I thought a lot about whether to do a travel blog prior to starting my travels. I decided to do it, but in retrospect, as I wanted to live in the moment while on my travels (although I did post a lot of Instagram shots).
The adventure began even before I left Australia. I’m sitting in Sydney airport waiting to board my flight, when I realise that I have my arrival days in Amsterdam wrong. Panic sets in quickly and I whatsapp’d my friend Petra telling her my mistake (and praying she gets it). She responded just as I was boarding. Fortunately she hadn’t left her place yet to meet me at the airport. I felt so bad. I am usually very thorough with details, which is very out of character for me to make a mistake like this.
The downside of living in Australia is the long travel times nearly everywhere. The time and costs to head to Europe alone is what has stopped me from visting the region in nearly a decade.
I flew to Amsterdam via Abu Dhabi, which calculated to 24 hours and 10 minutes of travel. Yes, just over one whole day to get to the other side of the world! What’s happening with the Son of Concorde?
I arrive at Schiphol at 7am – bright and bushy tailed (well not really), but very excited about being here. Getting through immigration was so straight forward, the officer asked why I’m here and how long I’m staying. Less than a minute to get the clearance to enter. While I waited about 10 minutes to get to the officer (the downside of not having an EU passport/card), it wasn’t the drawn out interrogation that I’ve received in the US and the UK (that’s to come).
Living in Australia you get used to thorough quarantine inspections and declarations — even between states (especially to South Australia). Well it was practically non-existent in Schiphol! I collected my suitcase and walked straight out, which felt a bit strange.
Thanks to Petra — who I met during postgraduate studies, and who works in television in the Netherlands — prior to leaving Australia she sent me this amazing video which got me quite excited to see Amsterdam (and other parts). From the video (below), I came across the I amsterdam website and decided to get the 24 hour card. How much can one fit within a 24 hour period in Amsterdam?
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal train station was the smell. The canals smell. While it isn’t an awful smell, the odour is noticeable to one who is not a local (I think Australia smells dusty). Walking to the cafe on Singel (it was a random selection) to use the free wi-fi, I got whiffs of the other famous smell of Amsterdam — marijuana from the coffee shops.
Due to my day arrival error, I have to entertain myself for most of the day while waiting for Petra to finish work at 6pm. She recommended going to the Anne Frank Huis (Anne Frank House), as it was still quite early. I arrived just before 10am to a small line (with about a 15 minute wait, as I didn’t book online). I didn’t really know what to expect, and to be honest, to date I still haven’t read the book, although I am fully aware of the narrative.
The importance of this history cannot be underestimated. Being in the actual house where she once lived a restricted, silent life, was haunting. The visit is slow, as you move single file through the house, often while waiting for the group ahead of you to finish in the room. Being my first day in the Netherlands, I really noticed the staircases. They are narrow and steep compared to the wide and short Australian standard. I definitely felt it in my legs.
The fact that this history remains at the forefront is a testament to the Dutch and the Frank family. To have to live in the dark inside a house, and never be able to go outside and breathe in fresh air, would have been difficult, especially for a child/teenager. Seeing the video footage at the end and the information of where and the date members of the house died was quite confronting, even though I already knew the outcome. I think what hit home the most, especially as a parent, was the interview of Otto Frank, where he said: “… most parents don’t know REALLY their children!”
When in Amsterdam do as the Amsterdammer do — how could I not go on a canal cruise? Plus it was included in the I amsterdam 24 hour card. While Australia has one of the longest living civilisations in the world, the documented and man-made history is still relatively young. To go through canals that have been around for over 300 years (well in one way or another) is amazing to me. To learn of this rich history, seeing the houses and building (many that are not straight) was wonderful. It also made me think of the Girl with the Pearl Earring, while I know the novel was set in the Delft, the canals and the building reminder me of the time. More about the Girl with the Pearl Earring in my next post!
What does one do, when you’re extremely tired and needing to stay awake in a different time zone? Keep going! After the canal tour ended, I ventured onto the tram and headed for the Rijksmuseum. It was a really warm day, and I was thinking I didn’t pack enough lighter clothing. It was Spring, but I knew Spring in Europe is very different from Spring in Australia.
Sydney doesn’t have trams. They are trying to get the light rail to more locations (which is pretty much a tram, but it’s very restricted). Another thing Sydney doesn’t have are masses of cyclists. You see and hear all about the bicycles in the Netherlands, but seeing, hearing and experiencing it is definitely something else! Approaching lights you continuously hear the ringing bells — fortunately I managed to avoid being hit by a cyclist! Trying to cross the bicycle lane to get to the lights can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention. One thing I really liked was the count down clock at the pedestrian crossing — you knew exactly how much time you had to cross the road.
