Tag Archives: Holland

Amsterdam – Not a Visitor or a Resident

There must be a word to describe someone who has traveled to a city so many times, that they know it almost as well as the town in which they live. They’re not merely a visitor but at the same time they’re not a permanent resident in spite of having an intimate familiarity with that destination. This was a thought that ran through my mind as I landed at Schiphol airport to teach my course in Amsterdam for the 29th time. If I add up all the days I have spent in Amsterdam over the 20+ years I have travelled there, typically staying for at least a week, I come up with almost seven months. Even though it was not consecutive weeks making up those months, which I guess would make me a short-term Ex-Pat, surely I am still something other than just a visitor.

As with my trip to Amsterdam in 2016, this year found me travelling without my wife or other family members. And so being the sole guinea pig, I decided to try an experiment in my travel plans.

Normally I would be landing at Schiphol about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning and then arriving at my hotel before noon which often meant I could not check into my room. This frequently after a fitful night of less than successful sleeping in coach for an eight or nine hour flight when the hardest thing to do upon arrival is to stay awake the rest of the day so you don’t fall asleep at 7:00 PM and then wake up in the middle of the night (which is really sometime in the afternoon to your body).

For this trip, I booked a connection through Atlanta that didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Normally, I would be leaving on my direct flight to Amsterdam around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, which by the time you get wined and dined, you’ve lost, 2.5 to 3 hours of your potential sleep time during your flight. This late flight was advertised as only serving breakfast so I figured I would be able to get a reasonable five or six hours of sleep.

And the bonus was this connection was operated by KLM, an airline I used to enjoy flying with but have not been able to ever since Delta bought out Northwest. In the “good ole days”, I could even get a direct out of Memphis on KLM and earn Northwest frequent flier miles. And an even greater bonus for me this time was that it would be my first chance to fly on a Boeing 777, something I have wanted to do ever since watching the PBS special of how Alan Mulally brought this modern airplane into existence.

With a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, I managed to get in a number of steps walking between terminals, eat a quick sandwich for dinner, and begin to tire myself out reading before boarding. Once on the plane, I must say I was impressed with the modern interior. The technology was also up-to-date with what appeared to be an iPad in the back of the headrest of every seat. This allowed superior graphics and entertainment.

The ergonomic seats and generous legroom allowed me to easily stretch out my six-foot frame without encountering a hard surface; all the better for me to get some sleep.

Assuming they would keep the cabin lights off after take off, I read a little more to make sure I could easily fall asleep. But no sooner had we leveled off than the flight attendants began coming around with their noisy drink carts. Armed with my sleep mask, I whipped it on to get a head start on my sleep and so not be disturbed since I had already satiated my appetite for food and drink on the ground. Not long after, having squirmed around to find the least uncomfortable, partially reclined sleeping position, my olfactory glands began to sense Indian spices. Pulling my sleep mask up, I was amazed to see the passenger in the aisle seat chowing down with delight. Argh! That was not supposed to happen on this flight.

Needless to say, irritating serving and clean up noises disturbed my sleep multiple times (I unfortunately forgot to bring ear plugs).

Probably my longest period of uninterrupted sleep was about 45 minutes and all told, I might have gotten a total of about three hours of non-contiguous sleep. But I did get a delicious hot breakfast (KLM is known for their superior food), a cheese omelet with sausage and cottage fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and actually very decent coffee which left me fairly refreshed and awake when I deplaned. Which helped me with my next surprise.

Typically I teach the three-day course staring on a Monday and to help acclimate myself to the 7-hour time difference, I usually arrive on a Saturday morning. But since I would be arriving much later having a 10:30 PM departure out of Atlanta, I booked my flight to arrive on Friday rather than Saturday. When I went to exit the airport, I found a phenomenally long queue line to go through passport control. Whether it was due to arriving during the business week or heightened security due to recent terrorist activities, it took me over 45 minutes to get through, about 44 minutes longer than normal.

As a result, I didn’t actually arrive at my hotel until 3:00 PM, about normal check-in time, which assured me of getting into my room for a sorely needed shave and hot shower.

