We had a huge dose of tourism last week, taking the Eurostar train onto the continent to spend two days in Brugge, Belgium and four days in Amsterdam. We’ve taken this trip through the Chunnel several times before, and this week there was clearly a LOT more barbed wire and security vehicles as we popped out onto the flat French countryside.
Our train ticket destination was labeled “Any Belgian station.” I guess it’s such a small country that it’s all the same to them. We changed in Brussels to a smaller train that took us to Brugge (which required a back-track, but basically everything has to go through Brussels). In the Brussels train station, we also saw much heightened security.
Friends had told us to go to Brugge. It was a later add-on to our itinerary, so we didn’t do much if any research. An old town, we were told, very pretty, canals. Fun to walk around. And indeed that was an understatement. It’s amazingly medieval, all brick and cobblestone, pointy churches and spires sprouting weathervanes, every narrow street opening out to yet another small courtyard or plaza, canals and bridges and swans all around. Very atmospheric. And of course it being Christmas, there were lights and people and good cheer everywhere. We didn’t go to any museums or visit any churches—it was all about wandering around outdoors. We ate in pubs, had coffee in little cafes, visited chocolate shops.
Some Brugge photos:
December night in Brugge
Brugge Christmas Market and bikes
Actually, we did go to one museum: the Frites Museum. Very good; the story of the potato told from Peru to Belgium. Bottom line: the Flemish invented frites and they only came to be called French fries after World War II when the American GI’s thought the Belgians were French. Made you understand Hercule Poirot’s constant correction of everyone who assumed he was French.
Eat as many potatoes as you want!
Peter’d been to Amsterdam for work several times years ago; I’d never been. A big city! Yes, cute narrow houses along canals, but not nearly as atmospheric as Brugge. Although we walked around quite a bit, the main goal here was to see the art. And goodness, what a treasure chest of paintings the Dutch have produced. We started by going to Rembrandt’s house. A friend of a friend works there, and we watched him demonstrate how paint colors were created and used
Rembrandt’s raw paint materials
in Rembrandt’s lifetime (1606-1669). Such a lot of work before you ever made a mark.
We moved on from there to the recently renovated van Gogh Museum, which made me cry. Such an earnest painter, tried so hard, worked like crazy, cared so much. The museum’s official story is still the suicide, although when I asked, they admitted that there is some controversy about that these days. Wonderful paintings there, though not the ones I’m most familiar with because, of course, they are in other museums where I’ve seen them in London, New York and DC. the van Gogh museum has his writing desk with the placard reading “This was Vincent’s writing desk before he became an artist. Naturally, e-mail and cell phones did not yet exist. That is why people who did not live near one another communicated through letters.”
The Rijksmuseum, also recently renovated, was pretty stunning too. You can’t take it all in; like the Louvre, you have to pick and choose and decide to come back another day. We stuck mainly to the Rembrandts, van Goghs, Vermeers and quick run through the delft porcelain. Loved all the portraits. Lots of elementary school groups there; what lucky kids! The pride of the place is Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Incredible! Again, it gave me a lump in my throat to see such amazing work.
Rijksmuseum holiday tree hologram in main courtyard
Also visited the Stedelijk museum, which is their modern art museum. Some good, some beyond us. Peter most interested in the furniture—Gerrit Rietfeld (1888-1964) designed several of the chairs that Peter has built, and various versions of them were in the museum. Fun to see how he modified his thoughts over time. The zigzag chair is one of his best known. Rietfeld was from Utrecht, so we took a commuter train out there to see a house he’d built. Interesting—the house is basically a big piece of furniture. Very good tour provided. Utrecht also has canals and cobblestones; we walked through a Sunday street market where Santa was simmering and dispensing gluvein.
Rietfelt Schroder house in Utrecht. 1920s.
We ate great food in Amsterdam, having made reservations at places several foodie friends recommended. The Dutch are wizards with veggies, also ham and pork and cheese. What’s not to like? Peter had a selection of oysters at one place, a couple were similar to our PNW and Japanese oysters but one was large and startlingly different—he liked it.
What we didn’t do was spend time learning more about all the engineering that allows the country to stay above water. There was visible water everywhere—the country is basically flat, green and wet. But the guy at the Rembrandt house, who’s lived in Amsterdam for 18 years says he’s never seen the canal water rise or lower by even an inch in any weather ever.
Amsterdam mom and kid (but not everyone was blond, honest!)
Oh, and those bikes. Yes, lots of them. The scooters and motorcycles sometimes use the bike lanes. Saw one guy carrying his Christmas tree home on his bike. Bikes have zero to three gears tops—no hills. We took a taxi ride once and learned that one of the taxi companies had bought 300 Tesla’s for their airport runs, but the drivers don’t like them because they didn’t have enough range for a day’s work—so they lose money having to sit around and charge up.
Back to our London flat via bus, plane, train, tube and feet. A little laundry and shopping for a few days, then to State College where we are all gathering for Christmas. Hope yours is warm and wonderful and full of stories, peace and fun.
One more picture: from the Stedelijk modern museum.