Europe Echelon: Amsterdam – Van Gogh Museum At Hermitage Museum

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

“You were very brave to take the Metro”, the What’s App text flashed as I recalled the events of my Saturday to a new acquaintance. I’m back in my hotel, literally finished seeing “all of Amsterdam”. It’s snowing – it was when I woke up, when I left the hotel this morning, when I came back. There’s no pile like I see in the movies. This is Spring after all: the lengthening daylight with just the right amount of heat keeps the weather at bay, from turning Holland into a white wonderland. Instead, all I see are roads and pavements “stained” white.

I’m curious. I continue my virtual exchange on bed. The Metro didn’t seem particularly dangerous, even if it was a little empty, and it was free from graffiti, which is always a nice thing. I admire the resilience and daring initiative artists go through, but I don’t like the choice of instrument – spray-can paints look terrible on concrete, and it doesn’t really age well. “There are a lot of pickpockets, thieves and drugs addicts there. You were alone. You could’ve been mugged or stabbed without anyone coming to your rescue”, came the bone chilling reply.

At Amsterdam Metro’s Centraal Station

Looking exactly just like the trams.

With the brothels and coffeeshops signaling the death of the Netherlands’ infamous sex and drug tourism, Amsterdam now only has perhaps, 3 or 4 places to see before you die. They are, Anne Frank Huis, which I visited yesterday; Van Gogh Museum; Rijkmuseum, one of the greatest museums in the world right up in the leagues of Musee du Louvre and the British museum, which was closed till the end of the month (unfortunate, really) and the Rembrandt House. As luck would have it, the latter three sights were closed. Now, I knew about the Rijkmuseum’s closure, and not the others. However, I had previously read advisories about these spots being perennially crowded and unrelenting in their queues. A pass, the “museumkaart” would afford me fast track access at those and other museums. It was genius, really. I’d visit a “less well-known” museum, queue to buy the museumkaart (because the queue for tickets and the pass are one and the same), view its exhibits, then head for my intended museums and breeze through its long queues. The first stop I chose, was the Hermitage Museum. It seemed like a no brainer: it was by no means, a recommended sight, but it was close to Rembrandt House and the Van Gogh Museum. To be fair, all of Amsterdam is close to each other – you can practically walk the entire city, well, the parts that are relevant to tourists, that is.

The fastest and most direct way seemed to be on the Amsterdam Metro. The lines are termed “services”, and the Metro is really an underground tram network with unnecessarily huge stations plunged deep below the canals of the Dutch capital, using similar rolling stock and all. Services 50 and 51 connected Amsterdam Centraal to exactly where I wanted to go. The alternatives were to endure a surprisingly circuitous tram route for a straight-line distance that didn’t seem very far from the main station. I was pressed for time, and so I chose the Metro. It was quiet, and cold – not too sure if the latter is a consequence of the former, but I took no mind. Osaka, a similarly sized city, also had a subway system which was for the most part, cold and quiet too.

In no time, I reach the Hermitage Museum, and it’s anything but soulless. The Hermitage Museum, as history and art enthusiasts will know, is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. Like the Louvre, the museum occupies what were formerly royal grounds, in this case, the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The business of viewing art has become quite the money maker, and museums like Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, each with their own niche, have opened centres outside their base to capitalize on the public’s growing interest in art whilst enhancing their branding overseas. Amsterdam is Hermitage’s largest satellite, and as I’d find out, walking through exhibits of Peter The Great, that this isn’t coincidence. It was Amsterdam that the West-oriented Tsar based his then newly established capital, Saint Petersburg on.

Hermitage Amsterdam indeed.


Looks more like an infestation, or a weed, rather than something to be admired.

The only picture of the Van Gogh exhibition that I can take.

It’s here where I find out that the Van Gogh Museum too, is closed for renovation. My only relief, for my exasperation, is that the Hermitage Museum was temporarily housing 75 of Van Gogh’s most famous works.

Pictures weren’t allowed, but it was just unbelievable looking at artwork that you’ve seen in pictures and read about in books. There were works like The Yellow House and Bedroom In Arles, along with the hypnotic Wheatfield with Crows and Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, but the star attraction here, is undoubtedly The Potato Eaters. Besides being Van Gogh’s first major work, this was representative of what was considered the “Dutch style” – dark and gritty. Unlike the romanticized mindset of city-folk then (and today), Van Gogh had a realistic view of peasant life, portraying them as rough and ugly, a result of them living by the land on which they worked. While the budding artist thought it was his “most successful painting”, it wasn’t well received even by his friends or family. This criticism eventually took him away from the Netherlands, and into France where his work took on a life of color.

However, I’d learn that he’d seek inspiration about color and perspective from the most unlikely of places – Asia. More accurately, Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The fact that there’s interaction between the two worlds as far as early as 1885, essentially globalization really, was absolutely fascinating to me. If it weren’t for these prints, Van Gogh wouldn’t be Van Gogh as we know him today.

So, after Van Gogh Museum at the Hermitage – literally, the name of the exhibition, I was done with Amsterdam, basically.

It was snowing when I finally exited the Hermitage, but my camera couldn’t seem to capture the snowfall.

House boat. I wanted to airbnb in one, but it wasn’t available.

Clearer skies.

Love how the windows reflect the sky exactly. Actually, the windows are that color regardless, so it’s a bit of a cheat.

Walking through the Bloemmarkt (Flower Market). This alley is said to be riddled with pickpockets, so I didn’t take too many pictures.

It’s quite the scam. There are many stores which sell expensive tulip seeds, complete with instructions to grow tulips, but don’t fall for it.

The Rijkmuseum (pronounced: rike museum)

I’m reminded of Terrance’s iconic “Bird A, Bird B”.

Flock of birds. I tried to use the fast capture mode to shoot them, but there were flying too fast for my camera to focus.

A bit of the local flora and fauna.

Some nice looking building.


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