Refreshed and cleanly clothed, I took in one of my favorite activities, sitting by a canal and enjoying a Dutch treat, a cold “domestic beer”…

…before wandering along the canals that I know so well. At the end of my first day, I was having a delicious dinner…

…at a balcony restaurant overlooking Leidseplein square.

But even following a small after dinner nightcap…

…and having had the rest of the day to ponder my original question, I still had not come up with a term that I could use to describe myself instead of simply visitor. But even if the visitor term is the best I can come up with, I was still glad to be back in this city that I know and love so well; a city that in spite of my numerous trips, I always find something new and fun to do.

Not So Alone in Amsterdam

Continued from Still Alone in Amsterdam

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On my last vacation day before I had to start teaching, I made it a combination of old and new activities. I started off with a trip to the Rijksmuseum, one of the largest in Amsterdam and where Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is housed. Their special exhibits were an interesting display of women’s fashions over the centuries from large dresses…

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…to mini skirts…

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…and a display of Breitner’s Girl in Kimono series, the first time these 14 paintings of model Geesje Kwak have all been displayed together.

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Even though I have been to this museum many times, it pays to visit again as they always have at least one interesting special exhibit to view.

The rest of my day, I almost exclusively did new activities. I got to visit the Basilica of St. Nicholas, an Old Catholic church that my siblings and I tried to visit last year, but were unable to do so due to renovations.

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And I went up into the 10-story Bibliotheek, the Central Library in Amsterdam. Not that I planned to check out any books but it appeared that there was a great view of the city from the top floor. In fact, there was along with a top-floor restaurant where you could sit with a view of Amsterdam and enjoy your books (if you read Dutch).

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But my purpose for coming this way was actually to visit the NEMO Science Center, the children’s hands on learning museum located on an island in the Ij River.

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I was not disappointed. This facility has six floors of almost arcade-like exhibits for all age kids from about three to 15. Each floor caters to a progressively older child from enclosing oneself in a soap bubble…

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…to a ball gauntlet…

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…to even a chemistry lab where young scientists suit up and perform lab experiments.

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To me though, the highlight was the chain reaction exhibit where the tumble of a single green domino, set into motion a chain of unrelated, but interconnected events that took a full 10 minutes to ultimately work its way back to almost the starting point and launch a rocket upward by compressed air power.

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It might seem odd that someone near retirement age would go alone to a children’s museum but again I had an ulterior motive. I was checking it out to potentially bring my grandchildren one day. I already have one Holland destination for certain picked out—Madurodam.

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I just wanted to find the next one.

When I got back to my hotel that day, I realized that even though I had been by myself all day, I hadn’t really been alone as I was making mental connections with my family throughout the day.

First was the pleasant surprise upon existing the Rijksmuseum of finding a quartet performing Pachelbel’s Cannon in D, the special music that played as I walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

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And then it was visiting the Basilica, namesake of my youngest son and where my siblings and I were unable to get into last year because of renovations.

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And in the library, discovering architectural models that always remind me of my oldest son.

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To picturing my three grandkids running around the science museum one day…

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…to having a beer at a microbrewery and sending the picture to my brother (something we do all the time)…

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…and finally, to toasting my wife who I missed very much even though I knew she was having fun with our grandson in California.

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As I started out writing several weeks ago, I knew this would be a different trip and indeed it was, but not in a bad way. Even though our loved ones may not physically be with us wherever we are, they are with us in mind and spirit. So we’re actually never really alone; they’re always with us.

And on my last night in Amsterdam, as I was walking back from dinner, I happened to glance up and get a new canal shot.

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One I had not gotten before despite all of my previous attempts. And a shot that captured the same moon that would also be shining down on all my family just a few hours later at the end of their day.

Still Alone in Amsterdam

Continued from All Alone in Amsterdam

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On my second day in Amsterdam (first full day), as I was walking to the next museum I planned to visit, I decided to once again try to capture that perfect canal shot; the one I always see at stores but never buy because I figure I can take it myself (well no cigar yet). It was a cold and blustery day feeling much colder than the previous day even with its rain. My destination was the Stedlijk Musuem where I planned to use my Museum Card again.

