We wanted to see how mustard is made so we drove to the tiny town of Doesburg about 90 minutes east of Amsterdam near the German border. We traveled for the mustard but ended up being totally charmed by the 13th century Hanse village of Doesburg. (Keep reading and I’ll share a mustard soup recipe, below.)
The Hanseatic League (now referred to as “Hanse”) was a group of merchant guilds and merchant towns in nothern Europe that banded together for commerce and defense beginning in the 1400’s. They had their own armies and legal systems but they were not a government. Their trade routes extended from London to Scandinavia to Estonia. They fought pirates, built ships, and controlled trade in the region for more than 300 years.
Because they belonged to the Hanseatic League, little Doesburg became a prosperous medieval town until the River IJssel silted over. Today about 12,000 people live in the beautifully preserved town. Doesburg is popular with Europeans and more than 4,000 camping spots are located just outside of town for visitors.
Right in the middle of town you’ll find the Doesburg Mustard Factory. They’ve made mustard in Doesburg since 1457 and still sell it in grocery stores today. According to their website, “Mustard is offered at every meal and is used with most vegetable and potato dishes” in Doesburg.
Mustard seed. Doesburg, the Netherlands
We dashed into the factory in the late afternoon and joined the last tour of the day with an entrance cost of about $3. A mustard maker explained how the seeds are removed from the dried bushes and soaked in a mixture of vinegar and water and spices for several days. The seeds soak up all that goodness and then they are ground into mustard.
The factory uses millstones that are hundreds of years old to grind the mustard. Here’s a video I made of our tour. Not the greatest quality, but you’ll get to see how mustard is made.
The best part, of course, was the tasting at the end of the tour. We were so busy gobbling up fresh mustard and Gouda cheese that I forgot to take photos! Here’s the Mustard Soup recipe I promised earlier.
Doesburgsche Mosterdfabriek Mustard Soup
200 grams smoked bacon (1/2 pound)
40 grams butter (2.5 tablespoons)
60 grams flour (1/2 cup)
1/2 litre milk (2 cups)
1/2 litre water (2 cups)
3 tablespoons Doesburg mustard
Cut the bacon into small cubes; slice and finely chop the onion and leek. Melt the butter in a soup pan and gently fry the bacon, onion and leek until soft. Add the flour, stirring all the time so that it does not burn. Let this cook for a few seconds. Gently add the milk and the water. When this has been thoroughly sitrred, add the mustard and season to taste. For an extra luxurious soup: Add a couple of tablespoons of cream with the mustard.
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.
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.
FloraHolland is the largest trading market for flowers in the world. It’s located just outside of Amsterdam in Aalsmeer, is open to the public from 7 -11:00 am, and costs about $6 to enter. The massive warehouse, shipping yard and trading center must be one kilometer long and a few hundred yards wide. Wear your walking shoes and prepare for an unusual adventure into the world of trade in The Netherlands. You’ll be rewarded with a new respect for business and the astounding sight of beautiful flowers packed for trade.
Even though the just-cut flowers are gorgeous, the story here is about sales, not beauty. More than 4,000 people work at FloraHolland, participating in the trade of millions of dollars of flowers from all over the world. It is a bustling work place of more than 1 million square yards. The flowers move from field to auction to your home in less than 48 hours.
Even though you walk along the raised platform for at least 10 minutes to get to the center of the action, you can see over the rails to the action in the warehouse below and there are explanatory signs posted in several languages all along the walkway. One sign explained, “Floraholland membership consists of thousands of growers representing approximately 60 countries…they hail from countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Columbia, Equador, Belgium, Italy and the UK.”
We climbed to the second floor of the warehouse and then walked a loooooong platform high above the action to learn how flowers are packed in boxes according to type of flower or plant or decorative vegetable or grass, then rushed to this trading center (the largest of several flower auctions in the Netherlands), sold off in a Dutch auction, then quickly moved to the brokers for redistribution back out across Germany, england, Belgium, France and other points across mostly Europe.
