April 23, 2004


I'm going to have to write about this trip in sections, so here's my first installment: Amsterdam.

The Van Gogh Museum
If you're a museum buff, Amsterdam has a LOT to offer you, and the Van Gogh Museum definitely does not disappoint. It's packed and the lines are huge, so do yourself a favor, buy your ticket from your hotel desk, and bypass the line to waltz right in. Highly recommended.

There is a large collection of Van Goghs, as you might imagine. They are divided up by the year painted and his location at the time. You can really see the progression of his work culminating in his genius. One thing I was surprised about was how versatile his work was. You always see the same basic Van Goghs--Starry Night, Haystacks, etc. in the style he painted in later in his career, but he experimented with different styles throughout his career as a self-taught artist. He started out with very dark colors in the Dutch style until he realized that was out of fashion. His paintings are moving and excellent and this museum is a must-see.

There also was a very interesting exhibit on an upper floor about how they study paintings. Most artists reused canvases, and by x-raying the canvas they can determine what was painted underneath it. They also showed examples of how artists painted on both sides of the canvas. It was actually very interesting. There was other art in the museum besides Van Gogh but nothing remarkable.

The Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum, or the National Gallery, is another must-see. It contains a large number of Dutch and Flemish paintings including Dutch masters like Rembrandt. Home of Rembrandt's incredible "Night Watch," I would have loved to spend another couple of hours there exploring everything. There are also a few Vermeers and I got to experience firsthand what the Big Deal about Vermeer is. His paintings really are different in ways that are hard to describe. They are very evocative and amazing. And in case you were wondering, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is in the Hague and is not on display. Unfortunately they found asbestos in the Rijksmuseum and have moved only a fraction of their collection to a temporary exhibit hall, so we didn't get the full experience. Still, it was very impressive.

The Anne Frank House
This was the most moving experience of our trip. You get to visit the actual rooms where Anne and her companions hid for two years before being betrayed to the Nazis. The house is set up in a great way, with one path through the rooms instead of people crawling up and down the steep stairs (practically ladders) in all directions. There were a number of displays including her actual diary as well as other documentation. The Diary of Anne Frank became one of my favorite books when I read it in Jr. High and her story has stayed with me throughout my life. The house is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Canal Boat Tour
Amsterdam is built entirely around canals and the best way to see it is by canal boat. We had an hour long tour with the benefit of a running commentary in English and it was really interesting to see Amsterdam from the water. It was funny to see houses leaning due to the unstable ground they were built on.

Red Light District
We took a short walk through the red light district and it was far less scandalous than I expected it. As you walk down the street there are dozens of store windows with women in Victoria's Secret sitting there looking bored. And the thing that got me is that there were women in all shapes and sizes and ages. A little something for everyone. There was a pervading smell of pot, but the street wasn't littered with junkies like I expected it would be.

Amsterdam is great. I wish we'd had more time (and more energy) to explore and one day I hope to go back.

Posted by Shelby at April 23, 2004 08:20 PM