Tulips and Windmills

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April 18th 2019
Published: April 18th 2019
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All of our traveling friends do it, and from what I can tell early on (more on this later), a lot of others, from all over the world, do it too. Taking one’s hotel with them on a trip around Holland and Belgium seems very sensible. Lots of places to visit, all somewhat close to one another, but packing and unpacking everyday and lugging spring time clothing around (one must bring clothes for warm and cold, dry and wet) feels like it might be stressful and tiring and may take up time that we’d rather spend actually visiting places. A River Cruise might be just the thing.

Throughout this and subsequent blog posts I’ll be talking about places that have unpronounceable names. Dutch is a difficult language. Our guide on the first day tried to explain by misquoting Mark Twain. Twain, he said, when asked about Holland said, “Dutch is not so much a language as a disease of the throat." Google tells me that the proper attribution of this only slightly humorous quote is one Edward T. Hall. I have no idea who Edward T. Hall is and I choose not to delve any further, but I have figured out that to speak Dutch well one has to produce a surfeit of phlegm, all the time. One must bring it from the depths into the throat, then pass air over it, to make the lovely dominant sound in the Dutch language, then swallow it back down and await the next word. All these names and places can be looked up on Google, but Alexa would never figure them out unless, of course, you are an especially phlemmy person.

I’m writing today, which was actually a couple of days ago, looking out at, but not listening to La Mer from my desk on the Crystal Debussy (get it?) after a morning visit to the Keukenoff Gardens. This is one of those don’t miss visits if one is ever in Amsterdam between early March and early May. It is a huge park with over 7 million tulips, all in bloom, in every color and size imaginable, along with Iris’, daffodils, hyacinths and more. The only downside is that we weren’t alone. Not even close. Our Crystal Cruise bus (bus 2 of 2 from the ship) was one of several hundred tour buses in the special bus parking lot and this was early in the morning. Once inside though, the flowers ruled, and the beauty and variety were a thing to behold. Walking slowly in any direction down narrow lanes or wider avenues was a treat for the senses. Looking out from the top of an old irrigation windmill, there were tulip fields for as far as the eye could see in every direction. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Fran and I flew to Amsterdam overnight last Saturday night. After arriving Sunday morning we checked in to the Conservatorium Hotel. The hotel is across the street from the Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, and down the street from the Rijks Museum. It’s an amazing building. When we walked in it made us smile. Originally a bank then a music conservatory, hence the name, and after its sale in 2008, it was restored and converted to a really first rate hotel, one of the best in Amsterdam. The restoration and conversion was brilliant. They kept the good stuff; the old tiles, the wood floors, and the heavy wooden beams. The rooms are large and modern and the lobby is contemporary and interesting. The people were very nice. We’d come back. We spent two days there, before the river cruise. In those two days we visited the Rijks Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk. We had two great dinners.

The day we arrived we pretty much immediately set off to visit Rijks Museum. This museum was closed the last time we were there. It recently reopened after a ten-year renovation and it’s beautiful. At the Rijks, we had a private tour of the special exhibition that is celebrating its reopening, a show called “All of the Rembrandts.” Of course, it’s not all of the Rembrandts, but it’s all of the Rijks’ Rembrandts and the museum has the largest collection of Rembrandt’s in the world. What a wonderful painter. If you go, look as carefully as you can, and if you can see a blow up of parts of his work on an Ipad, like our excellent guide did, and you’ll come away even more awed and amazed by Rembrandt’s techniques and skills. Be sure to take in his etchings; there are a lot of them. There are some naughty ones if you look for them. Thanks to Dan Weiss for arranging this wonderful privately guided tour. No photos allowed in Rembrandt but the museum also has a lot of other spectacular work. The Vermeers attracted a lot of attention, for good reason. Fran took a snap.

After a mandatory nap – jet lag does that – we took an Uber to a wonderful little restaurant that served very high quality, fresh, mostly local food in an informal, cozy setting; Auberge Jean & Marie. Feeling exhausted in a good way after the dinner and the bottle of wine, we still opted for the twenty-minute walk back to the hotel. We backtracked the Uber ride and enjoyed walking off the calories or at least telling ourselves that we were walking off the calories.

Monday, we got up early to visit the Van Gogh museum. It was really, really crowded, but I am getting used to crowded museums and with some work I can almost ignore the noisy children, the loud teenagers, and the aggressive lookers from a country that will remain unnamed in this blog. Almost. Focusing hard I easily and clearly saw Rembrandt’s influence and inspiration. There is even a painting where Van Gogh painted a scene from a portion of one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces. It was phenomenal to see the relationship of these two masters, separated by 200 years. And then, still at the Van Gogh museum, we were fortunate to see a special exhibition of David Hockney’s contemporary work, much of it created on his Ipad, and then printed in large format. Hockney’s relationship with Van Gogh, 150 years later is even more direct than Van Gogh’s relationship to Rembrandt, and Hockney is still with us and happy to tell us about it. But he didn’t have to. It’s obvious. He wasn’t just inspired by Van Gogh, a lot of this work by Hockney seemed to me to be created as an homage to Van Gogh. I felt very lucky to be here at this moment. Next post will be from our River Cruise.


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