Growers list all the lot information on a form that accompanies the just-picked flowers to FloraHolland. The flowers arrive after the auction closes at 11 am and are placed on trolleys. Flowers that need cold are moved to cold storage and plants that need warm are moved to warm storage. Auctions begin at 6 am but this is a 24-hour business.
The flowers are brought into the center on long “trains” so the flatbeds pass by loaded with, for example, pink roses. They are inspected by buyers who call up to the auction floor and report on the quality of the plants. About 120 buyers have seats on the auction floor and sit in a tiered semi-circle staring at two huge round calculators on a screen. Buyers can also participate remotely by internet.
Here’s an example of how the auction works. A photo of pink roses appears with a suggested price of, say 29 cents a stem, and a box on the clock screen tells how many cases of roses are available, say 120 cases. Within seconds, buyers bid at the 29 cent price and also input how many cases they want. As the flowers are sold off, if buyers really want pink roses, the price starts to climb as the quantity starts to drop (think supply and demand). If no one wants pink roses today, the price may start to drop and late buyers may get the remaining pink flowers for 18 cents a stem (or lower) until all the roses are solde. If everyone wants pink roses today, the price quickly rises and late buyers may pay 35 cents or more per stem.
All 120 cases of roses can sell off in about 10 seconds but I saw no auction last longer than 30 seconds. The flowers need to move fast so they can stay as fresh as possible. In a few minutes time, you might see 12 auctions for a dozen different colors of roses followed by 10 auctions for six different colors of irises. The highest priced flower I saw was an almost black iris; it went for 95 cents per stem.
Here is another explanation of the auction process taken right from the information signs: “Circles, lamps and numbers – The auctioning is led by an auctioneer. The auction clock is a circle numbered from 1 to 100 around which a red lamp moves. These numbers correspond with the prices offered. The system used is known as a Dutch Auction, which means going from a high price to a low price. The auctioneer will start the lamp at a high number (i.e., a high price) and then let it go down. If a buyer wants to bid on a lot, he presses a button. If he is the first one to do so, the lamp stops and the number at which it has stopped is the price.”
The grasses and decorative vegetables are all part of the flower sales. In addition, some flowers arrive already packed in individual boxes so there might be a “train” load of long stemmed flowers in long whiteboxes with gold lettering and a ribbon around the box. More than 2,500 flowers trains move through the facility each hour.
Once the flowers are sold, they are packed into containers for the appropriate buyers and shipped out immediately to points around the world. In this photo you can see where carts are being loaded with the purchases of individual buyers within 90 minutes of their sale. Once the buyer is done for the day – well before noon — the cart is transported to a truck and immediately shipped out to the buyer’s designated destination.
We got up extra early for this experience because FloraHolland opened at 7:00 am, giving us time to tour before heading on to Amsterdam from Wassenaar. We drove by car and did not see any public transportation as FloraHolland is located on the outskirts of town in a rural/industrial area. The parking lot is on the roof of the warehouses and is so large that it is confusing to figure out where to park and then it is confusing to figure out how to get out of the parking lot when you leave. If you decide to visit, make sure to make note of where you leave your car and how to get to the exit. There is no clear line of sight to see where the ramp that leads you off the building’s rooftop is located. You’ll eventually figure it out but pay attention when you drive up to the roof.
This is a must-see attraction and I’ll be back to visit again. It’s definitely a marriage of beauty and business.
Our first stop in Amsterdam was the extraordinary Rijksmuseum, the Museum of the Netherlands. We made our reservations months ahead of time and were rewarded by a comfortable, early-morning visit with controlled crowds. What a treasure!
First off, the building itself is beautiful with a colorful brick exterior decorated with intricate designs of inlaid bricks. There is a feeling of graviats as you enter the building yet as you look up, the huge space fills with light and welcomes you to enter.
Secondly, the story of Dutch exploration and accumulated wealth is reflected in massive paintings of men at work and families at play, all richly dress and sporting elaborate jewelry. The Dutch lavishly support the arts so the museum has a bountiful display of great art as well as significant artifacts like furniture and boxes for storage of precious items. The entire museum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history.
