Wednesday 15 May 2013
We decided to spend most of the day at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In order to avoid the expected queues, we purchased our tickets online and then discovered an annoying remnant of the pre-digital age: the museum required a printout of the tickets. And so we had to go downstairs and interrupt our host’s morning shower to ask her to go online, download our tickets, and print them out. This ridiculous insistence on old-fashioned bits of paper persists in the world of transport as well.
Once we had managed to secure the printouts, we made our way to the museum on the bicycles that were so conveniently provided by our host. When we knew we were close to the museum, we parked the bikes at an impressive historical building which we did not recognise as the Rijksmuseum itself, and headed off on foot in search of building we had already unwittingly stumbled on. This was one of the noticeable themes of the day: the Rijksmuseum is a very poorly signposted tourist attraction both within and without. When we had eventually realised our error, we backtracked, paused for coffee and a diet coke in the café, and entered the newly renovated art museum.
We did well to begin our tour early. The museum soon became fairly crowded, and it was necessary to wade through a low-lying, grey mist of diminutive elderly Japanese tourists. Susan was very taken by the doll’s house exhibit, which revealed much about the lives of the bourgeois families who commissioned them.
We got split up as we tried to follow the multimedia tour in the absence of any useful signposting. I spent most of my time combing the mediaeval and renaissance section, which included a chubby Saint Sebastian transfixed by arrows, and another Saint praying gormlessly as he was being boiled alive. My favourite painting was one that depicted a group of revellers eating and drinking around a candle-lit table, with one of them playing a lute. It reminded me of exactly what we and our friends do on holidays around the campfires at Burri.
Susan and I eventually bumped into each other in a breezeway and decided to take a break for some lunch, but (again, die to the hopeless signposting) we accidentally exited the museum. As an attendant scanned our tickets a second time, she explained to us that the ticket allowed us to exit and re-entered the museum only once. This was not at all clear from the information we had gleaned up to that point, and we had thus forfeited our chance at popping out for lunch. It was useless pleading with the attendant: there is no point arguing with a Dutch person who is wearing a uniform.
We took a bit more time to explore the Asian art (which was a bit disappointing apart from a few magnificent pieces) and the modern art. The latter was divided into two sections, each of which was located on a different third floor that was almost impossible to locate, thanks again to inadequate signage.
We took advantage of some unusually pleasant weather by eating lunch on a bench in Vondelpark. Susan took photographs of the sculptures in the park and I watched people.
After lunch we rode our bikes around Vondelpark until some shady characters started to close in on us. They probably thought they were being very subtle and unobtrusive, but they might as well have been dressed in black cloaks and top hats. Unfortunately, we exited the park in the wrong direction, and promptly got lost. After a few false starts, we eventually got on the right track with assistance from the map that our host, Marieke, had given us. Also, we were gradually learning the naming conventions of Amsterdam’s roads, where a street changes name every time it crosses a canal.
That night we ate dinner at Italian restaurant that Marieke recommended in her little black book. It was run by two women who were a married couple (a reminder of the socially progressive policies of the Netherlands) and specialised in Italian cuisine. We started with a small pizza that was topped with white cheese and pork cheek, and finished with a very simple fettucine marinara. The best bit of the meal was the leafy salad, which featured mint and a perfect dressing.