July 5, 2019

Rothenburg, Germany

Dateline: Rothenburg, Germany and points east

I woke up this morning in the town of Wurzburg. As I slept in, something of a hazard on a cruise where the liquor is included and there is no bar bill, I didn’t have a lot of time to explore this particular town but I did get a brief look at the Archbishop’s Residence. His excellency certainly had taste and money to burn.

Wurzburg, the residence

After brunch, it was on the bus and a trip down the autobahn for about 70 km to the town of Rothenburg. The autobahn was safer than I thought. There were a couple of large Mercedes in the left lane whizzing by at enormous rates of speed but the vast majority of drivers seemed to understand that 100 km/hr (60 mph) was entirely appropriate for the road and conditions. The Bavarian countryside was quite rural with fields of grain and a smell of cows. There were a lot of power generating windmills in the fields. Germany wishes to be fossil fuel free and it looks like they’re going to make it.

We approached Rothenburg through the new part of the city, which looked like most other suburban towns but with architecture reminiscent of German Medieval styles, got off the bus, walked through a gate in the city wall and into the old town. The town is a well preserved medieval city. In the 11th through 14th centuries, it was an important trading center at the intersection of a couple of major trade routes. By the Renaissance, trade patterns had changed and it devolved into a sleepy down off the beaten track and the money and prestige left leaving the medieval architecture and city planning behind. it existed for a few hundred more years, without a lot of notice until the Romantic poets of the 19th century discovered it as a fairly intact medieval town, and it was visited and made famous by Hoffman, Schiller, the brothers Grimm etc. By 1900, the locals realized they had a major tourist destination on their hands and they worked to maintain it’s style and charm. World War II bombs damaged about a third of the town, but it was rebuilt on it’s original design and remains a UNESCO world heritage site.

Rothenburg

The old town is relatively small, still surrounded by its defensive town wall and filled with medieval half timbered houses and other buildings. It’s very much a Grimm fairy tale come to life and you can easily see the characters from Into the Woods venturing out from one of the city gates into the countryside to get their wish. I did some shopping, buying a watercolor of one of the towers from a local artist, toured the church, the city hall (but did not climb the twelve flights of stairs up the tower), and walked the trail around the town which wound through gardens and the galleries of the old city walls and defensive towers.

Then it was back on the bus and off to meet the boat which had moved upstream to Ochsenfurt. This evening, we’ve been continuing up the Main and through more locks as we continue to climb towards the Danube. Post dinner entertainment was a German Oom-pah band. They were better than the one from the biergarten in Rudesheim and didn’t try to include Jimmy Buffet in their repertoire. I decided to treat my shingles with one to many Rudesheim coffees and, being in a pleasant mood, had a nice conversation with the lounge pianist before retiring to bed and to write this update. I can’t think of a good story tonight. Must be the brandy. Hopefully one will occur to me tomorrow. We’re not docking until lunch time so I get to sleep in.

July 4, 2019

One of the 68 locks between Amsterdam and Budapest

Dateline: The Main River Waterway, Germany

Today was strictly a sailing day. I slept through Frankfurt but woke up soon after as the ship bumped into another one of the 68 locks between the Rhine and the Danube. The Main River is now pretty much a shipping channel connecting the two great rivers. As they are at very different elevations, the ship has to be lifted up into the center of Europe by several thousand feet. This is obviously impractical without a lock system.

Unlike the Rhine, the Main is not a particularly large river and, with a lock every mile or two, it’s more like an interconnected series of calm finger lakes than anything else. With a river boat plodding along at a slow 10 knots, an absolutely glorious day weather wise, and a still calm water, in some ways it feels a little like Bavaria Land at Disney. Cute little towns appear, glide by and disappear. There’s the occasional low bridge which leads to them needing to lower the wheel house and have everyone on deck sit down and duck while we clear by centimeters. The picture perfect flocks of ducks and geese, and even the occasional swan look as if they could be animatronic.

