Canals in Amsterdam
We departed the number 197 bus. I directly found the narrow tree-lined, cobble-paved street where our home for the night was located. As we walked, my eyes drew up taking in the brick houses that were nestled beside each other and realized we had stepped back into time. A month before, I had so carefully selected the place we would stay this night by reading many of the reviews on Trip Advisor. But by the time we had reached the hotel we had been traveling for over 18 hours and I would have been fine with a one star bed in the noisy Red Light District. When we arrived, the owner of the Hotel seemed to be so happy to welcome us and promptly assisted us in getting on the right track to enjoy our day. She had arranged for our museum passes and demonstrated how to use the fancy espresso machine in our first floor room. As she headed out she paused and asked, “Would you like a welcome refreshment?” We had said that would be fine though all we care about was putting our feet up a moment. Rita, popped in a bit later with two flutes of Champagne and a “little” snack. It was only 10 in the morning but who’s to question local etiquette. I thought to myself, “Maybe, it was worth the little extra effort in choosing a hotel for our first stop on our trip.
Our first exploration in Amsterdam was to the Van Gogh Museum. This museum holds the single largest collection of his work. I was most impressed by the fact the Van Gogh did not start out as an artist. It was later in life from the encouragement of his brother to become a painter that he did so. I could not help thinking my middle school art teacher, Mr. Kato, would only give his early drawings a solid “C” grade at best for these attempts. I thought to myself, “Who decides they are going to be an artist as an adult before they have demonstrated an a aptitude for this profession”. The museum followed a chronological format. I was impressed to witness how Van Gogh’s work developed over time.
Even though his early work of the potato farmers was considered dark, meaning that the paint use was dark, “like a potato”, I was moved by the expressions on the faces of the people. The darkness added to the features of suffering on their faces and in emphasizing the way many ordinary people had difficult lives at that time.
Later, Van Gogh moved to Paris and was influenced by many of the Impressionistic painters. His style changed from the dark smooth strokes as seen in many Dutch artists to a small stokes or lines of color. The subjects grew happier and lighter. Van Gogh was also influenced by Japanese art forms as seen in his blossom paintings. However, he is best know for the work from his time in south of France in Arles and Saint-Remy. I most enjoyed viewing the detail of well-known Sunflower and painting of the Iris up close. It was clear that he had a passion for his work. So much of Van Gogh’s work and life was influenced by his family. Both the struggles and the encouragement seemed to have make him and his art what it would become.
We made our way to the more central part of the city to view the Anne Frank House. Since we had purchased our tickets in advance for a specific time we moved right to the front of the line. This saved us one to one-and-a half hours of standing in queue for entrance. The house was an incredible journey through her words and life while in hiding. The number of people allowed in at any one time is limited and there are no cameras allowed. People silently read the facts about life for the Jews at that time and the words, with incredible insight for a girl in her teens, about people, her dreams and hopes as we slowly moved upward from room to room. These things all added to the deeply moving and almost spiritually changing and challenging message. We continue up the steep staircases moving from the business to the offices and then the living quarters which became “the hiding place” for eight human beings during the second world war. To duck down and walk through the secret hole in the wall that was hidden by a large moving bookcase and became their only world for over two years. The windows were all covered to recapture the period and we walked up the steep steps to each room. It became more real of what had happened and that much more heart wrenching. I still don’t understand how such a large group of people could think that suppressing any group of individuals would be okay. Yes, on display we were able to view the dairy of Anne Frank which provided an exclamation point to the journey through her world we had just experienced.
We ended the afternoon with a cruise of the canals. As in Brugge, the houses that lined the canals with tall but narrow brick buildings were built before America was a nation. Some of the oldest buildings had pointed rooftops that whimsically yet artfully scrolled down at an angle. The homes often housed the family on the first floor and the family rented out rooms in the upper floors. At the top of the house, just below the roofline, there are hooks that assist to lift furniture up to the window to the desired floor. The doors and staircases were too narrow to bring furniture up through the first floor. Therefore these furniture hooks were used to hoist the furniture to window. The canals were man-made and used to transport goods throughout the city.
Amsterdam has many other museums and sights to explore but that will have to wait until the next visit. Next stop is Barcelona.