge cakes, drank beer at the Brauerei and sent tulip-shaped postcards home. Little traffic, apart from bicycles, buses and smoothly-running vintage cars.

At Langedijk Auction Rooms in Spakenburg Harbour there was a flower shortage, and in the traditional Dutch flower auction system of going down from the highest price, with the first bidder getting the goods, flowers had been replaced by chocolates, cakes and biscuits.

Many things had changed since my previous visit to Holland, less than two years ago. The marijuana selling coffee houses were no longer there. Neither were the whores exhibiting their goods in the shop windows of the red-light districts. In fact, a complete clean-up operation seemed to have been carried out. No punks, no drug addicts, no graffiti. I saw none of the recent racial tension in Holland we are now reading about. The cultural ebullience was also missing. Yes, there was a small Von Siebold Museum, and a 3-D show of Escher’s puzzles, but not a sign of the Flemish masters, or even the more popular van Gogh. And I was often confused when I entered a number of so-called “museums” only to find them to be up-market shops.

Yes, there is Teddy Bear World, and I learnt that teddy bears originated with a hunting expedition of American President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, who refused to shoot a small bear cub. News of the incident spread, and the teddy bear became his symbol. Of course, the Roosevelt family had Dutch origins.

I was surprised to see that the Stadhuis, Trouw Zaal, was now longer functioning as an administrative centre and had been turned into a museum for luxury glassware. And you even rent the upper floor for a wedding ceremony.

And piped music everywhere, but who knows any Dutch music? So we hear Strauss waltzes and even Irish republican protest songs on the ever-present speakers. There is even a lovely Parisian carousel for the kids on Nassauplein. And Dutch food is none too famous, so lots of Italian, French, Chinese and even a few Japanese restaurants and karaoke bars.

Queen Beatrix’s Palace, Huis ten Bosch itself, is impressive from the outside, and lit up every night, but surprisingly eclectic inside. The central hall is completely covered by a recent lurid pop-art style mural protesting against the ravages of nuclear war. Other rooms are in period style, others modern, but Queen Beatrix, apparently going through hard times, has rented large spaces to stores selling trinkets and porcelain and chocolate, and one wing of the palace can even be hired for weddings. Such are the bicycle monarchies!

2 Comments:

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July 2, 2006 at 2:17 AM  

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