Thu 31 Oct - Noordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands

Off to Netherlands' capital, Den Haag or The Hague as it is called in English.

You can travel on one single bus, number 385, from down the street where we are in Noordwijk all the way to the central bus and train station in Den Haag and that's what we did. The trip takes around 50 minutes and the lovely bus driver upsold us to a family ticket again for £14 where single tickets back and forth would have cost us £24, so she saved us £10 in the process, nice.

Den Haag Centraal was undergoing major expansion work and not even the clock here was showing the right time as we arrived one hour earlier at 10am (or they hadn't wound back the clock after daylight saving time ceased last weekend).

A map of central Den Haag, where we kept ourselves in between the central station next to the right hand 4 and the International Court of Justice between B and C at the top.

And this is how Runkeeper showed our wandering through Den Haag.

After a section of very ordinary and boring highrise business buildings around the central station, dull and soulless, we arrived at Herengracht and now things picked up. Yep, we were in the red light district judging by the shops selling a huge variety of sex toys if the windows are anything to go by.

But, wait... What the...?

It was quite easy to find your way around Den Haag if you know your destination and it is a well known spot. These signs were to be found everywhere.

Den Haag streetscape along Herengracht. Hans thought that the men on top of the building were forming XXX for a reason...

Surprisingly enough, Den Haag had a larger Chinatown than we would have imagined. Of course, we knew about the Dutch' Indonesian colonial past, but we didn't expect a "general" Chinatown to cover several city blocks. Although we have to say, this Chinatown didn't have much karma as it looked a bit "arranged" as if it hadn't developed naturally and with far too many of the buildings being of 60s, 70s and 80s variety.

We are very fond of the Chinese bakeries as you usually get very tasty pastries for very little money and as we passed this place and saw somebody sitting there with a coffee as well, we were hooked.

So, coffee and Chinese pastries for morning tea. Yep, it was really nice and for a total price of £5 well worth the money.

The Chinese bakery was selling durian pies... No, we were not game to try them. Next time...

After our morning break, we continued into a boring shopping district with all the usual retail suspects, apart from this one. We are not sure about you, but we would hesitate going into a shop with that name...

This area is called Binnenhof and we thought that it looked like an old castle that had been added onto numerous times over the years, but when we asked a Securitas guard, she told us that these were all government ministries here, and had always been.

Well, we didn't really believe her, but when we got home and checked, she was right. Di was a little thirsty...

A few more photos from around the square above and you can probably see our doubt. It looked really regal and calm apart from some schoolkids running around and looking for things as part of some school excursion.

A "selfie" inside Binnenhof.

The building to the left looked like a church to us, but nothing like that could be seen on the map.

We exited Binnenhof and walked around to the other side of Hofvijver which is the pond on the northern side of these government buildings. This guy really wanted to be in the photo.

Haven't you been taught that it is impolite to point? Di is giving the statue a lesson, of whom we never heard of, sorry.

A bit further ahead was an old town gate called Gevangenpoort according to Google Maps.

We walked northwest on a street refered to as Noordeinde and we soon realized why, the street passes Noordeinde Palace, the working palace of the Dutch royals according to a sign.

The palace didn't look much to the world from the street and certainly did not stack up compared to other European Royal palaces. Hence, we reckoned that there must be more on the other side.

We did, however, like these window shutters in the bright and alternate colours.

OK, the Noordeinde palace wasn't very impressive from the other side either, with a de-facto car park in front of it. Is this really all there is to it? Definitely a place for business rather than a showcase.

Well, there was the Royal garden referred to as Paleistuin and that must be the crappiest looking Royal garden that we had ever seen. We've seen much better suburbian parks than this. Are we missing something here?

The area around the palace is nice though and full of galleries and embassies. Moving right along and there were these two lovely ladies sitting there on a park bench...

