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Archive for the ‘museums’ Category

1-Rijks-Museum.Mike

Rijks Museum

What drew us to our recent visit to The Netherlands, besides tulips, was its world-class museums. On our “Bucket List” of great museums to visit were the Rijks and the Van Gogh, as well as the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The Rijks and Van Gogh were both conveniently located in Amsterdam’s Museumplein, a large, park-like square surrounded by museums that also included gardens and a large water feature and just a short tram ride from our hotel. Using the tram is the best way to travel around Amsterdam and see the sights at the same time. Tram tickets can be bought for 1,2 or 3 days at most major hotels and allowed unlimited rides.

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Amsterdam Tram

 

 

In anticipation of exploring the museums, we bought museum passes which enabled us to skip any lines, although we found out by doing some research beforehand, that tickets for the Van Gogh and Anne Frank House were available on-line only.

The Rijks Museum

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The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer

The first museum we visited was the Rijks that housed a collection of the Great Dutch Masters which included our favorite – Johannes Vermeer. We had heard that there could be long lines, but when we arrived at mid-morning on a weekday in April, we walked right in. (When we returned to the Museumplein a few days later on the weekend, the queue at the Rijks was very long.) After looking at the museum map, which gave us a floor plan and highlights of the collection, we made a bee-line to the four Vermeer paintings in the permanent collection: Woman Reading a Letter, The Milkmaid, The Love Letter, and The Little Street. The Little Street was our favorite and we brought home a print to remind us of this great painting and iconic museum.

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The Nightwatch

Mike was eager to see Rembrandt’s Nightwatch which wasn’t hard to find since it took up an entire wall and had its own museum security detail stationed nearby. It was amazing to stand in front of this great painting. A picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Delftware

We wandered the galleries, enjoying the display of Delftware, and came across an impressive ship model that caught Mike’s eye.  After a few hours in the museum and a visit to its gift shop, we strolled around the Museumplein, where I stopped to rest a bit near the fountain. Then we hopped back on the tram.

The Van Gogh Museum

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Van Gogh Museum

We had purchased on-line tickets for the Van Gogh Museum for 10:30 AM on a Saturday morning. This is the only way tickets are sold, so if you plan on visiting the Van Gogh, make sure you buy your rickets in advance. (We saw a few disappointed visitors who walked up to the ticket window at the Van Gogh, only to be turned away.) This museum was modern, bright and airy and consisted of two buildings — the main building which houses the permanent collection and the exhibition wing which where temporary exhibitions are displayed. Photography is not allowed at this museum, a disappointment, but also a blessing, since it allowed us to take the time to view Van Gogh’s paintings up close and personal, and not through a camera’s eye.

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Almond Blossoms

The permanent collection of Van Gogh’s works was impressive with 200 paintings and numerous drawings arranged chronologically, depicting the various periods of the painter’s life. We enjoyed the range of Vincent Van Gogh’s works, from the dark and gloomy “The Potato Eaters” to his glorious “Sunflowers” and “The Bedroom.” I was especially taken with the Van Gogh & Japan exhibit which highlights the Japanese influence on Van Gogh’s paintings. I loved his “Almond Blossoms” and took home a journal covered with this print as well as a pillow cover.

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Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Mike and I really liked the Van Gogh painting called ”Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.”  We liked it so much that we bought a large poster and also a large postcard that we keep on our computer desk where it reminds of this visit to the Van Gogh Museum as well as the diverse talent of Vincent Van Gogh.

 

The Mauritshuis

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Mauritshuis

After 5 days in Amsterdam, we moved to the small city of Haarlem, 12 miles away,  to experience Holland outside of Amsterdam. We took a short train ride from Haarlem to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.

