2013: Amsterdam


May 8


We had one day left to spend in Amsterdam. I considered the Van Gogh museum, but I wasn't impressed with the information I found about it; apparently most of his best work is in other museums around the world, not here in his namesake institution. So I decided instead to visit the National Museum of Holland, the Rijksmuseum, which had recently reopened after a 10-year renovation project.

Amsterdam has a tram system that circles the heart of the city and provides most of the public transportation. Besides the thousands of bicycles, it is almost the only thing on the streets. We used it to ride the two or three miles to the museum. As usual when you don't know the territory, it was an adventure. The trams load from an island in the middle of the wide street, so the most difficult part was getting there without being run down by the stealthy, ubiquitous bicycle riders. Paying was considerably easier than in Paris; the tram actually had a manned ticket booth onboard the car!

Unfortunately the Rijksmuseum doesn't allow photography, so you'll have to find images of its many artworks and historical artifacts elsewhere. But while I can't show you, I can certainly tell you; tell you that this was the finest, most enjoyable place we visited in Europe, hands down. Museums in Paris? Bah, humbug.

We spent most of the day there, and it wasn't nearly enough. We only left because of sheer exhaustion. I could easily have come back day after day. The paintings are exquisitely displayed; each one was perfectly lit to enhance the wonderful, painstaking highlights and shadows. A glass of wine, a piece of fruit, a silver candlestick -- so lifelike I wanted to reach out and pick them up. Seventeenth-century genius lovingly displayed under 21st-century LEDs.

Rembrandt's Night Watch, the centerpiece of the museum, is an enormous, sprawling riot of costumed men; I marveled at how he kept the proportions of the figures so perfect over such a large canvas. So many lovely paintings. I liked the impressionists we saw in Paris, but I think the Dutch masters have my heart.

For me, the many artifacts from Dutch history were even more enjoyable than the paintings. They ranged from Delft ceramics to flintlock pistols, from 17th-century dollhouse furniture to actual 17th-century furniture. My favorite display? Some ancient musical instruments, including a trombone or "sackbut" from 1593, and a wooden clarinet circa 1730.

After squinting our way back into the sunlight, we spent our remaining hours wandering the canal-side streets. The architecture here is an eclectic mix of old and new, with charming but impossibly tall-and-narrow houses from the 1600s crammed between modern apartment buildings. One landmark we passed is the centuries-old Westerkerk or West Church, built in the 1620's. And of course we saw lots of canals. And bicycles. Oh my, the bicycles. We saw one woman pedaling two large dogs around in a contraption that looked like a wheelbarrow-cycle, and a man with a similar bike trundling his two sleeping toddlers. Marvelous.

After dinner at a local restaurant -- I won't be raving about Amsterdam food, y'all -- we returned to our apartment where Mike took a couple of final photos from our third-floor window.

The next day, we made our return trip on KLM out of Amsterdam. Their business-class seats were not quite up to the comfort of Air France, but their service and attitude were first-class all the way.

We returned home to four VERY unhappy cats. We'd had a pet-sitter come in each day to feed them, but they're used to 24/7 attention. At least one of them, if not more, had taken out their frustrations on the bedroom carpet. On multiple days. We had to replace a whole section. *Sigh*. So much for leaving them behind on any future travel.