Hanging out on deck – note the 4th of July shirt that I actually bought in Mexico in the mid 90s

I spent some time on deck basking in the sun, some time reading (a reread of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories – there was a copy in the front of an Amsterdam book shop and I took it as a sign), I got an MNM column finished, and wrote another 2000 words on the book chapter. I finished it all up with a nap before dinner. Tonight was Captain’s dinner (they had to come up with something as we had no stop today) with surf and turf and entirely too much wine. It was followed by a classic dance party in the lounge. Watching a number of tipsy baby boomers gyrate to the music of their misbegotten youth got old after a while so I came downstairs to watch another movie and to get to bed early. Tomorrow looks to be a bit of a long day.

RV Thomas G Thompson in Alaskan waters

Story time tonight is prompted by a day on a boat. The summer of 1981, when I was 19, my father helped me get a job on the University of Washington research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson. It was to spend two months in the Bering Sea and they needed someone to run the water sampling machinery at night so that the scientists could keep normal hours. It wasn’t a hard job, it paid well (with no ability for me to actually spend any of my earnings – not a lot to do in the sub Arctic, and it came with a lot of down time. (I was able to read the unabridged War and Peace in less than a week). I found myself bound for Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians by plane that June where I met the ship and began my sojourn. I must confess that I was seasick the first day out of port, but after that initial bout, I was fine for the rest of the trip. I ate well, read a good deal, watched a quantity of bad 70s films, and visited several places such as the Pribilof Islands and Nunivak Island that are not on the beaten path. There isn’t much there but I did go to one of the seal rookeries. Let me tell you bull seals can move quite fast on land when they want to. They also smell terrible in congregation. Nothing terribly exciting happened during my time at sea but it does mean that when we’re playing exotic places you’ve been to that no one else has, I often win.

Tomorrow is Wurzburg and Rothburg so I should have something more interesting to say.

July 3, 2019

The Rhine Valley – full of medieval castles

Dateline: Rudesheim, Germany and points south east.

Five weeks in to the battle of the shingles and the right side is hurting worse than ever. Fortunately, I packed enough Celebrex, Gabapentin, and Tylenol to last through the trip and it’s my sincere hope that it will be down to a dull roar by the time I get back. I’m not looking forward to full work and rehearsal schedules feeling like this. At least on vacation in Europe, I can add a little alcohol to the mix as I don’t have anywhere to be as long as I’m on the ship by all aboard and I’m not in charge of the driving.

The Lorelei Rock

I woke up this morning, having steamed through Bonn and Koblenz overnight, to find us in the famous middle Rhine valley, where the river cuts through jagged cliffs with picturesque towns hugging the river banks and medieval castles perched on the hills above. It’s been an absolutely gorgeous blue sky day, a bit warm for Europe in the 80s, but perfect for sitting in a lounge chair and watching thousands of years of history glide by. The captain maneuvered us around the Lorelei rock without incident and we passed towns like Boppard and Kreuzbach. I don’t recall the names of most of the castles. Many of them were at least partially blown up in the late 17th century on the order of Louis XIV of France. Castle restoration seems to have become a cottage industry in recent decades and many which were a ruin last time I passed this way thirty five years ago have been repaired. They now seem to function mainly as youth hostels or boutique hotels.

On my last trip, I took the train through this part of the Rhine Valley. Boat is much preferable. The speed is a good deal slower giving you time to appreciate what you’re looking at and you’re sitting on deck listening to the rushing of the water and smelling the wind as it comes down off the vineyards and into the gorge which is much nicer than sitting in a hermetically sealed Deutsche Bahn train car. The gorge isn’t all that long so we had more or less finished our traverse by noon when we docked at Rudesheim, the quaint little town on the right bank that marks the beginning of the mountainous stretch. The much larger town of Bingen is across the river and from what I could ascertain, is not as pretty.