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Haarlem Train Station

It took only 45 minutes plus a short walk to the Mauritshuis where we knew the famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was on display. While we had seen “Girl” at the Frick Collection in New York a few years ago, we were excited to view some of Vermeer’s other paintings that are part of the permanent collection at The Mauritshuis. We weren’t disappointed. We saw “Diana and Her Nymphs,” a painting very unlike all the Vermeers we were familiar with, and  “View of Delft” which was fabulous. After meandering through other galleries where we admired several magnificent Steen paintings as well those of other Dutch Masters, we found ourselves drawn back to the “View of Delft” and decided we had to take a print of it home. Next trip, I’m going to bring an empty suitcase along.

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View of Delft

Vermeer Centrum

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Nightwatch in tiles at Royal Delft

The next day we boarded a train bound for Delft to visit the Vermeer Centrum. (Train travel in Europe is clean, reliable, and economical.) We had heard the criticism that all the paintings here were reproductions, but we found that the experience of touring the Centrum was not disappointing. Where else could we get to see full-size images of all of Vermeer’s paintings as well as an in-depth look into his life?  It was well worth the trip as was our tour of the Royal Delft showroom and factory, a 20-minute walk away. We were delighted to find during our tour, Royal Delft’s version of Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and Vermeer’s “The Little Street.”

Anne Frank House

9-Anne-Frank-HouseLast, but high on my wish list, was the Anne Frank House. Buying tickets wasn’t easy — they were available only on-line 2 months prior to a desired date. I had almost given up hope until I realized, just by playing with a few dates, that the closer I got to the date of our visit, the greater the availability of tickets. I felt lucky when I managed to get 2 tickets for the day before we were to fly home.

It was a rainy day as we waited in line at our scheduled entrance time but time passed quickly as we struck up a conversation with a couple from Texas. Once we were inside and started the tour, though, there was very little talking and only in hushed tones. Climbing the narrow stairs to the top floor and walking through the mostly empty rooms that had some of Anne Frank’s mementos was a chilling experience.

10-Anne-Frank-StatueI left with a feeling of melancholy and great sadness to know that Anne Frank survived two years in those rooms, only to be discovered, arrested, and killed  months before the end of the war. Who betrayed the Frank family? It seems that, even all these years later, nobody knows the answer the that question.

Our exploration of these museums gave us an insight into the history and art that The Netherlands has to offer its visitors, as well as memories (and mementos) we’ll treasure.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring

We thought we would have to go to Amsterdam to see Vermeer’s iconic painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” When Angelina and I heard that it was part of a Dutch traveling exhibit coming to the Frick Museum in New York City last year, we made plans to go. Since we had no great desire to fight big-city traffic, we chose instead to stay in Stamford, CT and take the train into the city. The hour’s train ride into Grand Central Terminal (often referred to as Grand Central Station in error.) was uneventful. The first of several surprises of the trip was Grand Central itself. When we walked into the cavernous Main Concourse from the underground platforms, we were stunned by the sheer size and elegant Beaux-Arte architecture of this beautiful building which opened in 1913 and was extensively renovated over a 12-year period starting in 1994.

Inside Grand Central Terminal

Inside Grand Central Terminal

We took some photos and then ventured outside into the rain to the taxi stand to head to the Frick. That’s when our New York adventure really started to ramp-up.

Taxis were everywhere, a vast armada of yellow cars and vans warily patrolling the streets of Manhattan. We told our driver where we were going and off he went, bobbing and weaving through traffic, tooting his horn impatiently. He zigged, he zagged, but most of all, he zoomed down Madison Avenue. Is this what fighter pilots do when they retire?

Queue at the Frick

Queue at the Frick

We soon arrived at the Frick in a driving rain only to see a very long queue of umbrellas snaking down the street and around the corner from the entrance. However, we had anticipated this and purchased our tickets online in advance, allowing us to walk to the head of the line and right into the museum. Nice.

Frick CollectionHenry Clay Frick was a wealthy industrialist with a passion for fine art and the wherewithal to buy it. And buy it he did. Over time he filled his Fifth Avenue mansion with Old Masters, fine furniture, sculpture, and porcelains. After his death in 1919, he willed the entire estate – building, furniture, as well as the art collection to the public.

