The Girl(s) with the Pearl Earrings

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Lucky enough to have a mid-winter break in February, we took advantage of the 10 hours and 6 minutes of daylight that was finally breaking through the Dutch winter sky to visit The Hague. 

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The days are getting longer – and Spring is springing. The sun peeks through those Netherlands clouds, and y’all, there is Vitamin D and culture to soak up! We planned a day in Den Haag: Mauritshuis Museum, lunch in a cafe, shopping, and a hammam.

Pearl Earrings
Taking selfies is not our forte – but check out our pearls!

We sipped wine at the Mauritshuis Cafe anticipating our day of culture, walking, shopping, and spa-ing. Neither one of us had managed to get to see Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring, and today was finally the day. We were ready for it, earrings and all. We strolled around the outside of the Parliament buildings and looked in, how lucky we are to live here! Favorite art aside from the Vermeers included the Icarus ceiling, the Boy with Bubbles, as well as The Goldfinch. The hand sconces were weird and creepy. The Dutch floral paintings really spoke to us: birds, and butterflies, and bugs paired with tulips and narcissi. With so many grey-skied and rainy days, it’s easy to understand why this style of painting became so popular here.

 

Afterwards, we strolled along the Denneweg looking at shops and cafes before stopping for some mint tea and appeltaart, fortifying ourselves for the highlight of the day – there’s nothing better than a spa day with friends, even better when you can throw in some culture and 15,000 steps through a gorgeous city.

Munt Thee & appeltaart
Fresh mint tea and apple tart – So good – So Dutch.

At the FloatCenter Babylon, we had booked two hammams. So far, Dutch hammams have been cleansing, but not quite up to our “discerning,” well-travelled, Middle East initiated selves. However, we’re addicted, and there is simply no way to loofah at home as well as someone else doing it for you. If you’ve had a bad hammam, you might never go back, but if you’ve had a good one, be prepared for a lifetime of seeking your next fix. Also, spoiler alert – this place met all of our criteria!

We had no idea how lucky we were about to get…Robert of the FloatCenter Babylon was so excited about his tables, and while they were prepping the room, he told us all about them. Rocks, private steam cabins, tables that move up and down (which was good because he was a super tall Dutchman, and could easily get backaches stooping over!) The suspense was killing us!

And then… there they were. Instead of heated marble tables, there were repurposed salon wrap tables filled with gently heated pebbles and domed personal steamers. This was definitely a first! FloatCenter Babylon didn’t try at all to imitate the arabesque stylings that you usually see in a hammam room. It was clean, white, Scandinavian-Modern with fuchsia lighting, with orchids strewn about. We loved the nod to tradition with the checked towels. Robert had explained the tables, but we were just a bit nervous about rocks in all our bits. However, they were soft, well polished stones, no pointy edges. Our bits were just fine, and at the end, we just did a little shimmy and the rocks fell to the floor.

The pebble hammam beds
Stunning, unique and satisfying. Robert and FloatCenter Babylon should tell the world about these pebble beds!

As he and Grace (the other massage therapist) were explaining their unique tables to us, Robert made sure to tell us that our feet went under the steam canopy, and our heads laid on the pillows. They were laughing so much describing a time they came in to find toes pointing out where the head should go. We were imagining how uncomfortable it would be to have feet on a pillow but your head on rocks. The fact that they were laughing and telling charming stories was endearing, and immediately won us over – it was comfortable, like hanging out at a pebble strewn beach with new friends.

As we steamed in our own personal steam cabins, we could hear each other running our hands through the little stones, making patterns like in Japanese rock gardens, using our fingers as rakes. And that’s when the purely joyful experience began. Once we laid down on the (very smooth) pebbles, like memory foam, they adjusted to our bodies. We could hear each other playing with the stones in our hands, and let the jazz music wash over us. They switched the music to more arabic style, but the saxophones were nice.

Ready to steam!
The pebbles were not obtrusive, and the towels were a perfect reference to the hammams and Turkish baths.

