Bells on a Starry Night

You may be saying yo yourself….”self when does the name of this blog mean?”

If you are familiar with Amsterdam you would know about Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh. Both are reflected in the name.

The “bells” are a reference to the Westerkerk (or west church) bells that Anne could here from the secret annex.

Starry night is a reference to Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings; especially the Starry Night series (yes he painted more than one)

Starry Night
Starry Night Over the Rhone

The Van Gogh art is from The Vincent Van Gogh Gallery

Note to self….stop calling yourself “self”

The Domtoren (Dom Tower)

The Dom Tower of Utrecht is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, at 112 metres (368 feet) in height, and the hallmark of the city. The tower was part of Dom Church, the medieval cathedral of Utrecht, and was built between 1321 and 1382.

Some of the best views of Utrecht are from the top of the tower.

City View

the Dom Church (whats left of it)

My Workout
I walked ALL the way to the top! All 465 steps, every last one of them. They are doing some maintenance work on the tower, so it was easy to imagine what it might have been like in the 14th century Let’s lust say I really like my job

I also spent time walking around Utrecht, exploring the streets, getting lost, learning how to read a map….you really do need to know where you are to be able to figure out where you’re going.

Today was Frites day, I had my first Belgian fries with Mayo for lunch…well….I did walk up all those steps, didn’t I?
Dinner was much Better, health wise, fresh Herring with onions and sweet pickles and a bottle of water. DELICIOUS

A typical Dutch delicacy is raw herring (Hollandse Nieuwe). This is typically eaten with raw onions. Hollandse nieuwe is only available in spring when the first seasonal catch of herring is brought in. This is celebrated in festivals such as the Vlaardingen Herring Festival

A soused herring, Zoute Haring Dutch, or Matjes (German, Swedish), is an especially mild salt herring, which is ripened using enzymes in a salty solution, or brine. In the Netherlands they are called maatjesharing which means maiden herring

If you’re a vegetable….I mean vegetarian…oops….sorry

“Your raiment, O herring, displays the rainbow colors of the setting sun, the patina on old copper, the golden-brown of Cordoba leather, the autumnal tints of sandalwood and saffron. Your head, O herring, flames like a golden helmet, and your eyes, are like black studs in circlets of copper
~Joris Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) French author, as quoted in Larousse Gastronomique (1988)

Train Station Clocks

These are not what they seem. They look like analog clocks, the ones with a second hand, a minute hand and an hour hand, but if you carefully watch the clock, you will see that the second hand moves directly from mark to mark, on each beat of tick, tock, tick, tock. Second to second, not smoothly like a wrist watch.

What happens when the second hand hits the 12 position, not much, until the minute hand moves over to the next minute mark, then and only then does the second hand continue on it way from mark to mark.

Are these really digital clocks in disguise?
I think they are, but because this is a old country there may be a fear that converting them to “real” digital clocks may cause panic throughout he countryside. OK, not really, but it could cost a lot of money.

On a related note, the trains here mostly run on schedule. My route from Soest to Amsterdam requires me to change trains in Baarn I have about 5 minutes between trains, or I will have to wait 30 minutes, without fail the trains come and go precisely on time. Within 15 seconds of the scheduled time the train leaves the station.

The train remains in the station for about 2 minutes, exactly enough time for people to get on or off the train. People just know what to do, no pushing or shoving.

For the record, the train system here is not perfect, it does breakdown, and there are other delays caused by all sorts of problems. Considering the number of trains and stations here, it’s a pretty good system….except that the ticket machines do not take Euro notes or regular credit cards for payment. You can’t even pay for tickets at Centraal Station, at the ticket office, with a credit card. You can use a pin (bank) card or specific cards to pay.

Anne Frank House

Visiting the Anne Frank House has always been emotional for me. This visit was no different.

I am not old enough to have any first hand memories of the second world war, everything I know has been passed down to me either through books or movies.

I first read the Diary of Anne Frank almost 25 years ago, it was very moving then, especially as I was student teaching at the time and I was working with a grade 6 class. They were all Christian and had no direct knowledge of what persecution based on religion was like.

I knew then that if I had the chance I wanted to see the secret annex in Amsterdam. I wanted first hand knowledge of what it was like during the war; or as close as possible to first hand.

