Becky and I recently enjoyed a pleasurable vacation to the Netherlands and Belgium which are often called the Low Countries due to their low elevation. We stayed at the Sir Albert Hotel in Amsterdam which is located in the trendy Pijp District and within easy walking distance of numerous attractions including the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseums. We enjoyed our visits to both of the museums and particularly enjoyed the Rijksmuseum’s architecture, library, and stand out collection of decorative art, classic art such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch, and it tremendous variety of art from non-European parts of the world including its Asian Pavilion.
We enjoyed a canal cruise of Amsterdam including the historic and aesthetically pleasing canal houses. We were moved by the Anne Frank House which was worth waiting in line for over an hour to see on a chilly late May afternoon. Sadly, the anti-semitic evil which claimed Anne’s life still is present in many sectors of the world today including Europe. We saw the influence of Muslim immigration. We’re pleased to say we saw some Muslims visiting museums and shopping in modern Dutch department stores but we also know that some harbor Islamist sentiments as the murder of Theo Van Gogh a few years ago demonstrates.
We enjoyed attending church at Amsterdam’s English Reformed Church whose provenance dates back to 1607. Additional attractions we enjoyed in Amsterdam included the superlative Maritime Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, the Hortus Botanicus ( a botanical garden dating to 1638), Amsterdam’s Central Train Station, the Amsterdam branch of Russia’s Hermitage Museum which had a nice exhibit on Buddhist influences on the Silk Road, Rembrandt’s House featuring nice demonstrations of his etching and painting techniques, seeing Amsterdam’s remarkable architecture, the Royal Palace, Dam Square which includes Holland’s National Monument which urgently needs refurbishing, a branch of the Royal Delft Porcelain factory where we got to see how this beautiful china is assembled, and other sites. Sadly, Amsterdam is a libertine city in so many ways having allowed prostitution and marijuana smoking to flourish with the latter commodity available in misnamed coffee shops. Unfortunately, Holland has strayed in many ways from the Calvinist roots which were responsible for its material prosperity and, at one time, its disproportionate global geopolitical heft.
We took a day trip to Antwerp, Belgium where we enjoyed its spectacular train station, the Diamond District, it’s beautiful Catholic Cathedral featuring Rubens masterpieces, and the UNESCO World Heritage site the Plantin-Moretus museum covering the history of this remarkable printing operation featuring exquisitely printed and illustrated books and maps as well as two of the world’s oldest extant printing presses. We saw the outside of the Rubens House but didn’t have time to visit it. We also visited the picturesque and historic city of Delft where we saw the Old and New Churches. Becky has painted both of these churches and the Old Church’s tower leans due to the low elevation. Another highlight of our visit to Delft was visiting the Vermeer House to see an impressive exhibit on his life and work. We were able to get to many of these locations due to Holland’s train system which makes it easy to get around compact countries like Holland and Belgium.
Our last full day of the trip, we visited Zaanse Schans which is a recreation of a historic farming village just north of Amsterdam in Zaandam. We got to climb up a working windmill, see a museum exhibit on the Verkade candy company where we attempted to assemble chocolate into a box (Becky did much better than I did), saw a demonstration of Dutch shoe making, and various other sites. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Peter the Great’s House in Zaandam where he stayed while learning shipbuilding during his 1697 visit to the Netherlands. This trip to Zaanse Schans was on a beautiful day and rounded off our trip nicely. I’m also pleased Becky was able to do a lot of sketches and start on two watercolor paintings.
Regardless of your interests, there is much to admire about Holland despite its current moral flaws. Both it and the Flemish part of Belgium are well worth visiting if you get a chance.
P.S. I’ll cover the ongoing Iraq debacle in a subsequent posting.