To my 2 or 3 readers:
My delay in continuing the blog stems from an increase in workload, a lack of discipline and also a paralysis caused by being unsure what will happen as I go over my allotted space in the free blog. Will my pictures from previous blogs disappear? Will the images for this current blog show up? Will I have to create another blog in a separate site or can I do so within WordPress? Finally I decided to bugger it and finish off Holland, and see what happens. Stay tuned!
July 9 and 10, 2015
Day 10 dawned bright and sunny yet again. We had another nice buffet breakfast at the IBIS and hopped a bus into Amsterdam; this time stopping at Museumplein, which as the name suggests is a square full of museums (and the US embassy).
“Which building is the Van Gogh museum?” asked MLW.
“Don’t know, but it shouldn’t be too hard, it’s Van Gogh after all.” I said with confidence.
We headed towards something that looked impressive enough, but it turned out to be the aforementioned US Embassy; where a young preppy blue suited chap was wanding some sort of detector over people lined up at the gate.
“What’s the lineup for,” MLW wondered.
“Looks like they are trying to get passports or Visas.”
“Kinda paranoid aren’t they?”
“The US? Maybe, if your embassies had been bombed and attacked a few times in different countries you would be a little paranoid, too. Besides, I don’t see snipers on the roof, so they aren’t all that skittish.”
“Comforting.” Said MLW. “But it is not the Van Gogh Museum!”
“Maybe it’s over in the corner there.” Said I, pointing to a gaily decorated edifice across the huge park that centered the square, where crowds of people appeared to be gathering.
As we got closer, I wondered if Disneyland had amalgamated with the Van Gogh museum, but it turned out to be sculptures, one of many scattered throughout the entrance to the Rijksmuseum.
“Look, I see the Van Gogh museum.” The name was displayed on the side of an oval shaped modern looking building peeking out over construction fencing and scaffolding. But how to get there?
We walked back towards the main part of the square, along the construction fence. I was looking up and around, trying to use the building as a landmark. According to the billboard, the new museum entrance way was soon to be opened. It would then have a huge modern queue area with a glassed-in entrance. Judging by the billboard, the modern circular edifice was indeed going to be part of the Van Gogh …
But we were trying to find the old entrance.
Then, in typical unseen-forest-for-the-trees fashion, we actually looked at the construction fence…
We followed the arrows and ended up on a busy street circumventing the square …
… where there was a bus and trolley station, walked towards the entrance and saw the long queue beginning. The Dutch usually have terrific signage—where to go, which line to get in. This was no exception. Advanced ticket holders had one line, regular Joes in the other. As it was a timed entrance, a concierge would check to see which time you were supposed to enter, and align you accordingly. We were at first opening so were relatively near the beginning of the line.
Then I saw an understandable but disappointing sign:
No photography. None.
So this is why there are no pictures to accompany this section of the blog.
Although I have enjoyed the very famous Van Gogh paintings such as Starry Night and his series of Sunflowers, as well as his self-portraits., I did not know much about him other than he had cut off his ear and killed himself. MLW was a big fan and not only was greatly anticipating this museum visit, but the later portion of our journey, when we planned to go to Arles, where Van Gogh and other painters of his era like Gauguin and Emile Bernard spent much time, and where his most famous paintings were finished.
So, I was impressed to discover that he had only decide to paint at age 27 in 1880. Before that he had mucked about, working for an art dealer and trying to be a lay preacher; possibly in an attempt to please his father, who was a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church.
He taught himself to draw and studied art for a short time in the Hague. His brother Theo to whom Vincent wrote many letters, was also an art dealer and had many other painter’s pieces which Van Gogh was able to see, on his brother’s recommendation. Early on, Van Gogh painted the life of the common man, peasants, workers and labourers, with whom he felt a strong affinity.
After he moved to Paris, his vision expanded, but he always returned to that theme during all his different periods.