Rudesheim

I had never heard of Rudesheim before but it turned out to be a very old riverside town of about 5,000 whose buidings had more or less survived World War II as there was no bridge and it wasn’t big enough for anyone to bother much about. We got off the boat, had lunch in a restaurant cum beer hall in the center of town (where the Oom-pah band had an eclectic range of selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber to Jimmy Buffet) – schnitzel of course,but with kartoffelen rather than noodles. It was accompanied by a nice Riesling, the product of the local vineyards which climbed up the hill behind the town. Dessert was apfel strudel with Rudesheim coffee, another local specialty. Think Irish coffee but with about three times as much brandy and the coffee pot being waved in the general direction of the glass.

The Germania monument

After lunch, a visit to the local museum – a collection of those enormous mechanical music boxes from the turn of the last century that play pianos, organs, violins, and what not, all housed in a 16th century house that still has some of the original fresco art on the walls and ceiling. Then it was time for a gondola ride of the hill behind town, the Niederwald. At the top is a very large monument of Germania dedicated to something Kaiser Wilhelm I did sometime in the 1870s. I think it had something to do with the German unification of 1871 but my German isn’t that good and there were no helpful English translations on the noticeboards. Then back down, a stroll through town, and on board for dinner, more Riesling, another Rudisheim coffee, party games, and bed.

As we began dinner, we turned off the Rhine onto the Main. We pass through Frankfurt sometime either tonight or tomorrow morning. No docking tomorrow, just a river day due to the large number of locks in the Main canal system as we float up and over the continental divide toward the Danube. As it’s such a small group of passengers, we are starting to get to know one and other and I think we’ll manage to keep ourselves entertained.

Memorial plaque at Hyde Park Barracks to Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn, my great great uncle

I owe a story. This one’s a family history story. (Saunders cousins, please correct me if I have any details wrong). At dinner tonight, was me, a gay couple – one American and one Australian who currently live at Lake Tahoe, and a New Zealand couple. The conversation got onto war stories and somebody brought up the Hyde Park Barracks. This is a large brick military installation in central London, across the street from Hyde Park. My great grandmother (maternal grandfather’s mother), Lucy Anderson Meiklejohn had a number of brothers and sisters. One of her brothers was named Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn. (For those of you into oceanography, you should recognize the name Matthew Fontaine Maury – he more or less founded the field in the 19th century). He was a friend of the family and so one of the son’s was named after him. MFM Meiklejohn was a military man and served with the Gordon Highlanders and found himself shipped to South Africa to serve in the Second Boer War. (My great grandparents were South African colonials and settled at Grahamstown far from the fighting. My grandfather wouldn’t be born for another four years or so). At the Battle of Elandslaagte, the Highlanders were breaking and MFMM rallied the troops and led them on to victory. He was shot multiple times and ended up losing an arm but won the Victoria Cross for gallantry. A number of years later, in 1913, while he was stationed at the Hyde Park Barracks, he was exercising his horse in the park. Something spooked the horse and it bolted and he had difficulty controlling it with only one arm. He was about to run down a nursemaid with small children in tow and, instead, turned his horse into the barracks wall. The impact killed him. There is a memorial plaque on the wall where it happened. It was still there last time I went to London and looked. There is a brief Wikipedia article about him.

July 2, 2019

Cologne, Germany

Dateline: Cologne, Germany and Points South.

We continued to motor up the Rhine river all night and, as the scenery seemed to be mainly the back sides of apartment houses and chemical refineries, alleviated by the occasional industrial site and cargo ship dock, I decided I could sleep in a bit this morning and laid around reading and watching a not so good movie that MNM will get her claws into shortly. Habitation and bridges started to increase around 11 AM as we headed into the suburbs of Cologne, docking right next to the Hohenzollern Bridge leading into the main train station, just a few hundred yards from the famous cathedral. I have been to Cologne before, but frankly, I remember next to nothing about it. I know I went to the cathedral, as that’s what you do in Cologne but for the life of me, I can’r remember another thing about the city from my grand tour of the early 80s.

