Eating and Art in Amsterdam

Ciao Readers!

Today we go back to one of my favorite topics – the art of Van Gogh, with some yummy food thrown in for good measure. Despite catching colds and being rained on for several days, we ate well and overloaded on art while in Amsterdam. Being from land-locked, non-cosmopolitan New Mexico, any opportunity to eat interesting foods (and any from the sea) is a welcome opportunity. And any chance to see great works of art, another score. Instead of going on about everything we saw and did, I wanted to focus on two highlights – our “Rijsttafel” (rice table) dinner and the Munch/Van Gogh comparative exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum.

Rijsttafel – Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony for about 300 years, it’s no surprise that the Dutch gained an affinity for Indonesian food.  However, while the “rice table” is made up of a grand sampling of Indonesian dishes, this way of presenting them is uniquely Dutch.  It was created as a way for Dutch folks to sample dishes from islands all around Indonesia at the same time. And lucky for us! I lost track of how many dishes came out (you can count for yourself, below), but they were each unique and yummy (or at least interesting) in their own way. Some dishes reminded us more of Thai food (chicken in peanut sauce), while others had more of an Indian flare (curried goat).  They all had some level of heat (an added bonus for us chile-loving New Mexicans) and next to the meal in Rouen, it was the second-grandest feast of our trip – Yum!!!

Munch/Van Gogh Exhibit –  Man, I really have a hard time wrapping my brain around how I went from being someone without a passport to someone who has been to the Van Gogh Museum 4 times in the past 8 years!!!  Since I’ve gone on about Van Gogh in several posts, I’ll stick to the unique exhibit we just happened to catch during its final week in Amsterdam –  “Munch: Van Gogh.”  The exhibit focussed on the parallels between the two artists, who, while painting about the same time and some of the same subject matter, never actually met. One really cool thing was there was a TON of paintings on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, including one of the iconic “The Scream“-s (though since it’s done in crayon, I guess it’s not technically a “painting”).  The other cool things was, in addition to the hundreds of Van Gogh’s usually at the museum, they had many more on loan from around the world (including one from the Kröller-Müller Museum we’d been to the day before).  It was such an overload of amazing art that they actually had Stendhal syndrome boxes you could close yourself in to calm down!  All in all, between the Kröller-Müller Museum, the usual Van Gogh’s on exhibit and the on-loan Van Gogh’s, I think we saw almost 300 Van Gogh’s on this trip!!!

Pictures of Amsterdam, the rice table, a Munch/Van Gogh self portrait comparison (the one picture Steve was able to take before being reprimanded – unlike the Kröller-Müller, no photos allowed), and some seafood thrown in for good measure….enjoy:

 

In Search of Van Gogh (or “A Visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum”)

Ciao Readers (or for this post “Hallo”)!   Happy 2016!  I hope this post finds you and yours well and keeping warm this new year.

As you may recall, we were headed out in December to visit France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  While I have many more tales to tell (mostly involving food), I thought I’d start with our strangest adventure of the trip – a trek to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. (As you may also recall, I love the art of Van Gogh and will go to great lengths to see it.)

To make a long story short, there once was a rich art patron, Helene Müller, who married another rich person, Anton Kröller, and between 1907 and 1922 she bought over 11,000 works of art (including numerous Van Goghs, Monets, Seurats, Picassos and countless others)!  Her collection of Van Goghs is second in number only to the actual Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (more on that museum later).  She wanted to share her collection with the world, so she opened this museum in 1938, shortly before her death.  As you will see, while her intentions were good, she may not have thought out the practicalities of this whole “sharing” concept….

The museum is located in Hoge Veluwe Park, which is located in the middle of nowhere, about an hour train ride (then a bus ride, then a van ride) from Amsterdam.  While I understand the route may be a little easier on weekends, here’s what it took for us to get there during the week:

Step One – buy a round-trip train ticket from Amsterdam to Ede-Wageningen for about 27 euros each (we did this the day before with the help of a ticket agent as this is not a common train trip/stop).  The train takes you to a train and bus station in a very small town:

otterlobusstation2

Step 2: From this bus station you take the 108 to Otterlo (and the helpful driver sells you a roundtrip ticket for both this bus and the next for about 9 euros each), a trip taking about 20+ minutes and leaving you off literally in the middle of nowhere:

