H/B/F 2017: Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam is home to many fantastic museums, and it’s impossible to see them all in a week.  I saw the big three (the two mentioned here and the Stedelijk), as well as some smaller ones, such as the Bag and Purse Museum and the Amsterdam Museum.

We chose to hit the Van Gogh Museum on a Friday night when it was open late, and we were greeted with a party!  There was live music, vendors, food and drinks in the lobby.  We hadn’t had dinner yet, so we went ahead and enjoyed the scene with some snacks.


The Van Gogh Museum began with a room full of his self-portraits, organized chronologically.  It was interesting to see how his art evolved over time and with his mental illness.  I didn’t realize the scope of his artistic ability, ranging from landscapes and self-portraits to Impressionist work, pieces with Chinese influence and even modern art.

On Saturday, to escape the heat, we heading again into Amsterdam to enjoy some air conditioning at the Rijksmuseum.

Inside, we focused only on the Dutch Golden Age, which is housed in a great gallery, designed specifically for these pieces:

We saw a still life by Pieter Claesz , a Haarlem boy known for his work with light and reflection.  I fell in love with his work in the ‘Slow Food’ exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.  For more about our trip there, click here.

This piece was on loan from Leiden, which is where I ran my half-marathon!

Along with Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer is king of the Dutch Masters painters.  We specifically waited to visit the Rijksmuseum until Saturday as his painting, The Milkmaid, had just returned from being on loan to another museum. We visited a museum dedicated to him in Delft, which features reproductions of all his 34 paintings with detailed descriptions of his style and themes.

Below right is ‘Reading a Letter’ and second from right is ‘The Milkmaid.’

Jan Steen, who paints humorous scenes like Norman Rockwell, is another Dutch Master we saw in various museums during our trip.

Finally, here is Rembrandt’s self-portrait as Paul:

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, hugely famous:

While I can’t say I loved EVERYTHING I saw, I can say that I have a much better understanding of the Dutch Golden Age and the artists who painted during that time period.  I learned to recognize some of the themes and techniques, such as still lifes, landscapes, use of light and textures and a departure from religious scenes.

As we only visited the single gallery (which took almost two hours!), we’ll just have to come back for the rest another time!

H/B/F 2017: Alkmaar cheese and Hoorn

Andrew and I made sure to visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market before leaving the Netherlands.  Historically, cheese was brought to this square, weighed and then sold.  Once a week, the town puts on a show and the process is described in detail, including young Dutch girls and boys dressed in traditional outfits selling hunks of cheese to all the watching tourists.

The town is also filled with stalls for market day, selling everything from Dutch novelties (like wooden shoes) and antiques to cheese, sausage and fried dough.

Once the cheese market closed, the square was filled with cafe tables and chairs for the surrounding eateries.  Of course, I chose the meal that featured local cheese!

After visiting Alkmaar, we jumped in the car to head to Hoorn, located on the northeastern side of the country on the Markermeer lake.  Along the way, Andrew stopped to photograph a roadside windmill:

Hoorn is home to the Westfries Museum, dedicated to Dutch history and life. I really enjoyed the variety of items on display, from paintings to room re-creations to a display on spices (re: DUTCH East India Company).


After grabbing a quick drink on the square, we took a walk around town to the water:


H/B/F 2017: Amsterdam on my own

One day while Andrew was working, I decided to go into Amsterdam on my own to do some exploring. I’d planned my itinerary the evening before, selecting agenda items that Andrew wouldn’t also want to do.

I caught the 11:10 am train out of Haarlem and was in Amsterdam within about 20 minutes.

I made a beeline for the Museum of Bags and Purses, on foot and armed with a map. I prefer to walk, and found navigating the city incredibly easy. Along the way, I found a square dedicated to Rembrandt:

While a ‘purse museum’ might sound a little silly, it wasn’t simply a collection of high-end bags. The collection contains some of the earliest bags, including gaming bags and bags for men (this was before pants were made with pockets), in addition to unusual bags and haute couture. (I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a ‘purse-girl,’ and I’d rather embrace it than fight it. In fact, I seem to get a new purse on each of these extended trips to Europe…)

This bag and heels are made of TOAD:

The museum featured many historical and/or functional bags, like these picnic baskets and luggage trunks:

The cabinet I liked best was the ‘unique’ collection, including a bag made out of a soda can, one decorated as a phone and many in interesting shapes and fabrics. The museum also owns Margaret Thatcher’s gray purse, that apparently has a story of its own.

After the bag museum, where I picked up a souvenir in the form of a tiny pineapple-shaped coin purse from mywalit (it’s an Italian brand I found on a trip there years ago, yet never found an item from the line I wanted to buy), I walked another 15 minutes or so to Museumplein. My next agenda item was the Stedelijk Museum, which is Amsterdam’s modern art museum.

I was pleasantly surprised with their main collection, which included works by many of the later 1900s artists, like Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall and Leo Gestel.  I tend to like modern art a little more than Andrew, although I’ve found some modern art museums to be a bit too ‘modern’ for my taste.

My last must-do item was a cheese tasting class–something Andrew would never do! I caught one of the many trams running from there (Museumplein is an area where three major museums–Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelik–are clustered, along with a busy square and some shopping) back up toward the train station as I was probably a 30-40 minute walk and I wanted to be early to the cheese tasting as I hadn’t yet bought a ticket.

Rick recommends the Reypenear cheese shop for their tasting classes, and it did not disappoint. I was able to squeeze into the class and sat with a little Aussie family of three (seats are two per table).

The tasting was much like a wine tasting (we paired each cheese with a different wine), as we started with the mildest and youngest cheeses (two goat) and worked our way to cow cheeses that were older. Along the way, our host explained the open-air ripening process. This was perhaps the event I most looked forward to of the entire day and was so glad I had the opportunity to do it.

After the cheese class, I walked over to the Jordaan district, which is becoming a trendy place to eat, shop and live. Along the way, I meandered through the ‘Nine Little Streets’ shopping district and I found my way to one of the Rick-recommended restaurants there.

Just as I ordered my dinner–mahi mahi with red and yellow beets, coconut risotto and truffle cream–a French couple sat down next to me and we started to speak! (In French.)  Obviously, my conversational skills are limited, but I was able to tell them what brought us to the Netherlands, about our previous trips in France and why I was learning French. They were so kind to indulge me and let me practice with them.

After another glass of red wine and a raspberry tart with coconut ice cream, I headed back up to the train station to catch a train back to Haarlem.  I’d say I had an incredible day in the ‘big city’ on my own; I was able to do all three things I wanted to, navigated quite easily and enjoyed myself the entire time.