You will see lots and lots of these kind of Dutch paintings across Europe. With no photography, back in the day, it was common for guilds and families to pose for portraits.
In this photo you can see how the painting looks on the wall at the Rijksmuseum. The painting on the left is the Drapers’ Guild; the painting on the right is The Jewish Bride.
This painting filled a long wall at the museum where it’s been a mighty crowd pleaser since 1885 and it was difficult to get close – so I borrowed this image from Wikipedia which says this is the best known painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. My source says, “The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.”
Each district of Amsterdam had a guard unit made up of about 120 men. This, most likely, was a guard unit who kept watch on their area of the city. “There were some 120 men in Frans Banning Cocq’s company, but only 19 of them are shown in the painting…Depending on where they were positioned, (the subjects) paid up to 100 guilders each to be included, and the captain and lieutenant no doubt paid more than that,” according to Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 2.” This wasn’t a fighting unit – Amsterdam largely used mercenaries to fight their wars – it was really more of a guild of city leaders.
The next painting is one of my favorites. My little “bible” of art, Julian Porter’s “149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe” says, “When he saw this painting in 1885, Van Gogh said, ‘What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting. Believe me, and I mean this sincerely, I would have given 10 years of my life if I could sit for a fortnight before this painting with just a dry crust of bread to eat.‘” Yes, it’s that good.
In the book Rembrandt, Christopher White wrote, The Jewish Bride “is one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.” No one is sure of who the people are in the portrait but some people think they were a couple posing as a biblical couple for this portrait.
The people of Amsterdam sometimes posed for portraits that depicted scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible. The Netherlands were a fairly new country when it became rich through trade in the 1650’s, so if painters wanted to paint history, some chose to paint bible history. This was a bit problematic because the country was heavily Calvinistic at this time and the religion placed restrictions on artistic subjects (paintings were even forbidden in Calvinist churches). Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen discuss this in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 3”, writing, “Calvin did not want paintings to be worshipped, his teachings thus forbad works of art depicting God, Jews, Mary or the martyrs of the Catholic Church.” That pretty much left the Old Testament. The Netherlands “certainly had no heroes who could hope to compare with the famous figures of the Old Testament.”
The Rijksmuseum has curated their collection in such a way that it is easy to understand not just the item but the context of the item. The picture above is a tiny self portrait by Rembrandt. The curation notes, in both Dutch and English, take up more wall space than the painting. This is terrific! I can easily see the text and the image, making my visit easy and interesting.
Here’s a typical sign that appeared next to the Drapers’ Guild painting. See how easy it is to understand both the history and the art?
Isn’t this swan just magnificent? It fills a wall at the museum. This painting was so lifelike, I expected the swan to hiss at me.
This isn’t one of the “greats” but I love it because it kind of reminds me of Christmas at our house when the kids were growing up. Note the child who got coal from St. Nicholas. Not good.
The Rijksmuseum is where I finally fell in love with Vermeer. I used to volunteer to teach art appreciation to students at my kids’ elementary school as part of a team of school docents. We introduced students to Vermeer but concentrated on his technique rather than content. Imagine my astonishment when I saw what the man could do beyond technique! The Milkmaid transforms the very space where it hangs with a rich butter-yellow tone that engulfs the room. Julian Porter writes, “The jumping blue of the balloon skirt against the flaxen yellow of the cloth blouse set under a gold pot against an ivory spotted wall flooded in light is a drawing room bravura act.” I already miss this painting.
Here is more great stuff at the Rijksmuseum showing the wealth made through trade.
There was an interesting exhibit of 21 Joan Miro sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, but we just ran out of time and didn’t visit. It was kind of funny that when we traveled to Barcelona to the Miro Museum, one of his sculptures was missing – it was back in Amsterdam and we had missed it there, too.
I did get to enjoy Miro’s Personnage 1975 as it was displayed in the Rijksmuseum lobby. I couldn’t find a sign telling me what I was seeing but people stopped and photographed the sculpture because it simply dominated the space.
