Monday, August 24, 2009

Dutch Masters

Monday, August 24

Our mission for the day was to enjoy as much art as we possibly could, then get drunk. It was the perfect balance of the most archetypal features of the European and American cultures.

I've mentioned before that I don't really understand art. I'd like to clarify that this statement only applies to modern art. A squirrel skull mounted on a photograph of an ice cream cone covered in paint splatters doesn't make much sense to me. I'm uncultured. Master works by master artists, now that's some art I can get behind.

We started our day by visiting the Van Gogh Museum. The first two floors of the museum featured exhibits of 19th century art by friends of Van Gogh and by artists inspired by Van Gogh. The main attraction was the third floor exhibit of largest collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings in the world.

The collection was arranged chronologically which made the experience especially enjoyable because it was so easy to discern the different "periods" of Van Gogh's career. We were fascinated by the clear distinction between the muted colors of his early work (under the influence of art dealers who thought dark colors would sell) and the bright, cheerful colors in his later work (when he was more influenced by his surroundings). I was surprised to learn that Van Gogh actually painted five versions of his more famous painting "Sunflowers" to decorate his own home. It was surreal to be standing so close to something so well known, so classic and so old. I could have reached out and felt the bumps in the oil paint. I could have, but I didn't, because I wanted to keep all of my fingers and the conspicuously placed security guards looked rather menacing. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside.

After spending most of the morning at the Van Gogh museum, we ate lunch at a small British themed cafe in the museum district. The Brits aren't known for having the most delectable cuisine (mincemeat pies and figgy pudding? No thanks.) However, Dutch fare isn't much better. Except for their pancakes.

Our next stop was the Rijksmuseum, which was undergoing a major renovation. Because of the construction, only a small portion of the museum's permanent collection was on display. Fortunately, the Masterpieces available for viewing were the highlights of the collection. We were able to view many works by Rembrandt including The Night Watch. This giant painting was fascinating in its detail and sheer size. What really astounded us was that the painting was originally even larger. At some point, all four sides were cut down so that the painting would fit between two doors in the town hall. My other favorite exhibit was that of two 17th century doll's houses. The workmanship and detail were exquisite and the materials used were all high end and plush. I could have looked at the tiny details for hours, absorbing the minutiae. Pictures were not allowed inside this museum either.

After soaking up as much culture as we possibly could, we headed to the Heineken Brewery. We needed to make sure we didn't remember anything we might have accidentally learned during our morning museum tour. The Heineken Experience was definitely "touristy," but it was fun. The coolest part was seeing the huge copper vats that were used to brew the beer until 1988 when Heineken production was moved out of the city. Having attended "beer school" at Busch Gardens owned Sea World on more than one occasion (read: free beer in air conditioning at a hot theme park) it was interesting to see a different company's perspective on brewing and branding. That, and since Heineken is a famous Dutch brewed beer we felt it was our duty as visitors to The Netherlands to experience their culture and sample their wares. When in Rome, never refuse a free beer (or three).

After a dinner of leftovers from our feast the night before, we walked down to the "The Skinny Bridge" over the Amstel river. It is solely for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists and it is beautifully lit at night. According to our travel book, it is the most photographed bridge in Amsterdam. We gladly contributed to that title. It was wonderfully peaceful as we strolled along the canals and the twinkling reflections on the water were beautiful. Romantic even.

Tomorrow: A Windmill and The Bloomenmarket

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