Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Little Orange for You?

I know. You may not be able to schedule your vacation in Amsterdam in late April, a  time that is tranquil and beautiful, where the canals reflect picturesque beauty on a quiet morning.
But try.
Because if you are in the Netherlands on April 30, you will have the opportunity to experience the wild and wonderful "Queen's Day."
Think "the biggest street party ever!" 
Think orange -- more orange than any Halloween junkie could pull together.
Think wild, wonderful fun!
Queen's Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands and is the official celebration of the Queen's birthday. (This isn't really Queen Beatrix's birthday -- that's in January -- but it's observed on that day, which was the birthday of Queen Juliana, Beatrix's mother.)
The Dutch royal family is from the House of Orange -- consequently, orange is the color of the day -- and there is plenty of it!
There's a long history to this holiday that was first observed in 1995. And I'm sure the queen is glad for all the celebration.
But for the people -- it's just so darned much fun! Think of it as everything the Fourth of July would like to be -- and more!
Because Amsterdam has one canal after another, you can count on lots of action in the canals on Queen's Day.
Barge after barge loaded with happy revelers (many of whom were enjoying Heineken and Amstel!) would pass down the canals as people leaned over bridges to wave.
There was music, dancing and joy!
Queen's Day found organizations fundraising with innovative games, like this homemade slot machine.
Three people were behind the canvas screen, blindfolded, with a variety of fruit at hand. 
Someone would "pull the handle" and they'd make a great amount of whooshing noise and hold up fruit. If the fruits matched, the person won a prize!
Rick donated to the Doctors without Borders by participating in a stationery bike race.
He really gave the competing rider a run for the money and it was close to a draw. But in the end, the winded young athlete had the greatest distance in the allotted time.
Queen's Day was also the biggest city yard sale I've ever seen.On canals, in front of bridges, anywhere, people set out everything from toys to clothing to some nice smalls.
Orange is the color of the day for your ensemble, as well. 
Don't worry -- if you don't have any orange clothing with you, you can surely find some on the street.
Just don't try to mark your path by "turning right at the orange sign." Trust me. It won't work!
Next time, we'll go from Queen's Day in Amsterdam to a smaller Dutch town!

Travel Tips!

1) If you are mobility challenged, beware on Queen's Day. The streets are so crowded that the trams don't run, and streets are blocked for cars. Even bikes were having a tough time. 

2) The same warning goes if you have trouble with crowds. I've never seen anything so packed, including the inside of the stadium concourse on the day of a big game.
3) Getting There -- We took the bus for about a 20 minute ride and it let us off at Centraal Station. The photo above is what we saw as we were making our way back to the station. That solid mass of humanity coming down the steps was coming in for the holiday -- from the bus, the ferry, the train. 

4) You won't want a big purse here. Take your wallet, cash (in case you want to buy anything at the flea market) and your camera. And a map. Leave the rest at home!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Little More Art from Amsterdam!

If you like art, you go to the Rijksmuseum while in Amsterdam. 
We do, so we did! The museum is smaller than some we were at in France -- which was a very good thing! It was also filled with many beautiful works including the famous "Night Watch" by Rembrandt.
The Vermeers were my favorite. One of the nicest displays went through the procedure of restoration. They would follow one work of art from the museum, explaining the process on well-designed panels with good information.
Each display revealed in photos and words some of the processes involved in authenticating, cleaning and restoring great works of art. 
At the end of the display was the real painting.
I also have a soft spot in my heart for this one. Years ago, my mother did a needlepoint of it, and it's one of the things I have from her that I treasure.
It probably wouldn't surprise anyone who knows me well that one of my favorite displays was of the Delftware.
I took several tight shots that I plan to use as collage backgrounds when I finally get around to putting my journal together. 
If you click, you'll see all the photos in this post at a large size. You're welcome to use these or others in this post for your own art.
And one more!
There were some lovely decorative pieces.This tray would be a bear to clean but it was stunning on display.
And some favorite artists. Rick loved this Franz Hals. (It has a lute.)
I was very fond of this one...
...and this Rembrandt, too.
And this Warhol of the Queen was fun, too! (I think it was the Queen in her younger days, but to be honest, I'm not sure; I lost those notes!
A Delft coffee pot was lovely and graceful.
All in all, a splendid place to add to itinerary. If you are short on time, as we were, you may need to decide between this and the Van Gogh museum down the street. In some ways, I wish we'd gone to Van Gogh, simply because I love his work so much, but certainly the Rijksmuseum had a broader spectrum of art (and I got to see that Delft and the Vermeers -- and I wouldn't have traded that one for anything!)

Travel Tips

1) Get tickets online -- it saves the line!

2) It was crowded while we were there. Check around to see the times that are less busy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Amsterdam -- The Music!

There were two things we wanted to do in Amsterdam.
I wanted to see the Anne Frank house.Rick wanted to attend a concert at the Concertgebouw.
Considered one of the finest concert halls in the world, the Concertgebouw was completed in 1888 and in renowned for its acoustics.
On the day we were in Amsterdam, there were three concerts scheduled. We chose to attend one at 11:30 a.m. This alone amazed us -- that a concert hall could fill up three times a day, as early as before noon.
What we discovered, after we left our tram and approached the building, is that there are many concerts held there -- each and every single day. In fact, nearly 900 concerts are presented here each year. Perhaps more.
We didn't have tickets, but the website said tickets were available, so we headed first to the box office. As we were getting in line, a couple, perhaps in their 60s or maybe their 70s, asked if we were looking for tickets. 
We expected them to be scalpers, but they were season ticket holders whose friends couldn't attend. This very charming couple sold us the extra tickets for face value and then asked us to join them for a before-show coffee in the hall's bar. (We never would have found this without them.)
It was simply delightful to chat with them about their country and the differences in our two countries. When we went to sit together in the auditorium, we felt like friends.
The concert was broadcast on Radio 4 and we enjoyed a program that included music by Stravinsky, Debussy, Rimski-Korsakov and Dukas, with soloist Ronald Brautigam.The conductor, Mark Elder,  seemed quite young to us (from our fifth row seats!). 
After, we wandered about, taking photos of the hall and rich in the euphoria of hearing wonderful music, beautifully played and in a concert hall that did it justice. 
And we had one of those serendipitous encounters that make any experience richer.
Travel Tips

1) Online reservations -- it all depends. We learned that if one is on a tight time frame and really wants to do something (like the Anne Frank House), they are mandatory. If you are willing to take a chance, you, too, may have the kind of encounter we enjoyed.

2) If you're not familiar with a venue, ask if there is a spot to enjoy refreshments before the show. The bar in the Concertgebouw was not obvious and had it not been for our Fairy God-Dutch friends, we never would have found this delightful spot.

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