Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Biking Back to Amsterdam

As anyone who's written a blog knows, it's sometimes hard to keep up.  Our biggest challenge has not been the time but rather computer access.  We can write entries on our little iPad Mini and even post them to the blog, but putting photos in the blog requires a computer, which we don't carry with us on the bike, not even a laptop.  And unlike what people say about Playboy, we think most readers access us for the photos, not the articles.
In the U.S., most public libraries will do the job, though some have security features that disallow the first step of the process: uploading the photos from the camera or the memory chip.  In Europe, the percentages reversed, hence our many delays.

On August 15 we boarded the Holland America Eurodam for the trip back to the States, and continuing the blog then became a practical impossibility.  The ship charges 75 cents a minute for internet access, and slow access at that.  Sorry, readers, you're valuable but not that precious to us!  And once one gets a few weeks behind in a blog, it sometimes is hard to get back in the swing of it.  So please accept our apologies for this late conclusion of our European adventure, which ended over 2 months ago.

Today's post will take you with us back to our final bike miles in Holland, with subsequent posts highlighting our cruise ship route back from Amsterdam.  It was really two cruises linked together: a 12-day circuit of the Baltic, then a 16-day crossing of the Atlantic to New York City.  Do check out those posts as soon as we have them up!

If you're here to see pictures of our tandem, today's blog will have to suffice, as the tandem was back in its two cases for the boat trip and then was shipped home to Seattle as soon as we hit NYC, to leave us less encumbered as we Amtraked it across the U.S. visiting family.  Our first photo today is of our trusty bike with a "fietsers pontveer" or "bicycle-only ferryboat" heading across the canal to pick us up.  Our trip back to Amsterdam was fairly direct, only a day and a half to cover the 99 km from the ferry terminal in the Hook of Holland by a reasonably straight route.  But this is Holland and scenery keeps popping up, such as this canal scene complete with Dutch cyclists and a classic Dutch windmill, then our narrowest path of the summer.  It went on like this for about 3 miles/5 km, but luckily we only encountered two bikes going the opposite way, with us giving way once and the other bike pulling off before we did the other time.

We showed you a do-it-yourself ferry a few blogs back.  Throughout the Netherlands we had seen many do-it-yourself drawbridges, and this time finally saw someone doing-it-themselves.  Before you start trying to lift it and again after you're done, don't forget to open or close the latches that keep the bridge from opening on its own and stranding someone on the latch side!

We were now less than a dozen miles, as the crow flies, from Amsterdam, but thanks to good Dutch zoning you could only tell by scanning the horizon.  We had good trails like this to within 3 or 4 km of our hotel, then rode trails with their own bike traffic signals most of the rest of the way.  It was almost as easy as riding into a small country town!

The main reason for our push to Amsterdam was to get together with friends Louise and Masaharu and two of their sons, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter.  They all headed to England the next morning for the wedding of son #3, so we're glad we were able to catch them just in time, and that they were able to fit us into their busy schedule.

While not quite so memorable, we did take one last opportunity to have some good Dutch pancakes for lunch.  Don't think it will be anytime soon that we see a menu like this again!

Once the tandem was disassembled and in its cases, we could relax and get busy checking off two items that have been on our bucket list for a decade: visiting the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, two of the greatest art museums in the world, and only a few blocks apart.

From our efficiency apartment we crossed a canal with a view of the Rijksmuseum a kilometer away, but headed instead to the Van Gogh Museum.  Hours later, we marveled at all we had seen, from Van Gogh's actual paint palette to the largest collection of his paintings in the world.  Whew!  Here are a few of them.


Van Gogh was deeply moved by Japanese prints, and the museum showed several examples of his paintings and sometimes the work that inspired it.


Only a masochist would attempt both museums on one day, and he would do an inadequate job of seeing them at that.  So the next day we tackled the Rijksmuseum, which only reopened in April after a 2-year renovation.  It has an enormous collection, largely of Dutch paining.  But this small country is a giant in art history, so there was more than we could actually see in one long day.

The building itself is an architectural work, and especially with the renovation it set the artwork off admirably.  Of course the museum's most famous work is Rembrandt's Night Watch, but there was much, much more to admire, such as a roomful or two of massive paintings commissioned by civic groups; humorous 'genre' paintings like the next one of a naughty boy who has had his come-uppance from Saint Nicholas; maritime paintings galore, with one gallery including a model of a 17th century warship; and 4 Vermeers, 10%+ of the world's supply of 38 works commonly attributed to him.  We've shared two that involve the receipt of love letters.

In several of the galleries, a noteworthy painting had laminated commentaries available in several languages, giving background to the painting and pointing out interesting things to look for in the painting. Luckily, one of the featured works was this detailed winter scene, a perenial favorite theme in Dutch art.

We'll close with this painting from 1645 documenting the visit of a Dutch family to the tomb of William of Orange, the "father of the fatherland" of Holland.  It's an impressive tomb, and one we photographed on our own visit to the Niewe Kerk in Delft a few weeks earlier, though with a fairly different perspective.

It was not the last reminder that day of our lengthy travel around the Netherlands.  As we exited, there was a familiar sound.  It was a Russian street musician we had spent pleasant quarter-hours listening to twice before, in Haarlem and in Leiden, both about a month earlier.  He plays impossibly complex classical pieces, such as Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, on this button accordion.  With his rich sonorities echoing in our minds, we headed off to our apartment for the last home-cooked meal we will enjoy for the coming month, and a final packing of our things for our late morning boarding of the Eurodam.

Come join us in our next blog entries for a quick float around the Baltic!