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yk's solo trip report: Museum-hopping in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and so much more! 5/19-5/27/05

yk's solo trip report: Museum-hopping in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and so much more! 5/19-5/27/05

May 27th, 2005, 07:49 PM
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yk's solo trip report: Museum-hopping in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and so much more! 5/19-5/27/05

Hi everyone-

I just returned from an 8-day solo trip to London, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Delft, Den Haag, and Rotterdam. It was an excellent trip! I would like to thank all of you who have directly or indirectly assisted me in planning my trip, but in particular, I would like to thank Robyn (artstuff), Myriam, Tulips, and 111op.

Some of you may recall that I recently went on a trip to Paris & London in end of Feb with my boyfriend (BF). Unfortunately he couldn't take time off, so I went by myself (plus he was slowing me down anyway - just kidding)!

Inspiration for the trip
This trip was planned on short notice - just 4 weeks before I left. I wanted to go back to London to visit Courtauld, which I ran out of time in my last trip. I also wanted to revisit Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. My last visit to Amsterdam and Brussels was in 1994 (also went to Bruges & Ghent that time), but I really don't remember much from that trip. Instead of going back to Bruges & Ghent, I decided to visit some place new - Antwerp, Delft, Den Haag, and Rotterdam.

This is a very much art-driven trip. I got interested in the Dutch Golden Age (Vermeer in particular), but also interested in the Old Masters, Flemish Primitives, as well as the "newer" artists like Magritte and Mondrian.

Before the trip, I tried to read up on these artists as much as possible. I bought a few books and borrowed some more from the library. Before I left, I had read about Vermeer, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bruegel the Elder, Magritte, and Escher.

I also checked on the web for special exhibitions and concerts and booked tickets for the ones I was interested in.

Before I continue on to the trip itself, I have to warn you: this was an extremely hectic trip. For those of you who felt my previous trip was too rushed, this was even worse. One of my friends who saw my trip itinerary (I posted it on my blog) described my trip as a "military campaign." I had so much packed into my itinerary that I had my daily activities planned down to the hour. Well, this is the way I want it to be (at least this time).

Read at your own risk!

May 19, Day 0
Uneventful flight

I flew AA from DFW - LGW. I picked the 777 flight which has more room through coach (MRTC) and individual seatback screen. I slept on and off for a total of 5 hours on this 9-hour flight. We arrived in London at 8:17am, 17 minutes late. It was raining in London.
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May 27th, 2005, 08:25 PM
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May 20, Day 1
London - Westminster Abbey and Queen's Gallery

There was a long line at immigration at LGW. I got on the 9:30a Gatwick Express train to Victoria. I bought both a GE ticket as well as a Day-travel card.

I had booked the Jolly Hotel St. Ermin's (at St James's Park) via Priceline. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention when I bid, so I overbid by at least $10/night. I got off the GE at Victoria, and changed for the tube for 1 stop to St James's Park. The hotel is a 2-minute walk from the tube station.

I arrived at the hotel around 10:30a. Check-in was uneventful and the room was ready (thank goodness)! I decided to take a 1-hour nap to energize myself as I had a long day ahead.

First stop was Westminster Abbey (admission: £8). My last visit to the Abbey was in Nov 2000. My memory is rather poor, as I don't remember what I saw inside.

The Abbey is a 5-minute walk from the hotel. As soon as I entered, I was struck by its beautiful gothic architecture, especially the vaulted fan ceiling inside Henry VII's chapel. Also prominent are numerous statues, momuments and memorials for the famous dead. The Chapter House was open that day, which I have never been before. It is an octagonal building supported by a single pillar down the middle. The walls still have some frescos from the 13th century.

An hour later, I emerged from the Abbey and found it sunny outside! I walked towards the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. I chose to walk through St. James's Park, my favorite park in London.

I have never been to the Queen's Gallery before. The reason I wanted to visit was because of it's current exhibition: Enchanting the Eye: Dutch Paintings of the Golden Age which features one of Vermeer's painting.

I had pre-booked a ticket for the 2pm entrance and I got there just on time (admission: £7.50). An audioguide is included in the admission fee. The exhibition is rather small - 3 small rooms, but features paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Gerrit Dou, de Hooch, Frans Hals, and of course, 1 painting by Vermeer - The Music Lesson. It normally hangs at Windsor Castle.

Apart from the exhibition, there are 2 other rooms that house the "permanent collection." There is a great variety within the permanent collection: from a Duccio Triptych to the Guilded Silver table service for the Coronation for George III, to a collection of works by Faberge. There are diamonds on view, of course. The Diamond Diadem - the crown worn by the Queen on stamps, and 2 Cullinan diamonds (weighing 94.4 & 63.6 carats respectively).

