Van Gogh Museum
Verdi won over Van Gogh. This time, I could aff ord both. Vincent Van Gogh came to Amsterdam nearly as broke as we were in our student days. He had not yet begun his work as a painter—he was training as a clergyman—but instead of spending his time with God the way he was supposed to, he spent his year in Amsterdam thinking about art. “Everything reminds one of Rembrandt’s etchings,” he wrote his brother, going on about his need for “nothing less than the infinite and the miraculous.” Van Gogh stared at flowers lit by 1877 Amsterdam’s roiled sky, and I find myself in the heart of the Van Gogh Museum staring at the permanent springtime of his sunfl owers, their yellow the shade of a tassled lampshade that used to be in my grandfather’s room.But what stops me cold is the iris, dark blues and purples like a sneak preview for the hour right after sunset. After leaving the Van Gogh Museum, I pass through the arch at the Rijksmuseum. Buskers sing Andrea Bocelli’s Nessun Dorma, filling the archway between the two wings, and captivating tourists.I find space between chained bikes waiting for their blonde Amazons to pedal away, and leaned against canal rails. A few feet away, is a mini-field of Nargis (Narcissus) flowers, one of my favourites. Their Springtime sweet smell makes your heart happy just the way the smell of sugar melting in butter does. And suddenly, I feel all is well in the world.Happy, as the city goes by and the coming evening’s cold starts to get to the small of my back, where I’m leaning against the railing. Then, as beautiful as a pig on a morning walk, the street begins to twirl with Hare Krishnas dancing and singing through a crowd that had, a moment ago, been thinking only of Benetton or Kiehl’s or Prada, what the 21st century has replaced dreams of tulips with, the modern world filling windows of 17th-century buildings that seem slightly off ended.The Krishnas clash their tambourines and chant for the beauty of creation. I’d fall in and dance with them, but the end of the conga line is by a french fry stand, the hour grows late, and I grow hungry—and not for enlightenment. I rarely take pictures on travels now. As far as possible, I refuse to take selfies. Despite being an editor of a travel magazine, and much to the annoyance of my boss, I rarely post personal shots of my travels on social media. How can you reinvent yourself, how can you be better than who you were, if you’re always tied to everybody who already knows you? Besides, I don’t need a camera. Years of travel have taught me how I remember things. I know I’ll remember the taste of the fries, the sky’s arcs of light, clouds glowing as though they were hiding a parking lot of UFOs. I know I’ll remember the street with two smoke shops—Super Skunk and Easy Time—flanking a restaurant called Everything on a Stick. At a flea market, I buy a stack of old postcards, other people’s letters home, the things they wanted to remember. At the farmer’s market I buy a massive jar of buckwheat honey. And then it’s time to go see if the thing I remember most has been remembered right at all. The Rijksmuseum—near the Van Gogh, is in a building that looks as if it was raised to house a cavalry regiment of stair-climbing horses. It is one of the greatest art museums in the world.You can tell by the number of people standing in front of Rembrandt’s grand painting The Night Watch, the utter perfection of his side light ruined by a crowd blocking the view. Maybe I’m the only one who cares, because nobody else is looking at the painting at all; they’re looking at their phones and taking pictures of themselves blocking the view of the painting, pictures that, for their sake, I hope they’ll live long enough to regret.But let’s face it, 1600s Amsterdam had its own version of a selfie. As soon as you had your narrow house and your wide collars and your tulip patch, you hired someone to paint you— fat, smiling, smug, and without the judgment of time that would tell you that you just got painted by one of the best artists in the world.Upper crust Amsterdam was papered wall-to-wall with these portraits. And