Friday, May 2, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014 – Amsterdam, Day 1

A canal boat from a canal boat
We had another busy day planned for today.  We started with a lecture in the lounge at 8:30 on the Golden Age in Amsterdam and the Netherlands.  This was a crash course on the visual arts during the time of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and others.  The presenter used a series of slides of paintings in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, one of the premier galleries in Europe.

Immediately following the lecture, we boarded buses.  We are docked on a little inlet just down from Centraal Station, Amsterdam’s railway hub.  When we were here in 2010 on the Prinsendam, we were parked literally down the street from the station, but today we are too far for some/many of the passengers to walk, so we were taken by motor coach to transfer to canal boats.

Amsterdam’s canal boats are similar to Paris’s bateau mouche, literally “fly boats.”  They also resemble river barges for their long, low profile.  With windows all around and glass ceilings, they are perfect for touring the famous canals of Amsterdam.

We have taken the canal boats before.  In 2010, we used them as hop on/hop off [HOHO] boats which allow passengers to ride all day and get off and on at designated stops along the circular route.  We had plenty of room on the boat as Vantage had chartered 3 of them, one for each color group.  The boats have booths which hold 4 passenger with a table between the bench seats.  Since we were assigned by color, Green again, we shared a booth with Skip and Fran.

The Rijksmuseum
Skip spent much of the time taking pictures but David has been there before, as they say, so took only a few.  We passed the 7 bridges, a spot where 7 bridges line up as they cross a canal.  We also saw Ann Frank’s House and its tremendously long line of tourists.  There was the Westerkirk, the West Church, near the Ann Frank House, the burial place of Vincent van Gogh.  The only excitement on the canal boat ride occurred when the pilot bbacked into the canal wall making a U-turn.  After meandering through the canals for a while, we disembarked in front of the Rijksmuseum.

Franz Hal's Jolly Drinker
The best-known work in this museum Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.  The museum has an extensive collection from various periods, but is best known for its Flemish paintings.  We were to spend all of our time seeing these works and getting some explanations of them

The Rijksmuseum was a mob scene.  There were terribly long lines to enter and the lobby, and later, the galleries were so crowded it was hard to move. Hearing was not a problem because we were wearing our standard closed-circuit earpieces; we could hear our guide but others could not.  The problem was that there were so many people trying to see the paintings t it was difficult for our group of 20 to get close enough to see what we could hear the guide explaining.  Unlike at the Zuider Zee Museum, this was not a logistical problem which had an easy solution – the Rijksmuseum was simply too popular.  We are hoping that the crowding can be blamed on the extended holiday week vacations between the King’s Birthday last Saturday and Liberation Day next Monday because we plan to return on May 7.

The Night Watch
More Rembrandt
We did indeed see many paintings of the Flemish period and could see how the painters used their art to convey their commentary on the world around them.  While formal portraits, popular with the rich, gave the artists little room for experimentation, they could bend the rules when painting scenes of the working class and poor.  Anyway…we started at the far end of the Hall of Honor, as the guide called it, and worked our way up to The Night Watch which we had to work hard to see and even then, we were off to one side.

Once everyone had had a chance to see The Night Watch, we left with some people going out for lunch, shopping, or other museums [or some combination of the three].  We had another activity planned, so we returned to the ship for lunch.

After lunch, a dozen or so passengers, including us, boarded the bus again for a short ride to a diamond merchant.  Since the trip was billed as a learning experience, we anticipated learning about the cutting of the stones, perhaps a film, and a demonstration.  What we got was a very short explanation of how this particular diamond company polishes and shapes its diamonds through its own techniques.  We were allowed to wander through a small area which had historical displays as well as mostly-expensive merchandise.

The second part of the “diamond tour” found us in a small room with a closed door where the “guide” began the sales process.  She produced sample diamonds in sizes from ½ carat to 2 carats in varying cuts and differing colors and degrees of clarity.  These samples ranged in price up to $50,000 without any setting.  We had seen a hamsa in the display case, so she had that brought in as well.  It was small but filled with black diamond chips [the whole thing was only .15 carats] and was priced at 275 euros.  Despite David’s efforts, though, MA decided she liked her filigree hamsa better, we emerged unscathed. 

In fact, we were the first to emerge.  We got tired of the pressure and asked if we could leave bfore she was finished – by this time she had cases of rings, pendants, earrings and watches strewn across the desk.  We were told we could leave whenever we wanted but to be sure to close the door begind us.  We wondered if this was to keep others out or our group in.  Skip and Fran joined us and we left the building and enjoyed the cool air outside before going next door for a coffee and tchotchke shopping.

And that was the day.  Dinner featured the March of the Baked Alaska after the entire crew was introduced again [Cue rousing applause and manic picture taking].  Free wine with dinner followed free drinks during happy hour, and all the free alcohol may have contributed to the good cheer during dinner.

After dinner, David filled out the on-line survey from the cruise line in the hope of winning $50 in a drawing tomorrow.  Skip and Fran have won twice before, so we know all things are possible in the best of all possible worlds.
Tomorrow -- Amsterdam, Day 2

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