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I really like modern art museums but there are times when I have a really difficult time appreciating some of the artwork. But I continue to visit them as I almost always find an unexpected piece I really like.

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Like this Van Gogh painting of the kitchen fields behind Montmartre in Paris, a painting I had just read about in my book.

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Or I learn something I never knew like the fact that the modern architecture and design style known as the Amsterdam School predated the 1925 International Exposition in Paris of modern design that led to what we know today as art deco. It’s discoveries like these that keep me going to modern art museums even though I simply puzzle at many of the works.

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Once I finished my tour of all the exhibits, I planned to eat lunch at their coffee shop but there was a long line and I remembered from previous experience that the service was very slow. So I changed my plans and decided to eat at the restaurant inside de Bijenkorf (translated, the beehive), the high-end retail department store that Anne Frank actually shopped in during her too-short lifetime. It might seem odd to eat lunch at a department store but I actually had an ulterior motive.

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All morning long as I had made my way to and from the museum, I had only seen one other person wearing just a sweater as their outer protection against the cold. And that person was much older than me (as my wife would say another knuckle-head like me). The garment I noticed people wearing the most frequently was a down jacket.

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I recalled one other trip to Amsterdam when the weather turned out to be much colder than we anticipated; my wife had purchased a really warm but lightweight down jacket at de Bijenkorf. Only that was in October at the beginning of winter; not mid-April when winter should have been over.

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In their limited selection, I did find one for 100 euros but it was too small, as I couldn’t even zip it. I found a few others in the store, major brand names, but I was unwilling to pay the 200 to 500 euro price for them.

I never go out to just “shop” but when there is an item I need, as my wife knows, I become very task-focused. I decided my next best option was to explore stores along the Kalverstraat, the famous shopping street exclusively for pedestrians. I first went to H&M, a store my wife had bought clothes at before. But I didn’t find any down jackets; an item likely not to be in line with the pricing of their other clothing items there.

I tried a number of other stores, some of which I just went in to get out of the rain. And in a couple of these, I actually found jackets for about 30 euros but then I realized a real down jacket would never sell for only 30 euros. I can’t imagine how many stores I entered (remember I am VERY task-focused) but by the time I had made my way to the Dam Square, I was losing hope.

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However on the square, I found a store I had never been in and one I couldn’t even recall seeing before as it is on one side of a large building that houses Madame Tussauds wax museum. Maybe the long line usually stretching out of the wax museum entrance normally blocked my view of the store. I only went in because I could see it was a store with at least three floors. When I reached the top floor where the men’s clothes were, I was amazed to see that they had a large selection of down jackets, surprisingly this late in the season. Some came in familiar sizes (S-M-L-XL) and some came in number sizes. I tried on a size 50 (I have no idea what the number meant but it was not what I thought as I wear a size 42 jacket and this 50 was way too small). I tried on a 58 and it was too big. At least I was getting somewhere.

Over in the corner, I spied some others that came in sizes I was familiar with and among them I found a perfect fit. As I expected, it was very lightweight but warm. And it was just 140 euros, a little more than I had hoped to pay but much less than the 200 euros I was unwilling to spend.

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I was anxious to get back to the hotel and get out of my sweater and into my coat so I wouldn’t stand out as an old country bumpkin coming to Amsterdam without appropriate clothing.

I also discovered the added bonus of this type of jacket is that it packs very nicely into its own small bag for travel.

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As I made my way out for dinner that night, I felt much more like I fit in with my new jacket. And when I got back to the hotel after dinner, I discovered an added bonus of all my walking that I had broken two of my Fitbit records.

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My first 25,000-step day…

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…and my first 100,000-step week; two goals I had been trying to achieve for almost 12 months, since the last time I was in Amsterdam.

To be continued…

All Alone in Amsterdam

Continued from Alone in Amsterdam

When I exited the museum, I discovered the weather had markedly improved and the sun was even trying to peek out from behind the clouds. I decided I would make my way over to the Van Gogh Museum as I had a special reason to return (and since they were open until 10 PM on Friday, it didn’t matter that I might be arriving just 20 minutes before their normal closing time).