So that’s the Rijksmuseum for this visit. I’ll be back again next summer 2016 and you can count on me adding to this page.
We traveled to the Netherlands for a week in August 2015. We landed in Amsterdam via a Viking Rhine River tour, stayed with a friend in Wassenaar, drove through the country and also visited Belgium, and left by high speed train to Paris. The weather was rainy and warm, the people were friendly, we were surprised at every turn by the tradition-laced modernity of the country, and we were charmed by the tolerance for all lifestyles.
We were excited to get to Amsterdam to see the city but the real draw was meeting with Maureen’s daughter Melody who lives in Wassenaar, about 1 hour from Amsterdam and next door to the Hague. Once our Viking boat docked, we stayed at Melody’s comfortable home for 7 nights and explored The Netherlands and Belgium using her house as a base and her car for transportation. Melody went way, way out of her way to make us comfortable – just a great hostess. Here’s Maureen with her daughter Melody in Wassernaur.
As our boat docked, we realized we didn’t have our Amsterdam Museum passes – they were at Melody’s house. So we rushed through the Captain’s good-bye dinner (delicious!) and grabbed public transportation to meet Melody at the Amsterdam airport. Kisses, hugs, introductions…. then back to the ship to spend the night.
In the morning, we packed up our suitcases, I enjoyed one last yummy breakfast aboard the Viking ship Hlin: scrambled eggs and sausage and a sweet roll with home-made jelly and sweet, sweet yogurt and Diet Coke. Then we rolled our suitcases about a block away to the train station where we stored them in the luggage lockers. Best of all, we met back up with Rachel who had come in from Bruges where she had spent the week while we Viking cruised. The 3 P-Nuts are back together again!
We stopped at the Tourist Information building directly across from Amsterdam’s Central Train Station (Bahnhof), picked up maps, and purchased a day card for public transportation (7.50 Eur). Then we were ready to explore Amsterdam.
I think video games were invented after a game designer made a trip to Amsterdam. Crossing the street is a major challenge as you dodge pedestrians, cars, baby buggies, taxis, buses, skate boards and bicycles. The bicyclists follow no rules and come at your from all sides out of nowhere, shouting as they pass within a breath of you. They ride their bikes across plazas, sidewalks, streets…anywhere you are.
The trams travel atop grass because it deadens the sound of the trains on the city streets plus adds some green to the cityscape.
On the other hand, one charming mode of transportation is these baby buggies. The first is driven by a bicyclist with baby seated in the bucket-like front seat – complete with plastic weather gear. The second is a day care wagon for 8 kids powered by what looks like a Segway. Sometimes babies are in car seats but most often, they’re just kind of hanging on. The third bike can be used for carting kids or groceries or anything else that will fit.
The people are gorgeous! Tall and big, they dominate the space with loud laughter and goodwill. Then again, maybe they were tourists.
Food is a problem in Amsterdam because everything is delicious and it’s hard to decide where to spend your appetite. We read great reviews for the teeny-tiny Upstairs Pancake House on Trip Advisor so we secured reservations at the Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs and took ourselves up a very, very steep staircase to the second floor to a little restaurant that perched like a nest in a tree. To reach the toilet, you needed to cross the two story staircase that was more like a ladder. We wedged into one of the four tables in the place and anticipated a great treat. Because we wanted to taste everything on the menu, we ordered three pancakes and split them among ourselves: Ham and tomato, pineapple and bacon, and strawberries and cream. All, spectacular. I want to do it all over again.
We continued to eat our way across Amsterdam at the Albert Cuyp Market. Getting there was an adventure as we knew we were near but couldn’t seem to find the huge market street because we always seemed to be on the wrong side of a canal or behind a canyon of buildings that blocked our view. So I asked myself, is it about the journey or the destination? then settled down and enjoyed the adventure. That’s when I discovered the quirks of Amsterdam.
