In my post last week I mentioned that I travel quite frequently with the program I am enrolled in. This week I would like to highlight one of the excursions I was fortunate enough to have a few weeks ago to The Hague in Holland (or the Netherlands).
I awoke at 6:30 am in order to meet up with my fellow classmates in time for the three-hour bus ride ahead of us. As an incentive for waking up so early, our program director greeted all thirty-five of us with croissants and pain au chocolat (French pronunciation: pan-o-shock-o-lot), typical breakfast fare in Belgium. After a long bus ride, for which most of us slept, we arrived at the ICTY to attend a very important trial. ICTY stands for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In the early 1990s (long before most of you were born) there was a great conflict in what in what was then Yugoslavia, but now consists of the countries: Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The conflict between the various states within the former Yugoslavia led to a number of wars, in which a number of genocides took place. Genocide is the mass killing of people, often due to their religious beliefs or ethnic background. In the case of the former Yugoslavia it was a number cultural, religious, ethnic, and political differences. After the wars the ICTY was founded to hold the trials for those responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians throughout the wars. Although the wars ended before the year 2000, the trials are still taking place due to the complexity and amount of information that had to be collected and presented in a court. My fellow students and I had the privilege of seeing a part of the trial of a man named Ratko Mladic (if you’re interested in learning a bit more about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratko_Mladić), a Bosnian Serb military leader. Because he had such a high-ranking role in the war crimes that took place his case is very detailed and his trial has been going on for over a year now. It was a very interesting experience, although a sad one at that.
After leaving the ICTY we boarded the bus to depart for the Gemeente Museum Den Haag, a museum consisting of both historical works of art and modern art. Led by a tour guide, we saw works of art by famous painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Have any of you heard of these artists before? Some of you may have seen Vermeer’s most famous work The Girl With the Pearl Earring. The museum had an expansive college of art from Dutch painters that dated back to the 15th and 16th century. Seeing a work of art with so much history behind it is a breathtaking experience!
At the conclusion of our museum tour we once again loaded onto the bus to depart for the small town of Delft. The artist Vermeer, whom I mentioned we saw at the museum, did a gorgeous painting of the town of Delft. I was fortunate enough to see the painting and the town all in one day! Delft is the most adorable town. It was quite similar to Portland in the sense that there are bikers everywhere you look. I was nearly run over at least twice! The town is a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets set along a series picturesque canals. It seemed like a scene from a movie.
Our first order of business was visiting an old church, of course. You don’t know this yet, but you will soon learn that I see an average of five to eight old churches per week! While it was very fascinating and historically stimulating at first, they eventually all start to blend to together. Even though I dreaded the church tour I new that what was to follow was going to be very exciting. My program director had promised us a taste of raw herring! According to him, who I take as an authority because he is Dutch himself, raw herring is a Dutch favorite. He ordered ten servings for those brave enough to consume a whole raw fish. I was chosen as the sacrifice, and therefore was the first to try it! Surprisingly it wasn’t all that bad! It tasted a bit like raw tuna, for you sushi lovers out there. It’s not a snack I could see myself eating on a regular basis, but it was definitely an experience!
In Delft we were given a few hours of free time to explore, of which I took full advantage! My friend Gaby and I wandered the cobblestone streets, peeking in each of the little shops as we passed. Exploring new towns there are also so many interesting things one comes across, like a giant lamp in the middle of the sidewalk (normal, right?). We did however find an outdoor market I would most closely compare to the farmer’s market in Portland. There were dozens of stands selling the most vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables. Scattered throughout were a number of stands boasting of the juiciest meats, while others advertised two for one socks and handmade hats. My favorite was the candy cart. There was an entire cart full of all types of candy, from gummy bears and chocolate, to stroopwaffles (a delicious Dutch cookie, which I will be sure to bring back for you to try!). Overall, my time in Delft was thoroughly enjoyed!
The day’s events were all quite memorable. I witnessed a part of history by sitting in on the trial of a war criminal, I stood mere inches away from a few of the most famous Dutch paintings in the world, and I explored a new little corner of the universe. What fun new things did you learn this week?