In the thirty five years since I was last here, they have redone Cathedral square with some contemporary museums and cultural amenities such as concert halls and one very large venue dedicated to Broadway Style musicals. Our tour guide wasn’t very happy with that one. It has a ‘temporary’ canvas roof that never seems to be replaced with a permanent structure and she considered it a bit of an eyesore. I would have been interested in checking out what was being offered this evening, but alas, our ship departed at 6:30 PM. Far too early to partake in any of the local night life.

Cathedral Square

The cathedral remains magnificent, still undergoing repair work from a combination of World War II bombs and time and the elements. The entire plan and the apse date back to the 13th century but most of it was actually constructed in the 19th century when Cologne finally had the funds to finish the job. There was damage from the Allied bombers. (It was too close to the train station and Rhine bridges not to sustain some) but it mainly survived intact and they have been carefully restoring and repairing all of the intricate stonework ever since. The locals took down most of the stained glass during the war so many of the medieval windows survived. Where windows did not (primarily the 19th century windows in the newer parts of the church) they have been replaced with modernist patterns of stained glass which still give color and light, but which remind us all of the casualties of war. The old altar is dedicated to the magi and their bones rest in an impressive gold and silver reliquary. Whether it’s actually the magi or not is a source of some debate, but the provenance can be traced back to Helena, mother of Constantine, who brought the bodies out of the holy land in the 4th century. My guess is she was snookered by the locals on her relic hunt but either way, they’re bones that have seen a lot of history.

Gallery at the Ludwig museum

After craning my neck looking up for an hour or so, it was off to the Ludwig museum. This is new since my last trip as it wasn’t opened until the late 80s or early 90s. Herr Ludwig, a German chocolatier of a previous generation, developed quite the interest in modern art and assembled quite the collection, especially of early 20th century artists. There are many Picassos, Kandinskys, Klees, Noldes etc. Dali’s Railway Station at Perpignan is there, and much larger than I had imagined. It is all well displayed with galleries explaining all of the different directions 20th century art traveled and how it was reacting to social and other artistic trends. The later 20th century and 21st century collection was more of a mixed bag. A lot of Pop Art as apparently Mr. Ludwig was a fan so bunches of Warhol and Liechtenstein.

Then it was time for a bit of a walk through town. I did some shopping, but didn’t buy anything. walked on the railway bridge to see the padlocks (It’s a German version of the bridge in Paris – couples put a padlock on the bridge to lock in their love. 40,000 and counting at this point.). As it’s a strong iron railway bridge, there will never be a need to remove them due to weight. They’ll run out of padlock room first. Then, back down to the river, back on board, and time for dinner. We’re continuing to sail upstream. We should pass through Bonn sometime after midnight and arrive at the Lorelei Rock and the beginning of the middle Rhine with all of the cliffs and castles sometime tomorrow morning.

Shingles are hurting and I can’t think of a good story immediately so I am going to sign off here and pick up again tomorrow.

July 1, 2019

Amsterdam canal boat

Dateline: Nijmegen, The Netherlands and points east

Today was the first full formal touring day, complete with motor coaches, canal boats, and tour guides waving signs and saying follow me please. At least the major tour groups have all gone with these little boxes with an ear piece and every tour guide has a different channel. Now we can all hear what he or she is saying while he or she converses in a normal tone, rather than a dozen people braying in front of the Night Watch all at once, each in his or her own language.

This was the last Amsterdam day. Up relatively early, attack the breakfast buffet (think upscale American hotel, only with roast tomatoes and baked beans next to the scrambled eggs), and then on the bus. A short trip to the museum area (although given Amsterdam traffic, I could have walked it faster) and then an hour in the museum with a guide going through the 17th century Dutch masterpieces. I’d already been, of course, but the guide had some interesting observations and I was able to get into a friendly argument on who the master of the period was. She argued Rembrandt. I argued Vermeer.