On my sister’s recommendation, I had started reading Van Gogh’s biography written by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; fair warning, this is a very long book (976 pages in paperback). I don’t recall when I started reading it but by the time I had arrived in Amsterdam, I still had only read a little over half the book.

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I was most pleased when I walked up the steps of the museum and found no line at all. However, when I pulled on the door to enter, it was locked. Looking through the glass, I could see people inside and then I saw a security guard wave towards a separate door that was open. As I started to walk in, I waved my Museum card to show I didn’t need a ticket. However, he said the entrance was around the side—another change to deal with—this entrance was for groups only.

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When I rounded the building, I found a new queue line that hadn’t been there last year. Thankfully, the line for cardholders was not as long as those buying tickets, as they had to weave back and forth before reaching the ticket counter. As I stood in line occasionally glancing at the clouds overhead, I recalled how nice it was last year to wait on the covered front porch while the rain poured down that morning. This line was not covered; how miserable that would have been to stand in the rain trying to stay dry under an umbrella.

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After about 20 minutes, I had my admission ticket (again free) but rather than entering through a side door, was directed to enter the separate addition to the building that was added almost 20 years ago. It felt like I was coming in the backdoor but as I descended the stairs to the cloakroom, I had a wonderful perspective view through the glass of the new Van Gogh building with the centuries old Rijksmuseum a short distance away.

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Coming up the escalator to the first floor of the museum, I noticed the name of the café’. While I have been to this museum many times over the last 20+ years I have been coming to Amsterdam, the name never registered but thanks to reading this Van Gogh book, I recognized it as the name of the café’ in Paris that first publically displayed Van Gogh’s work—Le Tambourin—operated by Vincent’s one-time lover Agostina Segatori.

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On the ground floor of the museum where many of his self-portraits are displayed (many not because he was vain but because he often couldn’t afford models to paint), there was a timeline of his life.

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Thanks to having read much of the book, I was pleased to recognize the name of his birthplace and the other towns where his father was a minister. The places where he lived in Paris were also familiar to me thanks to the book. But when I reached the part of his timeline that I had not gotten to in the book, I had to step away as to not spoil the ending of the book.

On the first floor of the museum (in Europe the ground floor is zero (0)), I was pleased to see the now familiar artists paintings but when I read the little card next to each, there was new recognition that these were either paintings by artists that Theo (Van Gogh’s brother) had encouraged Vincent to emulate or they were artist friends of Vincent’s that he tried to mimic. And with each familiar Van Gogh painting I passed, it was with incredible new insight that many of these masterpieces had been considered unworthy and unsalable at the time they were created. It was also with a whole new appreciation that I viewed some of the pencil drawings and letters since drawing was how Vincent got his artistic start and it is through these letters, mostly to Theo, that we have such insight into the sad and troubled life that Vincent lived.

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As the night wore on, I experienced for the first time, their Friday evening program as they rolled out the bar for cocktails and began to project Van Gogh images on the walls of the museum.

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Feeling hungry, I left before the DJ started to play but it was a visit that was much enhanced by the knowledge gleaned from reading this book. So much more than just the little blurb printed next to the paintings or even the brief audio tour, it was with a vast amount of details about the current events in Vincent’s life that enriched my experience. And it was with a whole new appreciation that were it not for the long-term financial support that Theo had provided, I probably would not have been standing where I was that day.

Without a doubt, if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, read the book before you go. You will be absolutely amazed how Vincent could work through the sorrows and self-doubts at the time to create the beautiful, now over 100 year-old masterpieces you would be witnessing for the first time.

Existing the museum, the weather unfortunately had again worsened and so rather than walk in the rain back to the hotel, I hopped on the crowded tram for a welcome ride back. On the way, I decided I didn’t want to be out in the rain to eat dinner and so before heading back to the hotel, I stopped at the little grocery store to get a picnic dinner to have in my room.

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When I opened my door, I found that the hotel manager had left me a welcome package of wine, water, and desserts.