One of the most poignant (for me) pieces I saw, which I think spoke to his state of mind and his place in the world, as much as anything, was Still Life With a Bible, According to letters to his brother, Van Gogh painted this in one go, in a single day. A stock image follows:
According to accepted interpretation, the Bible represented his father—with whom he had a turbulent relationship until his death in 1885, the year in which Van Gogh painted this piece—and blind devotion to religion and faith. To Van Gogh, the candle also represented his father as its flame was snuffed out and would no longer illuminate the Bible—a book VG described to Emile Bernard as feeling no love from.
The obviously well-thumbed other book next to the Bible is La Joie de Vivre by Emile Zola, which represented Van Gogh’s rebellion towards his father and his beliefs as well as his own embracing of the working man and life. Van Gogh was a great admirer of Zola’s literary works.
Van Gogh suffered from a mental illness, the treatment of which in those days did little to help him. Apparently, one night he had an argument with Gauguin, with whom he was living at the time. When Gauguin left, it was then that Van Gogh cut off his ear and took it to a brothel, giving it to a prostitute, at which point the police were brought in. After a few more nervous breakdowns, Van Gogh checked himself into a mental hospital, where he spent time painting copies of other artists and scenes he saw from his window, until he was given the freedom of the grounds, after which he painted outdoor scenes.
In 1890, he was still in mental turmoil, but completed 75 paintings in 70 days, before he went outside one day to paint as usual, and shot himself in the chest.
I take away two things from this tragic narrative; one, that it is never too late to begin. Van Gogh could easily have surrendered to the pressures to become a lay preacher or art dealer. He tried as well as he could to satisfy his father and the norms of his age, but one assumes in retrospect that the poor man would never have achieved satisfaction, happiness or greatness during his lifetime, anyway, had he thrown over his artistic side over for a more ‘ordinary’ life. Instead, his urges were too powerful; in the end he stayed true to his calling, sacrificing everything. It is sad that he still died in apparent misery. He eventually changed the art world, unfortunately only after his death.
The second is an observation; how close to the brink of mental illness true creative genius appears to be. In many cases we find unbelievable creativity walking hand-in-hand with a tortured soul. I think it is beholden upon the family and friends of these geniuses to keep watch over them; and not assume just because they are talented and brilliant that they are doing okay.
Another slight disappointment was for us to learn (although we could have anticipated this by a simple Google search) that Starry Night, arguably VG’s most famous work, is not here, but at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it has resided for 70 years.
After leaving the Van Gogh museum, we checked the time. Our plan had been to go through the next, then go downtown to the Royal Palace. after which we would meet with my cousins Paula and Louis Charles for lunch. We easily decided that we would forego the Rijksmuseum until the next day, hopped a tram and headed downtown to the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace was originally built in the late 1600s as a town hall, a place where the commoner could also come.
However, after Napoleon’s brother, Louis Napoleon, became the king of Holland in 1806, he decided to make the Town Hall his residence. The entire administration was moved out of the building and a door was put in the south facade to provide direct access to the Exchange Bank, the only municipal institution that remained in the building.
Shortly after entering, and taking these photographs …
… my camera died.
The audio tour was very well done and moved us through all the different rooms, showing what they had been used for when it was a town hall, with all the attendant municipal uses but also retaining the lavish interior and furnishings from the French Empire style. The cells became wine cellars and the cold marble floors were covered with thick carpets.
The stunning collections of Empire furniture, clocks and chandeliers, almost the entirety of which from that time was left behind, is apparently one of the best preserved and most complete Empire collections in the world. The Royal Palace is still used by the Dutch Royal House.
An amazing place! Like all sights we had seen to this point, it was deserving of much more of our time and contemplation, but …
We were now in a race against the clock as we were meeting Paula and Louis Charles in the Dam Square just outside the Royal Palace. We rushed through the last few rooms and burst out into the Dam Square to see these characters …
We sat on the entrance steps and kept an eye out. We had only seen Paula depicted in Facebook photos, so were slightly worried we would miss her in the crowds, but soon I spotted her about 10 yards away. We introduced ourselves and Paula gave us a nice gift; a fridge magnet depicting the oldest residential house in Amsterdam, built in 1590 as a traditional merchant’s house. Paula worked there as a social worker for the Salvation Army years ago.