I remember this, more than anything else, about Amsterdam in 1999: the endless gallery, a Mö bius hell with no clear means of escape in the Rijksmuseum, walls of nothing but one round and rosy face after another, eyes following, ruffled collars making the burghers look like a cannibal’s lamb chops. Hundreds. If not thousands. And I couldn’t fi nd a way out, and I was minutes from a full wobbly fit of claustrophobia, and there were more and more of the paintings and suddenly—wait.Those are Brueghel colours. I was well enough educated in 1999 to recognise a Brueghel painting from 10 meters. I was not well enough educated to know there had been a whole family of Brueghels in the 16th and 17th centuries, fathers and sons, all, apparently, smoking the same stuff . From 10 meters away, the painting is a bucolic landscape, a picnic on a riverbank. But come closer and you notice two of the people are actually frogs. Fully dressed and cursed by a goddess for not letting her drink from the stream. In 2016, I re-walk the galleries in search of those frogs. I see Vermeer’s milkmaid and Steen’s baker, but no frogs.Apparently, sometime in the last two decades or so, they hopped out of view, perhaps into storage or are on loan somewhere. And what I know now that I never would have known in 1999 is that it’s OK. That you don’t have to see what you thought you wanted to see. That, in the end, your expectations don’t matter at all. Because sometimes the world throws suit-wearing frogs at you and sometimes it doesn’t, and it doesn’t really care what you want.Out on the street again, I decide to head to Amsterdam’s famous, albeit now mostly touristy, red light district. I didn’t see it when I was 7, I didn’t make it even in 1999. Now at the age of 40, and with a few hours at a loose end one afternoon, I find myself wandering down De Walletjes. I see bored lingerie-clad women in behind street-front glassed rooms. I’m not sure how this is remotely titillating. They look like any moment they will pull out knitting needles and balls of wool and start knitting out of boredom. What is more suprising to me is the sight of tourists and locals walking through this area with kids, who also don’t seem to be too fascinated by the lingerie clad women or shop windows with all kinds of sex toys.As I turn a corner into the back lane, I find a strong sweet scent curl around my nose, it’s wafting from a long line of stores that sell marijuana. It’s legal here and up until now, I had mostly seen it being sold in the form of lollipops, breath mints, candy and even car-freshner at magazine vendors and tobacco shops in the city.Here, however, there were full-scale stores. Amused by this amazing afternoon route of art, sex and marijuana, I head back to Andaz. Back out on the street, I walk slowly and reflect on everything I saw in Amsterdam. Some things I had seen then, and some things that I had seen now. But I hadn’t seen everything.But that’s why I travel, why I know I have to come back (hopefully, this time with my mother). That’s what the miles have done for me. We don’t have to be good. We just have to be open. Show up and say “cool” at all the rewards revealed under strange skies.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Get to Amsterdam in the spring and this spirit is there in all its glory. This afternoon, the sun shines straight overhead like a spotlight, and the town is surrounded by squares and trapezoids of solid colours and some multi-colours. Having explored Wanders world of the whimsical at the Andaz, I head to the Stedelijk Museum. I come to a room of paintings by Piet Mondrian, who studied art here in the early 1900s. I’ve loved his simple abstract geometry of primary tints in squares and rectangles my entire life, but now I realise his paintings were entirely representational, blocks of colour that could pass for the right-angled fields of blooming tulips—“an absolute of perfect sensations,” as the artist Barnett Newman wrote. In 1999, I didn’t go to the Van Gogh Museum because my friend and I had money for one of two options: tickets to our first Opera or the Van Gogh Museum.