This was followed by a two hour cruise of the canals complete with gourmet white table cloth lunch. It really is the nicest way to see the city. Most of the city remains pretty much as I remember it from my previous visit other than the harbor area. Most of the shipping and industry has moved out of the heart of Amsterdam and there are now new artificial islands full of expensive condos dotted around. There is also, for reasons unknown to me, a floating Chinese restaurant that’s a copy of one in Hong Kong. Not even the guide could explain that one.

Dutch countryside – it’s very flat

After lunch, we had a few hours of unstructured time so I took one last walk through the city. Will I ever come back? It better be before another thirty five years pass because at that point I’ll be 92 and unlikely to be able to take the same kind of long urban walks that I currently enjoy. Then it was back on the bus. The ship had departed Amsterdam some hours previously and we were to reboard at Nijmegen, a town in central Holland on the Waal River, then through a series of rivers and canals and on to the Rhine. We’re due in Cologne tomorrow around lunch time. The bus ride through Holland was like a trip through a Dutch Landscape with it’s flat fields and hedge rows and occasional plane trees. Only one windmill, alas. Little towns of brick would pop up here and there but most of what was close to the highway were big box stores and an occasional industrial park. The ninety minute trip took two and a half hours due to repeated traffic jams. Dutch traffic jams are similar to the American variety only the drivers are more patient and more polite.

Bridge at Nijmegen

I can’t say I saw much of Nijmegen. If I remember my WW II history correctly, it was bombed heavily by the Allies around the time of the Battle of the Bulge and so most of the construction isn’t terribly historic and looked like suburbia pretty much anywhere. The boat was drawn up at a quay near a bridge that had some strategic WW II importance and is still standing and we headed upstream through cocktail hour and dinner. I’m now in my cabin, having retired early. I am on the cheap floor and so my bed is actually below the waterline. I have a couple of small windows high up just above waterline so I stretch, I can watch the banks roll by. They aren’t overly interesting but I did catch a glimpse of a band of wild horses as we passed by a nature preserve.

The late lamented epinions.com

I should write a new column tonight. We’ll see if I get around to it. Tonight’s story will therefore be the birth of MNM or how did Andy end up writing a movie review column… When I moved to Birmingham with Steve in the late 90s, we didn’t exactly have a lot of friends and, when his health started to deteriorate, he didn’t exactly have a lot of energy to go out and make new ones. I was lonely and in bopping around on the internet (the web was about six or seven years old at that point and people were starting to learn how to exploit its capabilities) and found a couple of sites for gay men where guys would chat and make snarky commentary on pop culture. On one of these boards, everyone had a bit of a camp handle of some sort so, in thinking about various camp icons, I pulled Mrs. Norman Maine (the Judy Garland character in A Star is Born) out of thin air and started to use it to sign my posts. Once there was a name, a personality soon followed. About a year later, I stumbled on a website entitled epinions.com. It was one of the first attempts to monetize a website where the content was created by the consumers, rather than professionals. You could basically write reviews, of the type now on Amazon and if other users liked and upvoted them and trusted your opinions, you could make a little money and become a member of a community. Films were one of the categories available and Steve and I were avid moviegoers so one day, I sat down, created an account in the name of Mrs. Norman Maine and wrote a review of the movie we had seen the week before (the not very good remake of Shaft IIRC). Somebody out there liked it. I wrote another one, then another, and soon I was pounding out a couple a week. The first few weren’t very good (I rewrote them later) but as I continued to write them, they began to improve immesurably and she began to build up a fan base. I wrote steadily for epinions for nearly five years, a time when Steve’s health got worse, he eventually died, and I had to pull myself out of my funk of grief and professional ennui. The columns I wrote through that period were a form of therapy. All of the major events of my life were paralleled in MNM’s fictional world and I was able to pour all of my creativity and theatricallity that life circumstance would not let me exercise, into her madcap mythical adventures. By late 2004, Tommy and I were together and thriving and we began our real life theatrical adventures. I no longer needed MNM and so I let her be. About ten years later Epinions went defunct. When I heard about that, I went in and downloaded all the old columns as they did represent a lot of effort on my part. There were 365 of them about film. (I had written an occasional review on something else and I excluded them from the canon although I do have copies of them stashed somewhere). Shortly after, I was contacted by a couple of epinions film people who had started their own film website and they asked me to resurrect her. I agreed and back she came to MovieRewind.com where she remains. There are about 165 columns in the new series. One of these days, I’ll figure out what to do with over 500 film review columns written by an alter-ego. It’s probably enough for a whole series of books. MNM’s inspirations are Paul Rudnick’s Libby Gelman-Waxner from the old Premiere Magazine, Jim Bloom’s Joe-Bob Briggs, and the novels of Patrick Dennis. I’ve always written versions of my real life and friends into the columns. Tell me you’re a fan and you’ll likely end up in one.

