But on to Amsterdam.
The city you see with friends is not the city you will see for yourself. My two days in Amsterdam are testament to this. Both days were wonderful, just completely different in what got done, what was seen and how I perceived the city - which is to be expected. I've got two completely different views of Amsterdam now and I know that when I return I'll see the town through fresh eyes once again. (and there will be a when - I'm going to make sure of it - love it here)
What can I say about this near mythical place. It's as gorgeous as everybody says it is. It felt to me like a solid mix of London shopping and Paris chic with the canals thrown in for good measure. True Amsterdammers will cuss me for saying this, and yes, the city does have its own very unique vibe, but like most European cities, many of the shops are the similar, the sale signs are similar, the outdoor restaurants are similar. Also, only having two days in there, I know I need to see and do more. I'd also love to see Amsterdam when it's not pissing down. Allegedly the next time that is supposed to occur is next May.
There were three things on my list of to do's in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Gallery and Anne Frank's House. I know that there are so many other things to see and do but these were my top three, and given the limited time, choices had to be made. The first two were there to satisfy my need to go into as many world class art galleries and musums in the world. The third is a of a special interest to me - the spirit shown by this girl and her family is phenomenal - I can't say more than that.
Tuesday, JP, Sascha, Anneka and myself made our way into the city. Both JP and Sascha are better versed with Rotterdam and Utrecht, so we were all tourists together. First thing we did was make our way to Anne Frank's House. The queue was around the building - at least a two hour wait. The way I see it - queuing when you have little time is pointless, so it was put on the list for the following day. So we spent the day looking around, wandering in and out of shops, taking in the streets and lanes, pondering the smell of weed. We found lots of high end shops and lots of manky tourist shops and coffee shops. The day was finished with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe - something I've never done, so I can knock that off the bucket list - it's Anneka's favorite which made it special.
By the end of the day, we returned, walked off our feet, tired and ready for bed. And I got plotting my return the following day. Tickets were bought to two of the museums. Anne Frank's House will have to wait - all of the tickets for online booking were sold. Thinking about it, it may have been a good thing - I got teary just walking past the place that day - best saved for next time.
Having the luxury of wandering these galleries was amazing. Doing it on my own time, fantastic - I'm not boring anybody else and I can stay looking at things I like for as long as I want. The fact that the Rijksmuseum only has the best of it's collection on show due to extensive renovations was disappointing, but they have some amazing things to show. One of the things that hit me that was among the sedate portaits of burghurs and snow scenes was a really gruesome scene depicting the lynching of the de Witt brothers. And here I was thinking that the Netherlands had a more peaceful history. Wrong. The other minor gripes with the museum is that the place is badly signposted in both Dutch and English - people who already had a ticket were expected to jump a long queue rather than have a separate entrance much to the ire of the waiting crowd. Also, because the whole place is under reconstruction, it felt very, very crowded in there - not ideal.
This was followed by a short walk in the rain down to the Van Gogh Museum - also excellent, better organised, a bit less crowded and brilliantly curated - loved every minute of it. The special exhibition in the underground wing was great too.
I tried to explain this to Sascha - there is something about being in these great galleries - something we don't really get to see in Australia. The history and the tradition is all fascinating - the beauty contained in these galleries, paintings and objects we rarely see at home - it just has to be done. I didn't tell her about how I had to catch my breath when stumbling over a Rodin bronze (another favorite) or how just being in the presence of Pisarros and Degas, along with much of Van Gogh's work - in chronological order - just makes my soul sing - that's what art is supposed to do, in part?
My inner arty fart was released - Pandora was a happy girl, even in spite of the unrelenting heavy drizzle.
The evening saw me make my way back to Utrecht to visit the Grounded Dutchman's best mate and his wife. They're a great couple - they've known GD for a lot longer than me, but we seem to get the same things out of him. Bless. After a solid pickling with red wine, I scurried back to Almere - tail between my legs, feeling like a teenager trying to slip back in later(it was only 11 pm and JP is two years older than me - still felt like I broke curfew and I was going to get in trouble with Dad).
As today way my last full day in the Netherlands (not Holland - Holland is only a part of the Netherlands - and we can't let people from Limburgh feel left out, can we Merijn...) I went for a drive with the family to Den Haag - or The Hague as it's known to English speakers. I asked what was there, other than JP's new company car. Oh this and that. We'll visit Scheveningen said JP, it will be fun.
I can't even say Scheveningen. After four days here, I'm getting my ear and eye around the language. It feels like a funny mix of English and German, which will get you lynched for saying, but it is true. If you listen hard, there are a lot of common words in all languages. Written down, with a bit of nouse and removing the a couple of extra Vs, Js and Is you can sort of make out what is going on, kind of. Just trying to pronounce anything is next to impossible. The G sound comes like a gargle from the back of your throat - a bit like cattahr or a death rattle. UI makes an 'ow' sound, like cow or brown. And the J stuck after a vowel lengthens it - well that is what it feels like.
So after collecting JP's new Skoda wagon, we made our way to the beach. On the North Sea. Kewl! Actually, it's gorgeous. Sandy beaches, dunes, cut against the overcast sky, wind whipping your hair - magic.
Just after lunch I was deposited in the centre of Den Haag, some ten minutes away. I had a motive. After all that art the day before, I set myself a small pilgrimage. If I was here, I may as well see if I could trace THE painting. One of my very favourites. The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer.
So passing this monstrosity on the way to the Mauritshuis Museum if was feeling a bit underwhelmed:
For art lovers, this is THE gallery to get to. The Holbeins, Rembrandts, Rubens... all in a gorgeously small space, without the crowds.Magic. I spend a good two hours communcing with some of my favorite paintings. And the Girl with the Pearl Earring is even more breathtaking as it is in reproduction. Just amazing. Vermeer is a genius.
The rest of the afternoon took in the Haag Museum, which was small, badly run, badly organised and a little shocking. In room two, where they had a rogues gallery of Who's Who from The Hague. There in a corner was a portrait of Johan de Witt - the guy I was telling you about from the Rijksmuseum. Beneath it, in a glass case, was his tongue and toe, saved from the brutal lynching. I left soon after that - just a bit gruesome for a Thursday afternoon.
I took the slow train back to Almere after wandering the gorgeous medieval streets. Have a look:
It felt like I was in a painting.
The slow train let me take in the countryside which I still think is incredibly beautiful despite the low cloud.
And early tomorrow I leave for Spain. There's a lot of mixed feelings. I so want to explore this magical country some more. I'd love to come and stay for a few months and get into the language. I'd like to get to know more of these incredibly generous and fun people. And I don't realy want to say goodbye to JP, Sascha and Anneka - they've been a part of my life for three years and I don't know when I'll see them again.
It's been a fantastic time here.
The only thing I'd change here is the poky, steep staircases everybody seems to have - but that is my problem and nobody elses.