Sunday, June 8, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane: Amsterdam

Hi everyone! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. I've had quite a weekend so far, and it's not even over yet!

Thursday night (our weekends start on Thursdays because we don't have school on Fridays) all the girls in the program decided to have a girls’ night out. We all went to the movies to see Sex and the City, which was a lot of fun. Movies over here are fairly similar to those in the States except you have to pay to use the bathrooms (not exactly a perk). The movie was shown in English with French and Flemish subtitles and they seem to have even more previews/ commercials over here than they do in the States, which I was surprised by.

Friday morning, we woke up early and made our way down to the train station. We boarded the train and rode the roughly 2 1/2 hours to Amsterdam. The train ride was nice and relaxing. I am really starting to believe that trains should be utilized more in the States. They are so efficient and you get to see all the countryside as you go without spending a ton of money on gas. Anyways, we arrived in Amsterdam a little after noon and we walked from the train station, which was a beautiful old building, to our hotel. It was quite a trek because we didn't really know where we were going and we took the longest way possible, but we got a nice walking tour of the city. We finally found our hotel, Hotel de Paris, and checked in. The hotel was really nice for what we paid and ended up being fairly convenient. We dropped off our bags and split up into smaller groups to go our separate ways. First on my agenda was the Van Gogh museum. We had some trouble finding the museum until we asked someone for directions and then we were there. We came upon the Rijksmuseum and decided to go to that first since it closed earlier (the Van Gogh museum is open until 10pm on Fridays for anyone who’s curious). Rijksmuseum (no I have no idea how to pronounce it either) has a bunch of paintings by Dutch masters, including Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Steen. The museum was really great with little stories about each of the paintings/ artists on display next to the work. My favorite was Rembrandt's Night watch, which I learned about in my art history class. It was so cool to see it in person and was much larger than I remembered. After that, we made our way to the Van Gogh museum, which was one of the best museums I have ever been to. The museum was laid out perfectly with paintings by artists who influenced Van Gogh on the first floor, actual paintings by Van Gogh divided into the different periods of his life on the second floor, and then paintings by people who were influenced by Van Gogh on the third floor. The museum has the world's largest collection of works by Van Gogh, including his most famous Sunflower painting, self portrait, and Wheatfield with Crows. It was interesting to see the progression of his work and his style throughout his works. The museum also interspersed the history of his life and different quotes and things from his friends, colleagues, and from his correspondence with his brother Theo, which was wonderful because you are able to not only see his works, but know the history behind the different periods as well. The works on the third floor by artists who were influenced by Van Gogh were impressive as well, with works by Monet, Manet, Picasso, Seurat, Gauguin, and many others. The whole experience was incredible. I loved it because Van Gogh is one of my all-time favorite artists. I spent a good two hours in the museum just enjoying all the works and being enthralled by the intricacies of the paintings and the brush strokes. After the museums, our group headed back to the hotel where we rested for about half an hour and then met up with the rest of the group for dinner. We walked down to a plaza which led to a big shopping street and ate at an Italian restaurant there, which had decent food. After dinner, we wandered around the town until we came upon the Red Light District. I was curious to see this area of town since everyone always talks about it, but one view was enough for me. I was surprised by how clothed most of the women were… most were more covered up than I had expected. The area was crowded with tourists, the majority of which were men. We walked up and down the street and it was kind of depressing to me to think of those women selling themselves. Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel because we were all exhausted from the day’s events. I fell asleep as soon as I climbed into bed.

The next morning, I woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. I was surprised that they had breakfast there because that’s not always a given in Europe, but the breakfast was good with a large assortment of items. Then, we all head over to the Anne Frank house. Along the way, we passed some beautiful houses and streets. We walked along a canal road and we got to see some of the cute little houseboats. We had to stand in line for the Anne Frank house, which is not unexpected since it is one of the biggest draws in Amsterdam. We didn’t have to wait long though before we went inside. They did a really nice job restoring the building and putting up display cases with different items and videos. Along the route, there are quotes from her diary written on the wall. The whole experience was very moving and made me thankful that I never had to live in such a way in such a time. After the tour, we found a nice cafĂ© and had a delicious lunch. After lunch, we split off into smaller groups again. I wanted to go to the modern art museum in Amsterdam because I had read it was one of the best in the world, up there with the Tate Modern in London and MoMA in NYC. When we got there though, we found out that the permanent collection was not there. Apparently they are in the process of moving and they are transferring the pieces across town. I was incredibly disappointed because the museum was one of the things that I really wanted to do while in Amsterdam. I guess I will just have to go back at some point to see it. So we left the museum and just wandered around town, going into different shops along the way. It was really nice because we wandered into a less touristy part of town, which was beautiful and a lot more like the Amsterdam I had pictured in my head. Then, we walked back to the train station and headed out back to Brussels.

We got back into Brussels late and the weather was cold, grey, and misty… not the most pleasant greeting. We were all exhausted from such a long two days so we all parted ways and rested for the rest of the night.

On the whole, I was left with a pretty good impression of Amsterdam. It is a beautiful city with canals cutting through it. There are bikes all over the city and you always have to look out when crossing the streets and walking around. The weather the whole time we were in Amsterdam was beautiful… clear, blue skies and perfect temperatures. However, there were a lot of tourists, mainly Anglophones, who I think are drawn to the town by the coffeehouses (where you can’t get coffee by the way, or so I hear) and free society which Amsterdam has to offer. Despite this though, the city was great with a lot of culture to offer visitors.

Today, I am recovering from the exhaustion that is traveling and studying/ reading for my upcoming exam on Tuesday (everyone wish me luck!). The sun is out in Brussels, which is a nice surprise considering that when we got off the train last night the weather was awful… cold, misty, and grey.

My apologies for the length of this post… I hope it didn’t bore you too much.



emilyvux said...

Yea for Van Gogh! He is one of my favorites too, and I'm glad to hear that the museum was really nice. Good luck on your exam!

Anonymous said...

i'm totally living vicariously through you, i hope you realize that lol. good luck with your exam...although i think it's already happened by now. :D