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To this I added my picnic items for a delightful in room dinner as I anxiously picked up in my Van Gogh book where I had left off earlier in the day.

To be continued…

Alone in Amsterdam

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I knew it would be a different trip to Amsterdam for the annual teaching of my course there this year. Last year’s trip, had been an extraordinary visit as it was where my siblings and I had celebrated SIBSAB 2015. And just before my siblings left to tour Belgium while I taught, my wife and her sister joined me for a continued special time. But the more I thought about my upcoming excursion across the pond to the low country, the one theme that kept coming up was that I would be all alone on this trip.

While it would have been nice to have a repeat of the trip last year, it just wasn’t destined to work out for a number of different reasons. And even when family doesn’t travel with me, I typically take in some sightseeing with the person that I teach with. But this year, his entire family would be joining him for a European vacation so I knew he would be busy doing things with his family, just as I was busy with my family last year.

As I considered different activities that I could undertake while in Amsterdam, I had a wealth of prior experience to draw from having previously visited Amsterdam more than 25 times.

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We had arranged the dates of the course to fall right in the middle of the tulip season so his family could enjoy the beauty of Keukenhof. As I ran down a list of the things I could do, this was certainly one, which is typically an all-day excursion to explore their seven million bulbs in bloom. But I was just there last year with my siblings so there wasn’t a strong reason to return so soon.

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I checked online to see what special exhibits were on at the major museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, The Stedelijk Modern Art Museum, and the Van Gogh Museum. Each one held some possibilities.

I also considered taking in one of the things my wife had done on her own while I was teaching in years past, or possibly taking a side trip from Amsterdam to visit another part of Holland, which we had done before. Having been to Amsterdam so many times and having taken in many of the top tourists sites, I further considered doing something totally new and different. But in the end, I decided to just wait until I got there to see what I felt like doing at the time.

My trip over went very well. In fact for my flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, I had a window seat and the seat next to me was vacant.   I had considered spending the extra $150 to get their economy comfort seat—you know the ones that used to fill the plane—but I’m glad I didn’t as I had more room with two seats at no cost to me. But in spite of the extra room, trying to sleep in coach on an overnight flight is never easy. I think I might have gotten about three hours of sleep.

By the time I got off the plane, I was wide-awake which was a good thing because the airport had changed again. Last year, I was all set to be a knowledgeable tour guide for my siblings but was immediately met with construction in the airport that hid all my familiar landmarks behind wooden panels. This year, the panels were all down but the revealed new construction was so different, that I was once more disoriented. And when I went to the usual passport control I knew so well, it was closed for renovations. I did manage to find the alternate route out of the airport but when I exited the secured area, everything looked different. I decided to at least try to orient myself in the airport with one of my favorite stores, the model airplane store. After some diligent searching, I managed to find it but then realized the reason everything looked so different was because I had come out a way I had never taken before.

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Undaunted, I decided to try to take the train to Centraal Station using my ChipCard—the card you use to ride the tram—since I was told you could use it on the train as well. It didn’t work. I had to then stand in line to get a train ticket agent to help me. She scanned it, showed it had a 22-euro balance on it, typed some keys and then said it would work. It did but I don’t know what she did to make it work. Oh well.

Once I got off the train and walked the short distance—in the rain—to the hotel, I was pleased to find that I could check into the room even though it was only 11:45 AM. Often I cannot get into my hotel room until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon so it was a welcome site to open the door to my converted canal-house room.

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Since it was about 5 in the morning to my body, it was nice to be able to get a cup of strong coffee, a shower and shave and clean clothes on before I ventured out.

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First stop was lunch. I decided I wanted to go to the same Turkish restaurant where I had eaten with my wife and sister-in-law the day I met them last year.

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I couldn’t find it, no doubt because I was sleep deprived. I did remember how we got to it from our hotel last year (I am actually very good at remembering how to get somewhere once I have been there once) so I made my way to our hotel last year. Following our tracks from last year, I easily found the restaurant, appropriately named Istanbul, but was pretty embarrassed when I realized that it was actually right next door to my hotel this year.

