den Haag, on a sunny afternoon in early spring, the Dutch ride the streets on their bicycles, women in high heels, men in trenchcoats (the air is still cool), talking on cellphones, steering with one hand. Thin bricks make up both the building walls and the street paving. Gleaming window shutters shine of bright Dutch enamel, multipane leaded windows open to the day. Everyone you encounter seems comfortable, meets your eye with direct, confident gaze. Antiek shops contain pewter, handblown glass, blue & white porcelain, paintings of naval scenes. There's no difficulty figuring out how things work here; they work as you would expect them to. Although do remember, these are bike lanes you're walking in. But the cyclists swing around you, without even ringing their bells. An extremely comfortable city. Yes...gezellig...I understand it now. Too short a visit.
Home to London and walking up King Edward Street we come upon a statue, inscribed "Rowland Hill. He founded uniform penny postage. 1840" For those with no stamp collecting experience, he was responsible for the Penny Black, the first postage stamp in the world (English, of course), thereby making possible both stamp collecting and postage due charges. Rowland stands on his pedestal, looking across the street at the new office tower being constructed. He is flanked by two bright red London postboxes, suitable and appropriate companions as he stands there motionless, gazing into the future.
Then we continue on to St Bartholomew the Great church, graphically sided with black flints. Existing here since 1123, it shares the neighborhood with the Halls of several Worshipful Companies. There's Farmers Hall, Fletchers Hall and...Information Technologists Hall? Oh yes, I discover, granted its charter from the Lord Mayor in 1992, it is the 100th of the Livery Companies to be formed. Does the livery include pocket protectors? I wonder but fail to pursue the answer.
I'm learning my way around the city more each day, discovering that neighborhoods I've heard of all my life are much smaller than I imagine their fame would imply. Three or four blocks and I'm through them. Covent Garden, Soho, Bloomsbury, the Strand, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Limehouse, all are much smaller than I would have thought. A map begins to form in my mind...this after 15 or 20 visits here. In the past I took the Tube and popped up here and there, but now we're walking and taking the buses. We carry my mom's iconic old map with us but consult it less and less often. We're becoming not locals but, at least, familiars.