October 1

The Amsterdam Cram

20th August 2012 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Boff was apologetic about yesterday’s botched travel plans so let me decide all the activities today. I managed to show him how to cram a lot into a day without it feeling rushed.

Anne Frank’s House: We couldn’t buy tickets over the internet or via our hotel so queued
up around the block. I sent Boff out for poffertjes and coffee and orange juice. The experience was excellent, everything a museum should be: preservation, explanation, anecdotes. I got incredibly teary when I saw Anne’s room with the pics from magazines she’d glued up on the walls and I don’t think I stopped feeling heavy until after I left.

Boff said it was the ultimate tragedy that Mr Frank, obviously a smart man, had put a lot of thought into saving his family. He’d tracked the Allies’ movements via radio reports and knew they were on their way before they were ratted out by someone. The most tragic part was that he alone survived while the rest of the family perished in various concentration camps around Europe.

Photo of the day is of the street outside Anne Frank’s house, a rather amusing juxtaposition. The thing about Amsterdam is that you have to look out for canals, trams, cars and bikes when crossing the road.

The Tulip Museum: A very different museum explaining the history of tulips, their journey from the Middle East, the Dutch obsession with them, the Tulip Crash, different varieties and current farming techniques. There were a lot of interesting presentation techniques that made this exhibition worth ther 3 euro entry fee despite its small size.

I decided we’d go to Rembrandthuis so we had lunch on the way at a typical cafe (I had croquettes and tomato soup and beer) and then sort of lost each other in a street market. I waited at the corner for 10 minutes then decided to go to Rembrandthuis and just sat in the foyer waiting for Boff to realise that that was the best place to look for me. This is the tragedy of not having working phones overseas. He did eventually find me.

Rembrandthuis: When Rembrandt went bankrupt, the repo people had to do an inventory of everything in his house, which is why the museum has such an accurate record of what it contained. While some of the objects are replicas, a lot of the furniture was actually Rembrandt’s and has been preserved in the place where they were kept. Interesting snippet: People in those days used to sleeping sitting up because they believed you would die if too much blood went to your head. That’s why all the beds are so small (not because people were 50cm shorter in those days, as I hypothesised).

Apart from containing the painter’s domestic artefacts, the museum also held his and his contemporaries’ paintings (he was a dealer as well as an artist), a storeroom for his interesting ephemera and, of course, his studio. The studio contained two demos that were also fascinating in themselves: a guy did a paint mixing demo and the lady did an etching demo.

Artis Zoo: We eventually found ourselves at Artis Zoo (what did you expect of ‘my day’?!). It had just gone 4.30pm and the staff kept reminding us that they would close at 6pm. We told them it was okay, we would go through quite quickly. It didn’t look like Artis had any animals that I hadn’t seen before so we just headed for my favourites only to find out that there were a lot of areas where the animals roamed free, for example lemur ‘island’, which the ruffed lemurs could leave if they wanted to (there were no physical barriers) but were content to stay on.

Artis also had a few humid houses where they kept saki monkeys and iguanas and birds. These tripled-doored enclosures meant that observers could wander through in commune with the animals without accidentally letting them out. We got some great photos. I also saw a hyrax for the first time. Also sat in front of the penguin pool watching one female get chased by a dozen males and constantly escaping but then going back into the fray (crazy chick) and the seal pool where babies were nursing and the mothers barked while feeding them. Eventually a security guard on a bike told us we had to leave in 15 minutes, at 7.30pm; they had let us stay in an extra 90 minutes.

Had dinner at an Indonesian restaurant (this was actually Boff’s suggestion but it turned out to be a good one because the banquet was delicious) and then visited the red light district on the way home. There wasn’t anything there that I found shocking (no, we didn’t go to the live sex show) though we did spend our last 14 euro or so on double entry to The Erotic Museum (see what I did there?). It wasn’t as titillating as I’d hoped, but it did have some interesting historic stuff on the lower floors.

We spent a lot of money in Amsterdam, about 300 euro, which was about twice what we were doing in comparable cities. In some ways maybe it was a good thing we were only there for a day.

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October 1

Meltdown

19th August 2012 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands via Lille, France and Kortrijk & Antwerp, Belgium)

(This entry will be much longer than usual as I have no longhand notes for this day and this will be my only record. Let’s face it, I got lazy at the end of the trip and never wrote about it. Plus my travel diary ran out of pages and I was already pushing into the ‘addresses’ section, which was at the front of the book.)

Today was the day Boff decided to cram as much into as few hours as possible.