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I enjoyed one of their lunch specials as I gazed up at the same mural on the wall of the Galata Tower with the Bosphorus and historical Blue Mosque in the background, but missing my companions from the prior year. While I was eating lunch, the weather helped me decide what to do next. Since it rained off and on quite hard several times, I decided I would quickly walk to the Amsterdam Museum (previously the Amsterdam Historical Museum) since it was very close by. I was still able to use my Museum Card from last year (it was good for 12 months) so my admission was free. While the permanent exhibits were familiar since I had just seen those last year, there was a special exhibit of 100 years of art in Amsterdam that was new.

Before I left the museum, I decided to take advantage of the free facilities since these are not common in the city.

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I learned that their bathrooms had been converted to “Gender Neutral” (Amsterdam is very liberal and progressive). When I came out, I realized that I had actually gone into what was previously the women’s bathroom by mistake as a glance through the door of the other bathroom revealed urinals on the wall. Oh well…

To be continued…

Beyond the Monument’s Men

Last year, one of the books I read was The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel, a true story that I probably never would have heard about were it not for a Rick Steves podcast. The way I described this book in one word last year—the best book I read all year—incredible. And if you’ve only seen the movie of the same name, I can say you got but a small snippet of the full story.

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A lot has been written about Adolf Hitler and the atrocities he carried out but this is the first I had read of his mad lust for art. Concurrent with the pillaging of towns and villages was the looting of works of art—many of them incredibly famous. Driven by the desire to build the world’s best art museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria, Hitler had numerous soldiers collecting and shipping artwork to the Fatherland.

As the tide of the war began to turn and occupied cities were liberated, it was the job of the Monuments Men to recover and return the stolen works of art. Aided by Rose Valland, an unpaid volunteer at the Jeu de Paume museum, adjacent to the Louvre in Paris, she was witness to Hitler’s selection of art for his collection and secretly kept records that proved key to the uncovering of this art in the world’s greatest treasure hunt. Having been to the Orsay museum in Paris this past year, I often had to pause in front of a painting to appreciate that the work of art I was viewing was there for me to see only through the efforts of these brave men and women who risked their lives to save these treasures for future generations to enjoy.

This year, my appreciation for the work these individuals did, and others trying to safe guard art from the pillagers of war, was elevated even more in an unexpected way.

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During my recent trip to Amsterdam, one of the museums I visited with my three siblings was the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum. The main focus of all four of us was the special Matisse exhibit they had.

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Since I had been to this museum with my wife the previous year, I didn’t spend too much time looking through those parts of the museum I had seen the year before. A few days later after my brother and sisters left for Belgium and my wife and her sister joined me, the Stedelijk was one of the museums they wanted to see. Having only been there a few days before, I spent a good part of my time in the museum café drinking a beer.

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When I entered the museum to find my wife and her sister, I discovered that they had found another special exhibit I had totally missed just a few days before, this one marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland in May 1945. When I rounded the corner, I came face to face with this unsettling photo.

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Having just visited the Anne Frank house, the German occupation of Holland was already fresh on my mind. But seeing this photo of German troops marching in the Museumplein (museum square) took the stark reality of this period to a whole new level (that is the Concertgebouw Music hall off to the right). Part of the exhibit included photos and film clips of the Dutch exploding the concrete bunkers the Germans had built inside Amsterdam. But when I found the portion of the exhibit related to the Dutch efforts to hide pieces of art and the men who helped return it, I became enthralled.

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This photo in the exhibit shows how the paintings were stored in the bunker near Castricium. It is absolutely amazing the dangerous efforts that were undertaken to safeguard these pieces of art.

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Were it not for the efforts of Stedelijk curator Willem Sandberg to build this bunker and his work with the local museums to hide them, these incredibly familiar and priceless pieces of art may have been lost forever and for those of us born after World War II, would have only had photos to see them.

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With so many pieces of art to protect, a clever color system was developed and art was categorized into three classes, basically: critical, important, desirable. Colored dots, white, red, and blue (the colors of the Dutch flag) were then painted on the back of the paintings to designate its category. The most efforts were then spent on putting the top two categories into hiding.

