Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Yesterday and Today

We've been so busy keeping warm in the cold Dutch winds that I haven't had a chance to update the blog.  Our barge is now parked by the town of Gouda (Howda).  G's are pronounced strangely in Dutch.  For example "Van Gogh" sounds a little like "Van Hawk" pronounced by someone with a bad cold.  

In the morning, we took our first bike ride through an area sprinkled with windmills, 19 of them, scattered around some canals.  The windmills are all functioning, completely constructed of wood, and were originally erected there to pump water out of the canals, I'm not exactly sure why.  They explained all of this to us, but somehow it didn't register.  The bikes travel with us on the barge.  They all are big, substantial bicycles with seven gears, pedal brakes and hand brakes, pretty easy to ride.  There are bike trails all over the Netherlands, and bike vacations are very popular.  I can see why,  It's really a pleasure to cover the miles on a bicycle, through this pretty and very flat countryside.  Larry didn't try to ride, but instead walked with a group to the one windmill open to the public, where you can see the way the windmill keeper and his family lived, in a cold and noisy environment, sleeping in wooden box beds, and listening to the constant noise of the vanes turning in the wind.  It seems romantic, somehow, living in a windmill, but when I see it up close, not so much.

After the ride, we had a rare couple of hours of no activities.  Then a walk into Gouda from the canal, and a tour of beautiful stained glass windows in the Gouda church.  Dinner was on our own, so Larry and I had a quiet lovely dinner with some high end food in Gouda.  We chatted to the restaurant owner, and she said that we've had a perfect trip.  We've seen the tulips and we've had dinner in Gouda!  What more do you need?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Vermeer's View of Delft

We went to the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague to see the Girl with a Pearl Earring and also Vermeer's landscape of Delft.  Then we went to Delft for lunch, and I walked out to the pier to see the view that Vermeer painted back in the seventeenth century.  Here's my one and only but great picture (I think).

Flower Day

What a beautiful day, fields of flowers, the Keukenhof park, a visit to Leiden, another boat ride through the canals.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Today we had a nice breakfast and listened to Joe Corn talk about the golden age of the Netherlands, when trading ships sailed out of Amsterdam to almost all corners of the world, and ordinary citizens lived well, and painting flourished.  We walked to the cathedral in Haarlem and saw the beautiful, overwhelming organ on  which a child Mozart played for an hour under the watchful eye of his father Leopold and where Handel came and played, amazing those who heard him with his technical skill.  A Haarlem organist then gave us a grand tour of his instrument, played for us, and invited us up 42 steps to view his three keyboards.  He sits perched behind thousands of pipes and seemed to really enjoy performing for us, reaching out left and right to pull out the stops and moving up and down over the three keyboards with ease.  

We then had a nice lunch and walked a few blocks to see big flower floats (picture to be attached I hope) did some shopping, and then went to visit the Franz Hals museum.  Hals was a portrait painter who did well in the seventeenth century and was then forgotten for two hundred years, until the "modern eye" was able to appreciate the virtues of his painting style, more painterly, almost impressionistic.  Wanda thinks that many portraits of Franz Hal were discarded because their owners were dissatisfied with them, they weren't polished enough for the taste of the time.  The same kind of thing happened to Vermeer, his particular kind of artistic magic was only appreciated later.  He actually wasn't successful at all during his lifetime.  It looks like we get to see some Vermeers day after tomorrow in the art museum of the Hague, including that famous girl with the pearl in her ear.  

A few of us took a brisk walk back to the boat, while the worn out others took the bus, and we had our art lecture from Wanda and then a traditional Dutch dinner, with sausage and mashed potatoes, but very fancy and tasty.  Now it's time to sleep after a very busy day.

Missed a Day!

We're on the Magnifique, an elegant barge moving smoothly through the river, canal, waterway from Amsterdam on our way to Haarlem.  But first, an update on our day yesterday and the day before.

On Friday, we visited the Van Gogh museum right across from our hotel.  The museum has the collection of Van Gogh's paintings and sketches that remained in the possession of Van Gogh's nephew, and includes some of the iconic images I associate with Van Gogh, one of his sunflower paintings, and the beautiful picture of his bedroom, with the violet walls and the big yellow bed.  I was amazed to learn that Van Gogh painted most of the famous pictures we associate with him in a period of only two or three years, painting furiously, sometimes one painting a day.  Especially moving are the paintings he created while hospitalized for his severe mental illness and depression.  

After the museum tour, Larry and I headed out for a long walk through Amsterdam, following a route that connected various spots associated with Rembrandt.  We had a list of our Dutch tour guide Marieke's favorite Amsterdam places, so we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant on the canal, walked for a couple of hours and then had dessert at her favorite apple pie place.  It was a beautiful cool and sunny day, and the city is full of blossoming trees and beds of tulips.  Amsterdam is very pretty, but especially in some neighborhoods, crowded and busy.  There are a huge number of bicycles everywhere, with the riders every kind of person in every kind of dress, sometimes two to a bike.  Not only are there tandem bicycles, but large group bicycles with beer kegs on tap,  where groups of friends go pedaling and drinking down the street.  Marieke says the person steering the vehicle is not supposed to drink, but nobody follows the rules.

