News

Transportation (Or: Trains, trams and… shopping carts?)

It’s a random news day, I think.

The major train provider (NS) is in the middle of a strike. There are 5 days where workers will strike. Today was day 1, in the north of the country. Friday is this area’s turn (The Hague, Leiden, Rotterdam, etc.). There are three more regions set to strike next week, with national strikes possibly following in September. Hmmm.

Not to be outdone, there was also a news story about Scheveningen getting a new tram depot in a few years. This is needed because the newer Avenio trams (Dutch Wikipedia) are wider and don’t fit in the current depot.

And, as the final form of transportation:

Albert Heijn (a Dutch grocery store chain) has been using a coin deposit system to unlock carts since the mid ’80s. As you might expect, this was to prevent carts from going missing. But this system was suspended in the last few years due to corona and Albert Heijn noticed that even without the system the number of “missing” carts did not go increase. So they decided to scrape it entirely. Personally I am not really affected since I don’t have a car. No car = limited carrying capacity = shopping basket for me.

That was also the rule I lived by in the States, since I didn’t have a car there either. Did you know “never having to learn to drive” was in the “pro” column when we were debating if I move to the Netherlands or if Marco moves to the States, way back when? Yep, I hate driving that much.

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Construction work at the library (Or: Where do I find xyz, again?)

Continuing the theme of construction related blog posts… did you know The Hague’s central library is also undergoing a massive renovation at the moment? You can read more about it over at their official website in Dutch. The fifth floor has already been renovated and features a new café. The main goal of the renovation is to add more areas for people to meet – the trend most libraries are following these days.

At the moment they are working on the ground floor and the first floor (second floor for Americans!). Here is a look at the ground floor:

The information desk used to be on the right side, the café was in the back and the old tourist information point (now gone, having moved to the The Hague’s central train station) was on the lwft side. For now the information desk and area to turn in books is on the second floor.

And here is a look at the first floor, which had places to meet and hold live shows:

I was looking for a specific book. Before I left the house I checked the website, writing down the number and floor where I could find it. It never hurts to be prepared! Of course, when I went to the third floor most of the bookshelves were missing. Hmmm. There was a sign saying the books I was looking for were temporarily moved to the second floor. I go to the second floor and there are even bigger gapping holes and empty space. The section I was looking for was nowhere to be seen.

I didn’t really feel like standing in the ever-growing line for the information desk to ask where I could find the book, so I shrugged and went home. It’s not that big a deal. Hopefully the construction will be over by the end of the summer. I am sure the end result will be worth it!

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Summer heat (Or: The Netherlands begins to sizzle)

Not wanting to be left out of the heat wave that has been occurring across southern Europe for more than a week, The Netherlands joined the fun yesterday and today, with temperatures here in The Hague around 31C/87F yesterday and temperatures today around 37C/99F. Technically that is nothing compared to what the rest of Europe has been going through, or what other parts of the world have been going through, but still.

I went to work this morning as usual (climate controlled office for the win), and it wasn’t too bad at that point. But on the way back…oh my. I felt like I had been smashed against a wall of heat, as if someone had thrown a heavy blanket around all of my being. Still, as long as you find the shade where you can it works out.

Speaking of finding shade…

As you can see, a lot of people went to the beach in Scheveningen. A smart choice, but if you’re smart you either need to bring an umbrella… or you find a spot directly under the pier for shade. Although then you have to wonder what is the point of going to the beach just to sit under the pier, but to each their own.

Luckily the temperatures will drop again tomorrow, so it really was a mini heat wave. Check out some other photos of Scheveningen over at indebuurt.nl (in Dutch, but scroll down for the photos).

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World’s Dutchest police chase (Or: Of course it is with bikes)

The video itself is a bit cropped, especially on the bottom, but if you want to see it in its original size you can click on the video to go to Reddit. (For instance, the guy being on the ground complaining is cut off in WordPress’s embedded version.)