Otterlobus.vanstop

Step 3: At this point there should be a van arriving shortly or already waiting (we had read it was the “106 bus”, but it was literally this van with a piece of paper in the window with “106” written on it):

Otterlobus

Step 4: This van then takes you to the entrance of Hoge Veluwe Park, where it lets you out to pay the entrance fee to the park (9.15 euros each);  you apparently can also buy your ticket to the museum here, but we didn’t know and the lady selling the tickets didn’t volunteer that information.  After proceeding through the entrance, the van drops you off at this bus stop (and the driver assures you he returns once an hour to pick you back up across the street):

krollermullerbusstop

Step 5:  You walk about 5 minutes down this road to the museum (sorry, no photo of the museum, but fairly non-descript from the outside), where you then buy your ticket to the museum (another 9.15 euros each).  (There are free loaner bicycles throughout the park, so in nicer weather you could take advantage of those and spend part of the day bicycling as well).

Step 6: You stand there (mostly alone) with your mouth agape as you view MANY Van Goghs, including iconic famous ones, along with many other amazing works of art (all the while thinking how surreal and bizarre it is that these masterpieces are out here in the middle of nowhere):

Step 7: You remember what time the van driver said he comes back and you do the whole thing in reverse, feeling a certain sense of triumph, as if you have just succeeded in some medieval quest which has rewarded you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see many great works of art.*

Thank you, dear readers, for coming on the quest!!!

*According to Wikepedia’s numbers, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam gets about 5 times as many visitors per year (1.5 million) as this museum (300K+), but I have a hard time believing the numbers are even that close, as the Van Gogh Museum is ALWAYS packed and this one was almost empty.

 

Once Upon a Passport (with never-before seen photos)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to wax nostalgic, so your indulgence is required (and appreciated).  As we were planning for our Winter 2015/2016 trip to Europe it dawned on me that my passport might expire before then.  I checked, and sure enough it was getting close – can you imagine going to the airport for a year-long awaited trip to discover your passport was no good?!?!?!  Egad!  In any case, renewing my passport (and looking through the nifty stamps in the old one) made me think about and marvel at everything we have seen and done (and eaten) in the past 10 years.

Ten years ago I did not have a passport; I had never seen a major work of art; I couldn’t have found Slovenia on a map to save my life.  It kinda blows my mind thinking about everything I’ve experienced since then….

Some things I have seen:  The Mona Lisa, The Sistine Chapel, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Stonehenge, Michelangelo’s David, hundreds of works by Van Gogh, the world’s largest indoor Buddha, The Colosseum, Pompeii, Notre Dame and a thousand less-famous but spectacular monuments, churches and works of art.

Some things I have done: Run a 10K around a lake by Mt. Fuji in Japan, taken not one, but two cooking courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, marveled at Gaudí and Dalí works in Spain, been left stranded by an ornery bus driver in Croatia, ran into a family of bears hiking Mt. Koyasan, had a line in a movie, climbed the Eiffel Tower, marveled at Venice, discovered cool Slovenia, was stood-up by Green Day in Bologna, saw two versions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, ran my first (and 2nd – 7th) half marathons, carried cats across the ocean in the cabins of planes….and lived in Italy!

Some things I have eaten: deliciously stinky cheese in France (and amazing breads, and pastries, and….), succulent roasted pig in Croatia, spicy (yay!) Sri Lankin food in Florence, weird and wonderful octopus balls (takoyaki) all over Japan (and all-you-can-stand sushi for 3 months!), frites and herring in Amsterdam, divine Belgium chocolates (in Belgium of course!), everything I cooked at Le Cordon Bleu (Steve specially enjoyed this), the official world’s best gelato in Bologna and enough pizza to feed an Italian army!

Since I’m not getting any younger (who is?), it makes me happy to realize that most of the coolest things I have done, achieved, experienced, etc. have happened after age 30, even more-so after age 40.  So, as you read this and I recover from having my gallbladder out, let’s reminisce and know that there’s more to come!  Thanks for reading!

(Mostly) Never-before-seen photos:

New Mexico to Italy Blog is Back (sort of)!

Ciao Readers!

I’ve missed you!  And I’ve missed blogging!  So….

