After a lovely lie-in and breakfast at the hotel, I spent the morning at Van Gogh Museum. I was in awe of the varied works he had produced. My previous exposure to Van Gogh’s work was limited to some of his self-portraits, well-known works including Sunflowers and The Starry Night. I had no idea that he was such a purposeful artist, committing himself to various styles and techniques. His study on peasant life, for example, was so extensive that the museum has an entire gallery (a large room in the museum) dedicated to this work.
There were two in particular that I had never seen but completely fell in love with: his 1890 Almond Blossom, painted for his brother and sister-in-law to celebrate the birth of their son; and Garden with Courting Couples: Square Saint-Pierre, 1887. I highly recommend that you look at the Van Gogh Museum website, and in particular the “Collection Highlights” section where you’ll find both of these. And if you’re looking for a little drama, read about the journey of 2 stolen Van Gogh paintings!
I happily spent hours there before heading back to Bagels & Beans (twice, I know, but I knew it was going to be tasty!). I sat the harvest table and was quickly joined by a group of women who had come in together for a quick drink. They were from, respectively, America, Montreal, Brazil and Italy. We had the instant connection of being female travellers living abroad, and shared stories about learning to live in our new cultures, mistakes we had made, and some of the incredible things we’d seen and experienced. It was an unexpected and beautiful interaction.
Rejuvenated by lunch and great conversation, I embarked on the Rick Steeves walking tour. I downloaded the tour for free on iTunes and synced it to my iPod. I was outside the city, so I had to get back to the core, where the tour began at Centraal Station. Walking up Damrak to Dam square, I learned that the city began in 1250 with the building of a dam at the Amstel River (Amstel dam, get it?). Today, Dam Square is home to the Royal Palace, opposite the cleverly named National Monument, and De Papegaai, a Catholic church so named because when Catholicism wasn’t publicly practiced, the church was hidden in the garden behind a house front (De Papegaai is dutch for ‘the parrot’).
The best part about the tour was that it took me down some streets to to sites I’d never have seen otherwise, and the iPod tour was perfect as I could pause it when I found a spot that I wanted to spend more time in. It led me to a tiny hidden church, then to Blue Amsterdam, a restaurant rather tucked away, accessed through an elevator inside a mall that was under construction. Once upstairs, Blue offers panoramic views (towering above a mostly height-challenged city) in a relaxed and friendly environment. I stopped in for sweet potato soup with coconut and cashews, letting myself be in the moment.
I loved existing completely at my own pace! Fed and relaxed, I had one more amazing stop on the tour: the Begijnhof. The short version is that it was a haven for single catholic women.
My only frustration here was that there are signs asking that people not take pictures. So I didn’t, but many people did. Traveller tip: respect signs and the people; you are a visitor. Case in point: a man was standing at the second exit, taking pictures of the passageway that leads out to the square. When he finally put down his camera, an elderly woman came through the passage muttering “I just want to get home.” She had been standing off to the side because, presumably, she didn’t want to be in his picture and end up on the internet. Okay- rant over! Ignorant tourists aside, it was such a peaceful and special place.
From there, I went for dinner (I don’t remember where) and then wandered the city a bit more before bed. I made it back to the museum district as the golden hour hit. The light is so incredible in this city!
How can 3 days be so full and yet so relaxing?