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22-24 April: Amsterdam

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Saturday morning I was up at 8, out at 8:45, on the 9:04 Sprint to Utrecht Centraal and the 9:29 to Amsterdam Centraal. Leaving the train and moving slowly, I managed to find my way along a big boulevard without error through the city to my lodgings. Although once I was on the block, I needed to walk back and forth to find the correct door. Thirty-five (or so) narrow steep steps up two levels from the street to the reception, without a lift! And after 40-minutes of fighting serious cobbles block stones! I left my gear at the bottom, climbed to make sure I was in the right place. Then down for the smaller bag, repeating for the second bag. The room wasn’t ready, so I left it in storage, removing my camera from the small roller. Down to the street as the room wouldn’t be ready until 3, I realized I forgot my day pack, so my fourth trip up!

Singel Canal, Amsterdam
Singel Canal, Amsterdam

To a canal, I followed it to the Rijksmuseum. I had a 1pm ticket to the Vermeer Exhibition, arriving about 45 minutes before the 12:30 window opened. I found a seat in the shade in the nearby garden, journaled, and then took up a conversation with a young Rumanian fellow, Gabriel, 25, which helped pass the time.

Before I write about this special exhibit, I’d like to make a few observations. This is a blockbuster exhibit, displaying 28 of the 34 known surviving paintings by the 16th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum had gathered more than what had been the previous Vermeer exhibit, in 1995-96 in Washington, DC and The Hague, The Netherlands. (I had been able to attend the Dutch showing.) Tickets were sold out in weeks, and demand was high. Unfortunately, 25 years later, the crowd was armed with “smartphones” and failed to understand that one should not camp out in front of a painting, adjusting for perfect framing or for the purpose of a selfie - there are just too many people in the gallery who want to view these masterpieces and the blatant, rude self-interest is unacceptable. Besides, with the careful lighting, glare off the protective varnish was the worst for a direct head-on photo.

Enough of my rant. The international crowd of viewers were moved through a series of galleries, so that they could view the works in more or less chronological sequence. Again, as in ‘96, those using the audio guides machine-stepped from one painting to the next, rather than surveying the room to determine where the smaller crowd was. I believe I was able to get a picture of each painting, albeit not at the level of museum-professional photography, but still I waited my turn, quickly got in front (or slightly to the side) for the pix, before studying it from a slight angle, usually over someone’s head.

I have 4 favorites of Vermeer, and three were included: the older View of Delft, and two portraits from the (Washington) National Gallery. Missing was The Astrologer, which I’d seen in ‘96. The Girl with the Pearl Earring had been with the exhibit early in the run, but was back at Mauritshuis in The Hague, which I’d seen my first day in The Netherlands. I managed to do the loop twice, the second time with my camera turned off, just appreciating great art.

On a separate album posting, I've put some of my photos of the exhibited paintings up: Johannes Vermeer Exhibit

Glass cage protecting The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum
Glass cage protecting The Night Watch

Rembrandt's The Night Watch, Rijksmuseum
Rembrandt's The Night Watch

Although 2 hours had passed and I was feeling tired, I wanted to see The Night Watch, Rembrandt’s great masterpiece. I’d seen it in ‘96 during my stay in Amsterdam, but was rather surprised to find a large glass “room” sitting in front of this massive oil painting. Vandals had attacked the work, so security was firmly in place. I found their solution a disappointment. I viewed several other gigantic paintings in the hall, and then found a few paintings of cathedrals that I would be viewing or had visited,

Canal crossings in Amsterdam
Canal crossings in Amsterdam

Canal crossings in Amsterdam
Canal crossings in Amsterdam

While I was in the museum it had rained, but it held off as I walked back to the hotel. My room was small and narrow, with little space for my luggage, much less shelves for my toiletries. Yes, I was in Amsterdam, so the odor of pot wafted in from the smoker’s balcony, overlooking the street. Once minimally unpacked, I headed back down those stairs in search of dinner. I knew I needed a few staples (bananas, nuts, chocolate) and with a concern the shops might close, I picked them up as I wandered the concentric canals of Amsterdam.

Dal wada, 29 Spices, Amsterdam
Dal wada, 29 Spices, Amsterdam

Kolhapuri chicken with naan
Kolhapuri chicken with naan

An Indian restaurant, 29 Spices, looked intriguing. Dal wada, Kolhapuri chicken with naan, and Holy Gunther, a craft beer from Two Chef’s Brewing. My server was an English gal from Manchester, as she delivered the hot, spicy, delicious food. Would that the beer was as successful.

Back at the hotel, I crashed, although I had ignored the earlier hall conversations, by 1pm I had to get dressed enough to chase the group of 4 young men out to the balcony - they had no concept of “inside voices” and felt that since they were awake, everyone else must be.

Without a need to be up early, I dawdled a bit in bed, getting up at half past eight, took a luke warm shower with little water pressure, and was out of the hotel in less than an hour on my way to the train station.

I had expected the big Catholic church across the plaza, the Basilica of St Nicholas, to have 10am Sunday Mass, only to find it was at 10:30. Nonetheless, I stayed and listened to the choir rehearse, and then the service began. There was an unexpected (but welcomed) change - at the Offertory, the children approached the altar each carrying a lit votive candle.

These were placed on the altar, and then they sat in a special section to the side of the altar. When Communion was to be distributed, the celebrant first went to this section and blessed each child, before the congregants received the Eucharist.

After Mass, I walked around the church, getting pictures of the murals and mosaics which adorn the interior. Crossing the plaza, I expected to have a quick ride to Haarlem, per my research. Well, the train ride took an hour, with a train change!

Exterior, Metropolitan Cathedral of St Bavo, Haarlem
Metropolitan Cathedral of St Bavo, Haarlem

Then a 1.8km walk along the canal under cloudy skies to get to the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Bavo, where an entrance fee of 6,50€ was expected. A huge building, it was built between 1888 and 1923. There are vast spaces, large art hanging on much of the walls. Stained glass in the transepts was brilliant, albeit the camera doesn’t get yellow well. There is a tower with 275 steps, which, of course, I climbed.

On my return, I opted for an early dinner, as I knew that many restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings in Europe. At il Panorama, I had a Joper beer and tortellini filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, in a red creamy pesto sauce, with a side of arugula and parmesan shavings. My server, Roman, 20, a young Jewish man originally from Paris of Algerian parents, was tall, thin and pale, but managed to have several conversations with me. He said he “works” in finance, and now is Montreal based. The crew was hustling, looking to turn tables, and the portions were small. So I was back in the room after stopping at a shop for juice, a salad and more chocolate. My back was sore from wearing my daypack as I walked in Haarlem, and I decided to put the pack into the smaller roller. After packing for my city and country change, I went to sleep.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

You can purchase your own copy

(or have me send it as a gift) of

Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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1 comentario

The Cathedral of St Bavo is magnificent - thank you for sharing the photos!

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