Thursday, August 27, 2009

Better things to do in Amsterdam

The Netherlands is a small country with a big history. In the two biggest art museums (Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh) you can see how many famous artists are Dutch. The Netherlands' extreme Protestantism and iconoclasm gave rise to the Dutch Golden Age, a period where painters started chronicling the life around them, showing the beauty in a servant girl pouring milk, rather than rendering yet another St. Sebastian shot full of arrows. We studied this period in high school and it was cool to see the actual paintings.

But the Van Gogh museum was even better. Why is Van Gogh so likeable? Maybe its his abandoning of darkly tinted realism in favor of brilliantly optimistic yellow sunflowers? It's easy to enjoy because it's pretty. Maybe we are struck by the fact that Van Gogh himself was such a tragic character, whose intense moods were not only his gift but the curse that drove away the companionship he so desperately sought. He's straight out of a Greek tragedy, and perhaps our archetype for the "tragic artist"? Is it naive to think you can understand a person you've never met? Its very cliche, and probably about as saavy as a college freshman, but Van Gogh is still my favorite artist. We bought a print of "Almond Blossoms" to hang in the living room.

Amsterdam is relaxing because it has a few big sites and lots of little ones, unlike Rome or Paris, you don't feel like you have to see everything on a giant list to have experienced the city. Amsterdam is best enjoyed at a cafe, or on a bicycle seat, zipping along the canals. Well, the bicycling is mostly enjoyable. I did get yelled at by another biker (in Dutch and English!) about something that actually wasn't my fault, which was very frustrating. I know tourists are annoying, but when you live in a capital city you've just got to learn to deal with it.

Except for the first day we had perfect weather during our whole trip. After living in Germany I really appreciate sunny, 72 degree days, and can't stand to be in museums when its so nice. So we enjoyed paddle boating, picnicking in Vondelpark, and bicycling in the countryside. We adopted the bikes after the first day, due to some massive blisters from Ryan's new sneakers. After a couple days on the bike, I was saddle sore and it was good we left the city when we did, because Ryan couldn't walk and I couldn't ride, so it looks like I would've had to run alongside him as he rode, or pull him in some kind of cart.

The only disappointment was Dutch cuisine. I wouldn't recommend it unless you absolutely love mayonnaise-coated fries and oily herring. But Amsterdam had a lot of good ethnic eateries, like any respectable capital city of Europe.

Its hard to rank Amsterdam. Its definitely a great city, far above duds like Brussels and Florence, but I don't know if its quite as good as Paris or Rome. I need to make a personal ranking one of these days....

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