Later we went and saw it for ourselves.
As we were looking at the magnet, I saw Louis Charles sneak up quietly behind Paula and MLW to stand unnoticed, nodding in agreement with MLW and Paula’s exclamations. He gave me a little wink. I finally had to stop MLW and Paula from talking, to point him out.
Paula immediately shook her head and said. “I haven’t seen him in 20 years and he still acts the same!” Dutch kisses all around.
We found a place for lunch and sat down to get to know each other a little better.
Louis Charles, Paula and Willem (Wil), whom we had visited with earlier, are children of three brothers, so they are cousins to each other.
Paula’s father was also named Willem …
and he married Paulina Rijinders,
who was always called Lena, which is serendipitous, as one of our granddaughters is also called Lena.
Paula told us a serious story …
… that on May 7, 1945, two days after the German surrender, the Gestapo fired on Dam Square from their then-headquarters (now Madame Tussaud’s!) into the crowd of cheering civilians, who were waiting for the Canadian troops to arrive, killing over 31 people and wounding many more – Dam Square 1945.
Lena was in the square with Paula, who was 2 at the time. Lena ran out of the square, shielding her baby and luckily escaped unscathed.
Lena was in the Salvation Army, as is Paula, and Paula worked for years in the red light district as a social worker, so it was not surprising as Paula later nonchalantly led us through the Red Light District , as if there was no porn or drug paraphernalia in the windows, or drug deals and other goings-on around her.
Our stop after lunch was the Oude Kirk. Oude Kerk which literally means “old church”, is Amsterdam’s oldest building and oldest parish church, founded around 1213 and consecrated in 1306 by the bishop of Utrecht with Saint Nicolas as its patron saint. After the Reformation in 1578 it became a Calvinist church, which it remains today, standing in Amsterdam’s main red-light district.
However, our main reason for going here today was to see The Garden Which is the Nearest to God, which is a temporary platform on the roof of the Oude Kerk, designed by the Japanese artist Taturo Atzu on display from June 27 to September 6, 2015.
Ascending the scaffolding assembled on the outside of the church, was not without its thrills, as you realize how high you are and how shaky the steel stairs and tubular scaffolding seem.
The view is spectacular, a unique panorama of the red light district and all of Amsterdam; as well as allowing one to see the rooftop sections of the church itself, which is an amazing structure of slate tiles and lead. Any repairs that are done use traditional techniques, so it is a terrific example of historical site that one would never see, without this artwork project.
Writing now afterwards from home, I found out that over 30,000 people visited the Oude Kerk rooftop terrace and over 67,000 visited the Oude Kerk itself; including a remarkable number of Dutch, according to the reports.
Afterwards, we parted with Louis Charles, looking forward to dinner the following day at his house. Paula walked us to the train station where we could catch transport back to our hotel and we bade her farewell.
It was a short visit, but once more, we felt very close to extended family that we had just met, and were encouraged to keep in touch.
Day 11: another glorious day in Holland!
We made our now very familiar bus ride to the Museumplein and walked back to the Rijksmuseum.
A little side note which may provide insight into your friendly neighbourhood blogger:
We had noticed that the pension/concession discounts started at age 60, at most places in Holland; however, being the ridiculous rule-following person that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for discounts when my birthday was still 2 weeks away. Later when I actually was 60, we were in the UK, which is similar to Canada, with the senior discounts kicking in only once you are over 65, for the most part! Typical …
I am going to warn anyone who read this blog, if you ever go to he Rijksmuseum (and you should if you are in Amstedam!), plan for two days, because you will be better served going through one half one day and the other half then next. There is just so much fantastic, incredible art and historical artifacts stuffed into its three (3) floors built in two squares. We got lost a number of times, trying to reach various exhibits, it is so huge.
