Amsterdam has never spoken to me, but last year Old Friend and Sometime Traveling Buddy Matthew said that Amsterdam was next and that was that.
And it was beautiful. There was something old fashioned but strange about it: the tall, thin houses, the canals used as streets, the way that everyone travels by bicycle. It is also a great city for walking, and we managed about six-miles-plus a day.
Of course the museums were some of the best in the world. The Rijkmuseum had been closed for many years and was newly reopened. It is the home of Rembrandts and Vermeers. Like many things, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was about either artist until I saw them with my own eyes. Especially Vermeer. Both The Love Letter and The Milkmaid were mesmerizing. I could hardly move away from them and was happy to just stand for half an hour staring at one of them. Not that this was easy to do: most of the time the pictures were surrounded by people with cameras snapping. Which I understand, sort of, but it was dismaying was that NONE of them actually stopped to look at the painting. They just spotted it, snapped it, and moved on. There is something deeply, deeply wrong about this, and now I understand why so many museums forbid photography.
We also visited the Van Gogh museum which was very good. Actually the best part for me were his sketchbooks and illustrated letters. And one of Gabriel looking uncharacteristically pensive.
We made several visits to the modern art museum, the Stedelijk. I did not realize until I walked right into that it housed a self-portrait of Stanley Spencer that I have been fascinated by for many years. In person it was more strange and erotic than it seems in books and I stayed taking it in for a long, long time.
It also had a heck of Henry Moore sculpture outside.
The Anne Frank house was interesting. The line was long – it took 45 minutes to get in – and was made up of people from all over the world; it was humbling to think that Frank’s young life and death resonate so. I don’t know what I was expecting from “The Attic,” but I was surprised to see how much it was like any house, and that familiarity made the idea of her time there even more poignant. It’s just a house, on a street surrounded by other houses, and this made it all the more sinister. In Anne’s bedroom there are still has some of the cuttings from Hollywood magazines she put there, of Sonja Henie, Franchot Tone, and Ray Milland.
I’m pretty sure that the meaning of life in general and travel in particular is to visit flea markets.
Frankly, I did not care for the food. Way too much herring. Also, I would have predicted that it was impossible for a meatball to be awful, but there are these Dutch meatballs that are traditional bar food that just proves how wrong I can be, meatball-wise. We did have some good meals in some of the many excellent Brazilian restaurants that are native to the city. Also, at breakfast they have a kind of jam that is simply fresh fruit compote (apricot and raspberry here) that is tart and dreamy.
On one of our walks we found ourselves outside of the hotel where Chet Baker fell (or jumped or was pushed) to his death. The startling thing is that this hotel looks only to be a couple of stories high, so what kind of fall did it take?
I have nothing against a little recreational indulgence, but all of the places we saw we so dreary, like bus station waiting rooms. What would be the fun in that? Looks like there would be a niche market in providing middle age women with flattering lighting, ambient music, and pretty sofas.
Oh, and while we were there the city was covered with huge posters of Donna Tartt. She was about to debut her release of The Goldfinch the day after we left!