I was there for about 1 hour, then went back to the hotel. After a brief rest, I ventured out again to my favorite afternoon tea place, Patisserie Valerie.

I stayed with cake this time (last time I ordered the cream tea set with scones, which wasn't good) and a pot of earl grey. I left Valerie with a few more pieces of pastries to go. I was going to Sevenoaks that night to visit my friends again, and I wanted to bring them some dessert.

I had a great time with them, and finally got back to London to the hotel at 12 MN.
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May 28th, 2005, 04:14 AM
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yk -

I'm so glad that you had an "excellent" adventure and returned home safely. I look forward to reading the rest of your trip report. Peace.

Robyn >-
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May 28th, 2005, 05:32 AM
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May 21, Day 2
London, Part I - Courtauld Institute and Backstage tour of Royal Operal House

Despite having a long day the day before, I got off an early start and arrived at Courtauld Institute (admission: £5) just before 10am. It had just started raining when I arrived. BF & I missed the Courtauld last time as we ran out of time in London. I wanted to go because of its Impressionists collection.

There were about 3 visitors when it opened at 10am. The Courtauld turned out to be a huge surprise - apart from its Impressionist collection, I was amazed that it has so much more - from the Old Masters to post-Impressionist art.

The Impressionist highlights are:
- Manet's Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère
- Renoir's La Loge
- A good number of Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, Pissarro etc.

It also has Van Gogh's self portrait - painted when he was in the asylum just after he had mutilated his R ear (the painting has his R ear bandaged, and a Japanese print to his L).

The other highlights include:
- 2 Bruegels (a complete surprise): Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, and Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery which is a grisaille painting.
- Rubens's oil sketch of the Altar piece Descent from the Cross - which I planned on seeing in the Antwerp Cathedral a few days later.
- Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve
- Bellini's The Assassination of St Peter Martyr. According to the catalog, there is a very similar piece by Bellini at the National Gallery. Unfortunately, I didn't know about this and didn't know to look for it when I went to the NG later.

On the top floor of the Courtauld hangs more "modern" work - by Kandinsky, Kokoschka etc.

Apart from picking up the catalog from the bookstore, I spotted a rather funny book titled, "The Cats Gallery of Western Art." Inside are 32 well-known paintings in which the humans are replaced by felines. I could not stop cracking up flipping through the pages. Of course I had to buy it. Here's a link to the book in case you're curious:

I left the Courtauld at around 11:30a (it was getting crowded by the time I left), and hurried on to Covent Garden for the 12 noon Backstage Tour (£8). I had bought my ticket online at home.

I have attended operas many times at Covent Garden when I lived in London for a year in 1992-3, but I had only gone once since the renovations. I couldn't fit in an opera in my tight schedule, so I thought the backstage tour would be the next best thing.

The tour turned out to be a big letdown. Instead of 90-min as it was advertised, it was only 75 minutes. During its renovation, the Opera House installed the latest technology for its backstage, and our guide kept spitting out numbers nonstop to impress us. However, the actual "backstage" we could see was quite limited. It wasn't worth it (both time and price-wise).

After the tour, I walked towards chinatown in search for lunch. On the way, I spared a few minutes to stop in agnès b and Joseph. Unfortunately, the prices are so high that I didn't even bother to try on anything.

I returned to Malaysia Kopi-Tiam (9 Wardour Street) which BF & I went last time. I ordered a Hainanese Chicken with rice, and an iced lemon-honey drink. The total was about £8.
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May 28th, 2005, 06:04 AM
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May 21, Day 2
London, Part II - Meeting 111op and National Gallery

As fellow fodorite 111op was going to be in London (a stopover for his Scandinavian trip) the same day as I was, we decided to meet up. He had bought tickets for the Caravaggio exhibit at NG for 3pm. We arranged to meet at NG at 2:30pm. We decided to meet in front of a painting instead of at the entrance, and we picked the Bellini Doge. 111op joked that we may get a flash mob showing up at the Doge, as both of us had posted our itinerary on our respective blogs.

2:30pm - no flash mob, no one at all.
2:35pm - still no flash mob, and still no one.
2:40pm - finally, a huffing and puffing 111op showed up. His flight was delayed that morning and he was running behind schedule.

There were a few more complications with our meeting, but I won't go into it here (are you reading this, 111op? )

We parted at 3pm when he and his mom went in for the Caravaggio exhibit, but we would meet up again later in the evening.

I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing in the NG. Last time, BF & I were in a big rush, and we barely managed to hit most of the "highlight" paintings. This time I concentrated my time on the Flemish and Dutch paintings.

