I awoke on the morning of the 8th April at what is a ludicrously early hour for me and down to the basement level for what turned out to be an excellent breakfast which, again, is a remarkable occurrence in itself as I have already mentioned that it is a meal I rarely take although I did rather enjoy it. So, what to do with the day? Absolutely no clue as I had no idea that I was going to be there until shortly before I travelled from Leiden. Let’s just see how it pans out and it actually panned out pretty interestingly as I hope my fairly amateur blogging here will demonstrate.
I wandered out of the hotel with a vague idea of where the centre of town was (although it was to take me several days to actually get there) and my eye was immediately caught by the rather grand building almost directly opposite which proclaimed itself to be the Gymnasium Haganum.
In this case a gymnasium is not a place to go and pump iron or rather uselessly walk on a treadmill which always strikes me as a particularly stupid thing to do anyway. If you want to go for a walk then go for a walk, at least the scenery will change. As best I could make out Gymnasium Haganum was a school with the word gymnasium being used in the traditional Greek sense which is appropriate as I have since found out that it is indeed a school, reputedly one of the best in Holland and ancient Greek and Latin are compulsory subjects there. A former Dutch Prime Minister and the noted film director Paul Verhoeven are counted amongst the alumni.
I know less than nothing about architecture but my research tells me that this rather fine building is of monumental neoclassical design and was built in 1907 although the school itself dates all the way back to 1327. That was a good start to the day with a few photos already under my belt.
Less than a hundred yards later I looked down a side street to my left and saw a rather large, grand looking church. Well, that was vaguely the direction I wanted to go and so off I went. I didn’t even get as far as the church before I came upon a lovely little park / garden which also features in some of the images here.
I was particularly taken by the park benches which had old scenes in tile on the backs of them as depicted here.
These tile artworks deserved to be in a museum, never mind a city open area exposed to the elements.
What surprised me rather was the fact that there were soft cushions on the benches which would have been stolen in about three minutes flat in London and there was nobody apparently “minding” them. After a few photos I finally made it to the Church.
The grand building I had seen was the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I had heard the name before but knew nothing about the man and it was only whilst researching this piece that I learnt about him, and a fascinating man he was indeed. Again, this reaffirms my belief, at the risk of becoming tedious, that every day spent travel writing is a learning experience. The linked site does much better justice to the building than my poor efforts but back now to the man himself.
Ignacio (also rendered Inigo) López was born in 1491 in Spain in a small village called Loyola (now Laiola). When aged seven his Mother died and he was raised by the local blacksmith’s wife whereupon he was given the surname of the village of his birth.
After a brief period in public service he became a soldier at age 18 and soon gained something of a reputation not least for being fond of the practice of duelling at which he excelled. He fought in the service of Duke of Najera but had the misfortune to be hit in the leg by a cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona which resulted in a partial amputation of the limb leaving him thereafter with a pronounced limp. During his protracted recovery he took to reading and about the only books he could obtain were of a religious nature which prompted him to change from his now finished military career to becoming a religious man. He symbolically laid down his arms in front of a statue of the Black Madonna and proceeded to walk, or more properly limp, to the town of Manresa where he begged and did menial work for his keep.
After a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Land he returned to begin the education which he had not previously had. He went North to study at the University of Paris and eventually got his Master’s degree at the goodly age of 44. Whilst at University he roomed with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier and, along with some others, they formed a religious grouping styling themselves “Friends in the Lord”. Eventually some of them presented themselves to the Pope in Rome and were accepted as a religious order known as the Society of Jesus or more popularly the Jesuits now. The Society began to specialise in education which it does to this day.
Ignatius died on July 31st, 1556 and this date is now his feast day. He was later beatified and eventually canonised in 1622. Amongst other things he is the patron saint of soldiers which I suppose is understandable and resonated with me a little even though I am not a Christian.
The Church itself is a comparatively new building having only been consecrated in 1892 which was only one year before my maternal grandmother was born! It is very impressive inside with a high ceiling and some very aesthetically pleasing stained glasswork behind the altar. I mentioned earlier that it was the twin spires that initially caught my eye and I have now discovered they are an impressive 236 feet high.
It really is worth a visit if you are in the area.
With the Church visited and photographed it was a further stroll in the direction of town although I didn’t quite make it and those of you who know me will probably guess the reason. Yes, a bar, in the is case de Sierkan, which I was to find out means milk churn and that effectively signalled game over for the day although it was a brilliant experience.
I entered what was a totally empty bar despite it being almost lunchtime to be greeted by the delightful lady you can see in the images who turned out to be called Anna and was the chef / patron of the establishment. Thankfully, it turned out that she spoke perfect English as most Dutch people under about 60 years of age do.
Remarkably, I felt like a coffee first and then a beer was called for which came up well-kept and well-served and I set about it whilst having a great conversation with my hostess. In truth it was a three-way conversation as the chef in the semi-open kitchen was also joining in and what an interesting chap he turned out to be.
I have mentioned elsewhere in this journal that I love to cook and so a conversation with a professional chef was much appreciated with him being kind enough to give me some tips. Between the Zaalig in Schiedam which I mentioned in an earlier instalment here and this place I was amassing quite a knowledge of Dutch cuisine. The smell of baking emanating from the kitchen was mouth-watering in the extreme and resulted in the cakes you can see cooling in the images above. They were to be topped beautifully later and it appears they make just about everything on the premises. Although I did not eat there myself, the food I saw served did look very good.
Interesting as the culinary conversation was, it was not the best part. Almost inevitably with me the talk got round to music and it transpired that chef was a semi-pro jazz guitarist and the talk turned to guitars, strings, plecs and all the things that guitarists bore other people with by talking about. He told me that his father had been a professional jazz guitarist of some note in Holland and that all the original members of the band Focus had hung out at his home when he was a boy. I have been a huge fan of Focus since the 1970’s and when he told me that Jan Akkerman, who is a long time guitar hero of mine and has jammed with my mate Fish, had given him lessons as a boy I was very jealous indeed.
At one point Anna took off in the funky little sports car which you would see included in the images if my computer would do it! It looks like it should probably be 1960’s Italian but is actually much more modern and Japanese. I know a lady in London that has one of these Figaros and I have always liked them.
With such good company, pleasant surroundings and excellent beer, one glass soon led to another and another and so on and it was a slightly wobbly Fergy that eventually began to wend his somewhat unstable way home, resolved to return the next day which I did. I shall relate that experience in the next instalment.
A bit of a takeaway supper from the local friterie (chip shop) was called for en route as frites are not quite the national dish as in Belgium but not far off and they do them rather well. After that, it was time for another relatively early bed for me and a good night’s sleep which is somewhat of a blessing given my long-standing problems in that area.
More of Den Haag in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.