Thursday evening we went to the Concertgebauw to hear the Netherlands Philharmonic play a program of American music, Rhapsody in Blue, Quiet City of Copland, American in Paris, John Adams The Chairman Dances.  Great acoustics.   Larry slept.

Saturday morning we went to the Rijksmuseum, which has just recently reopened after a more than ten year renovation, so naturally there are still huge crowds.  We were able to buy a couple of tickets for the late Rembrandt exhibit, and got into the exhibit hall right after it opened, so at least for the first twenty minutes we had some of the rooms with thin crowds.  These paintings are amazing, and I'm glad I saw the film of the exhibit at Santana Row a few weeks ago.   After the special Rembrandt exhibit, we took a tour of other highlights of the museum, ending up at the famous Night Watch of Rembrandt's.  In the afternoon, our group had a private canal tour (with champagne and Dutch cookies) and a visit to the Anne Frank house, where Anne and her family and four others hid for more than two years, before being betrayed and sent to the camps.  Only Anne's father survived and eventually found Anne's diary left behind in the apartment where they had lived during the war.  

Finally, we took a bus to board our barge.   It's cozy, little rooms on the lower floor, a lounge and dining area on the upper floor, a staff of five to take care of the thirty or so of us.  I am enjoying my fellow guests.  As I type my blog this morning, Larry is having an animated conversation about the internet with a gentleman from Palo Alto who appears very interested!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday evening, first day in Amsterdam

So Larry and I found Sylvia, who runs the tour from the Netherlands end of it and were transported to our hotel, the Conservatorium, which is a magnificent building adjacent to many major museums and the Amsterdam concert hall.  The museum has parts that seem very old and parts that are extremely modern, all connected together somehow.  We couldn't check in immediately, so headed out on a long walk to the cathedral  (the DAM).  There is a shop next to the cathedral called Dam Good Coffee.  We passed many coffee shops, and I had be quite firm with Larry about not spending time in these so-called "coffee" shops.  But Larry patiently waited while I shopped for replacement garments.   It was a beautiful sunny, spring day and the streets were crowded with tourists and bicycles.   There are indeed many bridges and canals in Amsterdam, also as promised, it is tulip season.   For a while, I kept exclaiming "look, tulips!" but I fear that gets old fast (since there are always tulips).  We tried out the swimming pool and jacuzzi down in the basement...nice.  We met our fellow Stanford travel study customers at a beautiful dinner in the hotel, and had interesting conversation, about past and future Stanford travel study trips of course, but also cell phones, landlines, internet security, scams, and a good half hour of angry complaints from two participants who were not met at the airport for some reason.   Larry said "well, the good news're here now" but they were not much mollified.
I guess they ended up taking taxis, for which Stanford will reimburse them.  Perfection is a lot to expect.  

I am very pleased that Larry did so well on the long walk through town and a short experimental tram ride.  We are both very tired, though, and looking forward to a good night's sleep in our much larger hotel room.  Interesting, though, how complicated all the doors and light switches are.  Really avant garde design, but kind of hard to learn to use.

Tomorrow, we'll brave the crowds at the Van Gogh Museum, and go to a symphony concert in the evening of, guess what, Gershwin and Copland.  We came far to hear Dutch musicans play American music.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Turkish Transit

Thursday morning, April 23

We're in the strangest little hotel room at the Amsterdam airport.  It's a hotel called the CitizenM, and it's very arty.  Our room is filled with one giant bed and two cylinders, one for the shower, another with frosted glass for the toilet.  There is an ipad with controls for mood lighting in pink, blue, orange.  There is no room to put anything.  The shampoo bottles claim to have magical properties.  We just had a nice breakfast downstairs and will pack up, return to the airport, and meet the tour person to provide our transportation into downtown Amsterdam to our hotel there.  

We had a fine journey on Turkish airlines.  The boarding at SFO was a bit chaotic.  The crowd didn't seem to understand the announcements and kept surging forward in their eagerness to get on board, but once on we settled down into business class seats with lots of room, and very nice food and service.  The seats became quite decent sleeping spaces.  Istanbul airport is quaint and feels a bit foreign.  They sell lots of Turkish Delight and baklava at the coffee shops.  Larry had his first cup of Turkish coffee for the trip, very sweet, thick sludge.  We flew on to Amsterdam with more nice food,  and then spent quite a while searching for this wierd hotel.  

But now we've had a reasonable sleep and will begin another day.  I've got to do some shopping in Amsterdam for all my underwear I left at home in the dryer.

Monday, April 20, 2015

First New Blog Attempt

Monday, April 20

Today is the penultimate, packing day.  I am packing and repacking, trying to squeeze three weeks worth of clothes and other items into a carry-on.  We have two trips, one which is going to be somewhat elegant, and another which is more rustic, but I am definitely going with rustic (elegant takes up way too much room).  I am also trying to figure out how to blog on the road again, since I have completely forgotten how I did it back in September.  I also would like to figure out how to post pictures on the blog.  Perhaps I will post here a picture to commemorate the Turkish part of the tour.

Another kind of Turkey