I checked out Dirk Bouts, Bosch, de Hooch, Avercamp, the 2 Vermeers, and the Rembrandts. NG has 1 Bruegel, Adoration of the Kings. I also went to the Impressionist section again, as last time I was in such a rush I missed a few paintings.

Missed paintings due to "on loan": Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, Van Gogh's Van Gogh's Chair, Velázquez's Rokeby Venus.

BTW, I got so exhausted in the NG that I sat down in one of the sofas and did a 15-min power nap.

As I was getting ready to leave, I saw a sign for the "Westminster Retable" exhibit. I actually knew about it before the trip when surfing on NG's website, and I had put it on my itinerary. But somehow I had completely forgotten about it, so I was glad I saw the sign.

Anyway, the Westminster Retable is from the late 13th century and thought to be the oldest altarpiece in England. Unfortunately, it was badly damanged throughout the years, so despite restorations, it is still in pretty bad shape.

Mission accomplished. By then it was a little after 5pm, time to go.
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May 28th, 2005, 07:13 AM
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May 21, Day 2
London, Part III - An Evening at Royal Festival Hall

As I left the NG, it was actually sunny out. I decided to walk across the Thames on the new (2003) Golden Jubilee Bridge to Royal Festival Hall (RFH). I took the "eastern" bridge. Halfway across, I looked eastward and saw the "Gerkin" building.

The 2005 World Press Photo Exhibition is held in the foyer at RFH. The photos are journalistic photos, so as expected, most are sad, traumatic images such as the Belsan school seige, the aftermath of the tsunami etc. The expressions that the photos captured - horror, angst, sorrow, shock - no further explanations were necessary. Unfortunately it was rather crowded (it was free) and I could only see about 2/3 of it before it was time for dinner.
If you're interested in the photos, here a link:

I made reservations for dinner at 6pm The People's Palace on the 3rd floor of RFH. It is operated by the Capital Group, which also owns the Capital Hotel & Restaurant. When I looked on the restaurant's website, the photos look really nice. Well, here is an example of photos being deceptive. The place looks nothing like the photos. Also, one cannot really see the Thames because it is blocked by the trees on the esplanade.

I wasn't too hungry, so I ordered a soup (tomato, cumin & fennel), a mixed salad and dessert (berry and mascarpone creme brulee). The food was ok, not great. The total bill came out to £21.

At 7:10pm, I met up with 111op and his mom again. We had tickets to see Paolo Conte in concert. Even though Paolo Conte has been famous for a long time, I didn't know much about him until I found out about his concert at RFH. I bought a CD of his and realized he sings the famous "Via con me." The concert was great. 111op and his mom had to leave a little early to make it to their 10pm dinner reservations. I stayed until the end of the concert and the 3 encores he gave. The concert ended at 9:45pm. It was still light out (unbelievable!). I walked back across the Golden Jubilee Bridge (the "western" one) before hopping on the tube back to the hotel.
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May 28th, 2005, 07:31 AM
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Wonderful report so far, yk! Keep it coming.
May 28th, 2005, 07:35 AM
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May 22, Day 3
Part I - First Class Eurostar to Brussels, and a reminiscence

I got up at 6am in order to get to Waterloo on time for the 8:34a Eurostar to Brussels. I opted to take the tube there instead of a cab. It was quite easy.

As I bought my Eurostar ticket rather late, there were no discounts available. I could either buy a $150 2nd-class ticket, or a $170 1st-class ticket. Well, I decided to go First Class. This was the first time I've taken 1st class, well, it didn't seem like it was that much more luxurious than 2nd class except a little more spacious. First class comes with complimentary breakfast, served by very attentive staff.

It was a rather big breakfast: juice, tea/coffee, yogurt, bread, and a choice of smoked salmon or omelette + sausage. Before long, we arrived at the Chunnel and I could not help but reminisce the past.

Back in 1994 when I went to Brussels and Amsterdam, I took the overnight coach from London Victoria to Paris and back from Amsterdam to London. It was such a pain - getting on and off the bus at Dover and Calais, and not getting any sleep at all. It was also a backpacking, youth hostel trip as I was a student then. Now I'm sitting in Eurostar 1st class eating breakfast. Wow, time does fly.

We arrived at Brussels-Midi on time at 12:08pm.
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May 28th, 2005, 08:46 AM
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May 22, Day 3
Brussels, Part II - 3 museums in 4 hours

I had to move fast. I had allocated 1 day in Brussels and I wanted to visit 3 museums. Unfortunately, the following day, May 23, is a Monday and all museums are closed. That means I had to see all 3 museums before they close at 5pm today.

The Eurostar arrived a Midi station, and thanks to fellow fodorites' advice, I took a train (instead of tram or metro) to Central Station. The trip was 3 minutes and the Eurostar ticket was good for it (the ticket actually allows one to go to any Belgian station.)

