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For The Memories, Babe Finding myself in a rut, I've decided to try something new. Or a few things new actually. I've taken a job as an au pair. And moved to a different country. And don't know anyone else. And am directionally impaired. Here goes nothing...

Museum Field Trip

NETHERLANDS | Tuesday, 1 April 2008 | Views [1098] | Comments [7]

Yesterday I finally made it out to Amsterdam! Yeah, yeah, I know, it's probably supposed to be your first stop upon entering the Netherlands, but we all know I'm a little late to the party most of the time. Anyway, I planned a day of museums followed by a concert at Concertgebouw. I've actually planned to do this several times now, but sleep and laziness won out. I suck. But, I know me, and I know that if I spend money on something, I'm going to do it, so I pre-paid for my concert ticket. I suck less :)

So, there are three main must-see museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk museum, and the Van Gogh museum. The Stedelijk is going through MAJOR construction, and have moved their exhibit from this beautiful historic building in the Museumplein section of the city into a few floors in an office building by the train station. So, due to my lack of interest in having to find two different areas in one day, combined with my comparative interest in the classics over some of the more contemporary pieces, the Stedelijk got cut from the itinerary. I'll probably go at some point though...we'll see. So that leaves us with two huge museums and a concert. Not bad for a day's work.

I started with the Rijksmuseum around noon. I had hoped to be there a little earlier, but I had some timing issues with public transportation. It takes an hour to get from Den Bosch to Amsterdam, and the bus to Den Bosch only comes once an hour, so while I left around 9:45, it took awhile to get there. Anyway, the Rijksmuseum is mainly a collection of historical pieces by Dutch artists. Among these are Van Gogh and Rembrandt. The latter had many students who followed his work, so there is a large area dedicated to Rembrandt and his wannabes (some of which I prefered over Rembrandt himself). The museum also features a doll house collection, a huge display of the blue and white china (Delftware) that the Netherlands is famous for, and other things having to do with Dutch history. It was a huge gallery, so I am really glad I decided on the audio tour to help me through that struggle that you sometimes face in unfamiliar exhibits, trying to figure out which pieces are really worth critiquing for any length of time.

By the time I got through the 14 or so galleries, it was getting close to 3:45, and the Van Gogh museum was only open til 6, and was my primary interest in the museum trip, so I headed over as quickly as possible (read as: I walked fast because it was kind of cold, and only got lost once). The Van Gogh museum has been remodeled recently and has a very modern look compared to the rest of the Museumplein area. It is grey and circular, starkly contrasting the usual old European look of everything else around. Inside, I again opted for the audio tour (worth the 4 Euro) and headed out to learn about Holland's favorite crazy artist. The museum is set up chronologically, which was interesting. Van Gogh moved around a lot, sometimes looking for inspiration among common people, sometimes joining other artists, sometimes checking himself into psychiatric wards after cutting of parts of his head. You know, normal stuff. The work was beautiful, and included several of his self-portraits and one of the pieces from the Sunflower series.

My favorite part of the museum, though, was a temporary exhibit of the works of Milliet. I hadn't heard of him before, but he was incredibly talented. The main subject of the exhibit was a piece called The Ophelia, based on the character from Hamlet. It is a portrayal of the part of the play where Ophelia finds out that Hamlet killed her father and is not in love with her. She goes crazy and lets herself drown in a steam. The Milliet piece shows her floating in the water, surrounded by meaningful flowers, dressed in a beautiful lace gown. The painting has inspired many photographers and other artists throughout the years, and there was a section of photographs featuring similarly set scenes, with women floating in rivers, or laid out to look limp and lifeless, but hopeful. It was a very interesting, evocative display.

After the museum closed, I was starving, so I headed to a little Carribean cafe I found nearby the Concertgebouw. I had a little over an hour to kill before I had to be at will call, and I needed a place to camp out, so it worked out pretty well. I've been writing a lot recently, so it was a good place to eat liesurely and write. Here's the best part of this blog: Anyone of you that I have eaten with knows that I'm not a big fan of talking to people I don't know. Like, I avoid ordering for myself, or asking for refills, etc. Kera probably knows this best, since she's been doing this for me since we were little. Anyway, I had bought a phone card to add credit to my cell phone, but the instructions were fully in Dutch. It was really stressing me out because I needed to be able to ask Kristina if she would mind me crashing at her apartment in Den Bosch when I inevitibly missed my bus that night (due to the timing of the concert and the late train). So I had intended to ask someone on the bus to help, then on the train, but couldn't get up the nerve. But I finally did at the resteraunt. Where, by the way, I ordered and ate by myself, not feeling at all self-conscious. It was kind of a great feeling. I explained my situation to the girl at the table next to me (whom I had heard speaking English) and asked if she could activate the phone card, which she very nicely did. Turns out there was some misprint on the instructions, so even though I tried to follow them, since I couldn't understand the prompts, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Anyway, point is, I was proactive. Yay for me :)

