This is my second visit to the Netherlands. I attended an IB conference in March of 2009 in Amsterdam. This week I was in Den Hague (The Hague) the third city of the Netherlands. The city is much smaller than Amsterdam, which I like. It has been awhile since I’ve been in an European city. I forgot how nice it is to have good public transport and most importantly, a strong cycling infrastructure.
The Netherlands is probably number one nation for cycling and in thinking back to my first trip over 10 years ago, I have developed into an avid cyclist. My five years in Japan gave me the opportunity to road cycle daily and I continue to find opportunities to cross-cycle in Tashkent. I rented a bicycle from the hotel and daily rode the 7 kilometers towards the coast to the International School of the Hague. Besides having protected cycle trails on both sides of the road, the drivers are hyper aware of bicycles. One of the employees of the hotel said he saw a television program that Americans were questioning why the Dutch do not have mandatory helmet laws. Research shows that often people do not bike because of the helmet laws and the Dutch government even went as far as to say helmet laws are bad for overall health of a population. I would say that the Dutch are probably more healthy than Americans because of high number of people with the bicycle as their main form of transport. 27% of all trips in the Netherlands are by bicycle! There are more bicycles (22 million) than citizens (17 million).
I rode onto the dunes and visited the North Sea beaches two afternoons after the workshops finished for the day. The Hague is at 52 north latitude and darkness in late January comes around 5:30 PM (8:30 AM sunrise), so I had limited time. As in the city, there were clearly marked and protected cycle paths through the dunes with views to the beaches and the coastal towns inland. From the town of Kijkduin near the school, one day I went north, riding through Westduin Park and the second day, I rode south to the town of Monster.
We are considering sending our children to the Netherlands to university. There are many English language programs and sadly, it is less expensive for non-EU citizens than in-state tuition for American universities. The Netherlands is smart to attract foreigners to come and study in the country. I think that may result in more business in the future for Dutch companies as smart people with strong ties to the country develop their careers. I would be OK with my children eventually living here. The one drawback to life here is the population density, which is slightly higher than India. However, they have such a great infrastructure (housing, roads) that it doesn’t feel crowded as other places I’ve been to.
The Hague is also known as the International City of Peace and Justice. I know it for being the site of the UN International Court of Justice and remember while living in Belgrade the many Bosnian Serbs that were captured and faced trials in the Hague. I visited the Peace Palace on a rainy Sunday morning and was pleasantly surprised that American Andrew Carnegie donated the funds to build the beautiful cathedral like building. Since the 1300s, the city has hosted peace conferences and meetings. Today, it is the seat of the Netherlands government, one of the most progressive governments in the world, and also international peace organizations.