Walking through the secret passage and seeing how small the space was and knowing that there were 8 people living there made the spaces even smaller.

Reading the notes and the information on the walls and tables brought everything to life.

The cramped spaces, lack of food, and the constant fear of being discovered had a major impact on those hiding. Anne makes that clear. It becomes clearer when you are standing in the same room she sat in to write; when you look out the same windows she looked out through and listen to the same bells she listened to.

Anne died a few short weeks of her camp being liberated.

The Anne Frank House forces me to remember that over a million children were part of the 6 million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust.

A generation lost.

A bit of a side note…..The Dutch seem to have a storage way of celebrating….

I was at The Anne frank House today with a school group of 12 year old kids. This was a class trip to celebrate the end of the school year and their “graduation” from elementary school. A celebration…at the Anne Frank House?

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery

“…is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery containing the largest number of Canadian war dead in the Netherlands. There are 2,338 graves…”

The cemetery is located near Nijmegen

The area is famous (or infamous) for a critical battle in WW II, Operation Market Garden as told in the book and film A Bridge Too Far The allies tried but couldn’t break through the German lines in Arnhem. It was a defeat for the allies.

I have no first hand knowledge or memories of the war, and besides my great uncle Syd, no other family members saw any active duty (I may need to be corrected)

I have no one to thank for their duty to MY (our) country.

This would be my chance to pay my respects.

Below this the inscription reads (in dutch on this gatepost):
The land on which this cemetery stands is the gift of the Dutch people for the perpetual resting place of the sailors soldiers and airmen who are honoured here

Walking through and between the head stones I thanked the men here. I left small stones on the headstones of the Jewish members of the forces, and asked G-D to look after them.

I left small Canadian flags on their graves and on other random graves.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

This is a Google satellite image of the cemetery

View Groesbeek War Cemetery in a larger map

The Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum

Another one of Amsterdam’s great museums.

I like the Rijksmuseum , it has some of the worlds best and best known paintings; including The Nightwatch by Rembrandt 1642, Actually its called the Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch’ The painting is over 3m tall and 4m wide.

The Nightwatch
The Nightwatch

The Rijksmuseum also has paintings by Vermeer

The Girl With the Perl Earring

The Milkmaid

Frans Hals

Family Portrait in a Landscape
Two Boys Singing

and others too numerous to list here.
I was a bit disappointed because most of the museum is still under renovation and is off limits. I was expecting to spend a couple of hours or more there, I spent a bit more than an hour.

I am still impressed with the masterpieces and I know that the only place to see some of them, especially the Nightwatch, will be at the Rijksmuseum. Hopefully I will be able to return after 2010 to see the museum after the renovations.

I’m glad I have the museum card and didn’t have to pay the admission charge.
The museum card is a great way to save money on some of the best museums in The Netherlands.(I’ll have more information about the Museum card in another post)

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
Don McLean – Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)

Like most museums there are paintings and notes on the walls, this museum is different, it is dedicated to one artist….can you figure out who? (Hint:Vincent Van Gogh)

The museum has work from his contemporaries and his influences as well.
As I worked my way through he crowds, yes it is a very popular museum; I was amazed how a self taught artist discovered his talent. How he was able to develop a style all his own based on others around him. It also amazes me how much he knew about colour and pigment, although that shouldn’t surprise me because many painters mixed their own colours.

His numerous self portraits would lead you to believe he was vain, that was not the case, many of his self portraits were never meant to go on display, he was practising his technique; why pay a model when a mirror will do.
One of the best places on the web to see his art is the Van Gogh Gallery The site contains most if not all of his paintings and drawings. I mention this because looking at his paintings is fine if all you just want to see what he has done, but if you really want to see his work you need to stand in front of it, to see how Vincent applied the paint, how his brush strokes create the image, how the subtle shades of colour mix to create the exact colour he wanted.

Unfortunately Van Gogh was not completely healthy; he was mentally ill, possibly with some form of epilepsy or any number of other illnesses. This impacted his life and art, from his stays in asylums to his radical change in style, and ultimately his death.

What would his life be like if he could have received modern mental health care? Would his art still have the impact it does today? Would he just be one of the many unrecognized artists? Would he have sold any of his paintings in his lifetime?

Perhaps he knew?

I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture. ~VVG