September 1, 2013

Bidding adieu to Amsterdam and summer

Our last day of August brought a gentle reminder that the warm days of summer were coming to a close as we awoke to dark gray skies and scattered showers. We had a 9:00 AM reservation at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, so we rallied across town on this brisk morning to engross ourselves in the art of one of the Dutch masters, Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent was an interesting guy. Through his letters to friends and family (his brother Theo), we learn more about his journey as an artist. Mostly self-taught, he received only about 8 months of actual "art" training. The museum was full of interesting work of arts from sketches he created as the foundation of some of his great masterpieces, to his self-imposed drawing regimen sketching and drawing the works of other artists and anatomy drawings from medical books.

I loved his excitement of coming back from the South of France and discovering "cobalt" as a new paint color to add to his palette of dark, somber colors that were typical of his earlier works. It was after coming back from France that his "style" lightened up and he found his niche as a post-impressionist painter.

The museum was fairly small, so it was just the perfect amount of art immersion for me as I tend to get overly saturated after more than 2-3 hours. It's sad to think that during his lifetime (he supposedly killed himself at age 37, but the BBC recently filmed a documentary that suggests he was murdered) he was just another struggling artist and it wasn't until many years after his death that his greatness was revered.

When we left the museum, it looked like the weather might clear up, so we decided to visit a tourist office to find out what we could do outside of the city for the afternoon. It was our last day in Holland and we wanted to experience something other than the "café culture".

Armed with a plan, we hopped on a regional bus and 45 minutes later, we were here.

Now this was more like it! This is more what I had envisioned Holland to be like. Actually, we all were wondering why it seemed that the term "Holland" was interchangeable with "Netherlands" and after doing some research, I learned that Holland is actually the name of a western province of the Netherlands and the Dutch actually get a little perturbed with people who refer to the entire country as "Holland." So that explains my confusion.

Zaanse Schans is a small village on the banks of the Zaan river, complete with cute Dutch houses and real working windmills. In the 17th and 18th century there were thousands of windmills along the dykes; sawmills, dye mills, oil mills and spice mills that powered the Dutch economy until the industrial revolution changed this industry forever.

The mills are open and you can climb up the stairs and see the amazing wooden gears at work grinding paint pigments and spices. The smell coming from the spice mill was heavenly.

The weather was pretty gray and we felt a few sprinkles when we first arrived, but while we were inside a restaurant for lunch, the weather cleared up and we actually had a pretty nice afternoon, although it was VERY windy (hence my lovely hairdo!).

The view from the top of the windmill was spectacular and it's amazing just how fast the spokes of the windmill whip around with that brisk wind.

Across the river were idyllic waterfront cottages that were just adorable.

We had fun just wandering through the little village, checking out shops and making a few souvenir purchases for our friends and family. We even did some shoe shopping!

It was a delightful way to spend the afternoon and we all really enjoyed escaping the city of Amsterdam. I think our best meal the entire time we were in the Netherlands was our lunch spent at the windmill village. We had a conversation with our waitress about our dilemma of finding a decent place to eat in Amsterdam and she suggested that go into the suburbs to find something good. It was good advice as we found a really lovely Italian place in the Jordaan suburb of Amsterdam that was pretty delicious (and quite affordable).

And with that, we bid adieu to Amsterdam as our train to Paris was departing early the next morning.

So my reflections of Amsterdam are that it's one of those places that I'm glad I visited, but I can put a checkmark next to that destination and say I've been there, but don't ever need to visit again. I'm glad that we didn't arrange our itinerary to schedule more time here as I think 2-1/2 days was the perfect amount of time to visit their main attractions and that's exactly what we did.
You can view more pictures of our second day in Amsterdam here.

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