First you drive an hour east of Amsterdam past green fields and creamy cows, sharp industrial parks, and ever-changing speed zones. You arrive in the dense Hoge Veluwe National Park and abruptly stop at a gate with a small tourist booth. Believe it or not, you’ve arrived at the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world: The Kroller-Muller Museum.
The gate keeper explains that you are in a national park and that while your Museum Kaart gives you free admission to the museum, you have to pay 9 Euros for admission to the park (the museum is in the middle of the park) and 6 Euros to drive into the park. You can save the parking fee by parking at the gate, borrowing one of the free white bicycles, and peddling four kilometers to the museum.
It turns out the 4-kilometer drive into the park follows a pretty but circular route through the forests with a stop at the museum. When you leave it’s only about 1/2-kilometer back to the main gate. So it’s an easy walk or peddle to the museum if you go backwards from the gate rather than follow the long, circuitous route prescribed.
The museum, itself, is sleek, a modernist’s dream nested into a rich, green sculpture garden.
The sculpture gardens are located behind the museum but you get a taste of the art as you approach the front door.
The inside of the museum is just as beautiful as the exterior with clean, fresh lines and – unusual for most museums – lots of seating.
The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh
These are a few of the paintings Van Gogh created as he studied the local field workers. He was interested in how they worked and how they moved but he did not fill in or closely detail many of their faces. He was more interested in the light, the color, the motion of the moment.
And here is Van Gogh’s masterpiece.
I know you are reading this because you are interested in Van Gogh – and there are more photos at the bottom of this blog. But so many other greats are featured at this museum! The best part of viewing paintings at the Kroller-Muller is that there are not hordes of people crowding around a tiny painting. You don’t feel pressured to move on after three seconds (think The Mona Lisa in the Louvre). You can almost smell the paint as you take a side-ways look at the artist’s brushstrokes and a guard doesn’t come running up to tsk-tsk you away. Visiting the Kroller-Muller is an extraordinarily delicious experience!
Here’s Georges Seurat’s La Chahut, a neo-impressionist artwork that Seurat created using the pointillist technique of painting with tens of thousands of dots of paint. Close up you might only see pink or green but at a distance, the colors blend and you’ll see brown. This painting was a huge hit when it was introduced in Paris in 1890. It led the way for new art movements such as my daughter Christie’s favorites, the Fauves.
Here are close-ups of two sections of this painting. See what I mean about getting close without being rushed?
Many more impressionist artists are also represented at the museum. Here are a few of the paintings that attracted me such as this painting by Renoir of the Clown John Prince. Renoir was commissioned to paint this full length portrait by the owners of the cafe at the Circus d’Hiver in Paris.
Camille Pissaro, whose work is below, is the artist who encouraged Van Gogh to paint with more color and to paint more freely. Pissaro was fascinated with the interplay of light and color, according to information provided by the Kroller-Muller Museum.
As promised, here are more Van Gogh’s.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, “You know Jeannin has the peony and Quost has the hollyhock, but I am in a way the one who has the sunflower.” (Taken from the wall of the The Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands.)
The beautiful floral arrangements throughout the museum made this museum even more delightful. Here are a few snaps:
Make the trip to the Kroller-Muller Museum. It’s well worth the visit and a great break from the frenzy of Amsterdam. There are easy bus and train connections and the drive is interesting.
This has nothing to do with this visit to the Kroller-Muller, but you must watch this trailer for the upcoming movie Loving Vincent, just because it is such an original. Breakthru Films has taught 100 painters to paint in the style of Vincent for the movie. Cannot wait! Read more about the world’s first fully painted film here.
There’s also an interesting video about Van Gogh’s life here from 1Media if you’d like to know more about Vincent’s life.
The pretty little towns and harbors of The Netherlands are the real magic of the lowlands. Hoorn, founded in 1300, became a VOC (Dutch East India Company) by the 1600’s. “Merchants, traders, seamen, dignitaries and authorities populated the then capital of West-Friesland” (Tourist Brochure, Mooi Hoorn 2016, Toeristisch Magazine). They created a harbor-side city of quaint brick buildings that are now embellished with the iconic Dutch trims and rooftops that let you know in an instant that you are in The Netherlands. It is neat-as-a-pin beautiful.
