We passed quickly through Amsterdam on our river cruise (see 3 June 2013). This time, although we didn’t stay long, we did spent three days before moving on to London.
I really enjoyed walking around the town. But stay out of the bike lanes. Millions of Dutch make everyday use of bikes. So many in fact, about 60,000 bikes are stolen in Amsterdam each year despite locks that look like they could hold a tank. The typical bike has one speed, a bell, a rack to hold things and, if fancy, a light; perhaps anything else would be a sure target for theft.
The classic image of a Dutch winter is skating on the canals, but today most learn to skate in rinks. Some canals in the winter, however, are closed to boats so that they can freeze over.
The country is thriving. There is new construction everywhere. Restaurants seem almost as prevalent as bikes and feature every type of cuisine. Even the food we had in small side street restaurants was very good. One restaurant proclaimed itself the “Red Wine District,” a word play on the famous Red Light District.
There are interesting old buildings everywhere. Perhaps because there are so many old buildings, there are few signs describing their history. Many a U.S. town would have a plaque telling the age and any significant history. One of the few signs I saw was on a hotel where jazz trumpeter Chet Baker died in 1988. I was reminded of it this morning when I heard a Chet Baker recording on the radio.
“Coffee houses” are for marijuana, not coffee. The Dutch pride themselves on both their tolerance and their attention to the environment. The one thing that bothered me, however, was that there was litter everywhere, reminiscent of much poorer cities around the world. Perhaps it is because their tolerance has brought in so many people from other cultures.
We visited the Heritage Museum our first day and went out to see Keukenhof (see my last post) the second day. On our last full day, we went to the Rijksmuseum, the national art gallery. We enjoyed both galleries, but the Rijksmuseum has just opened after renovation. It was crowded, and it was often hard to get an unobstructed view of the most famous paintings.
I never took formal art studies but have been interested for decades. Even people with little interest in art, however, have heard of the “Dutch Masters,” the artists not the cigars. The Heritage Museum had a show on portraits of the Dutch guilds. I was astounded at the number of wonderful portrait artists totally unknown to me.
The Rijksmuseum had names we all know: Rembrandt stood out because his paintings have drama and energy; Hals could paint a smiling or laughing person and have them look natural; The few small paintings Vermeer produced in his short life are masterpieces of light and genre; and Van Gogh, who is said to have never sold a painting during his lifetime, had the most astounding accomplishment of all – he developed a personal style instantly recognizable everywhere.
Click on photos to enlarge.