Saturday, May 16, 2015


We arrived home yesterday by different routes. We had flown on Frequent Flyer Miles from different sources (Delta and Air France), so our final route was different, but the destination was the same.  We have different airport experiences to compare, but that will have to wait.  For now I'm taking a break from writing while I unpack, do laundry, check the mail, restock the refrigerator and generally take care of reentry.  It was a wonderful, successful, interesting trip, which fulfilled and exceeded expectations.  After a few days of reflection, I will write a wrap up, including an assessment of practical matters, like phone and GPS use.  I also have some interesting thoughts about airports, security, comfort and shopping  But that will have to wait.  Check in again in a couple days.  Thanks for following.  It's good to be home.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Last day

Our last day in Amsterdam was a holiday. They celebrate Ascension here. I remember that from when we lived in Germany back in the seventies, and the month of May had a holiday almost every week. I discovered that the stores were closed when I went for some extra breakfast supplies. But there was nothing we really needed. It just meant that there were lots of people out having fun on this beautiful, sunny day. 

Our main goal was to visit the Van Gogh Museum. After consulting Trip Advisor instead of joining the long line at the museum,  we stood in line at the small museum shop between the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum.  Instead of the long line we only waited about 20 minutes and then walked right into the museum. Here too we were not allowed to photograph except in a few spots. 

The museum was pedagogic, and we both learned a great deal about Van Gogh, his life, his influences and his methods of working. It was particularly interesting to see his works beside those of Millet, Monet, Pisarro and Seurat.  We took a break in the middle to have quiche and split a beer in the cafe. That was a wise move and gave us the energy to complete the museum itinerary.

We had thought we might take a canal ride, but by the time we had finished he museum there was not enough time before our dinner date with Robert and Alex. We walked to the canal where the boats depart and watched large groups of tourists fill the low boats. We decided that when we come again we would find a small boat to take us out, and allow plenty of time. 

We walked through the Rijksmuseum archways and returned to the park with the fountain that Peter played in yesterday. Today we sat and watched as other people entered and left the center of he fountain as the water bars rose and fell. 

The tree we sat beneath was called a wingnut tree and was planted when the Rijksmuseum building was originally built in 1907. It is considered an historic landmark 

We watched families playing in the park as we walked to the restaurant Robert had chosen. I ordered white asparagus with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce, which seemed appropriate for Amsterdam.

We said goodbye early so they could get home and we could pack. The suitcases are almost ready. Tomorrow morning we fly home.

Symphonic evening in Amsterdam

For his birthday Kate had given Peter tickets to the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. After eating takeout at the apartment we dressed in the best clothes we brought with us and walked the .9 mile to the historic building where the orchestra plays. The entrance is a modern glass shell around a beautiful old building

. There are strict rules about photography and recording so I have no photos of he interior. 

Kate chose our tickets well. The hall is white with gildied trim, red velvet seats, and crystal chandeliers on the ceiling. There is a horseshoe balcony, but it is only three seats deep. Most of the seats are on the floor.  The exception is the two ranks of about fifteen rows on either side behind the orchestra. We were on the south side to the conductor's left.  We were actually facing Jan Willem de Vriend as he worked his magic, sometimes nearly dancing, sometimes still, always in communication with the outstanding musicians before him. He directed without a baton, and his hands moved expressively in fluid rhythmic strokes. 

The first piece was from a Mozart ballet and it was fast and full of energy. De Vriend seemed to be nearly dancing himself as he directed.  The second was Mozart's 9th Piano Concerto. The stage hands came out and erected a square barrier with red velvet cords.  Then the floor dropped to open a pit from which a period piano forte rose up. The barrier folded back into the stage and the instrument was rolled into position. Then de Vriend and the soloist entered by running down the red staircase to the front of the stage. Kate had described he staircase, how it made entrances dramatic, but also meant that the danger of a slip for a nervous performer was a real fear.  There were no slips this time. Kristian Bezuidenhout was the young pianist who worked his magic on the keyboard.  He played with great emotion and sensitivity. The cadenzas were stunning, especially since the instrument was less powerful than a modern piano.  I held my breath as the sweetness of Mozart filled the air. It was a magical performance, and th audience called him back here times before the intermission 

We went into the cafe for drinks.  

The final piece was Schubert's First Symphony, which was also played with great skill and lyricism. The wood winds had a chance to show their stuff this time. We walked home after the concert and slept with music in our dreams. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Focused on the Rijksmuseum

Our major goal of the day was to visit the Rijksmuseum.  We intended to rise early and be in line at the ticket window by 9 a.m.   But our bed was comfortable, and a good night's sleep seemed like a very good plan, so we took it slow, and left the apartment at ten. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed our half hour walk.

