Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DAY 65 – 19 August 2014; In Den Haag

While planning the journey I had identified Almaty and Amsterdam as the locations where the car would be serviced on the basis that I estimated 10,000 kms from Cochin to Almaty and a similar distance from there to Amsterdam. The first leg was almost bang on target and Almaty is where the first oil change and attention to the car was given, except for a check up in the Ford Service Centre in Kathmandu. I had asked Musthafa to check if the car could be serviced at the Ford dealership in Den Haag. He found out that the dealership would not be free for another month to do the servicing! However, they wanted to see the car that had been driven into the city from India! I was not too keen to indulge their curiosity and requested Musthafa to locate a private garage where a check up and oil changes could be done. Accordingly Musthafa arranged to have the car attended to in Garage Archipel, owned and operated by Erik Jankie, a Surinamese Dutch of Indian origin. I took the car there after breakfast and explained what had to be done. Erik was more than willing to get all the checks done and requested an hour and half for oil change, change of brake pads, wipers and filters as well as topping up coolant and brake fluid. When I got the car back somewhat later than had been originally thought possible Erik had also topped up air pressure. He had done a thorough job and it cost Euro 245 for materials and labour. He also gave me a special gift, on behalf of his business, as I was leaving.

Bernie Chettan and Kamalamma Chechi had come to the hotel with Rajesh to pick us up. Rajesh works as a scientist in Holland, and so does his wife. He was going to be with us for the day to take us around the sights of Dan Haag and Amsterdam. The six of us fitted quite comfortably into Rajesh’s Ford Galaxy. He drives a manual transmission since it gives him better control and involvement in the driving process, he said. Musthafa had booked online for a tour of the Peace Palace last evening. Since we had come to Den Haag late we missed the appointment. So today we visited the Peace Palace, but to be seen only from the outside. The Peace Palace was born out of the shared value that justice leads to peace and peace leads to justice. This value forms the essence of the two courts that function from the Palace: The International Court of Justice and the Permanent Council of Arbitration. Over more than 100 years the Peace Palace has become a universal symbol for peace through justice. While armed violence in many parts of the world is reality conflicts are resolved peacefully in the Palace too. Just outside the Palace is the World Peace Flame, which was created in July 1999 from seven flames from five Continents. The World Peace Pathway around it was created in April 2004 by the cooperation and solidarity of 196 countries, a list of them is engraved in copper and set on the edge of the pathway. The Palace also houses the largest library on International Law, where International Law knowledge is not only collected but also disseminated among students all over the globe.

The street which houses the Museum Beedlen Aan Zee has interesting and vivid sculptures displayed. Despite the heavy and cold drizzle Lal and I ventured a walk to appreciate them. The colourful leaning strawberry cake, man feeding seagull, headbutting Zidane and many pieces of modern art are displayed in the open and are exposed to the elements.

Den Haag (The Hague) is the seat of government, Legislature, Supreme Court and the State Council of Holland. It is the administrative capital of the country but, constitutionally, the country’s capital is Amsterdam.  Den Haag is the third most populous city of Holland, with Amsterdam and Rotterdam being the other two. Den Haag is home to more than 150 embassies and international organisations such as Europol (European Police Office), International Criminal Court and European Patent Office. The King has his residence in Den Haag. The city also has an impressive array of modern, but aesthetically designed high rise buildings.

By 2 pm we were suitably hungry and keen to have lunch. Musthafa suggested a place close to where the car was parked. The restaurant was busy and hence, we moved in search of another. Not far from there was the Seleraku restaurant that specialised in Indonesian food. Te pleasant lady explained the various rice dishes over a couple of beers. I had the Nasi SeleraKu Special, which had steamed rice with chicken, stir fired greens, satay and some curry. It was wholesome. After lunch it was decide that we would drive to Amsterdam. On the way Chechi and Chettan were dropped off at the Schipol airport, from where they would take a train to Hengelo. Being with them for 3 days gave me the comfort of family away from home. The informal and loving couple, who first came into my life in 1995, have remained steadfast in my heart over the past 20 years.

The Zaanse Schans is one of the highlights of Holland, which is situated just outside the City of Amsterdam. Musthafa guided us to the Museum on our way to Amsterdam. It just so happened that we fell in love with the Heritage and spent more time than was scheduled at the place. One can be a part of the vibrant and stunning living and working community that dates to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Heritage village is packed with wooden windmills, barns, houses, museums, which were built in the typically Dutch wooden architectural style and relocated to this site piece by piece since 1961. A visit to the site requires at least half a day to appreciate the traditional clog, cheese and chocolate making. By the time we had dodged the intermittent rain, ogled at the diamond clog and sampled the many varieties of cheese and chocolate and reached the windmills they had all closed for the day. That was mighty disappointing. The Dutch watch museum was open and the keeper of the place shared with me what is generally said in Holland: While the Dutch have clocks, Belgians have all the time!

We reached Amsterdam in pouring rain. When Rajesh parked the car in the public garage he advised us to carry all valuables with us. Car brake ins in garages are common, lamenting after the fact does not help! Lugging a leather bad in heavy drizzle is not a pleasant experience. It was cold too. However, in a quick one hour walk I experienced the famous Damstraat, which pulls thousands of tourists to her every year, the Canal Street with its famous Red District (on the wane with active government support), Peep shows and Marijuana bars (there is a Cannabis College too!), Grand Central railway station and the Amstel River. I had been to the City in 1996 and 1999; the city had changed so much since then – it had become more congested. I remember buying a ticket for a train to Maastricht in 1996 with the pass available for railway staff from other countries. I waited outside the designated train on the platform. A minute to departure the gates closed and soon the train accelerated off the platform. I was left with my jaws agape for I had expected some commotion like it happens on Indian platforms prior to departure of a train – loud announcements, people frantically running to get to their compartments and the Guard waving a flag. None of that happened and I was left standing all alone on the platform. The counter clerk understood my predicament and changed the ticket for a later train without any charge. The city had, I do not know if it persists, a tradition of the Heineken horse drawn carriage going around every day at a designated time of the day. During my stay in the city in 1996 I followed the cart and landed up at the erstwhile Heineken factory, which was then a museum. A 2 Guilder entrance fee gave me an insight into beer making and, most importantly, unlimited beer, cheese and crackers for as long as I could drink or till the museum closed.

Rajesh drove me back to the Novotel Hotel en route to his home in Eindhoven. He gave me interesting insights into the working environment in Holland, which he was thoroughly enjoying. Lal stayed back with Musthafa in Amsterdam for some more time since Lal was visiting the city for the first time and wanted to experience the Canal Cruise. I was keen to meet the deadline with my cot at 9.30 pm!

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