Snow and Van Gogh

Amsterdam was an even briefer visit for us and is the least amount of photos we’ve taken of any one place.  I want to return one day to experience Amsterdam in the late spring or summer because most of its charm is found outside.  While we were in Amsterdam, however, it snowed like the dickens and every moment was a fight to stay warm, dry, and on course to whichever place we were trotting to in our Canadian autumn footwear.

Amsterdam is one of those world cities where there are probably more tourists than locals all year round.  Our hostel was a massive three building site with four floors and two locations, too!  The good thing about our hostel was how clean and efficient it was.  There was a breakfast system, a bar and restaurant, a sitting area and even some board games on hand.  They are also just starting to think about pub activities such as quiz nights.  They didn’t have any on when we were there but I liked that they were trying to get events going to get people to talk to one another.

That’s something we have noticed while on our trip this year.  Hostels have changed a lot over the years.  Rather, people have changed a lot in the 6 years or so since Callum and I were solo travelers before we met each other.  Callum especially noted the difference: people will sit in common areas and they might even sit alone with a beer.  But they won’t look up from their phones or talk to anyone around them.  I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been out and observed a whole group of people sitting at their table with every one of them on their phones.  What are they doing?  Who are they talking to?  Their other friends that they’d rather be with?  We also notice that within the dorm rooms themselves a lot of the times people won’t talk to us.  They just silently (or not so silently) keep to themselves.  I remember when everyone was friendlier and talkative.  Nowadays it’s an effort to meet others because their phones are in their faces.

Anyway, we did traipse around Amsterdam a bit and it’s the first time we’ve encountered snow on our trip besides the little bit we encountered in Peru when we hiked Rainbow Mountain (a previous post).  “Don’t you think it’s wonderful?” asked Callum.  I thought for a moment before replying.  “I mean, sure, it looks nice. But I’m freezing cold and carrying my big bag and we don’t know where we’re going yet and we can’t find the sidewalk.”  Is what I said and thought.  Our first full day we had a late start and didn’t get out until 11am or so.  It was snowing heavily.  We had to get to our appointment to see the Anne Frank house so we allocated enough time to walk there to be on time.  This is one example of how busy Amsterdam is even in the snowy weather.  We had to pre-book our time-slot to see the Anne Frank house.  Granted, it is popular with pretty much everyone whether you were forced to read the book in high school or not.  But this place is so small and there’s no cloakroom so you want to be on time for your slot, but not too early because then you’ll be shivering outside waiting for your turn.  We were a bit early so tried to kill some time in a posh little coffee and chocolate shop.  It had been maybe 30 minutes since we left the hostel and Callum said “I get what you mean by snow. How it totally sucks unless you’re warm and snug with a cup of coffee looking out at it and you know you don’t have to go out into it.” That being said, Cal did frolick a little bit later that day like a happy puppy while I went indoors to defrost my hands and feet.


Back to the Anne Frank house.  At first I was a bit miffed that we weren’t allowed to take pictures.  Within a few minutes I completely understood why.  It’s a tiny space, as I said before.  And it was crawling with other tourists—the maximum that the space can possibly allow at one time.  It would have been very annoying for others to have to watch/listen to me take pictures and vice versa.  Plus, for the “emotional reason” which the young men at the front of the house explained to us as we put our camera away.  The house is well preserved and the information on the walls and of the audio guide were all very good, but not too much.  Sometimes audio guides are a bit laborious but this one was very well done.  I already knew the story (as most people do) as I had read and loved “The Diary of Anne Frank” when I was a teenager.  It was incredibly interesting to learn about the bits I had either forgotten or didn’t know.  I didn’t know they hid in Otto Frank’s workplace, for example.  I had also forgotten about the 8th person with them—a single man in addition to the 4 Franks and the other family of 3.  I also really choked up at the video of Otto when he said that when he read the diary for the first time after finding it after the war, he was shocked by Anne’s depth of feeling and self-critical thoughts.  He admitted that even if you have a good relationship with your children, you don’t really know them at all.  As you may know, Otto was Anne’s father and the sole survivor of the 8 souls hiding in the annexe.  The space they all lived in was so basic, so small, that it is hard to believe they lived there for as long as they did (2 years).  Now when I re-read the book, I’ll be able to imagine the setting.  A must-see if you go to Amsterdam.

We also made time for yet more ART!  How can you go to Amsterdam without investing a little time at the Van Gogh Museum?  You can’t.  Even if you don’t know a thing about art or don’t really care that much, scrounge up even the faintest amount of interest and go (no pun intended).  The museum was three floors and went through Van Gogh’s whole time as an artist from age 27 when he first decided to be an artist to his untimely death at age 37.  In his art career he made over 800 pieces of art and the museum has about 200 of his paintings and400 drawings.  Even I learned a thing or two while in the museum and I am an art teacher who loves Van Gogh and have done many lessons on him.  I didn’t realise he spent the first couple of years just drawing.  He believed drawing was the basis for all good art and that he should make sure he understood the power of line before learning how to use paint.  Wow!  I say that all the time—I didn’t know I was quoting the great Vincent Van Gogh.  It was interesting to see this major collection of his work, exhibitions about his process, and also to read/hear some of the letters he wrote.  We know so much about him because of all of his countless letters to his brother Theo and his friends.  I also didn’t know that his nephew is the reason we even have a Van Gogh Museum.  I knew his sister-in-law is the reason he is famous but didn’t know about the significance of Vincent Wilhelm Van Gogh.  The only disappointing thing about the gallery was photography was not allowed.  I wonder why some galleries allow it and some do not.

We also went to the very small little gallery called MOCO (Modern Contemporary Museum Amsterdam) where there were Banksy and Lichtenstein artworks on display.  I love Banksy—he’s a very clever anonymous street artist from England.  Another significant name in the art curriculum that I have taught.  His pieces are usually political or ironic and always thought-provoking.  It was really good to see some in real life as I had missed my chance to track some down while actually in London.  Roy Lichtenstein was a strange gallery-mate to Banksy, I thought, as he is a 1960’s-1990’s pop artist who was popular around the same time as Andy Warhol.  However, again, it was interesting to see one or two famous pieces by him.

And that’s about it, ladies and gentlemen.  The rest of our time was taken up with finding places to eat, eating, watching TV and sleeping.  I had wanted to do a canal boat ride but the weather was so poor, the condensation from everyone’s breath would have fogged up the windows and the snowing would have covered the glass roof, so it would have been a cold ride to see not much if we had ventured out to do it.  When we return one summer we’ll ride bicycles and boats, take pictures of the architecture, and in general be more adventurous.  I’m glad we went but I can’t wait to go back.

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