Because the town is situated next to the water, when our GPS said to go right, it was really telling us to take a swim. Since we didn’t want to sink the car, we headed around the block and tried to find a new way to get to a small quay where we wanted to park. After several long and loopy right turns, we found a parking spot only to be waived off by a woman who said firmly, “No, no, you cannot park here.” Sher showed her our handicapped parking pass and with a large smile she pointed, “this way!” and we drove across a narrow bridge to one of two parking spots. The Dutch make space for the handicapped, but not many. Three cars squeezed into the two spots. But by some kind of GPS luck, we were right next to our destination: The Museum of the 20th Century.
We hopped out and sat down on benches overlooking the scenic marina and a monument to – I think – immigration. As we dug into our hand-packed lunches a fine drizzle began to soak our sandwiches so we headed back to the car and huddled in the front seat as we watched the mist slowly turn into a deluge. Five minutes later, lunch was done, the rain had stopped, and we headed for the museum.
The Museum of the 20th Century is a nostalgic collection of stuff used by the Dutch during the last century. The treasures are gathered into decades to show how technology has impacted family life, as well as into big categories like school or toys or shopping. Walking through the museum was like talking to a favorite granny about “What was life like back in the day?”
Visitors begin their journey through the 20th century by viewing typical rooms of each decade. A good narration on the free audio tour explains how technology freed women of hard manual labor and birth control helped downsize families from about nine children in 1910 to one child in 2000. Interestingly, most technology came to the Netherlands from the United States about 10-15 years after the US.
The museum acknowledges the challenges of two terrible wars during the 20th century which slowed down technological progress in homes. The museum also took a look at a typical shopping street in the early part of the 20th century. Families worked in shops, took a break at lunch time, and re-opened in the afternoon. Interestingly, people still love their small shops and there is no large grocery chain or big box store such as Walmart in the Netherlands. It’s been tried but never caught on.
The Dutch love their children and there was room after room of toys. It was so much fun to see what children played with and how it connected to the toys of my childhood!
There were roomfuls of goodies – TVs, cell phones, appliances and dishes that never made it to the museum displays; they were just grouped under variety and stashed in shelves in rooms. It was fun to wander through these rooms and remember what similar items our families owned when we were growing up.
The beautiful town of Hoorn and the sweet Museum of the 20th Century are well worth the hour drive out of Amsterdam. The slower pace is a healing antidote to the frenzy of Amsterdam and truly soothes the soul.
La Nuit aux Invalides is one of the not-to-miss highlights of a summer night in Paris. The monumental sound and light show is displayed on the interior courtyard of the Military Museum. The late night spectacle – it starts at 10:30 pm – is a sumptuous display of video, narration and music that tells the history of France in just 45 minutes.
We arrived very early because we wanted to make sure we got a good seat….meaning we did not want to stand or sit on the hard cobblestones. Turns out 30 minutes ahead of time is plenty of time. We spent our waiting time watching kickball teams of young people playing ball on the grass lawns in front of the museum.
The workers, however, responded to our request for seats and gave us a place to sit while we waited and escorted us to a small section of seats reserved for handicapped and elderly. After a month on the road we are a bit of both.
While waiting for the show we noticed hundreds of rabbits romping in the bushes outside of the military museum. One of the employees laughed and said the rabbits are very used to humans. “And what else do they have to do? So, voila! we have many, many rabbits.”
Rabbits aside, the computer-generated sound and light show gives breathtaking visuals from Gaul to the middle ages to the French Revolution and two world wars. The story line is all based on the history of the Sun King’s palace for the veterans of France’s wars and the many uses of the building for nearly 350 years.
We discovered a museum of automatic musical instruments in Ultrecht, the Speelklok Museum. Our family’s most special heirloom is an antique Eckhardt silver music box that my grandfather brought with him from Croatia. So this little museum of music box wonders was a delight for me.
Our old German music box plays Silent Night and Oh Sanctisima. My father used to put it out every Christmas with a small Christmas tree that would spin. Here’s a little video of the music box.
We took the excellent tour provided for free by the museum. Our guide easily switched between Dutch and English while giving children in the group the opportunity to operate the machines. If we had not taken the tour, we would not have seen so many machines operate.
