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Jill McCracken’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 06 Feb 2011

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

MapAmsterdam Weekend

Hallo, I am just home from Amsterdam from a whirlwind weekend of museums and outings! Check out the photos from our trip :) We took the train from Paris to Amsterdam and made stops in Brussels, Antwerp and Rotterdam. I renewed my love for train travel because I slept through most of France and Belgium and felt refreshed by the time we reached the Netherlands. [I did wake up during the stops to snap photos of Dave's homeland though.] Upon arrival I grabbed an Amsterdam map from a machine and figured out the tram system; we got to our hostel with no problem. However, getting up the neck-breaking stairs at the hostel was a whole other kettle of fish! You literally had to walk sideways to get up the stairs. But the room was comfy and had four individual safes to store our belongings. The bathroom was a little prison-like but we are easy to please. I actually think the mattress at the hostel is better than mine in Paris.....

We automatically started exploring the Rembrandt Square area, and had dinner at the Haagen-Dazs store. I know Mom, "no ice-cream for dinner"...but it was too good to pass up! We did a bit of sight-seeing then popped back to the hostel and threw on our jeans and t-shirts for a pub-crawl that Emily B. found in a guidebook. We arrived at the first bar with no problem and paid 18euros for a 6 bar pub-crawl with drinks at every bar. That's a steal, my friend! No one would have expected Kaslyne and I to be the only ones to make it to the 6th bar, but we did. Most of the attendees were young tourists like us: there was the fake-cripple from Belfast and the double James boys from Liverpool but I only met one Amsterdam resident in the entire evening. "Sebastian"? That's a cat's name.

The next morning's hostel breakfast was so much appreciated - toast and cheese and a necessary cup of tea. The breakfast room walls reminded me of the same yellow of my bedroom at home so I was instantly comforted. We tried to get into the Anne Frank House but the line-up was bananas so we re-grouped and split up for the day. Alex, Emily, Kas & I hit the Van Gogh Museum and the Heineken Experience while Katie, Caley, Kelsey and Emily hit the Sex Museum and the Red Light District. I'm not heartbroken that I missed the girly-shows but I suppose it is sort of a right-of-passage when in Amsterdam.

The Van Gogh Museum was emotional for all of us - "an artist has the power to transcend nature by revealing hidden beauties in his art" (Van Gogh). We passed 1888's "Self Portrait as an Artist" which is the only one of his self-portraits that includes brushes in the frame. I discovered that one of my favourite paintings is actually a Van Gogh! It is "Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette" that adorns the cover of David Sedaris' novel "When You are Engulfed in Flames". Van Gogh painted it because he felt that learning anatomy in a painting class was ridiculous, so he wanted to critique the traditional teaching method. We continued to 1885's "Still Life with Bible" where VG included the Bible of modern life too "La Joie de Vivre" by Emile Zola. He wanted to contrast the religious upbringing taught by his father with his conception of a new form of religion, modernism. Interestingly, the chair in "The Potato Eaters" could never have been viewed by both the back and the side at the same time but VG played with perspective and just did it anyway. His experiments with pointillism in 1888's "Pink Peach Tree" reminded me of the bright white blossoms of the magnolia trees on my route to the Guelph Farmer's Market in the fall. I turned the corner on the 2nd floor and Alex nudged me quietly to shift my gaze towards "Sunflowers". Then the tears just streamed down my face because I was reminded of my prints at home. The emotionality was coupled with my weird recognition that I was in physical presence of so many masterpieces that I have loved for years but now I had the chance to examine up-close. Sadly in 1890 VG felt like a failure and shot himself to death. "Wheat Field with Crows" (1890) was particularly powerful to view because we had just watched Akira Kurosawa's "Dreams" in film theory class. The film depicted the dream-state where the film-maker was chatting with VG right before this painting was painted. The painting depicts a threatening dead end pathway and swarming crows that some critics have said represented his soon-to-follow suicide, but this is just a myth.

From Van Gogh it was just a hop, skip and a jump over to the Heineken Brewery Experience. It was really neat to see the Heineken history, but I loved the interactive movie! You stood on these movable platforms and they juggled you around like you were beer being mixed, then we were sprayed and heated and shuttled down the conveyor belt. It was pretty neat. The first tasting bar was just a baby glass of fresh and ice-cold Heineken, but the bar at the end of the tour gave our two big glasses of beer. We were quite content. In between the bars there were these weird Tron-like space chairs and a giant fooseball table, probably about 25 feet long! What a fun day.

The last morning Emily, Kas and I hit the Anne Frank House bright and early and had another emotional experience there, but of a different sort. Her words are emblazoned on the walls of the house and again, it is an out-of-body experience to stand in the spot where she stood and touch the walls she touched. Afterwards we still had time before our train so we went back to the Palace Square to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. We had our photo taken with Obama, (but you had to pay to print it, no thanks!) and were utterly terrified through the historical part of the museum dedicated to Amsterdam's pirate age. I apparently had to lead the crew, and even though I could have just stood and continued screaming out of sheer terror, I just shut my eyes and kept muttering "This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real...." We did have a lot of fun after the pirates, Emily and Kas adored Sean Connery and I had my picture taken with Humphrey Bogart's apparently giant head. I liked acting like Da Vinci's "Veruvian Man" and being saved by Spidey.

Then we were back to Paris' Gare du Nord in a flash. My Amsterdam map is now happily posted in my res room in Paris. It received quite a beating, but was extremely useful.