Our destination in Den Haag was of course the Peace Palace (or Vredespaleis as it is called in Dutch) with its International Court of Justice. Unfortunately, there were no guided tours scheduled for today so we went into its visitors centre instead.

A short synopsis about the Peace Palace. We think the International Criminal Tribunal backs onto this - which a few may recall was where Slobodan Milosevic was tried for war crimes during the Balkan war.

The Visitors Centre had an exhibition about the building's history and its functions. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate and philanthropist, of the Carnegie Hall fame, donated $1.5M dollars in 1919 to finance the building's renovation. That would have been a hell of a lot of money in those days.

Outside the Peace Palace, they had "welcome" written in a lot of world languages in the shape of the world map. We liked that the Australia shape had welcome but think G'Day might have been more appropriate.

A continually burning World Peace Flame was supported by every country in the world - but since this was set up in 2004, more countries have been created like Kosovo and South Sudan so they might want to update the plaque at some stage.

Di getting close to the warmth of the flame (it was a cold day in Den Haag). The stone work was actually quite hot to touch.

A selfie with the Peace Palace and its front gates in the background.

Time now was already 1pm (time passed quickly) and we wandered back to Chinatown for lunch (we had seen nothing else on the way that inspired us more).

We wandered a few streets but no good karma places until we reached Ming Dynasty which had plenty of Chinese customers and a wide selection for Dim Sum. Good enough for us, so in we went.

Di looked very happy - she loves Yum Cha / Dim Sum but noted it was not to Sydney standards. Pretty good though for Europe.

After lunch, a light rain had started when we left the restaurant and as we had seen what we wanted in Den Haag, we headed back to Den Haag Centraal to catch the bus back home to Noordwijk.

The bus station was big and our bus came on platform O. The Dutch bus system is brilliant with lots of dedicated lanes and always priority for buses at traffic lights.

A smooth bus trip home and an afternoon with two loads of washing to user test the drainage (yep the drain seems to be fully fixed now), some reading and chilling.

Dinner was home made salad, hot bread and garlic prawns. Very yum.

Being 31st of October, it was of course Halloween and we heard kids screaming out in the streets but no one visited us for trick or treat. So instead we watched a very funny Halloween special on "The Big Bang Theory" to get our Halloween injection for today. All good. Good night.

Wed 30 Oct - Noordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands

Walking among the sanddunes...

Today the sun was shining, no rain predicted and the wind had died down a bit. We were keen to try a local coastal walk, which we had a brochure on, called the Quality Coast Walk. We set off just after 8.30am rugged up for the 8-10 degree day.

The walk was nice and this is how it went, mostly through sand dune forest and grasslands...

We were leaving Noordwijk on foot - and we liked it!

The dunes are laced with lots of walking paths, bike tracks and horse bridle trails. This was an early section on a bike path, looking back to the lighthouse on Noordwijk beach.

You may note we were both wearing caps - our freebies from the NY Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in NYC - not that we were worried about sunburn, more that we though it would be enough to keep our heads warm. Nope, we should have worn beanies as our foreheads and our ears got cold.

Shortly along the bike path you come to a set of WWII bunkers under the dunes. Unfortunately these, and the Atlantic Museum, are closed from end of September until the start of May. Another very seasonal attraction.

The sign board photos showed us what we missed (damn).

Our trail map showed us leaving the bike path and heading inland a little. The path through the dune forests was lovely. We met occasional joggers and plenty of dog walkers.

The Dutch nearly all look fit. Chubby people are rare. We expect it is because they ride bikes everywhere and do lots of walking and running. Yes, the country is flat but they are out moving their asses and we like that characteristic.

Di was getting excited about autumn colours and leaves (we don't see scenes like this much in Sydney).

The main bike paths seem to have names - this was one Zeeweg (literally Sea Way) and the little red signs explain distances to each town.

Once we stepped out of the forest onto the open dune landscape the wind cut through us. We added an extra layer each and Hans tried a hood/cap combination to keep his neck and ears warm. A definite fashion statement (what kind of statement though...).

