So where to next? Rotterdam maybe?

10th April and so I was already a bit past my vaguely considered return date but I just didn’t feel like going home. I had my debit cards, some cash and my passport. I had just about enough clothes to keep me going for a couple more days (this will prove to be critical later on) but it was all just becoming a little bit strange and I could see another one of my lunacies looming large on the horizon. I just wanted to keep moving and I was going to move this day. I am sure there are those amongst my admittedly limited numbers of readers that will understand.

 

After yet another tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, a couple of delightful spinach and feta pastries and some very good bread it was time to move. I must say they do know how to make bread in these parts. It was so good that this breakfast oddity was in danger of becoming a habit.

I decided to walk into town as it was not that far and I am travelling extremely light. I was spared the temptation of the both excellent Sierkan and Asplaag bars as they were both shut but I knew it wasn’t going to last long. I did manage to walk past one or two more but I am with Oscar Wilde on this one when he asserted that, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. Spot on, Oscar.

When the temptation got just too much I happened to be walking past the Cafe Bar Roj so I stopped walking past and walked in instead.

 

It was a purely random choice and it looked clean and tidy enough from the outside as it was to prove to be on the inside. It is just a typical no frills bar that is so typical of the region and as is also typical the only woman to be seen was behind the bar serving.

 

There where there were about three or four middle-aged blokes drinking at one end of the bar and having a jolly time of it by the look of things. I nodded a greeting and was instantly part of the company, it really did turn out to be rather sociable. I knew I was not too far from the station so I was not going to go too far wrong if I sat tight with them for a while which is exactly what I did. Even when they all drifted off, presumably for lunch, I stayed on for a couple more and a chat to the charming Turkish barmaid and even a bit of travel writing on the side.

 

There is a large room at the rear of the premises which I believe serves as a function room complete with small stage and some music stands and I also had a peek at the kitchen which was immaculate as, indeed, were the “facilities” when I had occasion to use them.

If you are a beer afficionado this may not be too much to your liking as it is bottle only as they have no draught which is not uncommon in these parts. I opted for a Heineken which was nice and cold at least although it is no way my favourite beer out there.

image006
Huisregels, Cafe Bar Roj, Den Haag.

I am always a little concerned when I visit a premises that feels the need to display houserules and when I saw the “houseregels” here, which I attempted to translate, I think they were no drugs and no weapons and the word “politie” (police) featured a bit. Admittedly I was there at lunchtime and maybe it does get a bit lively at night but I had a wonderful time although I feel it only fair to warn the reader. I know I would certainly go back.

Eventually I said goodbye and took off for the station but by a deliberately circuitous route as I wanted to get some street scenes of the city having not managed to see a heck of a whole pile of it previously. I have attached some of them here.

 

I made the station in good order to catch my train to Rotterdam where I had booked a hostel for two nights. I had actually wanted three but all the budget accommodation in the city was pretty much booked up. It was Easter school holidays and there were school groups everywhere.

The train trip was short and comfortable and then the short walk to the hostel Ani and Haakien where I checked in quickly, allocated a bunk where I dumped my kit and enquired of the friendly lady on reception where there was a nearby decent bar. She smilingly gave me a map with several suggestions on it and added a few of her own. I picked the Holy Smoke purely because it was closest and the young lady said is was good. Yes, I can be a lazy brute at times! I shall tell you all about the hostel in a future instalment.

image036
Holy Smoke bar / restaurant, Rotterdam.

The reader may think that an establishment in the Netherlands called Holy Smoke would be concerned with marijuana given that country’s very liberal attitude towards the plant cannabis sativa but nothing could be further from the truth. I shall reveal all now and tell you about this brilliant bar.

I am a great believer that there is no substitute for local knowledge and this was the case here as the young lady certainly had not given me a bum steer. In a city not devoid of good bars (I know because I tried a few) this really is a standout.

Choosing a draught beer from a very extensive selection I got to chatting with the young man and young woman serving. They had plenty of time to chat as the place was nearly empty which surprised me. It is quite large inside but even allowing for that it still looked empty. After a couple of “pints” (half-litres actually) I asked the barmaid what the name was all about and she told me a while later but for the benefit of those who may not know about the Netherlands a word of explanation.

Cannabis is legal there and people smoke it openly in public. We were standing outside having a (nicotine) smoke which I think is perverse. You cannot smoke a cigarette in a bar or restaurant or whatever because of the smoking ban but you can smoke cannabis. I remember a joke from a few years ago that in 99% of the world the police bust you for having cannabis in your nicotine but only in Holland do they bust you for having nicotine in your cannabis!

image042
View from Holy Smoke bar / restaurant, Rotterdam.

It was while we were standing there that she explained the name to me. She indicated a device that looked like a kettle type barbecue and told me it was a smoker and that the whole menu was based around smoked food all of which they prepare on the premises. They will smoke anything here including vegetables which I would like to try sometime. I deeply regret that I never had the opportunity to dine here and it is definitely pencilled in for my next visit. We went back inside then for more chat and more beer for me.

image039
Manlove beer? A first for me.

I do love beers from the Low Countries and the variety is staggering as is the beer menu here. When I told her about my preferences she immediately suggested a Mannenliefde (translates as Manlove) Saison which was unusual to say the least but absolutely divine. I have drunk a lot of beer in my life but never one that includes lemongrass and Szechuan pepper! I have also drunk a piccalilli beer in this establishment and yes, you read that correctly, picalilli as in the pickled accompaniment to cold meats etc. and no, I had never heard of it either but that is a story for another time.

I should note here that she reeled off all the details about it without reference to a crib sheet, as indeed did other colleagues on subsequent visits, about every brew on offer which indicated to me a genuine affection for the product they sell and pride in doing it well. I was very impressed.

