Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 15 (possibly?) in Which we Visit with Rembrandt, Leave Amsterdam and Arrive in Brussels Where it is AMAZING.

The Rijksmuseum (or State Museum) in Amsterdam has recently surfaced from 11 years of renovation (no comment) and put out a very creative promo for their grand reopening called Bringing Rembrandt to Life that is best described as some sort of Flash Art Mob. You can watch it here I of course forced the kids to watch it before we went to the gallery in the hopes that it would make the whole experience more interesting for them. Turns out I needn’t have worried as the museum is such a fascinating place that two hours flew by.

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We started with the ship models. Dutch ship builders in the 1600s were prolific and it was one of the cornerstones of their economy. A scaled, detailed model is built first for any ship that is commissioned, and then given as a gift to the owner of the ship. The museum has many of these models and they are so detailed and fantastic that I could hardly drag myself away.

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Every last detail of the riggings is intact with working pulleys. There are also cross sections of ships, and miniature models of the galley and living quarters. And the bit that gets me is that making these models was someone’s job. He or she just got on and did it. When we would ever have the time to do this sort of highly skilled creative work these days, I’m not sure.

Next up was the room devoted to Dutch drinking games. Seriously.

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As this silver cup was filled with wine, a tiny baby would float up inside the silver ball and appear as a way of announcing a successful birth. There were also many variations of today’s drinking games, and some new ones too. Seems like everything old is new again here.

We saw many wonderful works of art at the museum including this one, which I am pretty sure is of a family made up of the same person.

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Father: But surely you have not finished yet?

Artist: Yes just wrapped it up yesterday. You like?

Father: But it is the same person repeated over and over!

Artist: Yes well, zere ees a striking family resemblance

Father: You fool! I do not look like my wife! She does not look like me!

Artist: Of course not – zat is why I did ze hair different. And ze dress.

Father: Of course you did them differently! I am a man she is a woman!! Don’t insult me!

Artist: I can add some facial hair if you like sir. No charge of course.

Father: You will redo it! For no charge!

Artist: Um well I don’t really have ze time, Sir

Father: You will make ze time! And the dog! look at the dog! It looks exactly like my daughter!

Artist: How about eef I turn ze dog around so you cannot see ze face?

Father: Hmmm

Artist: And a hat on ze baby?

Father: well… alright. But what about the peacock my son is holding! Why is he holding a peacock? Please change it!

Artist: Ok ok I vill make eet into a cello. Is that ok?

Father: I suppose. Proceed with all haste!

I guess it’s like when you get good at one particular thing that you can draw. Like me and cats. I can draw an amazing stick cat and if someone told me I had to do the whole family, they would probably all look exactly the same too. And don’t be shy about asking if you would like me to draw your cat family.

We also hung out in the doll house room where this happy child could be found

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Perhaps her older brother had just told her to fuck off?

The museum is full of Dutch Masters and it’s hard to miss Rembrandt’s The Night Watch as it is massive – but it’s so impressive that it’s easy to get a bit lost in the characters depicted.

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And of course having seen them in the Mall in their natural surroundings made it that much better. (Go back and watch the youtube video now if you skipped it earlier…)

We could have stayed longer but we had a train to catch to Brussels, so we left reluctantly and made our way back to the Owl to get our luggage, and then to the station for our train. Zoe and I nearly missed the train as we had to run the entire length of the station from platform 2 to 15 after a bathroom break. We made it on the train but the carriage we were in was like a sauna. I was SO red in the face from the run and then the sauna that people were staring at me. I didn’t know it at first and then Zoe took a picture so I could see how ridiculous I looked. Yep.

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By the way, not sure if you know this but Holland is flat. Like there’s not even a speed bump anywhere. And there are lots of cute windmills.

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Belgium is also very flat and full of windmills, but Brussels is very different. It’s clearly a big city on an administrative mission as the EU and NATO both have their headquarters here. Our hotel (an Ibis – which I recommend as it’s pretty awesome) is right beside the main train station which, while lacking in quaintness, is very convenient and is also in a fascinating area made up almost entirely of North African immigrants with some Indians in the mix as well. It’s almost exclusively Muslim around here and I will just say that so far everyone has been exceedingly polite – stopping at busy intersections to wave us across and actually smiling at the same time.

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This supermarket was massive.

We were starving after all our travelling so we set off for the Grand Place or Central Square, which I remember going to when I was a teenager with my dad, and being impressed then.

We did get a tiny bit lost (like as in we went completely the wrong way) but that didn’t really matter as it just made it all the more interesting. We got back on track and found a square full of cafes and ate dinner. Jacob and my mum were both into the Belgium beers.

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I have always heard Belgium referred to as boring, including by our taxi driver in Amsterdam (of course) who referred to it as ‘Holland’s Basement’ and said it was only good for three things: Chocolate, Lace and Beer. Excuse me but  what could possibly be wrong with that? I didn’t want to say that Holland is only good for Bikes, Windmills and telling people to Fuck Off, because of course there is much more to the place and I shouldn’t judge a book by it’s first few chapters…

As we walked closer to the square, it became more and more apparent that Basement Guy was right – chocolate shop after beer shop after lace shop lined the streets in a very appealing fashion and they slowed our progress considerably.

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The streets got narrower and the chocolate–per-person ratio increased, and then we walked around a corner and into the Grand Place (which you must say with a French accent). Entering this square must be one of the all time great European experiences. Say what you like about Belgium, this square is fantastic. It’s huge, first of all, and is lined with the most beautiful buildings. I’m pretty sure all of them are palaces – I lost track after a while. The important thing is that the place is humming with life and filled with tourists and locals alike – government workers with their id tags around their necks were elbow to elbow with stunned travellers like myself who couldn’t quite believe what they are seeing.

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There isn’t really a way of doing it justice with my poor photographic skills, so I’ll stop here, but I will point out this upstairs restaurant which is,I think, the same one that I sat at with my Dad when I was about 14. Nice.

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The other thing Belgium is famous for are the waffles. They are to die for. Thick and chewy, and slathered in pretty much whatever you want. Zoe had milk chocolate and strawberries (which are fresh and sliced up right in front of you, just saying, BC Ferries.) Jacob went for caramel. They didn’t last long.

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And with that we were done for the night and took a taxi back to the hotel. The beds are exceptionally comfortable at this hotel and the rooms are almost completely soundproof which is important in Europe as people do insist on driving their two-stroke scooters up and down the narrow streets all hours of the night. I first experienced this years ago in Portugal when Jacob was just a baby and we stayed in one such hotel. Stayed, not slept. Those beautiful old  houses that line the cobble stone streets are always very appealing with their high ceilings and big old wooden doors and huge windows, but soundproof they are not, and every little sound from the street below always ricochets around the street before going like a bullet into your ear. This was not the case at the Ibis however and so we all slept like logs.

Last day in Europe tomorrow, which we spend in Bruges. Sigh.

Thanks for reading



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