Sunday, September 30, 2007

Amazing Amsterdam

For the record: Amsterdam is expensive, plus the dollar hit an all time low vs. the Euro yesterday according to the TV, (that will teach me not to watch TV while on vacation), but worth every penny or guilder or Euro.

The sky actually cleared, and we made our connections like we knew what we were doing. Into the Central Station, then we took the local bus (electric down the middle of the streets which takes some getting used to) right to the Rijksmuseum. Are we good or what?

The masterpiece draw of course is Rembrandt's Night Watch. A tour guide was giving a talk, so we listened in and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of those paintings that you have to see to believe. Our immediate reaction was "Wow, that's big", but spending a half hour with it we left with "Wow, that's fantastic".

We were able to see 3 of the 4 Vermeer’s owned by this museum and they are so perfect and colorful, no reproduction I have seen even comes close to doing them justice. (A small aside: the 4th was visiting in Tokyo and we were disappointed. Vermeer is our favorite and seeing more of his paintings was the nexus of this side trip to the Netherlands. With only 35 paintings of his for the whole world to appreciate, (that excludes "The Concert" stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston in 1990) it was unfortunate that we didn't connect. 3 in Amsterdam, 3 in Den Haag, 6 out of 7 is not bad.) This link is the best Vermeer site I have found.)

Across an open park/square right behind us was the Van Gogh museum. Could they make this any easier? We ate our first meal of the day, a nice quiche for me, sandwich for Kat in a bright café, sun pouring into the windows.

In the Van Gogh, the paintings are organized chronologically, and walking along you find yourself on an interesting journey from one style to another and slowly into madness. The paintings sparkle in the light. The textures, particularly in his later works are intriguing. Presented another way, you might not notice the evolution. Not being a big Van Gogh enthusiast I didn't linger except on some of his better known works. (Not to take anything away from the guy, I'm sure he was talented, but reading as we went through, it appeared he became famous mostly through a lot of promotion by his sister-in-law. Probably unfair.)

Kat went through the drawings on the upper floor and was very impressed, apparently the boy did have talent. I opted to sit in the sun across from the entrance/exit have a cigar, and contemplate what I had seen in the past 4 hours.

The opportunity to see Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" drew me into the building. I first saw a picture of it in one of those Time-Life art series books I bought for the kids when they were very young (about 25 years ago). I knew I wanted to stand in front of this painting. There is something about the dark, honest, strong, earthy family portrait that caught my interest and holds it today. All art is personal.

Three masters, three styles, all from this small remarkable country. Was it something in the air or the water? Seeing those 5 paintings made my trip to Amsterdam complete. (Almost)

We walked through the Leidesplein, past some outdoor chess players, and a girls gymnastic group displaying it's trampoline skills (dry synchronized swimming, per Kat), on our way to our real target. The Rookies is a famous café that sells cannabis, has a hotel, serves drinks, etc. where you can sit outside have a drink and a toke and be happy. It was quite an experience. A tubed “Northern Lights” cost €8.0 and awaits. I have to admit I was quite nervous, even though it was legal, I felt like I was doing something wrong, so it was kind of exciting as well. I didn’t tip the guy and still wonder if I should have.

Walking through this architecturaly beautiful city on a sunny day lifts your spirits. There was one house that I would have like to have stopped at to ask if I could just go to their top floor for the view. From street level I could only imagine how spectcular it must look from their balcony. Our next stop was what we feared would be one of the world's biggest tourist traps; the Anne Frank house, and we could not have been more wrong. Sure there are tourists, but it contained one of the most poignant scenes I have ever come across, the bedroom where the 14 year old glued postcards and pictures and magazine/newspaper clippings to her wall paper. A must see, that has an effect I didn’t expect.

Desiring a place of solitude after that experience we headed to the Begijnhof church courtyard. This quiet oasis in this loud bustling city is such a surprise. Behind the large wooden doors is a community green surrounded by very expensive (I imagine) three and four story residences. Formally dressed congregants were just arriving for an English Reformed Church service and we could hear singing and organ music. Interestingly across the courtyard is a Catholic church that was allowed to remain, as long as it was kept secret. (For more information see the Wikipedia article.)

After a flavorful dinner at a Mexican restaurant (where I forgot my Newport Vineyards hat) we headed back toward Central Station, passing again through the packed red light district. We read that it is unwise to take photographs there, so the only one I got surreptitiously without a flash, looks like modern art.

By 10:00 we were beat and ended this very full and emotional day by making beautifully choreographed train and bus connections to Hoopdorff. Tomorrow we hope to explore Den Haag and see "The Girl".

(Well in fact that was not the end of the day for me, because I still had my little “Rookies” rocket left and it was (figuratively) burning a hole in my pocket. I decided to indulge in a little of the local culture, so I carefully (no smoking hotel – bathroom did have a pretty good exhaust fan though) imbibed in what I can only describe as a delicious post-dinner delight. After almost 30 years, it was better than I remember, plus legal, and it ensured a very peaceful night’s sleep, with absolutely no hangover or post indulgence effect that I could discern. Plus the very good news was that at least 2/3 of my €8 investment remained safe in the blue plastic bank. Oh goodie.)

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