At this part of the trip, having earlier borrowed extra days here and there, we were left with only overnighters. Amsterdam, of course, warrants more than that, but we honed in on a few activities that we hoped would give ourselves a reasonable impression of the vibe and layout of this historical city.
We had found a boutique hotel on special offer over the Internet the day before, and were happy to discover on arriving that we even had a view of the small adjacent canal. Rooms were not especially large, but very bright with windows along two sides, and modernly stylish. Situated in the centre, the museum district was about a 20 minute walk away along the canals.
Streets were more attractive than I would have imagined, with lovely examples of Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture, and one could easily envision the course of centuries in this great port capital while walking along. Historical buildings (the oldest, Oude Kerk [Old Church] dating back to 1306) might have stood there in previous centuries much the same, and fleets of boats still lining either side of the waterways testified as to how great a role these natural, though carefully planned, roadways still play. It made sense to take a 75 minute canal cruise to have a chance to experience the surroundings from this perspective. Starting just outside of the Museum district, across from Amsterdam's Hard Rock Café, we eased our way along passing beneath countless bridges, and criss-crossing through an expansive network of intersections. Though we had passed through many cycling cities to this point, Amsterdam was perhaps the most interesting, at least in terms of the sometimes ingenious ways people chose to lock their bikes when not in use. As we cruised along, we saw them dangling threateningly from the railings of overhead bridges, and locked en masse under the bridges, some looking quite abandoned, flat-tired and, in a few cases, partially submerged in the murky waters.
Of museums we had time for only one and chose the above-averagely impressive Van Gogh museum. Decidedly so because it provides such an in-depth look at the artist's life and work through its thoughtfully curated and educational presentation. It was a thrill for both of us, and I can easily say it's one of the most enjoyable and rewarding visits I have ever experienced in a museum with this sort of specific focus. Through an easy to follow layout (ever tried to navigate some museums?) of three floors one has the opportunity to walk through a beginning to end history of the artist's short but prolific life. Period overviews provided on the walls, detailed explanations of the works themselves, and various presentations mean even those already well familiar with his life are sure to gain fresh new insight. In addition to the largest collection (some 200) of works by Van Gogh himself, a good display of works by 19th century contemporaries, particularly the impressionists, and close friend, Paul Gaugin, represent the era and surrounding artistic influences. Radiographic imaging deconstructing the artist's working methods, details of restoration processes, and even a reconstruction of the famous Arles bedroom, revealing he lived amongst his colour palette too, enrich the experience and are a treasure to go through. Brother Theo's presence is aptly felt every step along the way. As might be expected, the museum's website is an equally thorough and well-organized place to pay a visit: http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=98&lang=en
To celebrate the romantic occasion of our one month anniversary we popped the cork on one of our champagne bottles, indulged in simple and spicy (Mico's favourite) Thai take-out, then, in preparation for the long drive ahead the next morning towards the German coast city of Kiel, we turned in early for a good night's sleep.