A WEEK OF SOCCER & WEST NETHERLANDS FROM DEN HAAG

A Dutch Football Camp Leads our Family to Experience West Netherlands through this Progressive International City.

In Den Haag, historic converges with modern.


Historic converges with modern in the Dutch government city of The Hague or Den Haag, Netherlands. Streets lined with antiquity are juxtaposed against a glass-and-steel backdrop.

TRAVEL SUMMARY:

DAY 1 — AMSTERDAM TO DEN HAAG
DAY 2
— ZOETERMEER FOR AJAX FOOTBALL CAMP OPENING DAY
DAY 3
— HAARLEM + LEIDEN + DELFT (BOYS’ DAY CAMP)
DAY 4
— MORNING CAMP, AFTERNOON IN UTRECHT + ROTTERDAM
DAY 5
— DEN HAAG + DORDRECHT (BOYS’ DAY CAMP)
DAY 6
— CAMP CLOSING CEREMONY + SHEVENINGEN
DAY 7
— DEN HAAG TO BELGIUM + BREDA
RESOURCES — TRAVEL MAP + INFORMATION

We traveled by train from Amsterdam to the third stay on our adventure in Northwestern Europe—The Hague, or Den Haag. From here our two teenage boys attended a soccer (Dutch football) camp run by Ajax Amsterdam; our family discovered the region of West Netherlands by rail and gained appreciation for our international hub. Den Haag of South Holland, well-located for day trips and well-appointed for visitors, is a city of many names.

WHAT TO CALL THIS CITY:

Known as The Hague in English (La Haye in French), the international city of Den Haag, its common Dutch name, is a multi-cultural city that draws global leaders and travelers alike. Den Haag, the name most frequently used in the Netherlands (and on my Eurail app), means “the hedge.” To add to the confusion, its full official name is Des Gravenhage, or ‘s Gravenhage, meaning “the count’s hedge,” referring to its past as a private hunting ground. We called it Den Haag.

Den Haag is not on the radar of most travelers. This city isn’t filled with big-name monuments. Many may not realize that it’s a city at all, but may associate it with a court where people are “tried at The Hague” for international crimes. We certainly didn’t know much about this place before going, but after spending a week there, we’re so happy to have made its acquaintance—and that of West Netherlands. Here, the quality of small moments and details are celebrated—the warm, charming, hospitable coziness referred to by the Dutch as gezellig.


The Week

DAY 1 — AMSTERDAM TO DEN HAAG

SUNDAY NOTES:

Travel Day
Rail pass Day 1 of 10 — Amsterdam Centraal to Den Haag Centraal
Novotel Suites Den Haag City check-in
Fratelli for Italian cuisine
Watched the FIFA World Cup Final

AMSTERDAM — FINAL MORNING ENJOYING THE CANAL

Read Weekend in Amsterdam to discover this city.

CHECK OUT THE WEEKEND IN AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Weekend in Amsterdam - Diversity is embraced here. “Weird” might be the Dutch norm due to pragmatic tolerance. This trade city has been accustomed to associating with different cultures, ideologies…

Continue reading → Weekend in Amsterdam


DEN HAAG — NOVOTEL SUITES

Photos Source: © booking.com

DEN HAAG — STOLL AROUND THE HOFVIJVER (COURT POND)

DEN HAAG — GOVERNMENTAL DETAILS

DEN HAAG — DELICIOUS MEAL AT FRATELLI

DEN HAAG — FRANCE DEFEATS CROATIA IN FIFA WORLD CUP FINAL

SUNDAY REFLECTION:

Den Haag has old world charm in balance with modern technology, spaciousness and amenities. In stark contrast to Amsterdam, where we had just come, the city was quite that summer Sunday afternoon. Very few people, cars or bikes were on the streets. Unlike the raucous pubs of London we experienced during the Semi-finals, or the lively Foodhallen in Amsterdam in which saw the consolation game, we enjoyed watching France win the World Cup Final (and the Dutch commentary) with only a few others visitors back at our hotel, Novotel Suites Den Haag City.

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DAY 2 — FOOTBALL CAMP OPENING DAY

MONDAY NOTES:

AFC Ajax youth camp Day 1 of 5 (opening ceremony, boys only afternoon)
Commute to Zoetermeer, Oosterheem stop on #4 tram
Lunch at Pavarotti in Zoetermeer during camp
Will’s Pannekoekenhuis for dinner

AFC AJAX DUTCH FOOTBALL CAMP — OPENING DAY

OUTER ZOETERMEER — SIMPLE SUBURB AND WETLAND

ZOETERMEER — LUNCH AT PAVAROTTI

MONDAY REFLECTION:

Zoetermeer is a commuter suburb—simple, though clean and friendly—not a destination other than for the camp. We walked on the path from the tram to the far edge of town through what felt like a nature preserve. We finally arrived at the pristine training facility, perfect for technical foot work. People were nice. The few locals that we encountered along the ubiquitous brick-red bike path through the neighborhood to the fields called, Goed morgen! The Ajax coaches were professional and hospitable—though much of the camp was in Dutch, everyone spoke “Football” (and most spoke English).