Here is the machine (above) operating. Many of the machines are so easy to play that even a child can play them. This child was asked to demonstrate during our tour.
Here is a short video of the bird in the cage (photo above) performing. And here’s another short video of the operation of the small box to the far right.
Here’s a video of the music box (above) in motion.
Here is a little video of a bunny popping up mechanically – but he is shy and quickly disappears.
This video is about a huge automatic machine playing one of its tunes. (I do not have a photo of this machine but you can see it in the video.) This is what the dampers look like opening and closing when the huge machine is working.
The entire museum is housed in a renovated old church. According to our Amsterdam tour guide, only about 40% of people in the Netherlands belong to a church and fewer than 10% worship regularly. That means there are a lot of churches throughout the country that have been decommissioned and are now used for new purposes such as the Speelklok Museum. The museum designers wisely chose to keep some of the heritage pieces on display in the church.
For example, this old bread table for the poor dates from 1603. Back in the day, guilds would sponsor their own altar in a church such as this bread table for the poor sponsored by the Saint Eloy Forgers’ Guild. According to a plaque in the museum, guild members used an inheritance from a rich forger to hand out five cents worth of bread and five cents in coins to 20 less fortunate members of the guild every Sunday.
The remains of a fresco on a wall in the upper loft shows the Tree of Jesse, a depiction of the lineage of Christ according to Jesaia II and Mathew I. This artwork was created by the Master of Evert van Soudenbalch about 1550. In 1600, the Netherlands was the richest country in the world and the great art of that period is seen as the result of those riches throughout the country.
Admission to this don’t-miss museum is covered by the Museumkaart. Here’s one more little video that is a bit of a fantasy of a summer night.
I read about nightmare traffic jams near Nice, France so we parked our car in Frejus and took a scenic train to Nice. It seemed like a great decision until we realized we were in a little suburb of Frejus , we would have to ride to Caan and change trains, and trains home would be infrequent. On the upside, travel was cheap – less than 20 Euros roundtrip – seats were comfortable, and the view was spectacular! Well worth any time lost by training rather than driving.
Because we had 45 minutes before our train arrived, we decided to go looking for the Roman coliseum near the train station. We followed our smartphone directions and discovered most of the arena has been rebuilt right on top of the old Roman ruin. It was not open when we arrived but we did get to see how the old is made new for current use.
We enjoyed a quick look around and headed back to the Gare (train station) to catch our train for Nice.
Upon arrival in Nice, we walked out the front doors of the train station and into the Tourist Information (TI) building. We got maps and asked for details on bus service. We walked about a block to a bus stop that sold tickets. English-speaking Japanese tourists showed us how to work the machine and advised us to buy 10 tickets for 10 Euro that could be used by any number of travelers rather than all day passes that would cost us 6 Euro each. We saved 2 Euro! And it turned out we rode the bus five times so we used all 10 tickets.
It really would have been helpful to have a bus map but the TI did not have one and we could not find one anywhere. I should have downloaded an app before coming to Nice, but live and learn. Best of all is that Nice is pretty compact, but hilly, and good walkers can easily cover the city on foot.
Nice may be named nice because the residents are wonderful! They quickly give you directions and point you on your way. They more than make up for the rude bus drivers.
Because we did not have a bus map, we followed signs UP HILL to the Musee Marc Chagall. It was about 95 degrees with high humidity as we trudged up the hill following signs to the museum. The man in the TI told us it was a simple walk in “that direction – just follow the signs.” We arrived at the beautiful stone museum with graceful gardens red-in-the-face, panting, and covered with sweat. Turns out we could have taken a bus right to the front door.
Exhausted, we bought our tickets (bargain day! Just 6 Euro for admission and 2 Euro for headphones…supposedly because a small gallery was closed?) and strolled over to the charming cafe for lunch.
Then it was time for dessert: the art of Marc Chagall displayed in a modern stone museum built just for his work. Everything was located on one floor and the galleries were filled with light.
A vera ma femme
ma joie al mon affeguesso
…Marc Chagall (a love note to his wife)
Normally one art museum would be enough in a day, but I would only be in Nice on this day so off we went to visit two municipal museums. Tour books told me the visits would be free, but we were asked to purchase a 10 Euro ticket that admitted us to several municipal museums. It seemed a reasonable price but we were very disappointed at the lack of English signage or audio guide or printed flyer.
