Driving in Holland is a little like driving in New York. The minute a light turns green, a dozen horns are encouraging you, “Drive already.” And rush hour is a nightmare; traffic on the highways slows to a crawl.
It’s surprising how many people are on the roads, considering that gas costs about $8.00 a gallon, and parking is worse than in New York. Garages cost roughly $40 a day, and metered parking often requires the possession of a card with a computer chip. The meters in Rotterdam, for instance, do not accept coins, a fact that encouraged lots of illegal parking on our part as well as a constant fear of being towed.
So we decided to leave our car in the hotel garage in Rotterdam (20 Euros a day) and take the train to The Hague. A street car to the central station, tickets, all aboard, okay — except there are several train stops in the Hague, and our train didn’t stop at the Gare Centrale, the one we wanted. We ended up in Leiden, and after a stern scolding by the Dutch conductor, got the correct train back to the seat of government of Holland — Amsterdam is officially the capital.
Near the station, the architecture is reminiscent of Rotterdam — all new and slightly strange. On the left in this photo is the “Hoftoren,” the tallest building in the Hague, which houses the ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. On the right, with the green cap, is the Ministry of Health, Well-Being, and Sports, the public health authority of the Netherlands.
Walking away from the station and the construction that surrounds it, we found many beautiful old buildings, now mostly offices or bank branches, but the architecture is still enchanting.
One lovely old section of the city included the area around Denneweg, the site of Mr. Vanderdonck’s third cigar store. It was easy to find — very close to the Escher Museum, which is located in the former Royal Palace on the Lange Voorhout. Denneweg is an avenue of small, exclusive shops, reminiscent of the upper reaches of Madison Avenue, though there is little if any car traffic.
The address once occupied by the cigar shop (left) is now a small restaurant/cafe. It seemed busy at 2 pm. We walked a little further down Denneweg, taking in flowershops, leather goods boutiques, candy shops, and were stopped in our tracks about half a block from the site of the cigar shop by a shirt shop on the corner with unusual carvings around the windows and doors.
These decorations looked similar to the cigar store wrapper we had from A.E.D. Vanderdonck. Going inside, we were told that the carvings had recently been uncovered, after years of hiding under siding. The shop owner wasn’t certain whether the numbers on Denneweg had ever changed, whether this might have been the site of the shop. He sent us several blocks away, to a contemporary cigar shop, and told us to ask there. “They know everything about cigars in the Hague.”
Finding the next shop took a little longer. For one thing, we were sucked into the Escher Museum, a fabulous building (a former royal palace) and a complete review of Escher’s work. When we finally found the new shop and presented the shopkeeper with our “Vanderdonck” credentials, he stared at us and said, “Vanderdonck. You must be rich.”
Turns out that the very best hand-rolled Dutch cigars are Van der Donks. They are so exclusive, this lovely place was not allowed to sell them. The shopkeeper directed us further, to another cigar shop more blocks away, and told us to inquire there.
Tired as we were, we went on. In the next shop, the woman behind the counter showed us very, very expensive Van der Donk cigars. Steven had the immediate idea of buying a couple for Tim. We later learned that the Van der Donk cigar company was not started until 1919, some five years after A.E.D.’ s death. Clearly, an area for more research. Visiting the plant, testing cigars….Tim, are you listening?
To learn a little more about the Van der Donk cigar makers, check out http://www.vanderdonksigaren.nl/. You can use Google to translate it into approximate English.
One last note: our friend, Joe the architect, suggested that the panels may have been removed from one shop and placed on another. But I doubt if we’ll ever know whether they really did once grace the exterior of Mr. Vanderdonck’s fashionable shop.