First, a gorgeous doorway – I wanted to step inside just to look around then realized this was one of many, many doorways and I’d never get to see the other sides. Still, wouldn’t you just love to see what’s behind the door?
Some folks displayed their treasures in their picture windows. I wonder if this collector is sharing her wedding-toppers or if she’s the merry widow?
Can I just say I love the houseboats of Amsterdam? How romantic to live on a canal and bicycle to work.
It’s always a treat to spy my favorite brewery and the delivery truck just down the street.
A hotdog seems just the right thing to go with a cold beer on a very, very hot day in Amsterdam. What’s with the winter coat?
Albert Cuyp Market
We finally found the long, winding street just off the canals that is the Albert Cuyp Market. It’s lined with small shops and temporary stands selling baked goods, vegetables, blue jeans, Chinese kitchenware, scented candles, shoes, fruits, honey, scarves: you name it, it’s there.
We were advised to try the poffertjes. The little pancakes sprinkled with butter and powdered sugar were melt-in-your-mouth sweet bits of heaven.
We were also advised to try stroopwafels, which we did. But the little waffles glued together with a sweet paste were so sweet they made your teeth squeek. So I ate a couple bites and found a trash can for the rest. More pofferjes, please.
The good news about food is that you get to eat it all through the day. The bad news: I seem to have taken all photos of sweets. Here are a few of our other temptations.
Van Gogh Museum
It probably sounds churlish to say I expected more. Maybe I was just hot. Maybe I was just tired. After all, the Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of his works in the world. The Cleveland Museum of Art has outstanding Van Gogh paintings, and so does the Louvre. But this museum was created by Van Gogh’s sister-in-law and nephew and provides a loving description of his life with examples of many of Van Gogh’s 900 paintings (not always the originals). Vincent only lived to be 37 but he created a hell of a lot of art in that time: 1,000 drawings, 150 water colors, 10 graphic works, 9 lithographs.
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum was more about spending some time with Vincent in a beautiful museum than it was about seeing a good restrospective of his art. I saw an extraordinary retrospective exhibit of his art at the Toledo Museum of Art 30 years ago – I really liked seeing Van Gogh’s progress as an artist and also it was interesting to see his descent into mental illness. The Van Gogh Museum of art is, instead, curated to share the happier parts of Van Gogh’s life. As Van Gogh wrote, “To do good work, one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”
Here are a few of the paintings I loved seeing in person at the Van Gogh Museum. In the entryway, was a whole collection of VanGogh’s self portraits. It was interesting to see how he painted himself as he aged.
The intense colors and angry brush strokes create a pastoral scene of violence. Sumptuous to look at, but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there when he was painting this. What was happening in that field 125 years ago?
I do absolutely love this painting which Vincent gave to his brother as a gift; it hung over his brother and sister-in-law’s bed. This photo does not do justice as the actual painting is horizontal, not square, and very large. But the blue is dreamily gorgeous and the sensuously twining branches are extraordinary.
I love seeing how the painter lived in this portrait of his bedroom. One of the things I love best about art is that not only do you witness technique, but you also get to see the artist’s interpretation of the world. Everyone knows what a bedroom looks like, but Vincent made this room his own, complete with quirky persepctive.
The museum, itself, is worth visiting even if you aren’t a fan of Van Gogh. It is light and airy and fun to move around. From time to time the navigation was confusing but friendly guards were happy to help out. However, you know how you might visit a new friend and their house is gorgeous but not at all what you expected because it’s nothing like their personality? That’s the feeling I got with this building. The paintings seemed like they (the paintings) were just visiting.
Dutch Resistance Museum
The Dutch Resistance Museum has been named the best historical museum in the Netherlands. I was impressed with the resilience and the quiet fight conducted by the Dutch during WWII. In thousands of ways – from compromising bridges to hiding Jews, the Dutch people resisted during their five year occupation by the Nazis. This museum focuses not just on the thousands of people murdered by the Nazis but also on the hardships endured by the people of the Netherlands from hunger to cold to the conscription of citizens to feed the Nazi war machine. The museum also looks at what freedom meant when the “Allies came calling” (their words, not mine).
