Eurostar Channel train to Brussels then connecting Thalys train to Amsterdam. Arrived at 4:00 p.m. to rain, dammit. Hotel Piet Hein where we stayed happily in 2009 has gone downhill a bit. No more are the days of breakfast included in the price. The walls are banged up, chipping paint and general state of frumpiness for a boutique hotel so near the Rijksmuseum. Our room is unusual and has a sort of inner city charm. It’s spacious, overlooks many surrounding rooftop gardens of private apartments across the way. We can see the tops of the gothic towers on the Stedelijk and Rijks museums peeking above the buildings and there is the constant hum of hotel heating units below like an annoying lullaby at night. While it’s not ideal, the room has a wall of big windows we can open and look up at the cloudy night sky, smell rain and listen to cooing pigeons on the roof.
Rijksmuseum. Over 300 million euros have been spent retrofitting and remodeling the museum since our first visit in 2009. It was in progress when we were there last and much of the museum was closed to the public. There was a conflict during the process due to complaints by the bycliclists not having road access. The problem was solved by opening an archway and road that halves the museum. Must keep the mad cyclists happy in Amsterdam. They rule the roads here and pity the poor tourist who forgets to get out of the bike paths. They come from both directions at breakneck speeds ringing their tingey little bells.
The museum was reopened in April this year and the visitors have come by the thousands to see the results.You descend on either side into a vast, open plaza with skylights high overhead and a big open restaurant with family style seating. The below ground galleries are dark, small, overcrowded rooms. Very uncomfortable, confining spaces that make it nearly impossible to view the paintings. Other lower galleries contain bronzes, chinoiserie porcelain, swords and armor, giant dolls houses kept by wealthy women as entertainment for their guests, not for kiddies and a large, replica of a 16th century sailing ship. The upper level was not modernized, thank goodness, and the vast galleries, grand rotunda with wall murals and domed ceilings contain the wondrous paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt among others. The paintings by Vermeer are so beautiful. All the exuberance by art historians about them is not an exaggeration. They have a warmth and intimacy that immediately calms the viewer. You can almost step into the scene and be at home with the occupants. A maid in bright yellow and blue pours milk from a jug or delivers a letter to her mistress playing the lute in her salon, viewed by the artist from a dark vestibule. I could have stayed and looked at these four paintings for hours. In an adjacent salon hangs the venerable Nightwatch by Rembrandt which was skillfully restored years ago after a madman sliced it up.It’s more loosely painted than the other counterparts in the salon. While the other paintings depict the group of characters with accuracy, Rembrandt’s paintings tell you more about the artist than the subjects. His big personality is in every brushstroke. Rembrandt’s painting of his son, Titus, dressed as a monk, eyes cast down, was tender. Also loved the Hondekooter large canvases of dead animals and birds. Grim subjects beautifully painted.