Sunday, September 22, 2013

We go see van Gogh!

Hello friends and family!  Last week, Clara promised a blog post about children's literature, so while she is researching next to me, I (Owen) will tell you about our first foray out of Leiden and into the wider world.  Namely, Amsterdam.

I think every knitter secretly wants a wall like this.
For my birthday, we had decided to take a trip into Amsterdam to visit the van Gogh museum, but regular life being filled with enough exhausting adventures of its own, we needed to postpone the visit until yesterday.  Leaving home at around 10 a.m., we were able to stop by Ribbels (our local yarn shop) first, so I could pick up some needles to finish Clara's new hat (expect pictures soon).  Small success: I completed the whole transaction in Dutch! People seem to be pretty cooperative if you look like you're having a good time trying.

This picture is actually from my visit to Leiden in March.
We made it to the train station and stored our bikes in one of the many double-decker bike racks at the station.  Another example of brilliant Dutch engineering, it's easy to turn one of the upper slots into a ramp that clamps your bike in place when you wheel it on.  Then you lift the ramp back up and slide it back in place. The number of bikes, though, is just mind-boggling.  The rack shown is just one of several in the basement of the station—we parked at one of many others like it located in a covered area outside the station.

I am testing the camera's new batteries.
We had checked out the train, bus, and tram schedules before we left, so we had a pretty good idea of how long it would take to get to and around Amsterdam.  Apparently, the privately-run Dutch train system is held accountable for any unexpected delays, so the trains are extremely punctual and any delays that do occur are announced both in the station and in the online trip planner.  ("Warning! This route is experiencing delays of up to 1 minute.")  Once we get our bank accounts set up, we plan to each get an OV-chipkaart: it works on trains, busses, and other public transportation nationwide, and it offers a discount for not using paper tickets!  This will be very helpful when I start teaching in the Hague at the end of next month.    While I stood in line, Clara hunted for more replacement batteries for the camera.  And soon, we were off!

Dutch landscape: very flat and very wet.
While we're on the train, whizzing by the Dutch landscape, let me tell you a little about its history. Originally, much of the area comprising the Netherlands was swampy but fertile marshes and river deltas.  The Dutch installed dikes along the seaside to keep floods at bay, and gradually the country has been hydrologically engineered to put the water just where it is wanted.  For example, we live near the path of the Rhine (Rijn) as it was in Roman times, though the famous river has been redirected to farther to the south.  Now, the branches of the "Old and New Rhine" that meet in Leiden are used for draining the surrounding area.

You can tell they know how to sell stuff.
Finally, we made it to Amsterdam!  Exiting the train station (which had an even mind-bogglingly greater number of bikes parked outside), our first stop was the Apple store, the only one in the Netherlands and the biggest I've ever seen. Clara's computer battery had been giving her trouble for a while, so we made an appointment, dropped the computer off after burgers at Burgermeester, and picked it up on our way home.  They did the labor for free, and even replaced a cracked part of the case without charging us.  Good job, Apple!

Now on to the main event: the Van Gogh museum!  If you're wondering why this is only coming after so many other things, well, so were we.  Next time, we'll go to the museum as early in the day as we can, and save our tired feet for the trip home.  The museum was amazing.  Four floors of beautifully curated artwork - it was hard work to visit everything in one day.  We saw self-portraits (often painted on the backs of canvases he'd already used):

 And studies of peasant life:

He even had a Japanese period I didn't know about!  I like both of these a lot: the one on the left reminds me of Starry River of the Sky, and the one on the right is my current Van Gogh favorite.

And on the top floor, we saw some of the amazing landscapes he produced in his last months:

Click on any of these pictures to visit the museum's website, where you can enlarge the image and zoom in all the way to the brushstrokes.  It was so wonderful to be there and see these paintings in person, and thanks to our Museumkaarten I'm sure we'll be back!

Van Gogh makes us happy.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful trip to Amsterdam with you! We're glad you enjoyed the Van Goghs.

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