If you think something is a bit off, it is probably the bikes the police are riding on. Usually police get their own bike, which is white with police decals (politie.nl in Dutch, but I linked to it for the image). However, in this video they did not have their own bikes so they had to borrow some from random citizens. Hence why it looks like the police aren’t that great at riding them…

In other news:

  • Hidden Van Gogh self-portrait discovered behind earlier painting from theguardian.com. Good ol’ X-ray scans, letting us see what the artist never intended.
  • Icelandair sends its own baggage crews to deal with Schiphol chaos from nltimes.nl. Although a lot of airports are having staffing issues these days, this is still pretty funny. Schiphol does have a problem with luggage piling up and not getting to its destination, of course. But Icelander is now sending two luggage handlers with on every flight to Amsterdam so that they can help out and make sure that that flight’s luggage gets in the owner’s hands quickly.
  • Apparently The Hague is getting its own Taco Bell (indebuurt.nl in Dutch). I hadn’t realized that were already a few locations in The Netherlands, but there you go. The new location will likely be in the city centre at Vlamingstraat 35, although that isn’t confirmed or official yet. It’s not really a place I really ate at often in the US, so I probably won’t go to it here either.
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Lazy days (Or: Random news from around The Hague)

It has been a while since I posted random news articles about what is happening here in The Hague and The Netherlands. So here is a collection of some of the news articles I have seen recently:

The Hague government wants to tear down half of the MegaStores complex and replace it with housing (omroepwest.nl – article in Dutch). Although at the moment it is just a plan versus anything that will actually happen. Affordable housing is all the rage these days, and for good reason. In the last 5 years the cost of buying a house has skyrocketed. For instance, the price of a buying house has risen 21% since January 2021 alone. See also cbs.nl (Department of Statistics, article in Dutch). MegaStores is a furniture mall, but at least half of the stores are empty these days, if not more. It really isn’t a place you would go to if you weren’t looking for furniture.

The Binnenhof, one of The Hague’s most recognizable tourist areas, will be closed as of 21 March for 5 years for renovation (omroepwest.nl, article in Dutch). I can’t imagine it will be closed for that long, but the buildings are in dire need of renovation so it makes sense. The fountain was already removed last month (also omroepwest.nl).

The fountain in the courtyard of the Binnenhof (photo from 2012!)

The Dutch cabinet is expected to drop all remaining corona measures from 23 March (dutchnews.nl, article in English). Not that there were many rules left to revoke. They are expected to revoke the face mask in public transportation rule, the rule that you need to take a test if you are attending an indoor event with more than 500 attendees and the rule that vaccinated travellers must take a Covid-19 test before entering The Netherlands. The advice to work from home at least half of the week will also be revoked. About the only thing that will be left is the basic guidelines (wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, ventilate) and the use of face masks in airplanes, as that is European law.

The Hague accidentally sent voting cards to about 1,500 Brits who weren’t eligible to vote this week from dutchnews.nl in English. A simple but silly mistake – British nationality was still listed as an EU nationality. After Brexit, British citizens have the same rules for voting as I do. You can only vote in the local elections if you have lived in The Netherlands for the last five years, uninterrupted.

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Sweet nostalgia (Or: S’mores pop tarts)

A few weeks ago I visited Kelly’s expat store here in The Hague. In a moment of nostalgia I picked up a box of S’mores pop tarts. (My second choice would have been regular chocolate, another nostalgia hit.) I have had a pop tart a few times over the years but not that often. I think it is also the price – when I left the US back in 2012 you could wait for the occasional deal to get 2 boxes for 5 bucks. Whereas one box is €5.25 over here in the Netherlands. Import pricing…

In reality the look left a bit to be desired, but the taste was the same as I remember. I did do one thing differently though. As a kid I would always peel off the sides (where there isn’t any top frosting) and throw them out. Shame on me, I know. But these days I enjoy things a bit less sweet, so I ate it all.

