It was winter and the weather reports that I kept tracking did not show any sign of the Sun for the next few days and predictably, the next morning was cloudy and dark. Since we were done with the walking tours, we decided to take a ride on the Hop on-off sightseeing bus to be able to make the most of our time here.
We braved through the drizzle and chill and walked with newly bought umbrellas (The Hop On-Off ticket office stocked them) and tickets to where the bus would pick us. Our first stop was going to be at the van Gogh museum. Akank was learning van Gogh style of painting at school in art and she had educated me on what to expect. We were informed that the van Gogh paintings had been temporarily relocated to The Hermitage museum and that is where we headed first.
Armed with some knowledge of what to expect, we joined the rest of the museum goers. The walls neatly displayed the masterpieces of the great man. Knowing a little about Vincent and his brother Theo helped to make sense of what I read. We spent almost three hours there, reflecting on the wonder of life in Vincent’s times. He prided in calling himself a peasant painter. Most of his paintings were of peasants in their wheat fields. Some of the letters he wrote his brother Theo were displayed- profound thoughts in them. We spent time studying every painting closely like art lovers do and learnt so much about the man. His favorite color was definitely yellow and he had a typical style – thick layers of paint in short strokes, almost like tick marks. We viewed the famous – The Potato eaters – which van Gogh himself thought was his best painting. Now I will be able to recognize a van Gogh painting without breaking into a sweat.
By that time, the weather had cleared up and we felt a little more adventurous about making more stops. A trip to a diamond workshop piqued our curiosity. We were taken around the workshop, by an employee, who was only too pleased to show us around and the different cuts and clarity of the expensive stone, hoping to evoke some buying interest in the group that stopped for the tour. At the end of the tour, even though we did not buy one, my respect for the stone went up a few notches.
The hop on–off bus took the scenic route around town. The audio options in the bus let us choose the language we preferred to listen in and that helped. We decided to stop at the Jewish Historic Museum, next. The audio tour we opted for, gave us a lot of information on Jewish history and culture. On display were paintings by the Dutch painter Sal Meijer who was Jewish, artifacts and photographs from the 16th Century Netherlands. We saw videos of some Jewish practices and ceremonies.
The instruments they used for circumcision of eight day old babies were scary! There were even videos of the circumcision ceremony – The Brit Milah – to watch. As the Jews await their Messiah’s imminent arrival, there have been a few false claimants who have called themselves the Messiah. One such interesting person to read about was Sabbatai Zevi. After initial claims of being the messiah he embraced Islam! It was possible to empathize with the Jews of the earlier days in the Netherlands and Spain and other parts of the World. There was so much to learn and appreciate and we had so little time. The lady who collected back the audio equipment at the end of our visit, was pleasantly surprised we had stayed that long.
After a quick bite at the museum cafe, we hopped back on the bus, to be dropped where we began our tour. We were back in the vicinity of the hotel and we still had a few hours to use well before we went back to our room. Amsterdam has museums for everything– over 50 museums on the last count! We couldn’t do justice to more museums but we went into one more that we spotted. The Erotica museum.
Did you know John Lennon, of the Beatles fame, was first an artist before he picked a guitar? Some of his lithographs were displayed. So were some miniature soapstone sculptures from Kajuraho, some collectible bone ivory Shunga Netsuke from China, some works based on Milo Menara comics, some of Paul Blanca’s artistic photographs and Jeff Wack’s works. There was even a metal sculpture of Lord Buddha. We also saw on display a Tintin comic, an illegal adaptation of course, with Tintin and Captain Haddock in dubious situations!
We also walked to the famous Red Light District, right in the middle of town. Women are legally permitted to be sex workers and unlike in other countries, they have police protection. I saw both young and older women dressed in their best work attire, waiting at lit glass showcases called the ‘window brothels’. Some of them actually looked really pretty.
Well, we had seen enough. We stopped at a middle eastern restaurant that served Mexican falafels and freshly squeezed orange juice for dinner and called it a night.
Day three was in Antwerp and for a beautiful occasion!