June 30, 2019

Ruijterkade Oost Docks

Dateline: Ruijterkade Oost Docks, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Today was a slow day by design. I had no idea how much time boarding the ship would take. I’ve never been on a river cruise before and boarding ocean cruises with thousands of other people can, at times, be a chore. I need not to have worried. It turned out that the river boat docks were walking distance from my hotel (I still took an Uber – luggage). And, when I got to the boat. The check in process was all of five minutes. I used the extra hours on board to take a nap. My body still isn’t sure what time zone it’s in.

So, my home for the next two weeks is the MS Esprit operated by Tauck travel company. I have a comfy and relatively spacious cabin (for a cruise ship). One of Tauck’s selling points is that it limits the number of passengers so that it can keep its cabins larger. The ship is standard river boat fare. Four decks and about 200 feet long. It took all of five minutes to explore the public areas which consist of a lounge, a dining room, a grill, a sundeck, and a spa/gym. If the boat were full, it would have a maximum of 90 passengers. There are 63 of us heading south this sailing. With such a small complement, I assume I’ll get to know people fairly easily. At first glance, it looks like it’s mainly well heeled folk in their 60s and 70s. I’m on the young end but there seem to be a few people in my age group scattered about.

MS Esprit – Home for two weeks

Given the small space, the crew all do double and triple duty. My room steward is also the afternoon barman and dining room server at night. They were kind enough to pass out a passenger manifest to us all. Looks like mainly US with a few from various other English speaking countries: England, Australia, New Zealand etc. The crew is mainly European except for the above mentioned factota who seem to be mainly Indonesian.

Tomorrow, we are still in Amsterdam – a visit to the Rijksmuseum which I may skip (having spent a number of hours there yesterday seeing what I wanted to see at my pace) and a canal boat tour complete with lunch. I suppose it’s for those who just arrived today and haven’t had time to spend in the city as of yet. Then we’re bussed half way across Holland to meet the ship which moves on its own route on its own sweet time.

I chose Tauck as it doesn’t require a single supplement. Fixed price per person. I suppose I could have taken someone with me but I don’t know that a lot of my friends would have been insterested in sharing a queen bed in a small cabin with me for two weeks. It’s also all inclusive including the drinks. No bar bill at the end of the trip. This could be dangerous. Two beers before dinner and two glasses of wine with dinner and I can write this but I’m probably not much good for anything else. I’ll try to stick to coffee before noon.