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This bunker housed works of Van Gogh, Matisse, and for a time, even Rembrandt’s Night Watch from the Rijks Museum, rolled up like a carpet.

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Hans Jaffé, a Monuments Man working under Stedelijk director Sandberg

Thanks to my wife and her sister, me finding this exhibit at the Stedelijk was a incredible and unexpected treat and gave me an even greater appreciation for not just the Monument’s Men, but the other men and women who risked their lives to save these art treasures.

 

Amsterdam, Amsterdam

It is hard for me to stop thinking about our recent trip to Amsterdam since we had such a wonderful time. And it was also special because it was a first visit for my two sisters and my sister-in-law who by my observations had a great time as well. Over dinner one night, the person I teach with and who has also been to Amsterdam more than two dozen times made an interesting comment. He said that outside of his hometown, he probably knows Amsterdam better than any other city in the world. It made me take pause and then I realized that that statement was true for me as well.

For almost twenty years, Amsterdam has been an annual (and sometimes semiannual) business destination for me since it is one of the main cities we teach our course in. While each visit there has been for business first, I have always managed to squeeze in some vacation time before and after I teach. And this has allowed me to become extremely familiar with the city, a city so easy to navigate on foot.

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Abandoned 20-year old map

The city center of Amsterdam is laid out into a series of ever widening, concentric canals, fanning out from Central Station where I usually arrive by train from the airport.

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Because of the narrow roads that run along both sides of the canals throughout this area, very little car traffic is present which makes walking very easy—that is as long as you watch out for the multitude of bicycles zipping around you.

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Prominent signage listing the name of each canal (e.g., Prinsengracht, Herengracht) is clearly visible on the side of buildings at street intersections so you can easily orient yourself whenever you come across a canal, thus making it difficult to get lost. After so many visits, I never need to leave my hotel with a map since I know the area so well.

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Amsterdam has an overabundance of cultural sights to visit and some of the best-known museums in the world providing for any number of different choices on each trip to the city.

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And when you don’t feel like walking to your next destination, frequent, reliable, and easy to figure out trams rapidly get you to your next destination.

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Ethiopian Cuisine

Amsterdam also has the most diversity of ethnic food choices I’ve ever experienced in any city. In the past, I have been asked upon my return if I had any authentic Dutch food and beyond raw herring sold from the little stands along the canals (which I refuse to try), I was hard pressed to even describe what Dutch food would be. Given so many delicious ethnic choices, I’ve never even sought out Dutch food.

Indonesian Rijsttafel

Indonesian Rijsttafel

I’ve often told people I meet who have never been to Europe that they should make Amsterdam their first destination since there is so much to do, it is so easy to get around, and if you need help, everyone speaks English. Being the city I have most frequently traveled to, it just makes sense that it too, would be the city, beyond my hometown, that I would know the best—the one where I have vacationed the most. So this realization has gotten me focused on a new task, actually, a new twist to a long time goal.

Over the multitude of trips that I have made, I have always wanted to find a print suitable for framing that showed a typical Amsterdam scene—narrow canal houses serenely reflected in a calm canal with bikes and boats out front. In all my trips, I have yet to find just the right print and this past trip was no exception again with my searches proving fruitless. But then I realized, that after so many trips, my wife and I probably had some fairly decent photos we had taken that would fulfill the need.

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Several years ago, we had some of our photos from a trip to Keukenhof gardens (outside Amsterdam) professionally framed and hung in our home. This now served as my new inspiration for finding four photos of Amsterdam that we can again professionally frame and hang in a grouping at our condo. I have written before that, I always feel like I am on vacation when I am at our condo. What better continual reminder of vacation than to grace our condo wall with our own photos of the city we vacation the most often, the place we know better than any other.

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I’ve got the first one picked out, a scene I have photographed on more than one visit trying to get just the right shot. Now we just have to find three more, obviously with the help of my two interior design consultants who helped with our Keukenhof flower grouping.

Nashville