According to Wikipedia, it reopened after a 10 year renovation in 2013 and has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer.
On an interesting note, they had on display what we first thought were pieces of artwork – wooden boxes with a seat inside.
Upon reading the nearby presentation document, we learned that these boxes were created to help people suffering from Stendhal Syndrome, also known as Florence Syndrome or hyperkultermia, which is brought on by seeing concentrated works of arts. The sensory overload can bring about a variety of symptoms, including increased heart rate, paranoia, anxiety, nausea, disorientation, and even hallucinations.
I am going to let the following photographs speak for themselves.
We left the museum, feeling like we perhaps should have spent some time in one of those Stendahl boxes, and made the trip back downtown, trying to find the boat cruise we had originally planned to take. However, it was full, so we trekked back up the street to an affiliated company, where we had a 15 minute wait before they set out.
There were not many people on the cruise, which suited us fine. A group of two men and a young woman boarded. I had the impression they were Roma, by their appearance and language. At least, Eastern European …
The woman was pretty and knew it only too well. During the whole trip, none of the three listened to the commentary or even looked up at any of the sights. They both talked with each other so loudly we couldn’t hear the captain, or they texted on their cells and took myriad selfies … most annoying.
In any event, it was a well done cruise, well worth the effort. We saw a lot of sites; however, many of the photographs are obscured by the boat frame.
Some interesting less obscured ones were an old bridge built in 1600’s, still standing and being used; the NEMO Science centre, on which you can see the upper deck has a cafeteria, and a recreation area; the replica of the Amsterdam sailing vessel, and the Amstel Hotel, a favourite haunt of the rich and famous.
After the cruise , we hurried back to our hotel, rested for an hour, showered and left to visit Louis Charles and Laura.
Louis Charles, Laura and their son Michel live in a lovely little area in a town about a half hour drive from the IBIS Schiphol, which I won’t give way, for privacy sake.
We arrived to a warm welcome and sat out on their sundeck chatting, lubricated with champagne and French Chablis, and fantastic appetizers of seafood (eels, mackerel, halibut, shrimp, herring and beet salad) and a cracker assortment.
Michel is a senior business analyst for Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate (CCC) a huge privately owned corporation, and is obviously highly intelligent, as are his parents; Louis, being a retired executive with ING Bank and Laura working as (the best translation into a North American occupation on which we could agree) a legal advocate for people in the social assistance system (people on disability); often presenting cases in Den Haag. Although judging from our meal, Laura could have been a gourmet chef as well; she went to a lot of work hand peeling the tiny shrimp and organizing the whole dinner. It was beyond belief how amazing it all was.
All three are well spoken in English, erudite, charming and funny.
Our dinner consisted of chicken cordon bleu, with green beans, mushrooms, baby potatoes accompanied with a spicy Sauvignon Blanc, followed by 3 different cheeses, a date roll with walnuts, accompanied by a French red that was to die for, but for which I did not record the name, topped off with Belgian chocolate with strawberries and a lush Spanish sherry.
Louis Charles and Laura are wine aficionados, and although MLW and I consider ourselves as just beginning to learn the ways of the grape, we certainly shared in our love of drinking it!
Not stuffed at all, we repaired to the living room and attempted several times to get a shot with the infamous time-delay setting, before we finally got it right …
We had begun our Holland adventure with Louis Charles and Laura in a welcoming fashion, so it seemed fitting that we ended it with such a marvelous send-off.
To top off everything, Laura insisted on presenting us with a 2006 Chateauneuf de Pape, which we promised we would save for our last night in Europe.
Full of great food and wine, and stuffed with happy memories, we took our leave and set off, driving for the first time in the dark, we realized, as I fumbled to figure out the headlight system!
We loved Holland, and now … were prepared to take on Bruges.
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