The local council reclaimed these dunes from a golf course and have since earned awards for their environmental work. Hence the Quality Coast title.

We could see why - the paths are made from crushed sea shells to blend in with the natural environment. Some sections look less well trodden as the shells on the edge were still whole.

You could take any number of cross paths to reach the sea. When we reached higher dunes we got quite good views (not that anything was very high - the highest recorded dune is 29m).

And this is it - with "steep" steps (as described by the brochure). Really? We have steeper steps in the flat where we are staying!

At the 8km point we reached the northern end of the official walking trail and went down to the beach to investigate. The map shows walking back about 5km along the beach. Not for us today... the wind was so strong it had foamed up the water at the edge and was blowing it in small pieces across the sand.

Hans tried to scoop some foam but the wind pushed it from his hands towards Di (or convenient to be able to blame the wind?)

We saw a few horses with riders on our walk to this point. This group was coming along the beach from further north. They had a little Dachshund dog with them that kept weaving and yapping between the horses but nobody seemed to mind.

The wind was whipping Hans hood all over so Di kindly helped to tuck it away. You can see behind her how much white water there was after 3 days of strong winds.

A selfie - pleased with our walk so far. And Hans' hood is now tucked away...

We came past this small dune where the wind was lifting the sand from the top and shifting it further inland. We liked the effect but were happy to have our backs to it as we walked away from the beach to get some protection from the wind behind the sanddunes.

Back on the dunes again and this "high dune" even had a sign post to a lookout on top. Again, not much height to be gained in the Netherlands.

Looking to the north from where we turned around. The building is a golf club - they seem to have kept one golf course here.

In several places near the beach they have these large bike parking areas. No car parks nearby. Hans was waiting for a bike...he would love to ride here as there are great bikepaths everywhere, but Di is not very keen so we haven't (note from Di - the Dutch are such good riders that the pace looks daunting)

We got back home at lunchtime and our first priority (after a cup of tea) was to have a shower as our bathroom drains are not yet fixed. Anneke, our friendly neighbour and friend of Brian and Doro, had given us a key to her place, welcomed us to go there while she was working and showed Di where to find the guest bedroom with its seperate shower. So, we grabbed our washbags, towels and clean undies and went there for a clean up.

Anneke's guest room is on the ground floor of her townhouse and behind the venetians is the public walkway you see above.

The bathroom is near the door and neatly laid out. Di, why bother brushing your hair before we step outside again?

Once sanitized and back at Binnenweg, we heated up leftover curry for our lunch then rested for an hour, well deserved we think after a 14+km walk.

Hans was keen to replace more of his old undies and socks given the "value for money" purchases of the same two days ago, so we returned to the "Traveller's friend" store for some more stuff for both of us. Di also got a new long sleeve t-shirt to replace a short sleeve one.

Brian had recommended a coffee shop on the mall, De SmaakMaker, which he said did cappuccinos closest to a flat white, so we had to try it. Agreed - the espresso coffee was good... Considering European standards...

Di did a small detour to buy a fabulous lump of Aged Gouda cheese at a local specialty store and we bought some wine for drinks tonight with Anneke.

Returning home we filled another bag with our old clothes for the local charity clothes bin, then relaxed and blogged.

An early dinner at home beforehand was garlic chilli chicken stir fry - not quite like home but still delicious.

Anneke arrived about an hour later bringing a new version of Draino to try and unclog our bathroom drains. She was brilliant and persisted with each drain and some different flushing options - with Hans fetching boiling kettles of water and Di flushing various appliances. Anneke persisted for about 45 minutes and it paid off! The drains seem as clear as they ever were and we don't need a plumber (likely cost €200).

Cheers to Anneke and her good ideas!

After a glass of wine and quick chat she headed home with our sincere thanks.

We finished the night with an email update to our hosts, some blogging and our wine. Good night.