Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

We venture to the Rijksmuseum.  I’m excited to see the actual paintings that I studied in University, as opposed to photos in books.

We arrive to a stately building, with at odds architecture, Neo Gothic meets Renaissance that somehow works together to create a cohesive building.

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The most charming feature is a bike tube through the museum, the only one of its kind in the world.  Bicyclists can travel through the museum, there is no art on the walls of the tube, the bikes are the art and quintessential Netherlands. During the last major renovation, the architect wanted to change the space to a courtyard, the tube nearly lost.  Thankfully, there was much protest and the bike tube remained.

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The majority of the museum is dedicated to 17th century Dutch masters.  Notable paintings are, Vermeer’s “Milkmaid,” Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait.”

John and I decide on a “highlights” tour where the major works will be seen.  We use the Rijksmuseum app that we downloaded at home and set off.  There is so much beauty everywhere that it is difficult to remain focused.  The building, stained glass, even the floor compete for my attention.  I focus, John is distracted and not moving through as quick.

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We decide to part ways as our museum strategy differs. This is John’s second trip to the Rijksmuseum, he wants to absorb. My approach is quantity over quality, wanting to see as much as possible. We both agree we would need months rather than the day allotted to do the place justice.  Our strategy, divide and conquer.

It is freeing to explore on my own at my own pace, I suspect that John too feels free without me breathing heavy and pacing. I miss him at times when I want to look at his expression or ask him what he thinks of a particular painting.

I smile when I see Vermeer’s, “The Milkmaid,” more vibrant than imagined.  The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn grabs my attention, such an odd perspective and the first acquisition by the museum, purchased for 100 guilders. The newly married couple and their relaxed stance and grins has me grinning back.  Van Gogh with two ears looks so very sad and of course this sadness is part of his story.

A queue is noticeable at the end of the hallway.  I know that it is the main event, “The Nightwatch.”  I can wait and enjoy all the paintings, some famous and some my new favourites as I amble along.

The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s masterpiece is in a room of its own.  The painting is massive.  Its current size is 143” x 172,” though at one time it was larger, the original size 156” x 192.”  The painting was trimmed to fit a hall where it hung before moving to its present destination,   Its unimaginable to think that Rembrandt’s masterpiece would be trimmed, though this was the practice at the time.  I wonder what Rembrandt would think, I don’t think that he would be pleased. There is a trap door in the room to remove the painting in case of fire.  This was used during WWII to save the painting.  The Nightwatch was removed from its frame and rolled up where along with other major works was hidden until after the war.  I think about the brave souls who during such a dark time, saved the beauty.  They were successful as only a few minor works were lost. I cannot imagine if it was all lost.

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I find a room of doll houses.  These were not created for children but rather were a rich woman’s hobby.  The cost of the dollhouse was the same as a canal home at the same time. The attention to detail is extraordinary and I wonder about this woman and how little she had in her life that she spent such time and expense on this folly.  I think about my craft room and the thousands of dollars invested in supplies and decide to keep my thoughts to myself.

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John and I meet again and he is excited to show me the ship room where he has spent the majority of his time, his eyes are lit with enthusiasm. We see Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait and a beautiful model of a ship.  John says he could spend all day in this one room.

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img_1970We are meeting Nelda and Marieke for dinner and have to leave.  We vow to return one day.  Music catches our ear and we see a band in the bicycle tube with a growing audience forming.  The instruments are unusual, the music unique.  We enjoy the ambience as the bicyclists cycle by.

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We walk out of the tube, the garden catches our attention.  Everywhere we look we see beauty and art.  I wonder what it would have been like to grow up here with all this, would I have taken it for granted?  I think of our own museum with its dusty dinasours and our art gallery with its impressive architecture trying to make up for its lack of content.  I wonder if someday our museums in our relatively new country will be like this? Perhaps someday art currently hanging in our gallery will garner the crowds that surround the Swan and perhaps hundreds of years ago someone wondered if the Swan was worthy of a gallery and the cost?  We have to start somewhere I think.

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Amsterdam second look

Today is our first solo day since our arrival. We feel ready to conquer the city, having learned much from family.

Marieke showed us how to use the metro. Don and Tineke provided information on how the streets are named and Nelda marched us around the city high and low to obtain our bearings.

We begin the day the Dutch way with strong coffee, old Amsterdam cheese and bread. We tidy, pack our camera and set off for the train station.

We arrive, twirling around trying to remember how to buy a pass, though soon we are victorious.

Passes in hand we climb to the platform. Confusion reigns and we march down after deciding we are on the wrong one, then march up to the next platform, read the map and settle knowing we are correct. Good thing there were only two platforms, we muse.

We decide to get off one station early to experience something different. We exit pop our heads above ground and determine where we are. It is familiar though different. We start walking and soon we are in Chinatown. The shop windows are interesting with strange herbs in bottles and the lucky cat waves as we walk by, I wave back.

We continue to look at the objects in the windows and quickly they change to racier items with a large selection of male anatomy for sale in a variety of colours and sizes. I ask John for his thoughts as 15″ seems rather large. He adds nothing to the conversation, head down, blind and focused on a way out of the area.

Soon we are back in wonderland with fresh coffee, bakeries we tuck into a bright shop with a chandelier made of tea cups. The pastry delicious, the coffee strong and good we watch the world go by through bright sunny windows.

We discover a sculpture of a Volkswagen Beetle and wonder how it was created.

We set out again and decide to venture to Rembrandtplein for lunch. This is a tall order and we walk up and down the cobblestone streets searching for familiarity, stopping to consult the map or resetting the gps. We are always mindful of the bikes, looking both ways, then running like we are on fire across the street.

We pass the flower markets and I remember Marieke and I laughing as each is same same, selling identical products though somehow making a living. We are close I declare and soon we are victorious. Our rule, we cannot dine at the same place twice so choose an Italian restaurant. The food excellent, our chairs turned boldly facing the square for maximal people watching.

Our next plan is to find a flea market at Waterlooplein and we set out. Some twists and turns, wrong turns and we arrive. The market has much to sell though we are not in a buying mood. We continue wandering and stumble on Rembrandthuis, my favourite artist. We decide to pay for a tour.

The house is unique and bright compared to its neighbours. It is narrow with tight staircases where crawling is the safest way. I think that most staircases in Holland would not pass code in Canada.

We learn that Rembrandt painted here and purchased the house for 13,000 guilders, a princely sum. He was at the height of his game and the same year he received his contract to paint, “Nightwatch.” He was a talented artist, though poor businessman and went bankrupt forcing the sale of the house and most of its contents.

We learn how to mix paint as was done in Rembrandt’s time and how he made copies of his sketches. We marvel at the furniture and admire the paintings. We listen to descriptions and gain a deeper understanding as we walk through this beautiful home.

We leave to find the metro. Rush hour has arrived and a steady stream of bikes clog our route across. We time our bolt, state after the guy with the hat and run across. We find the metro and uneventfully find our way back to Nelda and Marieke’s.

We scan our passes to leave and are denied. We try again and again, insanity reigns with no exit gained. We read and understand there are two exits, one for the train, the other for the metro. We move to the metro exit and the doors swing gleefully open. We are victorious.