I picked up my ticket from will call and headed into the Concertgebouw. The concert hall is quite stunning. It is the most famous of the venues in the Netherlands, and has had many composers (including Brahms and others I can't think of off the top of my head) play there. It is very ornate, with beautiful columns and other architectural details. I lucked out and some of the people around me didn't show, so the lady next to me and I got to kind of spread out and relax instead of being squished into the chairs we had originally paid for (those same columns that made the place beautiful really didn't help with seeing the stage). The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra played two pieces, Bruckner's Ninth Symphony and Britten's Sinfonia de Requiem. They played beautifully, and watching the musicians I discovered something about myself. In that concert hall was my embassy. I'll explain:

My new friend Kristina from Norway was telling the story of how she lost her passport in some foreign country (Brazil?), and how she had gone to the Norwegian embassy to get a temporary ID. She said that walking into the embassy was like being home. People spoke her language and were concerned about her well-being, not because they knew her, but because she was a part of them. This is how I feel in concert halls. At last night's concert both pieces were commentary on the composers' ideas of death. They were both very dynamic, swelling to giant passages of grand fortissimo, then smoothing out into a rippling flow of sound. The conductor was animated, and kept the orchestra moving and intensity high. They played with passion. And while a few heads bobbed toward the end of the last movement, it kept me enthralled throughout. Even if they weren't two of my favorite pieces, persay, the feeling behind the music and the connection between the conductor and the musicians made it quite the show.

But every show can do that. Every time I walk into a concert hall, be it the familiar Murchison or a new experience in an old Euro building, my feeling is the same. Watching the people find their seats, listening to the violin tune the ensemble, waiting as the conductor anticipates that first note- all these things surround me with a comfort and calm. It's a relationship, me with the music, keeping my emotional attention until that final crescendo and the release. So, I undersood that feeling of acceptance and appreciaion that Krisina felt. Because music is my embassy.

Fin, for now.

PS: Pictures will be posted as soon as my computer is back up and running. I dropped it, and smashed up the power cord, so it may be awhile. Sorry :(



Katie....you seriously need to become a writer! I felt like I was reading a novel while reading your blog!

p.s. You can't go to Amsterdam for what it's not known for! LOL! j/k!

  Dara Apr 2, 2008 8:22 AM



Sounds fun. So, it turns out my brother and his family are probably moving to France. He was offered a job there and they think they are going to move there at the end of June. Maybe you could swing by and say hey!

I hope things are going well for you!

  Josh Apr 7, 2008 9:42 AM


PS... did you notice that European orchestras don't warm-up on stage? That is suposedly the biggest difference between US and European Orchestras.

  Josh Apr 7, 2008 9:45 AM


First thought: Well thought, well composed, nicely done. Second thought: You and josh are big nerds :) Anyway, well done and pick up your phone. Fin, for now. (I totally just jacked your saying! )

  Kera Apr 8, 2008 3:22 AM


Actually, they did warm up a little on stage. Not nearly as much as US Orchestras, but it's funny that you say that because it's usually my favorite part :)

  katieback Apr 8, 2008 10:10 PM


Agreeing with kera... music nerds. ha. I liked the part about Van Gogh, particularly this little gem: "sometimes checking himself into psychiatric wards after cutting of parts of his head. You know, normal stuff. "

I'm glad for your more adventurous, confident self. I'm a little worried about you sitting alone in concert halls watching the violinists warm up. That kind of says SVU to me... but, hey. Proud of you, nonetheless!


  Lauren Apr 10, 2008 3:53 AM


Hey... long time no talk. It's probably mostly my fault. How are things going? I hope you and Potter are doing well!

  Josh Apr 25, 2008 9:34 AM

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