But we were there for the travelling exhibit of Dutch Masters on loan from the Mauritshuis in The Hague. We followed the crowd into the two special galleries where the Dutch paintings were displayed. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was the star of the collection hanging by itself in one room while the others were in a nearby gallery. The exhibit was very crowded with most gathered around “Girl” which was cordoned off by a velvet rope and watched over by two security people. However, each person was able to get in close enough for a good look, everyone polite to the point of good-nature. The security was tight; guys in blue blazers were everywhere. However, they were courteous and, given the size of the crowd and the high value of the collections, I did not find their vigilance unreasonable.

The size of the group in front of “Girl” would drift up and down and when it would drop I would scoot back for another look. Who knows if we would ever see her again? Once, for a brief instant, I was alone with her, her famous eyes gazing into mine from 350 years ago. A golden moment.

Angelina enjoyed “Girl” as well along with a painting by Jacob van Ruisdael titled “View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds.”

We explored the rest of the museum to see the permanent collection. The Frick may be small but the collection was mighty. Henry Clay Frick had acquired not one but three Vermeers and they were all on display during our visit. I counted no less than 5 paintings by J.M.W.Turner, including two large beauties in the main gallery. In the Dining Room, large full-sized Gainsborough portraits hung on each wall. Works by Rembrandt, Holbein, Hals, Whistler, Constable, Van Dyke, Goya, El Greco and a portrait of George Washington by Rhode Island’s Gilbert Stuart were also on display. By this time we had been in the Frick for several hours and one thing we have come to expect is museum-fatigue regardless of how good the collections are.

NY St. SignsThe cab ride back to Grand Central was anticlimactic due to heavy traffic. Even fighter pilots need a break. That’s when we noticed the 48 foot sculpture of Hercules, Minerva, and Mercury atop the front of the terminal, still more impressive art in New York City. We had lunch at a busy fast food restaurant called Juniors where we could sit for awhile. Junior’s was located in the Lower Concourse which had been transformed into a giant food court. We ordered cheeseburgers, fries and merlot (yes, cheeseburgers, fries and merlot). The wine came prepackaged in a small sealed plastic container like a milk carton. We rolled our eyes at this but both the burgers and merlot were quite good.

Grand Central TerminalWe arrived back at the hotel in Stamford by late afternoon, weary but satisfied that we had been able to catch this rare exhibit of such fine Dutch art and discovered an extraordinary new museum as well.

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Parliament Hill

While all our trips are generally rose-related, we also enjoy the historical and cultural aspects of new destinations. Driving into Ottawa, we were greeted by the impressive Parliament Hill – the historic and architectural Mecca of Canada’s seat of government.

Parliament Hill, only two blocks from our hotel, is comprised of a building called The Centre Block, a massive building where the Senate and House of Commons conduct the business of Canada. Flanked on the east and west of The Centre Block (aptly named The East Block and West Block) are similarly designed buildings that house government offices.

Center Block

We happened to be in Ottawa a few days before Prince William and his new bride Kate were to arrive, so the activity around Parliament Hill was busier than usual. We watched as workmen prepared for the Royals’ arrival and even got to preview the singing of the Canadian National Anthem.

After spending the morning at the Canadian Heritage Rose Garden, (pictures and blog to come later) next on our list was the National Gallery of Canada where a Caravaggio Exhibit was on display. This exhibit was a real treat for us as well the rest of the museum which included works by Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Picasso and Rembrandt. We also admired a Georgia O’Keefe and I was happy to find several Jackson Pollock works of art. The museum was an ultra modern building – a great contrast to the architecture of the buildings we so admired on Parliament Hill. It also boasted a modern “spider” sculpture.

Spider Outside National Gallery

If you visit Ottawa, don’t miss the Byward Market, a shopping area dating back to the 1830’s with shops and restaurants too numerous to count. After dinner on our last night in Ottawa we were even lucky enough to see part of a performance by a street entertainer who, while balancing on a rolling platform perched on a table, managed to squeeze his body through the opening of a tennis racquet frame! The crowd loved him and so did we. Wish I had my camera with me.

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