Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wednesday, May 07, 2014 – Amsterdam redux I

Even with all of the sleep we had yesterday, we had a relaxed morning.  After all of the early mornings on shipboard and all of the mornings we were ready long before Edwin arrived to drive us around Zeeland, we had no place we had to be or a time when we had to be there.  So we goofed off.

We made coffee in the room even though it was instant and broke into our hoard of stroopwafels for breakfast.  We spent enough time in the hotel restaurant yesterday to last for a while.  The stroopwafels hit the spot and we were ready to go, finally.

Today was a day of trains and trams and buses, oh my!  We started with the shuttle bus to Schipol airport and then found our way, with some assistance, to the money exchange where we bought train tickets to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station [no, that is not a misspelling].  The round trip tickets cost 8.50€ each which we thought was reasonable.  At least we were not being driven around Holland by a rogue taxi driver.

Schipol is a city unto itself.  In addition to a bazillion passengers and airplane landings and departures, there is enough shopping at all price points to satisfy anyone.  The stores run the gamut from high-end, like the terminals in Singapore and elsewhere, to the downright cheap.  One of Holland’s institutions, HEMA, has a store in the terminal here [and in Centraal Station, we discovered].  HEMA caters to the Dutch passion for thrift.  We have tracked the price of stroopwafels across the country, literally, and found that HEMA sells them for less than anyone [On the other hand, the duty-free stores at Schipol seem to be the most expensive].

Centraal Station is a slum compared to the airport.  Even though it is tremendous for a train station, it can’t compare in any other way.  It, too, is crowded with passengers, but many of these are commuters or other locals who are all in a hurry.  The station is cold and dirty, the platforms an embarrassment of trash.  MA did experience the ladies’ room in the station – at the standard European cost of .50€ -- but found it clean and well maintained. 

We walked out of the terminal building and walked to the tram stop.  The concierge on the ship had told us that trams 2 and 5 would take us to Museumplein, the square in the middle of the museum district [hence its name].  We had considered returning to the Rijksmuseum to see the paintings without the holiday crush we faced last week and, indeed, walked there from the tram.  When we realized that it was already 11:45, we changed our plans and went in to have lunch in the museum café.

The café is cozy – read “crowded” – but tables turned over quickly and we waited only a minute or so before being pointed to space at a table large enough for 8 people.  We didn’t mind sharing the space and people came and went as we ate.  We settled on a cheese plate which turned out to be delightfully good and just the right amount of food.  We even had soft drinks with the assorted cheeses and onions and finished the meal with a cappuccino and a hot chocolate.  Steady readers know who drank what.  A trip to the lavatories after lunch [no charge!] and we were on our way.

The one item on our schedule today was to meet Skip and Fran at the van Gogh museum around the corner.  Despite some false starts and touristic oblivion, we arrived just at 1:00 as scheduled.  They were already there and we all hugged and greeted each other as if we had not seen one another last week.  Fran had recovered from her malaise and looked great.

We had bought our tickets in advance while on the River Navigator.  While we paid an extra 2.50€ apiece, we were able to avoid the long and growing line of tourists waiting to get in.  Even with so-called priority tickets, we had a short wait.  Once at the head of the line, we found that our tickets were really vouchers which we had to exchange for tickets in order to gain admission.  It was worth it.

We took the lift to the top floor where there were, actually, no van Gogh paintings.  We did not stay long and walked down a flight of steps to the second floor which in the US would be the third floor.  The ground floor [street level] in Europe is called 0, our second floor is 1 and so on.  It takes a little getting used to.  The second/third floor was better and we were in Heaven, Fran especially.  We followed the crowd so as not to feel like salmon swimming upstream and read displays about van Gogh and his work, especially his use of an adjustable frame to help him keep things in perspective.

The Potato Eaters
We were not supposed to take pictures in the museum.  In many, non-flash photography is allowed, but not here.  There were even explanations of the overhead light system and how it was designed to have as little effect as possible on the art.  Long exposure and/or bright lights [like a photo flash] contribute to the deterioration on the paint.  Skip was caught two of the three times he tried to take pictures, but David was luckier.  We blamed the camera, not Skip.  All of the van Gogh pictures in this entry were taken illegally, but David promised to send them to Skip.  As our friend Ed says, “If you don’t have a picture, you weren’t there.”
Once we finished ogling the art, we separated.  They had a full schedule of things to do and places to be and we didn’t.  Even so, we all ended up in the gift shop where we bought a print of one of van Gogh’s last paintings, a still-life of poppies and butterflies.  Our purchase complete and the weather threatening, we retraced our route and caught the tram back to Centraal; the train back to Schipol; and the shuttle back to the hotel.  We did check out the HEMA in Centraal to no avail and consoled ourselves with drinks at Starbucks which was across the concourse.  It may have been heresy to go to Starbuck’s but it tasted good after three weeks in Holland.

Dinner at 7:00 in the hotel dining room was gigantic bacon cheeseburgers for both of us.  And fried.  And more bread.  We have met the carbs and they are now us.

Back in the room, we read and David transferred pictures and did some work on the journal, but he hasn’t written a full report or posted since we met Edwin.  Maybe people will think we are dead.
Tomorrow -- More Amsterdam
Three self Portraits of van Gogh





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