The experience itself was beautiful, and we both agreed it was the best hammam we’ve had so far in the Netherlands. The scrubbing was perfect – and even that was unique, long sweeping strokes that went from toes to shoulder (tall Dutch people have really long arms)! The massages were rejuvenating, and the head shampoo and massage at the end was a first. Think about getting your hair washed at a salon, and how luxurious that is, and now multiply that feeling by 100 or more. The experience was finished with 50 litres of warm water sluicing over our heads and shoulders. Not a dumping of water, but a peaceful cascade, like standing under a waterfall.

Aiyana –  With every inch of scrubbing I thought about my move here to The Netherlands: another move, another country, another new job, another set of boxes I’d unpacked. And all of that was done now, I finally feel settled in to life again. I finally have my go-to takeout place, a beloved canal and bridge to walk over, my smiling Saturday morning flower man, my esteemed cheese seller, and now perhaps a choice local spa.

ChristineEver happy to have someone scrub my back, I was thrilled to find that the pressure of scrubbing was perfect – enough to take off the old skin and leave me with soft new skin. I felt my entire body sigh in happiness.

Etiquette

Make an appointment, and they will provide everything else. We had to reschedule so they could accommodate two of us together, but even that was simple. FloatcenterBabylon takes care of everything else. They are known for their floating pods, so if you haven’t tried that go for it! We did a combination of a hammam and a massage, not the Hammam Complete package that is being offered on the website. This is a franchise operation, and this review is about the Float Center Babylon location, not the Haaglanden location. Lastly, as you are looking around on their website, know that hammam can be spelled with one M or two MM, and often depends on translation. It’s all the same, no matter how many M’s you get!

Traveling There

Den Haag (The Hague) Centraal is easy peasy to get to, but can certainly be a confusing station as it’s so darn big! Most of the buses are upstairs, and most of the trams are downstairs by the Starbucks. If you’re headed to Float Babylon, walk out the back doors – away from the trams – and turn left, entering the building and heading upstairs. The Dutch trains and public transport are timely and simple. If you’re coming from the airport, take a single train and you’ll be there in about half an hour.

Why Travel There?

There is so much to do in The Hague, please don’t take this as a definitive guide. But, we always try to give some recommendations to go along with your spa days dear readers.

Museums:

The city is filled with little nooks, and grand art centers. We went to the Mauritshaus on this trip. But thanks to our museumkaarts, there’s so many other choices. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Peace Palace, Escher Museum, Panorama Museum, and the Gemeentemuseum. Last fall the Gemeentemuseum hosted and incredible Piet Mondrian retrospective. Madurodam – Netherlands in miniature is fantastic if you have kids, and some of our recent visitors even picked castles to visit based on what they saw there. 

Restaurants:

The Tram restaurant books up weeks if not months in advance, but don’t miss it! If you think you’re coming to The Hague and want something special, look at their calendars now. The Hof Tram is a fully functional culinary tram that runs through the city serving 5 courses with wine pairings.

Ruiseñor can only be described as a unique experience, Mexican food with feeling. Their menus are hand curated to convey all of the emotions and tell a story. Not your everyday sort of dining experience.

In Stock Restaurant is dear to our hearts, serving food that no one else wants, so the menu changes frequently. They say that ugly carrots become carrot cakes, and weird brussel sprouts become kimchi. Taking imperfect ingredients and creating masterpieces.

Do you like gin cocktails? Don’t miss Eetcafe De Kleine Prins. Their signs say they have 160 gins, but they will tell you there are really 200. Gin & Tonic day on the last Saturday of the month. It’s a cramped little Dutch bar, almost not noticeable down an alley except for the ever present Heineken star. Don’t worry if you’re not a gin fan, they have other offerings, and their food looks good too. 

Full Moon Dim Sum – in Den Haag’s Chinatown, what better way to celebrate Chinese New Year, or really any other day, than dim sum? The radish dumplings are highly recommended. And we’ve heard they have hot pot – we’ll be checking that out soon.

 

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