Friday the 29th of May
Although we were quite exhausted, we could not sleep through the early morning due to an extreme case of jet lag. I awoke at 3:00 am to the call of my body clock, but returned to sleep quickly until the more reasonable hour of 7:00 in the morning. In our Nissan Quashai+2 hire car we wove through the streets of Noordwijk Binnen to the house of Oma where she and a group of friends had just finished having their haircut. The drive to Amsterdam should not have taken more than half an hour, but as we got lost trying to navigate through the city to the parking ground, it took twice that long.
In the short time I have spent with her already, I have noticed a culture of teatime practiced religiously by my grandma in any moment she can spare. Having found our way to the city, it was again time for one of these moments so we sat in the Rijskrestaurant to replenish what little energy had been spent so far that morning. I had noticed that cafes in Europe were often the size of large restaurants rather than being like the small stores I was used to such as at work. It allowed for a vibrant atmosphere but I could not imagine this space with all tables full which I assume would have to be an uncommon occurrence. Going from the Rijksrestaurant to the Rijksmuseum was like a stroll in the park. A brick pathway spanned through a grassy field where an outdoor exhibition of faceless paintings was being constructed. Dad and I treaded over the crisp grass to put our heads in the designated holes: we were two musicians sharing a trumpet. Another attraction was the art parade of Nijntje, the cartoon white rabbit known as Miffy in English, in which statues of close to two meters height had been uniquely decorated to raise awareness of the disparities in opportunities for children all over the world. This project was being run in conjunction with UNICEF to raise profits to combat such inequalities. My favourite statues were painted in Delft Blauw and as an oversized bathtub rubber duckling.
We ate freshly pressed stroopwafels as we waited in line for the Van Gogh Museum. Warm caramel oozed from the sides of the crisp cookie – so delicious! It made our lengthy wait in the windblown line bearable and before we knew it we were staring at Vincent’s innumerable self portraits. Vincent Van Gogh was born on the 30th of March 1853; became an artists at the age of 27 in 1880; was admitted to a mental asylum at the age of 36 in 1889. He admired peasant life and portrayed the beauty of this in his artwork which reflected his mood and surroundings at different periods of his lifetime. He was his own model in many of his paintings. In the time of two years alone, he had painted twenty-eight selfies titled with statements of observation, for example a self portrait with straw hat and pipe was named “self portrait with straw hat and pipe”. In his later years, Van Gogh suffered from hallucinations and anxiety but it was never determined what illness he was victim to. He wrote to his brother who was his greatest support, “more than ever I have a pent-up fury for work, and I think that this will contribute to curing me.” He became famous posthumously through the efforts of his late brother’s wife and is renowned for his view towards art: “do not paint what you see; paint what you perceive.”
Dad was desperate to take us to a restaurant from his youth for lunch but since so many years had passed you can imagine he was a bit confused as to where he wanted to go. After some frantic searching we arrived at a restaurant with stained glass windows, arched ceilings, antique chandeliers and old paintings called Cafe Americain. It had been worth the struggle. We sat in large leather armchairs that felt like thrones overlooking the welcoming fountain outside. This would have been a nice place to enjoy the afternoon but we had to quickly eat our croquets and be on our way so we still had time to spend in the Rijksmuseum.
Unfortunately we had already cut it short leaving only one hour in which to explore the three decadent stories before closing time. We played it strategically and headed first for the top level where the famous Nacht Wacht by Rembrandt stood in its gorgeous glory. The name Night Watch was given to the painting after years in storage that caused its discolouration. It had been hidden away for many years as it was not considered so appealing an image but in reality it set a new norm for group portraits. Before this masterpiece, company paintings were made in still life yet this shows the characters in action with accents on immaculate detail such as the shadow of a hand. The painting had also managed to survive substantial damage overtime. In 1975 a psychologically disturbed man attacked the cloth but luckily this slice was repaired with little evidence remaining. Also, before its beauty became appreciated in the artistic realm, a previous owner of the painting trimmed the side of the artwork removing a significant length of the picture in order for it to fit in its frame! Today a crowd gathered around the Rembrandt with two guards at its side for optimal security measures. That ought to prevent any actions from being conducted at the expense of the Nacht Wacht!
Shortness of time may be irritating, yet the museum closing at 5:00 forced us to free our evening for a canal cruise through the heart of Amsterdam. The canal through which we slowly progressed was still in operation of regulating the water level in the city that seemed to be floating of its own accord. We were informed that the canal was three meters deep: one meter water, one meter mud and one meter bicycles! The tour took us around Westerkerk, past the Anne Frank house, near Holland Casino and even by the Heineken Brewery. We saw the local housing, architecture that was an attraction in itself, and tourist hotspots in one short cruise on the water of a solar panel powered boat.
We descended a street of multicultural eateries strategically bordering coffee shops, the scent of which wafted through the otherwise clear air. Bypassing these stoner cafes, we found The Dubbel Bar and Grill that was well known for traditional Dutch cuisine! About time!