When I first planned this basic itinerary for my European journey three years ago I decided to start in Amsterdam. The focus of my trip has always been The European Fine Art Fair or TEFAF in Maastricht, Netherlands and then Paris. The nearest big airport was Schiphol (pronounced Skippoll) in Amsterdam or AMS to you frequent travelers. My original thought was to go there for a few days and be sure I made the 2 hour 30 minute train ride south to Maastricht in time for the Vernissage. Any unforeseen problems like cancelled flights would be absorbed by the Amsterdam part of the journey and I would not miss the opening of this great art fair.
There is nothing like a temporary stay with ulterior motives that happens to include the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk, the Hermitage, the Concertgebouw, the canals, the coffee houses and pickled Herring. Most people in Amsterdam speak English along with their native Dutch and many also speak German and/or French. It is a very beautiful city that is comfortable, friendly and fun.
It took me a while to deal with the jet lag. It is interesting to arrive somewhere exciting like Amsterdam at 10 AM on Thursday and your body is dealing with the fact that, because of the 8 hour time difference, it is now 2 AM in Santa Fe and you have only slept a couple hours on the plane. It seems the older I get the longer it takes to adjust. I am sure it had nothing to do with that late night Fat Tuesday celebration at the Blues Jam at El Farol the night before I left.
It is Thursday night and I have just come from the Amsterdam Bourbon Street Blues Bar. It is a great place one block from the Leidseplein (pronounced Lightsapline) or Leides Square. I am staying in the American Hotel there which is famous for hosting everyone from Springsteen to Quentin Tarantino. The lobby bar is plastered with photos of famous people. I tried to get them to put my picture up, but they did not seem too enthusiastic about it.
Two days of recovering from jet lag and I am already overwhelmed. The Van Gogh museum and the many paintings I have seen several times, but never tire of including the “Crows in the Wheatfield” to the “Yellow House” in Arles, but then there was the special exhibit. Many of you know I am a fan of the posters from Paris at the “fin de Siècle” or end of the century. The Van Gogh museum has a special exhibit covering 3 floors featuring the great posters of Paris from Toulouse Lautrec to Jules Cheret printed from 1895 to 1900. The exhibit opened the day I visited on March 3 and it was incredible. Sorry, no pictures in the Van Gogh museum.
Saturday I started out at the Maritime Museum. I am fascinated by the Dutch Golden age roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. It was fascinating to board one of these Indiaman class ships and see how the captain and crew lived. The lucrative spice trade in Indonesia spawned the Dutch East India Company, which was the first-ever multinational corporation and it was financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. There was a Dutch word coined during this era and it was “peperduur” (as expensive as pepper), meaning something is very expensive. Imagine that you owned a ship that you sent to the West Indies and you watched it sail back to Amsterdam with its hold full of pepper and other exotic spices. These ship owners accumulated incredible wealth and you know what they did with some of their money? They bought paintings by Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Rembrandt and many others. These riches financed the incredible paintings that we now refer to as the work of the “Dutch Golden Age”. It was said that during this period two-thirds of all dutch homes had fine art on their walls .
Saturday evening was very special. I enjoyed a concert at the Concertgebouw featuring Dutch Violinist Janine Jansen with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. It was a “Concerto”, which is a performance by an orchestra featuring a soloist and it was one of the most exciting and moving concerts I have ever attended. The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam was finished in 1881 and it is considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world and Janine is considered to be one of the finest violinists alive today. I have never heard such a raucous ovation with so many “Bravos”.
Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Pops orchestra and he also is a public speaker. He says that the experts say that 3% of the people enjoy classical music. I am with Benjamin when he says that the other 97% like it also they just don’t know it yet. If anyone who has their doubts had been with me tonight at this moving event I think they would be a convert.
I have 3 more days to enjoy this city built by the dam on the Amstel river with its great Museums, “coffee” houses, urinals in the street and beautiful people. I will take the train to Maastricht on Wednesday and I have plenty more to see and do before then so I had better get away from this computer and get out there.