We took the bus downhill from the Musee Marc Chagall and a friendly rider on the bus told us where to get off and where to walk to get to the Musee Massena, a lovely La Belle Epoch house that treasures the history of Nice. While we were not sure what we were seeing, both the house and the gardens are beautiful and well kept up.
Feeling like we had the bus thing down, we strolled to the bus stop and discovered the woman from our previous ride standing right next to us. She happily gave us directions to our next stop. She was our guardian angel on this hot day in Nice!
As we rode our bus, we oohed and ahhhed over the gorgeous buildings of Nice. Every street could be a scene for a romantic movie.
We got off the bus and followed the signs to the Musee de Beaux Arts. We made the mistake of following the road signs which took us all the way around a block to our original destination because drivers need to avoid the one-way streets. But we were walking so not fun on a hot day.
The Musee des Beaux Arts was supposed to house a lot of works by famous artists and it is an odd mix of beautiful work. We found nice Picasso pottery, a couple of large works by Rodin, and lots and lots of work by Duffy. Because there was no English map or sheet, we could not find the other works even though we looked at everything in the museum. This makes a sweet little morning visit – I say morning because the building was hot and there is no lift to the second floor located up a double stone staircase. If you’re a Rodin-Picasso-Duffy fan, this place is worth a visit.
Depictions of women have come a long way in 500 years! Mary, gowned in Renaissance robes, chastely kneels to receive her crown, her head bent in humility and the weight of her halo. The swimmer below rests casually on a robe, crowned by the sun. Even her belly button shows through her swim suit.
Because of our visit to the Musee des Beaux Arts, I became intrigued with the work of Raoul Dufy (image, above). When I returned home to the US, I stumbled upon a lovely article by Ian Phillips in Elle Decor Magazine who wrote, “More than anything, the Frenchman was a painter of leisure. His favorite themes were the seaside, racecourses, and musical instruments and his canvases are filled with bright colors and a carefree spirit.”
Even though we were on vacation, we were women with a mission. So we hiked down the steep hill from the museum, waited a long time for a bus, got thrown off the bus two stops short of the train station, caught another bus and arrived at the station nearly 30 minutes early for our train back to Frejus.
People have asked about safety but there are police and soldiers everywhere. We saw this small force of three patrolling the train station at Nice. They asked a pregnant woman sitting on the platform next to me to put out her cigarette but they were friendly to the children and nodded to the waiting passengers.
So that’s the story of our day trip to Nice. It was just enough time to see the city, shop at Lafayette Galleries, and enjoy extraordinary coastal views from the comfort of our train seats. Don’t miss Nice. It’s really – sorry – nice.
We got lost on the only road running through Gordes, France but discovered a story of Nazis and murder in a tiny cemetery at the top of the town. After we took a wrong turn, we ended up stuck on a narrow street. We got out of the car to admire the valley of vast lavender fields hundreds of feet below us and to figure out how we were going to turn around in the impossibly narrow gravel path we found ourselves on.
When we turned from the beautiful mountain view, we discovered the cemetery and strolled in for a look. We saw ceramic wreathes of flowers decorating most of the graves.
But to the left of the entrance, we found a small fenced in area with a dozen headstones bunched together. Curious, we moved in closer to learn why these headstones were situated differently than the others in the cemetery.
A typed list located in the cluster read “Les Martyrs de Gordes” and listed 12 names of people who died within days of each other in August, 1944.
The Germans invaded the homes of Gordes because the town was one of the major centers of resistance during WWII. The village was bombed, destroying a dozen homes. Many other homes were blasted, burned and looted; the few people who could not get away were shot and five people were sent to prison camps.
Finally, a monk from the Abbey Senanque intervened with the commander of the Germans to make the killing stop. The village received the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star after the war for their resistance (http://www.ajpn.org/commune-Gordes-84050.html).
The beautiful village has long recovered from the war and become home to artists such as Marc Chagall. Artists continue to make their homes in this mountain-top retreat.
We carefully turned our car around and continue on the Lavender Road. We felt richer for knowing of the sacrifice of the dozen people buried in mountain-top graves so long ago.