Maritime Museum Rotterdam
Since Rotterdam does happen to have one of the largest harbour’s in the world, you would think that I would have made it to the Maritime Museum a little sooner than I did. However, I always glanced over its name on the museum list thinking “ships…b-o-r-i-n-g”. Little did I know that the Maritime Museum Rotterdam is filled with loads of fun things, which had I known, I would have visited much sooner than I did! The Maritime Museum is located in the city centre of Rotterdam, about half way between Central Station and the Erasmusbrug. It is a large building, which apart from the ships behind it (only one of which is actually part of the museum) looks rather boring, even if there was a caged tiger making roaring sounds outside (not real of course!). Once inside, you get your ticket, hang-up your coat and head off to explore. However, the best bit in my opinion, of the whole museum is the free entry onto one of the former naval ships dating back from 1868, known as De Buffel (The Buffalo). The ship itself isn’t huge but it does have several levels that you are able to explore. The ship is filled with information (in several languages), has loads of hands on activities (of which I only managed to break one but it was quickly fixed, phew!) and all the areas are kitted out with replica furnishings, realistic sounds and even some dodgy mannequins. I could have easily spent hours aboard, especially as there was little chance of sea-sicknesses but I was pulled off the ship by a Resident Cloggie who didn’t find shoveling coal into the furnaces as exciting as I did. All-in-all the Maritime Museum Rotterdam is a pretty cool museum to visit and the exhibits they have change regularly. Access to the Buffel is via your museum ticket so don’t forget to pick it up at the entrance.
Built in 1408, this soaring church has been the stage for royal weddings and coronations, including King Willem’s marriage to Maxima and his crowning as Holland’s first king in a century in 2013. Now used for major art exhibitions, it has a gift shop that leads to a free display about the church’s turbulent history.
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
In 1935, the last piece of work to be carried out by H.P. Berlage, one of the Netherland’s first modern architects, was completed. Sadly, Mr. Berlage died one year before that building, the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag, was finished. Now the low brick building that overlooks a rectangular ornamental pond is home to the largest collection of Mondrian paintings in the world. Berlage was a fan of using brick in his buildings as he felt it added visual strength and mass to the walls. He specifically used brick rather than marble or stone for the Gemeentemuseum because he felt the building should not impress the public but instead should invite them in. In addition to the Piet Mondrian collection, you will find works by Picasso, Appel and Klee, amongst others.
Housing modern and contemporary art, the Groninger Museum is made up of three main pavilions that when put together create a radically modernist, attention grabbing venue. Finished in 1994, the building boasts the internationally renowned Alessandro Mendini as head architect, a striking spiral staircase and an assortment of colours, shapes and materials throughout. Originally costing 25 million Guilders (approximately 11 million Euros), the building was paid for mainly by Gasunie, who in celebrating their 25th anniversary wanted to give a gift to the city of Groningen. And even if you aren’t a fan of art, this museum is still well worth a visit – because the building is one of those places you just have to see.
Museum van Loon
You can step back in time at Museum van Loon, one of the best preserved of Amsterdam’s canal houses, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of 17th-century Holland. Built as a private residence in 1672, the museum was once the home of painter Ferdinand Bol (a pupil of Rembrandt). In 1884, wealthy merchant Hendrik Van Loon purchased it as a wedding gift for his son Willem, a founding member of the Dutch East India Company, whose grandson became mayor of Amsterdam. Today, its ornate detailing, historic paintings, exquisite furnishings, and precious silver and porcelain are reminders of the splendor of an earlier era. In the rear, a garden laid out in formal style borders a coach house where the Van Loon’s collection of historic carriages and harnesses is displayed.
Museum De Dubbelde Palmboom- CLOSED
De Dubbelde Palmboom, is one of the three locations that make up the Museum Rotterdam. As you probably guessed the museum focuses on things about Rotterdam. The exhibitions change over time but on this particular visit they focused on technology through the ages, recycling, rooms and shops from earlier time periods and a couple of smaller exhibits. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the museum which was really disappointing because not only were the displays worth taking photos of but so was the building, a double gated warehouse from the 19th century. We had a great time. We started off playing with the old phones, as I attempted to connect RC’s telephone call to another telephone in the area via the old fashioned switchboard. We played records on the turntable, laughed at the Sony discman, attempted to beat each other at Atari and left messages in morse code for future guests. Downstairs we printed off stickers, dug for broken artefacts and walked down the carpeted street complete with life size, old fashioned shops and home interiors.