Lunch was delicious—pizza at Pavarotti was fresh and light, made with imported Italian flour. A friend once advised us, “If all else fails, eat Italian food in Europe.” We agree. In our experience, it was consistently made with the best ingredients, and with Italian care and passion. However, the boys loved Dutch pancakes. So that evening at Will’s Pannenkoekenhuis where we enjoyed talking with Will, the owner, about his plans for a motorcycle trek to the Western US, happy when he requested that we pay in US Dollars.

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DAY 3 — DAY TRIP TO HAARLEM + LEIDEN + DELFT

TUESDAY NOTES:

AFC Ajax youth camp Day 2 of 5 (boys only)
Rail pass Day 2 of 10 — Haarlem + Leiden + Delft

HAARLEM — MORNING WALK THROUGH TOWN

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LEIDEN — CANAL WALK TO THE CITADEL

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DELFT — CANAL WALK TO THE CENTER FOR LUNCH

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TUESDAY REFLECTION:

The boys were quite comfortable venturing off to camp on their own, waving as they peered through the tram window. Haarlem still appeared to be still asleep when we arrived in the morning at 09:00. Picturesque, but quiet as we searched to find an open café for coffee. By contrast, Leiden was buzzing with the life of a college town when we arrived later in the morning. It felt like a scaled-down version of Amsterdam, and provided nice views from the citadel. Delft has a wonderful central square encompassed by shops and restaurants—perfect for brodjes (sandwiches) and beer on the terrace.

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DAY 4 — MORNING CAMP, DAY TRIP TO UTRECHT + ROTTERDAM

WEDNESDAY NOTES:

AFC Ajax youth camp Day 3 of 5 (morning session only)
Rail pass Day 3 of 10 — Utrecht (would have paired well with Gouda cheese market) + Rotterdam

AFC AJAX FOOTBALL CAMP — DAY 3 COMPETITION EVENT

UTRECHT — WALK THROUGH TOWN

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ROTTERDAM EVENING

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION:

The Ajax camp focused on technical foot work and small-sided challenges, similar to the boys’ home club. Their group of 10 kids, ages 13 to 16, was multi-national with 8 countries represented between them. Our afternoon in Utrecht offered plenty of shops and good food options—emanating rich history, its charming antiquity did not excite the boys. With their interest waning, we set off for cosmopolitan Rotterdam to enjoy sushi for dinner.

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DAY 5 — A DAY IN DEN HAAG

THURSDAY NOTES:

AFC Ajax youth camp Day 4 of 5 (boys only)
Den Haag walk
Dordrecht day trip
Den Haag evening shopping day (shops open late Thursday only)

DEN HAAG — BREAKFAST WALK IN HET NOORDEINDE

DEN HAAG — HISTORIC CENTER

DEN HAAG — DE PLAATS (THE PLACE SQUARE)

DEN HAAG — BENNINHOF PARLIAMENTARY COMPLEX

DORDRECHT — LUNCH

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DEN HAAG — “THURSDAY SHOPPING NIGHT”

STORES OPEN UNTIL 21:00 (9PM) AS OPPOSED TO REGULAR 17:00 (5PM) CLOSING TIME

THURSDAY REFLECTION:

The tight cobbled streets of historic Den Haag are a quaint contrast to the grand boulevards around the Benninhof, and particularly to the modern skyscrapers around Centraal Station. Het Noordeinde, near the palace, is quiet until shops begin to open around 10:00. The heart of the democratic monarchy for the Netherlands is found next to the Hofvijver (Court Pond) where preserved examples of Dutch architecture sit within the Inner Court of the Benninhof—the Ridderzaal (Knight’s Hall), the Great Hall among the centuries-old monumental buildings of the Dutch Parliament.

The picturesque streets of the historic inner city of Dordrecht are found around the port, away from the streets and stores near the train station that, to me, lacked charm. Back in Den Haag that evening, the streets were buzzing with people as stores were opened later on Thursdays, providing us with a lively evening of shopping.