There was a line, but it didn't seem too bad. Peter went to get coffee and sweets which fortified us for the visit. Since we had never been before, we opted for the general collection instead of the special Rembrandt show, although we are Rembrandt fans.

We were stunned, amazed, entranced, engaged, committed to the wonderful collection. We started with the seventeenth century Galllery of Honor.
There were landscapes, portraits, daily life scenes, allegories, historical scenes, and many others.

 We were fully focused on the second floor until about 1:30 when we decided we needed a break. We had tea and apple cake in the cafĂ© before we headed back. Peter dove onto the 19th century romantics while I did a tour of medieval paintings and Delft ware.

The rendezvous vous was at the gift shop where we bought postcards of our favorites, and realized that it was getting late. 

We played a little at the fountain outside the museum before walking home.

We picked up some take out food on the way and had dinner in the apartment and put our feet up for a bit before getting ready for the concert. 

The concert was amazing. But it will have to wait for its own description. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

At the Keukenhof Gardens

We left Groningen shortly after 9 with our bags stowed, and Kate in the front seat watching the GPS. It took about two hours before we turned into the parking lot at the Keukenhof. The parking attendants were efficiently packing in the cars, and it was clear that the visitors were coming en masse. The bus lot had at least twenty or so coaches. We were a little worried because it seemed late in the season for tulips.  But the garden was open until May 17, and there were a lot of visitors, so we were hopeful.

We didn't need to worry. It is true that it was on the late side, but the Keukenhof planters know what they are doing. The practice "lasagne" style planting, which basically means that they plant bulbs at three different depths according to when they bloom. The result is continuous blooms for weeks. 

It was interesting to compare these gardens with the Japanese garden we had visited in France. A similar effect resulted from banking swaths of flowers to paint masses of color using thousands of individual flowers. 

One section of the garden is planted in a more  traditional style with pruned shrubs and cascading fountains reminding us that tulips have been grown in the Netherlands for four hundred years since they were first brought from Turkey. 

The vast fields that lie around the gardens where tulips bloom in multicolored stripes were largely bare. This was the part that we were too late too see. But he rest of the gardens were so beautiful that we left satisfied and pleased. 

We headed to Amsterdam where we dropped our bags at our apartment and returned the rental car. Then we walked along until we found a restaurant for dinner.  We sat at a window with the Rijksmuseum on one side and the Concertgebouw on the other.  

After dinner Kate fought a train to Groningen and we walked back to our apartment. 

Kate's Birthday

Monday dawned bright and blue, and when Kate arrived at the doorstep she announced that it would be warm as well. We stepped out onto the sidewalk, trying to avoid the constant flow of cyclists. Our first stop was just around the corner at the concert hall where Kate's orchestra is in residence:  The NNO, the North Netherlands Orchestra.  
After seeing the auditorium and the entrance lobby we headed through the city.  She took us past different churches with amazing tall and graceful towers.

The path lead through the former Jewish Quarter with its imposing synagogue. In spite of the efforts of some to save them, the community of 3000 Jews was largely wiped out during the war.  

We passed through the merchant quarter dating from before the 17th century, when Groningen had been one of the thriving Hansa trade cities.  The old buildings stand proud beside newer buildings hat echo the classic architectural style.

We passed the University buildings which house the law school, and walked through some more residential neighborhoods.
Kate was a bit distracted by some texts, but we didn't pay any attention until she lead us into a walled park and we saw one of Olivia and Paul's kids streak across the path in front of us.

Who should we find but Olivia and Paul and their four kids as well as Vincent waiting for us at a Teagarden. We had tea, coffee and cakes while Kate opened her first gift of the day. 

From the garden we went to meet my brother Robert at the conservatory where he works. But first we stopped at the church where Robert and Greetja were married in 1971.

When we arrived at the conservatory Robert showed us around and introduced us to his colleagues. We watched the choir rehearsing Berlioz for an upcoming concert.

The tour ended in a lesson room with four pianos. Each grandchild got to sit at a different piano.  You can imagine the music that filled the air. 

We all gathered at Kate's for lunch.  

More presents appeared. .Robert was on his lunch break so he had to leave after we ate, but we sat in Kate's living room and talked. The kids went out to play, and things quieted down a bit. But when they came back, we brought out the cakes. There were three different ones, which were nearly gone by the end of the day.
Olivia and the kids left after the cake, and there was a lull before a whole new set of friends arrived for dinner. The table was cleared and the dishes were almost done when we headed back to the apartment at about 10 where we stayed for the night. It was a full day birthday party.