Dutch Resistance Museum – Amsterdam
The Dutch Resistance Museum took on current political prisoners and steps that need to be taken to support those who are incarcerated for their beliefs or their heritage. In a special education area, the Museum posted: “Even today, 70 years after World War Two, people are still imprisoned because of their opinions or because they oppose the powers that be. Frequently, this also serves to intimidate the rest of the population.” Dutch students wrote biographies of three such prisoners from Saudi Arabia, China and Eritrea. The following photo is a picture of a box stuffed with wishes for these political prisoners.
Anne Frank House
It was fascinating to visit the Anne Frank house – I was inspired by her book when I first read it as a young teen and I continue to count it among my most interesting reads. Every single page brings to mind, “this is a life,” and people matter. This little statue stands near the Anne Frank house, as does the headstone.
The Westerkerk is very near to Anne Frank’s house – she writes in her diary that hearing the churchbells helped her to keep track of time.
On August 10, 1943, Anne wrote: We’ve all been a little confused this past week because our dearly beloved Westertoren bells have been carted off to be melted down for the war, so we have no idea of the exact time, either night or day. I still have hopes that they’ll come up with a substitute, made of tin or copper or some such thing, to remind the neighborhood of the clock. (Source: Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida)
I was surprised at the size of the Anne Frank house – I always imagined a tiny area the size of my own attic. It was actually quite large with several rooms, running water, and a beautiful Delft bathroom. I was also surprised to learn that the Frank family did get to roam around the very large building after hours. However, this does not begin to pardon those who stole their freedom and their lives. And it also does not acknowledge the incredible sacrifice of those who hid the family and friends. The tour was emotional and humanized the story of the holocaust.
No photos (or bags or backpacks) were allowed in the house so I freely borrowed some from the internet. Thank you to the Anne Frank organization and to IaminAmsterdam.com for the photos.
We left our luggage at a drop off place (Dutch: bagagekluizen) . We paid a few euro and left the luggage for several hours. It was a bit random — we had to look for the attendant when we returned for our luggage — but it only took a few moments to find him running from down the street to meet us.
The Hermitage Amsterdam
The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam is branch of the more famous museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. For more than 300 years, this building was used to house the elderly as the Amstelhof but it was thoroughly modernized as an art museum in 2007. There is an excellent permanent exhibit of the Golden Age of the Netherlands but we had already seen nearly the same thing at the Rijksmuseum.
Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam
The real reason for our visit the Hermitage was to view a visiting exhibit of Napoleon. Photography was forbidden which was disappointing because many of the artifacts were beautiful. More interesting, the Hermitage had recreated whole rooms filled with the treasures of the Napoleonic era for the temporary exhibit.
The following is an image of the exhibit borrowed from the New York Times. The New York Times website also includes an excellent story about the exhibit with additional photographs.
This history of the museum building as a nursing home is really interesting. You can read the whole story at Amstelhof. “Old age” for women in Amsterdam in 1681 started at 50.
Before the Holocaust, if you stumbled on a cobble stone, people would say, “There must be a Jew buried here.” Today nearly 50,000 small memorials have replaced cobblestones throughout Europe to represent the places where Jewish families lived before they disappeared. The artist Stolpersteine inspired this emotional tribute of stumblestones. Later on in our journeys, I also discovered stumblestones in other cities once occupied by Nazis. As I discover my photos, I will post them in my blog. Meanwhile, from the blog posted by the HollandHockman’s, this photo illustrates my point:
I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke pot. So I didn’t see the need to visit a coffeeshop while in Amsterdam. That’s why the answer to my question is, “No, I did not.” Coffeeshops can only have about one pound of hash on hand at any one time and there are rules against export. But Amsterdam seems to turn their eyes away when it comes to weed. I’ve never smelled so much pot on the street except at a rock concert. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere is so chill.