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DAY 6 — CAMP CLOSING CEREMONY + SHEVENINGEN

FRIDAY NOTES:

AFC Ajax youth camp Day 5 of 5 (afternoon closing ceremony)
Den Haag morning and lunch with Baz (Dutch friend)
Evening and dinner in Sheveningen near the pier

DEN HAAG — PLEIN (SQUARE) TO THE HOFVIJVER

AFC AJAX YOUTH FOOTBALL CAMP — FINAL COMPETITION + CLOSING CEREMONY

SHEVENINGEN — BEACH AND DINNER

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FRIDAY REFLECTION:

After a quiet morning walk to the Hofvijver, we enjoyed meeting with a new Dutch friend, Baz, for lunch to discuss life in the Netherlands. From here we headed to the boys’ field to watch the final competitions and closing ceremony of their camp. Thanking the staff (Dank je wel!) for a great experience, we bid Vaarwel (Goodbye) to the players, families and coaches. That evening Sheveningen was the perfect setting to eat seafood at the beach while enjoying the sunset over the Noordzee (North Sea).

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DAY 7 — DEN HAAG TO BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

SATURDAY NOTES:

Travel Day
Rail pass Day 4 of 10 — Den Haag Centraal to Bruxelles-Midi Station
Stop in Breda, Netherlands and Antwerp, Belgium

DEN HAAG — FINAL MORNING WALK

BREDA, NORTH BRABANT — WALK TO PARK

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OFF TO BELGIUM… FINAL REFLECTION:

Quality comes to mind first when reflecting on our time in the Netherlands. Den Haag in particular, is clean and orderly. Navigation on trains and trams is timely; stops are well-marked; trains are clean. Streets are works of art in themselves—well-maintained, often with pervious paving stones infilled with sand. The ubiquitous dedicated bike lanes are easily-identified brick-red pathways.

People were generally friendly, considerate and open-minded—several exemplified accommodating generosity to us. The Dutch seem candid and sincere with a somewhat dry, but not cynical, sense of humor. We admired their inherent ability to adapt, desire to preserve heritage and nature, and willingness to embrace progress and cultures of the world.

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RESOURCES

GETTING THERE:

  • Fly into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (or from London into Rotterdam The Hague Airport); OR
  • Take the train—we took the EuroStar from London to Amsterdam, then the Intercity train to Den Haag Centraal Station; OR 
  • Take the ferry—such as the Stena Line from Harwich or Newcastle, England to the Hook of Holland, where you can purchase an OV-Chipkaart to take a bus to Den Haag

ACCOMMODATIONS:

Novotel Suites Den Haag City was in the perfect location for our needs: near tram stops, shopping and restaurants, the historic center, and within walking distance to trains at Den Haag Centraal.

TRAVEL PASSES:

Den Haag Tram Map
  • FOR LOCAL TRAVEL: OV Chipkaarts for local metros, trams and buses (also for trains if without Eurail pass) — purchased at the OV Service & Ticket Office in Centraal Station: €7 fee for each card; then loaded each card with funds. Many ticket-dispensing machines do not accept international credit card. We had to get assistance from a ticket agent. To accurately deduct funds for each leg of a journey, the attendant instructed us to scan each card upon entering and exiting the tram.
  • FOR REGIONAL TRAVEL: Eurail Pass for trains— purchased on RailEurope.com before trip: 2-country, 10-day flex (not continuous) pass for Benelux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) and France. Check individual train ticket prices to compare with cost of a rail pass.

DAY TRIPS IN WESTERN NETHERLANDS:

EXPLORE BY TRAIN, BY BIKE AND ON FOOT

CULTURAL NOTES:

  • The Hague is a city, not an institution or court, as some may think.
  • International City of Peace and Justice — The Hague is home to The UN International Court of Justice, The International Criminal Court, Eurojust, Europol and the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons); and to more than 130 NGOs (non-governmental organizations), such as Unicef.
  • City by the Sea (Stad aan Zee) — Den Haag is the only large Dutch city along the North Sea (Noord Zee).
  • Mauritshuis Museum houses famous Dutch paintings such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.
  • Visit Madurodam, an amusement park where guests discover the Netherlands through miniature replicas constructed at 1:25 scale of Amsterdam and Dutch architecture; wind energy and waterways; air and train travel; learn about Dutch cheese, flowers, history, and more.
  • VISA is not always accepted. Some shops and restaurants only accept Dutch Maestro credit cards, so it is important to carry cash (Euros).
  • Most traffic is from bicycles, pedestrians and trams, with some cars, motorcycles and mopeds. Bicycles and pedestrians follow the unwritten rules similar to those in Amsterdam with designated bike lane, typical throughout the Netherlands.
  • Most shops and cafés don’t open in the morning until 10:00 (a few open at 08:00).
  • Pannenkoeken (Dutch pancakes) are a lunch or dinner fare, so most restaurants don’t open until noon.
  • Stores have late-closure hours on Thursdays when people stay in the city to shop. We found this day to be the mostly lively.
  • Dutch people are generally tall. The average Dutch man is 6-feet (183cm) tall.
  • gezellig— untranslatable term meaning “a unique combination of charm, hospitality, and coziness” referring to people, places or things

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