It actually began yesterday when at dinner we saw an ad for LAM, which I think stands for Lille Art Moderne. It was the first we’d heard of it. Apparently there were important works by artists such as Picasso there, and they had a sculpture garden, which I thought would be like the one in Hakone which I loved so much (you should go, it’s fantastic). Boff had already decided we were going to visit Kortrijk and Antwerp on our way to Amsterdam, which we would get to by 8pm, he promised—ha!—but we couldn’t miss LAM either.

So we went to LAM, but we got off at the wrong metro station. We ended up talking to a bus driver who said she would drop us off where we needed to be; half an hour later we ended up at the previous metro station, which would’ve taken all of 4 minutes (and no money because our metro tickets hadn’t expired) to return to. By the time we got to LAM we were behind schedule by an hour.

LAM contained three main sections in addition to the sculpture garden: modern art, contemporary art and art brut. The first two were mainly quite good and we were able to see a lot in a short amount of time due to the clean layout of the gallery. The art brut collection contained works almost half of which looked like something kindergarteners would create, almost half of which you’d find in a tribal craft shop and the remaining 2% absolutely stunning (loved Willem Van Genk and Augustin Lesage). The garden was actually a disappointment. Let’s not talk about it.

We returned to town and picked up our bags from the hotel and hopped straight on a train to Kortrijk, which is where we had to change for Antwerp, which is where we had to change for Amsterdam. The trains from Kortrijk to Antwerp go once an hour so Boff had devised a plan to visit a museum centred on a famous battle and get back within an hour. I declined to go with him, mostly because I hate feeling rushed, and instead took it easy in the waiting area at the station minding the bags. The temperature was an unusually high 35C.

Long story short, Boff was supposed to be at the station, luggage in hand, by 2.45pm but he’d gotten lost on the way back from the museum. We hotfooted it to the platform anyway, only to see the tail end of the train disappear. We’d missed it, so we had to wait another hour for the next train. I wasn’t mad with him, just annoyed that I had to wait in that boring station for another hour and disappointed that he hadn’t kept his promise. He kept insisting that I was actually angry, though, which made me angrier than I was at the initial event.

We eventually made it to Antwerp. I remember The Chocolate Line, where we bought one of almost everything and then had to protect the box from the warm afternoon, its Grote Markt and something about a giant’s hand, and a castle. Photo of the day is a statue mime drawing a portrait of a young girl next to one of the Grote Markt buildings, I forget which.

I was too tired to insist that we catch the 5pm train to Amsterdam as planned. All I wanted was to check into the hotel and go to bed so it didn’t really matter which city we spent more time in, Antwerp or Amsterdam. I was just sad that spending all that time in Antwerp happened so late in the day so we didn’t get a chance to go to its famous zoo.

We ended up getting into Amsterdam at 10pm. Our hotel was a funkatronic venue located in the World Trade Center office building next to Station Zuid. Convenient, but a little too cool for school. At least it had air conditioning.

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October 1

The Swimming Pool Gallery

18th August 2012 (Lille, France)

Alan Hollinghurst once wrote a book about a library in a swimming pool. I don’t remember a lot about the book, not even the metaphor, except that I liked it. I went to a museum of art in a swimming pool today. The musee was pretty much the only thing open in Roubaix. It had a lot of 19th and 20th century sculpture, drawing and painting—even fabric and fashion.

Around the pool the art tried to be water-themed; all the nudes were bathers and all the tigers were fighting lions next to the river.

The photo of the day is a silhouette of a sculpture backlit by the Art Nouveau stained glass window on one end. It took me ages to get the shot right.

Outside, the temperature had hiked above 30C so I was grateful for the coolness of the museum and probably stayed there half an hour longer than I would’ve otherwise. As I left the Musee de la Piscine, a father and his sons had tumbled out of their van, towels in hands.

(This next conversation take place in French.) The father asked the way to the entrance to the pool and I had to explain to him that it wasn’t actually a pool. Then as I reached the street I spotted a local map and called him over to point out where the actual pool was located. He was trying to memorise the turns and I suggested that he take a photo with his phone. He looked at me like I was the smartest person he’d ever known.

I walked to Roubaix, which is a largish town in the Lille metropolitan area. Everything was shut because it was the weekend and even the town hall was unavailable for gawking at, covered in scaffolding due to renovations. I caught the metro back to Lille proper and confirmed my suspicions: the metro trains are driverless, which is why they come so often and travel so fast.

I popped into old Lille for a big pot of oolong at Unami, a teahouse I passed a few days earlier (which was closed during the public holiday) then visited L’Hospice de Comtesse, which the Lonely Planet led me to believe was a lot of horrible religious art stuffed in a Flemish style abbey but it was actually a cool old abbey that happened to have some boring religious paintings in it.

Boff and I met up in old Lille and had tarts for dinner. Not a euphemism.

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