The Rijksmuseum has the best collection anywhere of the Dutch Masters — Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Steen — in a spectacular setting. We didn’t have time to examine hundreds of items at every museum and art gallery we visited, so I made lists of what I really wanted to see, visited the stand-outs, and enjoyed the items I came across on the way to my destination. You can read about my experience in my Rijksmuseum blog.
Here’s what I didn’t want to miss at the Rijksmuseum:
Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride
Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild
Hals, The Meagre Company
Vermeer, A Street in Delft
Rembrandt, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
Vermeer, The Milkmaid
Rembrandt, The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (Nightwatch)
Random images of Amsterdam
Here’s a preview of an upcoming blog on The Hague:
Went to the very cool Escher Museum today and I was blown away by the …. chandeliers made by the Rotterdam artist Hans van Bentem. Every room sparkled and shined.
You know when you don’t expect to fall in love, and, yet, you do? That was Rotterdam for me. I was expecting a big port city with container ships in the harbor and heavy trucks transporting goods over crumbling streets. Boy, was I wrong. We skipped our planned harbor boat tour because it was pouring rain and chilly. But in a pouring rain, from the enclosure of a small automobile, I slowly fell in love with the whimsy and wonder of Rotterdam.
By the way, it wasn’t raining just a little bit – I mean, I’m not a total wimp. It was raining A LOT.
The destruction of Rotterdam
On May 14, 1940, the German Luftwaffe carpet bombed central Rotterdam, killing 900 people. More than 1,000 bombs nearly leveled the city, destroying 24,978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools (Roep & Loerakker 1999, p. 42 Square 2.) When the Germans threatened to flatten Utrecht the next day (where I will stay this summer), the Dutch surrendered. This was done in spite of peace treaties and a cease fire. The Germans attacked because they needed the Netherlands as a base to attack England.
Now, 75 years later, the Dutch people have built an extraordinary masterpiece of a city. As we toured Rotterdam, we were slowly drawn in by the imaginative architecture. It’s like the worst had already happened and architects could now take risks to create a vibrant living space for city dwellers and workers. When I returned home, I discovered a wonderful website, Architecture in Rotterdam, that informs part of this blog. The reason I know the names of the buildings — and the history of the buildings — is because of this website. The links I provide below each link up to a page that gives a more detailed description of the buildings.
In his book Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas describes a Manhattan Grid, a city within a city, that springs from the imagination of man and has nothing to do with nature (so take that, Gaudi). This area of Rotterdam houses homes, a hotel, offices — more than 7,500 rooms – and is called, I believe, de Rotterdam. There’s a much better image at Architecture in Rotterdam.
The White House, built about 1900, survived the central city bombing and today is still used as a luxury hotel. You can read more about the White House at Architecture in Rotterdam.
“Since the presentation of the first plan the Peperklip was controversial. Architecture critics described the building as inhospitable, cold and merciless. Others praised the timeless, rational architecture, and saw the building as a liberation from the disastrous small scale. During the first year the building was often in the news, especially because of the many social problems among the residents: (Architecture in Rotterdam).
The hugely popular Cube Houses.
“The Blaak forest contains 38 cubic houses, several shops and three large cubes situated on a pedestrian bridge over the Blaak. It was one of the attempts to enliven the downtown area and to shift the focus from office buildings and traffic flow to housing and recreation. The Cube Houses and buildings around the Oude Haven (Old Port) were designed by the Amsterdam architect Piet Blom (1934-1999), who had previously designed similar experimental housing” (Architecture in Rotterdam).
OK – is this building just too cool for school? We approached the building from many angles but never got close to it as it was always across a river or open water. I think this is the Unilever Best Foods office building.
“The new headquarters of Unilever Bestfoods was built on the site of the Blue Band factory on the northern tip of the district Feyenoord. Because the building was built as a bridge over the existing complex, the nearby site of the former brewery Oranjeboom was kept empty. The Merchant City district (Koopmanstadwijk), planned here, will contain about three hundred houses designed by architects JHK and West 8…Besides a smart idea to save space, the bridge building is a spectacular example of prefabrication. To not to disturb the production of the plant the building was erected 200 meters away on the Oranjeboom grounds” (Architecture in Rotterdam).