I successfully caught the right tram all the way from Amsterdam Centraal to the Rijksmuseum. The size and architectural structure was enough to make me awestruck! Once inside, I had no idea where to start, so I just started walking.
Art like music definitely brings people together. Nearly every nationality was present in the museum admiring the various artifacts, sculptures, paintings and tapestries. Groups with a tour guide speaking in their mother tongue, to people with headphones on wandering the numerous exhibitions. Once again I was in awe seeing so many masterpieces in one location. Seeing pictures of painting in a book, magazine, on a poster or on the internet is nothing compared to the real thing. Rembrandt’s Night Watch was HUGE! I really had no idea of it’s size. The fact that people were crowded around admiring it, with two security guards on close watch speaks volumes!
For those unfamiliar with history. The Dutch did a lot of sailing around the world! They stopped at the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town and my parents’ and family’s motherland) on their way to East Africa, India and Malaya (present day Indonesia). It became the Dutch East India Company’s supply station. As a mixed race South African, I don’t know what my ethnic make up is exactly, but walking into the Javanese Officials room and seeing the painting was like looking at my relatives!
The standouts for me were:
Portrait of Raden Syarif Bustaman Saleh, attributed to Friedrich Carl Albert Schreuel, c. 1840
This young Javanese man in Western attire with strong Asiatic features and hair, lived in Europe for 20 years, where he studied both portrait and landscape art. He returned to Java, dying in 1880 dying from a blood clot, although he thought one of his servants had poisoned him!
Five Javanese Officials, anonymous, c. 1820-1870
The Rijksmuseum website states:
The axiom ‘clothes make the man’ also held true in Indonesia. These are not actual portraits, but ‘types’. The accurately rendered garments and batik motifs indicate not only the region from which these men came, they also provide information about their rank and status. These resolute, confident figures are exceptional and were probably painted by a non-Western artist. In European depictions, Indonesians were usually depicted as adversaries, colonial subjects or ‘innocent’ primitives.
My photo isn’t the best, but the digital images are on the museum’s website.
The Arrest of Diepo Negoro by Lieutenant-General Baron De Kock, Nicolaas Pieneman, c. 1830 – c. 1835
Prince Diepo Negoro was an opponent of Dutch rule in Java and played an important role in the Java War. A truce was called and he was invited to negotiate but he was arrested on 28 March 1830. The Prince wanted a free state under a sultan and he wanted to be the Muslim leader Java. Apparently De Kock advised other Javanese nobles that Diepo Negoro needed to lessen his demands or other measures would be taken. He was exiled to Makassar. Raden Saleh also painted the arrest years later.
A short walk across the park led me to the Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately upon entry I discovered that the famous Sunflowers was on loan to The National Gallery in London. The Courtesan (after Eisen) caught my eye, as it was quite different from his other works. Seeing his other work got a bit repetitive, as he used the same stroke style and similar colours.
The temporary exhibition was Fire beneath the ice by Félix Vallotton. This was the first time I heard of Félix Vallotton, but I was mesmerised by the lady with the bright blue eyes and sun dress, with one exposed shoulder and a black wavy bob (ooooh how I wish I could get my hair like that!).
Vallotton was a Franco-Swiss artist who belonged to Les Nabis (the prophets). According to the Van Gogh’s program Les Nabis were “young, avant-garde artists embarked on a new path whose highly decorative style of art was influenced by Gauguin and Japanese prints.” He was known as le nabi étranger — the foreign prophet. The black and white wood cuts reminded of comic strips to an extent. Visit felixvallotton.wordpress.com to see some of his woodcuts.
Many of his other works on display were of naked women. While he painted many women over the years, which showed some affection in the images. He wasn’t affectionate to women and married a young widower for her money (her family were wealthy art dealers).
After the museum, I walked over to Vondelpark and sat on a bench for a while, trying to stay awake, as I had to wait until 6pm to meet Petra after work. I slowly made my way to our meeting spot and sat on another bench people watching in the dusk.
What I liked:
– the architecture
– the art
– the atmosphere
– lots of hybrid (mixed) people, as a fellow mixed-race person I got excited
– transport was easy to use and efficient
– the Dutch are fluent in English
What I didn’t like:
– lots of Dutch smoke cigarettes, it was hard to avoid it (especially as an Asthmatic)