Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day in Den Haag

For five weeks, Roxi and I have been living in the city of Enschede on the campus of the University of Twente, but technically we've only been doing so as visitors. Dutch law allows Americans to visit the country for up to three months at a time without further permission from the government. To live and/or work in the Netherlands for more than three months requires a visa. A visa requires a lot of paperwork not to mention leg work. Roxi and I have spent the past two days going through said paperwork and legwork.

It all started on Monday afternoon when we were informed that we had to go into town and file our residency paperwork at city hall. After a few minutes on Google, we came up with the address of the office and planned our Tuesday accordingly. We've been into town several times so finding the office was not hard and the process seemed relatively easy. However, when we returned home in the afternoon we learned that we had another appointment on campus first thing this morning followed by a trip across the Netherlands to deliver the paperwork we would get in the meeting.

So very early this morning, we reviewed and signed our visa application paperwork prepared by the university. Thirty minutes later, we were on a train bound for Rijswijk to visit the national Immigration and Naturalization Office (IND). According to Google maps, Enschede is 203 km (126 miles) from Rijswijk and the journey by car takes approximately an hour and fifty-five minutes. However, we took the train which detours to Almelo and Rotterdam along the way adding an additional thirty minutes to the trip.

Driving From Enschede to Rijswijk

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Train from Enschede to Rijswijk

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This was our first venture out of Enschede since we arrived and it was nice to see more of the country but the glamorous notion of European train travel was shattered by the cattle-car like experience during the first hour on the trip. I'm not sure if it was travelers or commuters, but the train was crowded for a Wednesday morning. So much so that it took several stops before we could get a seat. In the meantime, we were crowded into one end of the car trying to move towards the seating compartment. Eventually we were able to get seats and admire the passing countryside. Between cities, it mostly looked like grazing pastures and farmland, not unlike the American countryside. As we moved further west towards the lowlands, we began to see canals and the occasional windmill (both the old fashioned type and the new power generating type).

The part of European train travel that can be disarming at first are the very quick train transfers required to get to your final destination. There is rarely an uninterrupted train trip over any significant distance within the country. Most journeys require one or more change of trains. Thankfully, the official travel website and the friendly employees at the ticket counters can give you the optimal transfers to get you to your final destination as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this sometimes assumes that you can switch trains within a minute or two. And the trains in Europe do seem to run on time. If you do miss a transfer, the train ticket is still good for the next train in the direction you are going. But today, we didn't have much time to spare if we were to make our appointment at IND. Thankfully, we had no trouble making our two transfers en route to Rijswijk.

We've come a long way baby!

Conveniently, the IND building was located only a few blocks from the train station in Rijswijk and we had even arrived early enough to grab a quick lunch before our meeting. The appointment at IND went off without a hitch. All the paperwork was done properly and we were given our visa stamps in our passports that will allow us to stay in the Netherlands! Once we were done with business and were so close The Hague, we decided to try and see something of the area before heading back to Enschede.

We embarked on the short train ride and tried to find something to see near the train station. That was harder than we thought being that we didn't really know what we were looking for. The map showed a lot of museums so we picked the closest one to the Den Hagg Centraal station and headed that way. What we ended up at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the national library, where several very interesting historical documents are housed.

Some of my favorites from the KB collection were:

Antwerp Polyglot - a Bible, printed in Hebrew, Greek, Chaldean, Syrian and Latin, commissioned by King Philip II of Spain.

Haagsche Courant - The oldest newspaper in The Hague. This particular issue is from August 20, 1798 (exactly 179 years before I was born!).

John Fletcher Bible - Bible with an ornate cover and fore-edge drawing of King Charles II of England designed by John Fletcher. This bible was the property of Mary Stuart, daughter of King James II of England and wife of Stadholder-King William III of Orange.

Peace of Munster - The treaty, signed in 1648 between Spain and the Dutch Republic, ended the Eighty Years' War and established the borders of the Dutch state. This is the Spanish copy of the document signed by King Philip IV. The Dutch copy is kept in Madrid.

After touring the display of archives, we were getting tired from our travels thus far, and knowing that we had another two and a half hour train ride back to Enschede, we decided to return to train station to begin our journey home. Our trip home started out very nicely as The Hague was the departure point of our first train. This allowed us to get on the train early and have seats on the soon to be crowded train. However, our connecting train in Amersfoort was already very crowded when we got on board. We were bummed because of the amount of time we would have to stand on this long leg of the journey when I noticed that this particular train had a dining car. Roxi and I happily headed to it to at least take our minds off the journey with a beer.

We toasted a day well done and after a few Beck's Beers and one last train transfer, we were back in Enschede. It was a long but fulfilling day and now we can relax knowing that we are allowed to stay in The Netherlands for a while.

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