Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life on the road

I'm finding it more difficult everyday to find time/space to write these little summaries. Our past few places to stay haven't been entirely friendly for this sort of thing. Hostels are great for cheap rooms, but lousy for keeping up on your blog. We spend a lot of time daily looking for cafe's with wifi access...and frankly coffee in general (our mobile espresso machine has not come in handy yet).

Since last time we met, we've entered the Netherlands. Wow, what a place, immediately upon entering from Germany your are struck with the difference in the way the country is developed. Man made canals and windmills spot the countryside. It continues to amaze me how the transportation services here are developed and how well they work together be it intercity or intercontinental. Dad would be very happy to see all the wind turbines and solar panels spotting the country side.

We started our trip in the Netherlands with the obligatory stay in Amsterdam. I'll gloss over it a bit because we plan on spending more time there. We stayed in an interesting hostel very close to the central station, the many canals and the tourist area. A busy place, a lot of people and noise. For those reading this familiar with Matt's adolescent summers, the hostel was very similar to the staff house at Arundel, just 90% more extreme. 3 nights there was enough, too busy, too noisy, too much booze (someone had a hangover!) Unfortunately, as we would find out, Amsterdam is extremely expensive Friday-Sunday and were "forced" out of town for the weekend. The price of rooms triples, almost to the point where it's the same price for 2 people in a hostel as renting a room in one of the stately old hotels. So we moved on to the city of Den Haag, which is located just to the southwest.

After getting on the wrong train, and worrying about our tickets being valid, we settled in for the 1hr train ride. Passing by canals, many modern wind turbines, a handful of real "Dutch Windmills", and a giant Ikea we arrived in Den Haag. We quickly found our bearings (thanks to Liz's map reading skills and iPhone) and hiked to our hotel. An interesting city, many buildings here can date back to the 13th century. There are royal palaces and buildings everywhere, museums and historical spots of interest spot the city almost block by block. It may also be the most "modern city" so far in our travels; there are actually skyscrapers here. From our hotel window we have a view of the skyline that reminds me of many North American cities.

Den Haag is the home of the Dutch Parliament and the Royal Family. It is also the home of the UN's international Court of Justice and a variety of other international organizations. While we've been here we have seen quite a bit. Our fist day we explored the giant outdoor pedestrian only mall (again) and sat in a nice cafe and had lunch. During the next day we visited the Binnenhof, - the parliamentary buildings; the Ridderzaal - the Knight's Hall that dates to the 13th century; and the Mauritshuis - an art museum containing Rembrandt and Verrmeer, among others.

The Mauritshuis is the home of the Royal Colelction. The building itself is nearly a perfect cube, with dimension of 25m, dating from the 17th century. We got told off for being too close to the paintings, apparently our noses are threats to glass covered oils. We saw The Girl with the Pearl Earring (Vermeer), The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicholaes Tulp (Rembrandt), which are the two "must sees". There were also beautiful Dutch landscapes of vast clouded skies, wild seas with ships (described as "breezes" on the sea), still life's of elaborate flowers and portraits. Almost all artists were Dutch - and there was a temporary exhibit of Old Dutch Masters from the 1600s from some American's collection. The museum/gallery was small, only two floors, but dense. The art was arty.

After having lunch near an outdoor open urinal, we walked up to the Netherlands Miniature Village. It was created in memory of George Maduro, a Dutch Jewish student and Resistance Fighter from WW2. The Madurodam had 1:25 scale models of actual Dutch buildings and structures, along with moving trains, cars, people and planes. It was a great place to go to get a full sense of the architecture of some buildings - as some of the real life counterparts are covered in scaffolding and tarps. It was awesome and totally dorky. We walked back to the hotel foot sore, and had ham-n-cheese for dinner.

Today, we went to the Escher in Het Paleis Museum, housed in a converted palace of the Dutch Royal Family (occupied until 1991). It was also totally great and awesomesauce. I (Liz) have been exposed to and influenced by the work of M.C. Escher my entire life. Being in a place where so much of his art was available to scrutinize was fulfilling. Along with the tesserations Escher is known for, it showed his early work of wood block printings of nature.

Stuff didn't open until about noon, so there wasn't much else to do afterwards. Lunch was appelbeignets and fries-in-a-paper-cup. Them fries is good and super popular.

Tomorrow we hope to go to the Galerij Prins Willem V, and the neighbouring Gevangenpoort. The former showcases art in a cluttered manner, not like today's stark walls. The latter is the location of a prison and torture chamber. It also has a museum. I plan on picking up some heavy metal spikes to insert into Matt's backpack, so he can complain about it some more. We may try to get into the Ridderzaal, but it gets fully booked quickly.

Rotterdam tomorrow, then who knows.


  1. We were at that minature village as well. I thought is was pretty amazing. We enjoyed the art museums in Amsterdam and loved the coffee and chocolate. Aunt Joanne

  2. I'm pretty jealous that you got to see Escher's work up-close a personal. I grew up with a lot of his more popular works, what with mom being a mathematician it's always been around our household.

    I just may have to find a way to visit you guys during one of my breaks...


  3. Gonna need to see some more updates.

    P.S. You're cute :)

  4. I usually mock the "Cullen Gardens" theme song whenever I hear about a mini village. Madurodam and Railz changed my mind. People have humour and wit while making the scenes, which makes me very happy!

    Phil, I know what you mean about being exposed to Escher. Mum was all into the "educate on the sly" with me as a kid, and I received a book with paper Escher polygons to make (which of course I did), and a tessellation tile puzzle/game using Escher shapes, and other things I can barely recall now. Seeing the detail of the original woodcut prints made me realize how OCD he was though....