Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"The Girl" and a Paris Nuit

For the record: A very full day and a beautiful way to end our vacation. A cool Netherlands followed by a warm misty Paris evening. We enjoy driving and road trips in Europe are usually interesitng if only for the rest stops that make our Burger King pulloffs seem silly in comparison.

We will not be denied again. Today we visit "The Girl." An easy checkout, (nice when you don't have to pay) and before we knew it we were on the highway to Den Haag. It was cloudy again but without the bite of the previous day, well on our way a scant 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) from where we were staying in Hoofddorp. Since we are so smart we decided not to take the first Den Haag exit (toward the Centrum), because everyone knows how packed that road must be with rush hour traffic. Instead we ended up in a major traffic jam and overshot the city.

Taking the next exit we worked our way back toward the centrum, and found the underground parking (exactly where my honey said it would be … she is a great navigator), parked the car and strolled over to the Mauritshuis. It was a cool, pleasant 10 minute walk and we arrived just a few minutes before opening time to a very short line peopled mostly with oriental tourists.

We had to wait a few minutes because workmen were unloading modern display cabinets, etc. from their trucks. It seems the museum is undergoing renovation and we wondered what this would mean to us, as we dearly wanted to see some particular paintings. That was the bad news, the good news was that because of the renovation, the museum was free, and they even threw in free headsets to listen to the audio commentary. Wow, we usually never spring for these, and it was fantastic. Because most of the museum was shut off,they arranged all the “masterpieces” into five galleries separated by the central staircase. How great is that.

In these galleries were Rembrandt’s last self-portrait and three paintings by Vermeer, including the Delft city scene which was magnificent. Diana, a dark and early work (there was some question about the attribution of this painting since it is so unlike the rest of his work).

Finally, the real reason for our determined visit, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. We stood before it, less than a meter away, alone in the room listening and looking. This close to the painting you can see that the white reflection in the pearl is but a single brush stroke, and the two dots of pink paint that is the slight moisture at the corner of her mouth. It was a fantastic experience.

As I have said the Dutch seem like very nice, polite, outgoing and interesting people. Even on the bus or train people smile. How often do you see that? I recall our new friend on the train who was going to the job interview yesterday. He was so apologetic and embarrassed because while chatting he told us he thought we were going the wrong way away from instead of toward Delft. We weren’t. Maybe it’s the weather after all that makes them so pleasant. Too bad it doesn't have that effect in England.

We were back on the road by 11:30 for our 4-5 hour trip back to CDG to return the car. Kat mapped out a course that put us about an hour ahead of our car return time of 4:00 pm. Just outside Antwerpen Belgium we lost that hour and ten more minutes backed up behind a tow truck and, we think, one squished car accident on a 2 lane highway. If that was a car at one time, it had to be a fatal collision, because it was as flat as one of those pancakes we didn't have at Orange Williams, looking like the product of a junk yard crushing machine.

We did get the car back to SIXT late, but within the one hour grace period they give you, so there were no additional charges. We liked the SIXT rental experience, all in all, given the problems we had. Upon return we could not get the attendant to understand that we wanted the original receipt back and would have no proof of the condition or time when we returned the car. So when he wasn’t looking I went back to the car (under the pretense of getting something out of the glove compartment) and liberated the receipt from the little compartment on the side of the door. (Tying to expiate some guilt here.)

Navette(ing) our way back to the hotel, we decided to go into Paris for dinner (that sounds so cosmopolitan). We walked from St. Michel (yes the train went there directly, the grève apparently being over for that section) and walked through a light drizzle to the Ile St. Louis to eat at the Silver Lily. Ferme, and foiled again. Instead we ate at a little Crêperie a few doors down and chatted with an American couple from Seattle.

The rain had stopped and the evening sky was breaking as we strolled down the street to Berthillon for a cornet of caramel cream (Kat as usual didn’t have any). It is a short walk back to St. Michel and on such a perfect Parisian evening tinged with sadness that it was our last. It was about 70° (warm after our northern exposure) and everything glistened from the rain. Notre Dame sat magestically on the other side of the Seine, lit and shrouded in mist. There was no pedestrian traffic and scant vehicular, and it seemed we had that part of the city to ourselves. Magnificent!

We trained back to CDG and took the wrong navette, how embarrassing, next time look for the Marriott sign on the side silly, so an hour later we got to our hotel. It was still beautiful out, so I took a short (1/3 Rookies) walk across to the park and those northern lights were sparkling for the last time.

Tomorrow we end our journey planning to be in Richmond before midnight. There are just a few critical connections that have to work out just right (Iceland and Boston connections particularly). Time will tell.

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