If anything is missing in Rotterdam, perhaps it’s open land for city play. It could be there and I never discovered it. But open land should be readily apparent for residents and tourists, alike.
Market Hall’s parking garage and mini-museum
The Market Hall was at the very top of my list of places to see in Rotterdam. I read about the new building in nearly every magazine I picked up last year and I was determined to visit this place. I was not disappointed. Let’s start with the parking garage.
I was surprised to discover a mini-museum of the site in the bowels of the parking garage! Apparently the Market Hall was built upon the ruins of a medieval housing project dating from 1350-1550. Bits of pottery, housing and artifacts were included in the well-documented museum area. Here’s what the sign said:
You are situated in the medieval city of Rotterdam. The city came into existance in approximately AD 1270 when the dam in the river Rotte was constructed in the spot where we now find the Hoogstraat. In the year 1340 Rotterdam was granted city privileges and in 1358 the city further expanded and was surrounded by fortifications. To the south, two polders were added to the city. They ran up to the city rampart at the present day Blook. These are the two medieval housing projects Oostnieuwland and Westnieuwland.
Note: if you say Dutch words out loud, they make sense. For example, say Oostnieuwland out loud and you can hear “East New Land.” Say Westnieuwland out loud and you can hear “West New Land.”
The Markthall is located in the eastern part of the district Westnieuwland. A dike ran around the district with the residences of craftsmen and fishermen constructed on top of the embankment. The archeologists of the municipality of Rotterdam excavated approximately 30 houses that were located on the dike. The houses were made of wood and had thatched roofs. Houses built of stone only appeared in the course of the 15th century.
I love that Rotterdam has their own archeologists. I love that city planning existed in 1340 and cities had to get permission to expand. I thought that cities grew organically but I was wrong: the requirements of daily living necessitated planning and permissions in order to grow and protect a society even 700 years ago. This rocked my head and I had to seriously consider these personal discoveries. My conclusion? WOW. Way to go, ancestors.
The Markthall (try that little trick I wrote about earlier – say it out loud and it makes perfect sense) looks like an impressively dull, concrete bean from the outside. But we entered from the parking garage below the building.
As we rode the elevators upward from the parking garage, we discovered the history of Rotterdam written on timelines inscribed on the sides of the escalators. It was easy to get around thanks to maps posted throughout the site.
Then we burst upon the main floor and our jaws dropped as we gaped at the massive space topped with a cascade of organic visuals. See all those little squares dotting the ceiling/painting? Those are the windows of people’s apartments – residents look down into the the hub-bub of the market hall.
This view is from just above the hall looking out onto a series of individual terraces populated by a variety of restaurants. Each terrace is accessed by an individual stairway. When you dine on one of the terraces, you kind of get the feeling like you are floating in space with a bunch of boats tethered together. I wanted to wave to the other diners like a boat passing at sea.
And here is the heart of the Marketplace: the individual food sellers and restaurants.
We chose to eat at a Tapas Bar – great choice! A bit spicy but Maureen was happy with her oysters and I got to eat everything too spicy for Maureen and Rachel. Lucky me.
Technical Problems in the Parking Garage
I tried to use my new chip card in the parking garage and the machine ate it. Remember when I said to read the words out loud and they would make sense? It was pretty easy to understand that “Afgebroken Pas Uitnemen” meant – “you broke the machine, idiot.” So I pressed the little speaker button and said in my very best Dutch. “Helpen! Do you speak English, please?” I didn’t say please in Dutch because it’s alsjeblieft – try saying that out loud. It sounds like, “I just killed your bleating sheep.”
A lovely woman showed up about 5 minutes later, opened up the guts of the machine, tapped a few key commands, and returned my chip card to me along with a paid receipt. I always wondered what the insides of these machines look like – and now you know too. And I said dankjewel.
I will return to Rotterdam this summer. I want to take the harbor tour and I want to walk through the city on a sunny day. So look for a new Rotterdam blog next summer.