The Fair Princess – much smaller than the cruise ships of today

I didn’t tell a story yesterday so I probably should today. Nothing outrageous happened on my first visit to Amsterdam all those years ago and nothing untoward has happened this time around either so I’ll have to go outside of that particular box. Steve and I loved cruise vacations and we took a number of them over the years. River cruising didn’t really become a thing until after he died so we never did one of those together but we almost certainly would have had he lived longer. One thing we figured out years ago was the smaller the boat, the better time we had. Our best cruise together was with Princess for eleven days down the Mexican Riviera around 1995. The boat was the Fair Princess (decommissioned shortly after we took our trip – too small). It was actually an old Italian transatlantic liner that the Princess line had bought at discount and had maybe 700 passengers. It was still in the days of assigned dinner seating and the first night, the two of us found ourselves at a table for eight. We were the first to arrive, having some trepidation at who would find themselves with the gay boys. We were joined by three couples, all friends and all LA County Sherrif’s deputies. There were a few looks of suspicion, and then Steve told a dirty joke, teased the waiter, and the ice was broken. We ended up having a ball the whole time and our table quickly became known as the most raucous in the dining room. (The cops asked us to come with them on their next cruise, alas the dates didn’t work out). This was also the cruise where we figured out that the best time was to be had befriending the staff. We quickly became friends with the bar lounge and entertainment staff, mainly British. This culminated by being invited to their favorite hangout in Acapulco where we fell in with the staff from three separate cruise ships that were all in port together. This led to the wildest pool party I’ve ever attended. I don’t recall the end of it after more tequila than was good for me but we made it back to the ship fine. It’s probably just as well that Steve didn’t drink. He didn’t mind that I did. In fact, he often found it quite amusing.

I’m going to sign off, do some reading, and nurse my post herpetic neuralgia which remains in full swing. I’m perfectly functional, but it does occasionally feel like my right side is being attacked by one of Ramsay Bolton’s hounds.

June 29, 2019

The Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam

Dateline: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

My body not yet knowing the proper time, I slept in some this morning, but was still up and dressed before the breakfast buffet shut down. The Doubletree breakfast is a bit nicer than the Hampton Inn breakfast but seems to come from the same corporate kitchens. The day was rapidly warming (the European heat wave has reached the low countries and the unseasonably high temperatures are in the high eighties to low nineties. Fortunately, humidity remains low and there’s a nice breeze off the water. Nevertheless, I decided today might be a good day for indoors in the air conditioning pursuits.

I headed off for the plaza encompassing most of the major museums by a circuitous route. I did wander through a book shop or two and purchased a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Dutch to add to my collection of translations. I also had a nice pastry or two as I continued trekking uptown. I decided to stick with the basics and settled on the Rijksmuseum and The Van Gogh museum. The modern art museum was doing a Banksy retrospective and his stuff is so site specific, that I can’t see much of a reason to view it in a gallery. Besides, it would remind me way too much of a Jeff Koons show Steve and I went to in San Francisco. By the time we got to the vacuum cleaners in plexiglass boxes, we were both in hysterics.

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

The Rijksmuseum is the big national art museum, housed in a large Victorian brick fantasia that looks too much like the main train station for its own good. I imagine the same civic architectural team was responsible for both. The centerpiece of the collection are its galleries of paintings and artifacts from the golden age of Dutch painting and culture, the 17th century. And the centerpiece of that is Rembrandt’s enormous canvas, the Night Watch. It’s hanging in a more out of the way niche at the moment as the museum is building a conservation exhibit that will allow the public to watch as the painting is resotred and preserved. The building is chock full of still lifes, peasant allegories, portraits, biblical scenes, and gold leaf madonnas. There are plenty of Rembrandts but there are astonishingly few Vermeers. He’s my favorite of the Dutch artists of the period and his surviving works are few and scattered.

Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam

Then a beer for reinforcement before heading into the Van Gogh museum, built in the 70s by Van Gogh’s nephew to house the family’s Van Gogh collection as a gift to the state and the public. A couple of special exhibits. One devoted to his Sunflowers looking at the painting, what influenced it, what it influenced, how the colors have changed over time. I enjoyed it. The other was trying to visually represent his nervous breakdown in Arles with glass flowers and flashing lights. I did not enjoy that one. The main collection was much as I remembered it from 35 years ago when I and the museum were both relatively new. I did not buy a Sunflowers throw or Van Gogh inspired jewelry from the gift shop.

The version of Sunflowers in the Van Gogh Museum

Pho for dinner and another long walk through Amsterdam. Then it was time for putting my feet up after about ten miles for the day according to my pedometer. Tomorrow I have to figure out how to get myself on to the boat.