Random news:

  • MediaMarkt in The Hague (aka the Dutch version of Best Buy) is moving later this spring, from their current location on the Grote Marktstraat to a new location on the… Grote Marktstraat. They will be moving into the old location where the Dutch department store V&D was, which is a better spot then what they currently have. I will just enjoy having escalators and not horrible steep stairs to get to another floor. Thanks to Marco’s dad for that news tip.
  • There will be another press conference here in the Netherlands tomorrow evening. The rumor is that almost all corona measures (except for the basic rules like hand washing, ventilation and testing if you have symptoms) will disappear on Friday, February 25. So no more mandatory face masks (except probably for vaccination centers or hospitals), no more advice to work at home, etc. We’ll see if it works.
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Lockdown measures relaxed (Or: Let’s all go to the lobby?)

The Netherlands relaxed some of their lockdown measures last night, with restaurants, cafés, movie theatres, museums, zoos and more allowed to be open again from 05:00 to 22:00. Stores are also now open until 22:00 (during the last lockdown they needed to close at 17:00).

As you can expect the latest relaxation of measures led to a huge demand for tickets to the latest Spiderman film (which only ran for three days here in The Netherlands before the lockdown started last month). Right after last night’s press conference (or perhaps while it was still going on) people flooded Pathé‘s website to order tickets. The virtual queue was over an hour long (!).

List of lockdown changes at the Dutch government’s website in English.

Above: a random photo of De Passage, a covered shopping area and also an important passage to get from point A to B. Usually it is crowded, so I always feel lucky to get a photo of it with no one else in the shot (this time I lucked out because it was fairly early in the morning and the stores hadn’t opened yet).

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Thousands of letters (Or: The curious connection between Mr. Kaor from Japan and a Dutch hotel)

Recently I stumbled on an article from Atlas Obscura about a Japanese man who has been writing letters to a Dutch hotel for over 40 years (!). Usually once a week, sometimes more. As of 2018 he has spent about 4,500 euros on stamps alone. The crazy thing is – he has never been to The Netherlands and has no plans to go there. The letters usually had the same message – asking about the weather and asking them to give his regards to all the members (employees). The hotel would sometimes write back, but they never received a different message.

The hotel (Art hotel Spaander) is located in Volendam, northeast of Amsterdam. A Dutch paper (Het Parool) stumbled on the mystery a handful of years back. After some investigation, they were able to travel to Japan to meet him. They even had a Dutch artist come along (as the Volendam hotel is an art hotel, they hoped to paint a portrait of him to hang in their hotel). When they asked the man why he was writing the letters, he explained that he was born on the 22nd, which was letter V in the alphabet. Also, his father was born in the year of the mouse, or nezumi in Japanese, which sounds a bit like “Netherlands” when pronounced. He also liked strawberries, which The Netherlands is apparently famous for (I didn’t realize).

If you are up for a bit of Google translate from Dutch to English, you can try this Google cache version of the Het Parool article, which goes into extensive detail about the mystery and trip to Japan.

The painting of Mr. Kaor for illustration, but note if you do not have a subscription with Het Parool it is better to click the Google cached version above this tweet (the Google cache version isn’t behind a paywall).

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For those with an aversion to needles (Or: Time to bring in virtual reality)

If you don’t like the thought of the dreaded needle, you can request a special appointment to wear virtual reality glasses and headphones to distract you. At the moment the service is only offered at a few locations like Rotterdam, but they are looking to expand it.

Check out this tweet from Hugo de Jonge, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport:

Hey, whatever works to get more people vaccinated.

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Do you know what trees eat? (Or: Traffic signs, apparently)

Here is an article from a local news website a few weeks ago:

In other words, a tree is busy eating a nearby traffic sign. Apparently the tree views the traffic sign as a sort of “wound” or “injury” which it needs to heal. It does so by growing around it. If you click the article, you’ll see a second photo at the end of the article with how the tree and sign looked back in 2005. It is definitely a slow process, but it makes for some cool pictures!

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