I tend not to plan a lot before I come to Amsterdam, preferring to take things as I fancy once I’ve arrived in this great city that I know quite well. I was however organised enough to buy a ticket online to visit the Van Gogh Museum this morning. I’d actually been thinking about it for a while, but after seeing Andrew Graham-Dixon’s documentary Stealing Van Gogh on BBC2 TV on Wednesday, I knew I just had to go back; I hadn’t visited the museum for about 20 years!
I always book ahead of travelling if I want to visit a major museum or gallery, especially one as popular as the Van Gogh Museum, to save queuing and be sure of getting in. I booked a 10.00am entry slot in the hope that by going early it wouldn’t be too busy. It turned out to be a good move as it was fairly quiet when I arrived but busy by the end of my visit.
I was surprised at how quiet it was in the city as I walked to the museum after breakfast, around 9.30. Amsterdam was still sleeping. Even on a Saturday morning when I expected it to be busy and crowds of tourists starting to fill the streets. It was however delightful. It always feels so special to have a city almost to yourself early in the morning; the winter light just about showing through the clouds.
Google maps estimated it would take me 23 minutes to walk there and walking is always my preference in a city. I stepped out on to Singel from my hotel and walked southwards, crossing the canal at Koningsplein. The Bloemenmarkt – the flower market – lay beyond this bridge, easily visible, following the Singel canal, but I needed to go west towards the Museum District. I would take a look at the flower market later, especially fabulous at this time of year, full as it is with large bunches of perfect tulips at a vastly cheaper price than those back home in London.
I walked straight on, along Leidsestraat. This is a street for shopping, if you want to do some, from smart clothes to souvenirs, but this early most shops were still closed. I crossed Keizergracht and then Prinsengracht – two of the city’s most famous and beautiful canals – and then Leidsestraat opened out into Leidseplein, a kind of ‘square’ with the Apple Store looming large to my left and the American Hotel to my right. Finally, another small bridge and then I could see the Rijksmuseum across to the left. I knew the Van Gogh Museum was behind it.
Museumplein is a large open area. I walked across the open space away from the Rijksmuseum, passing lots of stalls selling tempting hot drinks but I needed to keep going. The Van Gogh Museum was straight in front of me, the Stedelijk Museum – the modern art museum – just behind it if I fancied more art later on.
At the entry gates I received such a warm and friendly welcome I was reminded how friendly the Dutch are. Wherever I go, shops, cafes and restaurants, there is always a smile, and a seemingly genuine welcome. How did these museum people keep it up all day long when there are hundreds of visitors each day?
Unsurprisingly one isn’t supposed to take photos inside. A rule I firmly believe in. Going to galleries where people are snapping away, taking photos with their phones all around you as you try to enjoy the experience of seeing some great masterpiece, can be irritating. But I’m probably showing my age!
What I can do is say how pleased I am that I revisited Van Gogh. I’ve learnt a lot more about him and art in the intervening 20 years and was mesmerised by the quality of light, a sense of movement from his brush strokes, the glorious colours and, at times, the sheer emotional charge of the paintings.
By the time I emerged an hour or more later, the museum was getting busy. I decided to head back to the hotel for a short time.
At lunchtime I headed further into the Jordaan district to lunch in a couple of old favourites. First some gorgeous homemade soup and a small beer in Cafe ‘t Smalle.
Then a little further up Prinsengracht to Winkel cafe for a slice of their justifiably famous apple pie.
Winkel (which means ‘store’ in Dutch) is right by Noordermarkt, a fabulous mixed market of organic foods and crafts and all kinds of things. It was started back in 1987 by the then owner of Winkel, Adri Vallentin. He set up 9 organic food stalls in the hope of attracting more people to his cafe on a Saturday morning. It was quite revolutionary at the time for there weren’t many organic markets and stores then. The plan worked and the market attracted lots of people from far afield, not just the Jordaan district, so that now it’s one of the most fashionable and popular in Amsterdam – and there’s always a queue at Winkel!
As I was staying in a hotel I didn’t want to buy food, although it all looked wonderful, but I found a stall selling lovely pottery by Anna Maria Preuss.
I talked to her for a few minutes and couldn’t resist buying a small coffee mug to take home.
By now there was some blue in the sky and a little sun was very welcome – even though it lasted only a short while.
Then it was time to head back to my hotel for some quiet time to read more of the book I brought with me and give my feet a rest – I’d already walked a few miles. Though very good miles they’d been!
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