I’ve decided to get back to blogging with an updated name – “New Mexico to Italy …and beyond!”   I hope you’ll stick around as I tell tales of recent travels and travels yet to come (including travels back to Italy, of course!).  Since you likely subscribed to my blog for more than just my personal vacation photos, I’ll try to continue to blog with a slant towards cultural observations, handy travel tips and humor-filled “OMG” moments.  And I may take the liberty of “traveling” back to Italy, if only in my mind, to revisit the experience of living there now that there’s been some time and distance.  If you have any other thoughts, do tell!

Some of the recent travels to be blogged about include a trip to New York in January (it was eight degrees fahrenheit! [-13 C]) and a road trip through Vegas to the coast over Spring Break (can you say seafood photos?).  Some of the upcoming travels include Hawaii, and – after almost two years – back to Europe (including a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Netherlands, Otterlo, where the second largest collection of Van Gogh’s is housed)!!!  Did I mention we are on a quest to see every Van Gogh painting in the world?  (I thought about renaming the blog “In Search of Van Gogh,” but decided it was too narrow).

In any case, welcome back readers!  It’s great to “chat” again!!!

What 8 degrees in the Big Apple looks like:

Hope in NY

Ode to Van Gogh (and the Orsay)

Ciao Readers!

I was trying to decide whether to do a separate post on the Orsay Museum in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and realized it’s all about Van Gogh to me, so I’ve decided to combine the two (plus I have no pictures from inside the VG museum).  I’m not sure I can articulate the reasons why, but Van Gogh is my all-time favorite artist.  His paintings just speak to me.  I like him so much I have waited in line for an hour in Albuquerque to see a single tiny Van Gogh on temporary display, and have been to the Orsay twice and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam three times (well, to be accurate, on this trip the Van Gogh Museum was temporarily housed in the Hermitage Museum as the actual museum is undergoing renovation).  So, do you get how much I dig him?  I even brought back a puzzle from the VG museum so I could continue to enjoy the experience!  (If you’d like to read more about Van Gogh, who failed to sell a single painting while alive and committed suicide in 1890, here’s a link.)

Before we get to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, though, we need to take a trip to the Orsay in Paris (Musée d’Orsay to be precise).  Not only because it has a decent Van Gogh collection itself, but because to my mind it is one of the nicest museums in the world (well, the parts of the world I’ve seen).  Why is the Orsay so great, you ask?  I’ll tell you.  First off, it’s beautiful.  Take a look from the outside, and then inside from the 2nd floor balcony:

the orsayinside orsay

The Orsay used to be a massive train station (complete with fancy hotel) that became obsolete back in the 1930’s (though the hotel remained open) and was scheduled for demolition back in the 1970’s.  However, some bright person(s) in the French Museum Directorate had the idea to collect all of the art from the 1800’s displayed throughout the city and house it here (keeping the restaurant from the fancy hotel and adding a casual cafe to boot).  Great idea!  The Orsay opened as a museum in 1986, with the beautiful clock from the train station remaining as the focal point of the museum….

orsayclock2paris through orsay clock

Not only is the museum beautiful, but it is well-arranged and the art is well-lit (often by natural light).  This stands in stark contrast to some of the museums here in Florence (especially the Uffizi), where you have to squint to see the art in extremely low light.  In addition to being wonderful to look at on its own, its art collection is the largest in the world focusing on impressionism and post-impressionism – my two favorite art periods!  Here you can find masterpieces by many familiar names, including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Seurat, Gauguin, Rodin, Whistler and, of course, Van Gogh.  I can’t say enough about what a worthwhile experience a day at the Orsay is.

As this time the “no photos” signs were very pronounced, and I didn’t want to risk getting kicked out, I can only share a picture of me and two of the Van Goghs taken here in 2008 (this was shortly after I unwittingly had my head nearly shaved at a salon in Barcelona):

hope and vangogh

As for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, it is what its name implies – the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings anywhere (he was Dutch after all).  The actual museum, which is under renovation, is a modern marvel and not only houses Van Gogh, but some impressionist and post-impressionist paintings of his friends and contemporaries (for example, Gauguin, who lived with Van Gogh for a bit until Vincent chased him with a razor blade).  While not everything is on display at the temporary location, the Hermitage Museum, we were pleasantly surprised at what a nice job they did basically recreating the Van Gogh section of the actual museum.  We walked the entire museum very slowly (only partly because of my toe), and then just for good measure went back to re-admire some of our favorites (including works inspired by Japanese paintings).  If you like Van Gogh, or think you might, I would definitely put this museum on any “must see” list!

Thanks for coming along on the museum tours!

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