I did not want a late night and so a couple more did me although I could have happily sat there until 0200 when they close just as I could sit here now and praise Holy Smoke all day but I shall refrain. Just a couple of things before I sign off. If you are not a beer drinker they have an equally huge selection of other drinks on offer and I suggest you have a look at the Jenever (Dutch gin) offering.

On a technical and important note Holy Smoke appears to be fully accessible for the mobility impaired.

image045
I even made it home in the dark!

Home then for yet another decent night’s sleep in a comfy bunk even if the climb up to the top deck was a bit precarious in the dark!

More of my new city in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

A wasted day in Den Haag? Not at all.

image001
A tasty if slightly unusual breakfast.

The morning of the 9th April dawned as the previous day, bright but very chilly as I was to discover pretty quickly on my jaunt outside for my early morning cigarette. After a very decent breakfast of scrambled eggs, frankfurters and bread and chickpeas (what is that all about?) it was time for another wander and what was to prove to be another abortive attempt to make it into the centre of town which it seemed was more difficult than it appeared.

I got as far as the wonderful De Sierkan cafe / bar / restaurant which is reviewed in the previous entry in this journal and that was it for the day because I basically got very little further, perhaps 20 yards as I shall explain. For that reason this will be a fairly short entry.

image010
The lovely Anna hiding behind a triffid.

I parked myself at my accustomed table as it had an adjacent powerpoint and tried to get on with some writing for a travel website I was contributing to at the time. That didn’t get too far as I ended up in another wonderful conversation with the utterly delightful chef / patron Anna and also with another charming young lady who was waitressing the lunch service. Like most Dutch people she spoke flawless English which helped.

image004
Isn’t this beautiful?

People occasionally castigate me for spending a whole day in a bar and insist that I am “wasting time” but I really do not consider it to be wasted time at all. Whilst it is lovely to see the sights / sites in any given place I travel primarily to meet people and interact with them and that is exactly what I did.

I effectively didn’t “do” anything but I had a thoroughly enjoyable day and surely travelling should be enjoyable or else what is the point?

I did take rather a lot of images of de Sierkan a) because I certainly had enough time to do so and b) because it was just so damned photogenic, as was the lovely Anna even when obscured by potted flora and so here are a few more for you.

image006
Cafe de Asplaag, Den Haag.

With all that being said, I did feel as the afternoon wore on that I should do something else, even if it was only to visit another bar and that proved to be no effort at all as there is one about three doors along the street. In fact, I have added an image here showing the proximity of the two premises. It was called Cafe de Asplaag whatever that might mean as I can find no translation online.

image007
How far did I walk? That is de Sierkan on the corner.

Fortunately, I did not have far to go as I had spotted the Asplaag bar literally fifty yards up the street when I had been out for a cigarette. I have included an image here merely to indicate the proximity of the premises.

Whilst De Sierkaan is obviously quite an upmarket place, Asplaag is equally obviously a “working man’s bar” and there was not a woman in sight, neither customer nor staff. Many of the guys were wearing what were obviously working clothes like high-visibility jackets and steel toe-capped boots. It is pretty rough and ready and definitely a “no-frills” sort of place but it was in no way intimidating and I got talking to a couple of the guys there who proved to be great company if a little surprised at my presence in what is obviously very much their local. I suspect that they do not get a lot of passing tourist trade as it is well out of the centre.

The beer was well-kept and served by a friendly barman and there was football on the large-screen TV. It really did suit me down to the ground and if you do not want all the bells and whistles and like to hang out with the locals then it could well be for you.

I popped back into the Sierkan for another couple and then it was time to eat before heading home.

image011
Back to the Bajwa.

As mentioned previously, I have something of the appetite of an anorexic sparrow and generally eat once a day, late at night and so I headed to the little snack bar place adjacent to De Sierkan which seems to stay open pretty late. It is called Bajwa which research indicates is a Jat ethnic clan of the Punjab and this might make sense given the physical appearance of most of the staff but the website suggests Surinamese ownership and I know there are is a sizeable community from that country in the Netherlands.  I am not bothered either way, as late night munchies go this was great.

Perhaps it was the several beers I had had or perhaps something just got lost in translation but I ended up with as much food as would keep me going for about three days at home. I really am not joking about this. As always, apologies for the quality of the images but I really don’t like firing off flash when people are eating, especially in a place I don’t know and late at night as you never know what offence someone may take.

image015
Late night “snack”. How did I ever order that much food?

Don’t even ask me what these rolls all contained but I do recall enjoying half of them with a bottle of a cheap export beer I had never had before, they were very well done. The other half were consigned to the kitbag and tasted just as good when reheated in a microwave later. Yes, I know it will revolt some readers but I do actually wander about with cold, congealing kebabs etc. in my computer daysack. It hasn’t killed me yet although it does lead to some interesting aromas.

The food here is great, the service friendly and prompt and it is definitely not expensive so it was an over-stuffed and not bankrupt Fergy that headed off home, pausing on the way to take an image of the excellent window display above.

Back at the hotel it was an early bed and another great night’s sleep.

I might actually make it to the centre of Den Haag in the next instalment so to find out if I do stay tuned and spread the word.

Den Haag? The Hague? Who cares?

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.

image007
Gymnasium Haganum, Den Haag.

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.

image011 - Copy
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Den Haag.

 

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.

image017 - Copy
Street scene, Den Haag.

 

 

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.

image018
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Den Haag.

 

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.

image022
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Den Haag.

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.

image020
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Den Haag.

 

It really is worth a visit if you are in the area.

image024
Canal scene, Den Haag.

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.

image031
What a brilliant find.

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.

image025
Start the day with a nice coffee, time for beer later.

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.