I found my hotel, Le Dixseptième, without much difficulty. I checked in and dropped off my luggage and rushed back out.

BTW, I usually don't stay at such luxury hotels, but I found an excellent deal which was too good to pass. See more details on this other thread:

I will also post my hotel reviews (London, Brussels, Amsterdam) at the end of the trip report.

First of all, I had to find an ATM. There are NO ATMs at the train station! I ended up wasting precious 15 minutes looking for an ATM for some €.

Museum #1: The Museum of Ancient Art of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts (admission: €5 - includes the Museum of Modern Art)

I arrived at 1:15pm, got the audioguide (€2,50) and hit the galleries. The main attraction (for me) is the Bruegels. The highlights include:
- Rogier van der Weyden's Lamentation and Portrait of Anthony of Burgundy - the illegitimate son of Philip othe Good
- Dirk Bouts's huge panels of Justice of Emperor Otto - with blood splurting out from the severed neck
- Bosch's copy of Temptation of St Anthony triptych. The actual one is in Lisbon
- Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve - similar to the one I saw at Courtauld, but this one you can see the teeth mark on the apple left by Eve
- Bruegel room: it has 4 works by Bruegel, Fall of the Rebel Angels, Census at Bethlehem, The Fall of Icarus, and Adoration of the Kings (tempera on canvas). The Adoration is a different composition than the one at the NG, and as it is on canvas, the color has faded dramatically. Of all the Bruegels, I was most impressed by the Rebel Angels. I have seen reproductions, but the actual painting boasts vivid colors, and it has the most Bosch's influence among the works shown. The Fall of Icarus is famous with its poem by WH Auden. There are actually 2 copies of Census of Bethlehem in the room - one by Bruegel, and one by his son. Bruegel's 2 sons are known for copying their father's work, so it was interesting to see the 2 Bethlehems together (unfortunately they hung them at separate walls, I would have much preferred them being hung side by side).
- Rubens room (seems like there is a Rubens room in every museum. From what I've read, Rubens produced some 2500 paintings in his lifetime, so it's not surprising that one sees his work everywhere). I'm not crazy about Rubens, but his Martyrdom of St Lieven is shocking - with the pale face of St Lieven after his tongue had been ripped out, and the tongue being fed to the dogs. I shuddered.

Museum #2: The Museum of Modern Art of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts

The Modern part is connected to the Ancient part via underground. However, it's 19th century section currently has a special exhibition, but it will remain closed for renovations until 2006. Fortunately, it moved some of the 19th-c works to the 20th-c section.

The first painting I came across was David's Death of Marat. Obviously this was a somber subject, but I couldn't help giggling as the "Cats Gallery" book I bought the day before has a reproduction of Death of Marat with a cat in the tub instead. Moving on, I zipped through paintings by Picasso, Dali, CoBrA artists and finally arrived at the Magritte section.

Magritte is such an enigma and I find his paintings fascinating. Before long, it was 3:15p and time to go.

Museum #3: Musical Instrument Museum (admission €5 - includes an infrared headphone)

The highlight of the museum is the actual building itself. I remember the building from my last visit in 1994, but it wasn't the MIM at that time. The museum itself I found a bit disappointing/over-rated. Maybe I just had too high of an expectation. To add annoyance to the visit, there was a "concert" during my visit by Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor - 2 Australians who play music on wire fences with violin bows. To me, it sounded more like noise than music. To read more about these 2 musicians, here's the link:

I also took the elevator to the top floor where the cafe is. 111op had told me to go up there to check the view. I didn't eat there, but took in the panorama.

I left MIM and returned to the book store of the Royal Museums in search of a catalog. The bookstore stays open until 6pm (whereas the museums close at 5). Unfortunately, they had sold out the English version of the catalog. After much deliberation, I picked up the Dutch version.
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May 28th, 2005, 09:57 AM
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May 22, Day 3
Brussels, Part III - Chocolates, Belga Queen, Jazz Marathon

It was still sunny and warm out, so I walked towards Grand Sablon. Lots of people were hanging out at the various sidewalk cafes, with Wittamer being the most crowded.

I went inside the Wittamer chocolate store and bought 8 pieces (just less than € 0,50 each). I then went across the street at got more chocolates at Pierre Marcolini. I bought a box of 30 chocolates, and again, came out to less than € 0,50 per piece. This is much cheaper than what I had paid in Paris. I also spotted a Dandoy store, so I popped in and picked up a small box of Earl Grey flavored cookies. Shopping done, I went back to the hotel exhausted.

I took a 1 hour nap, then freshened up and headed out for dinner. I had dinner reservations at Belga Queen for 7:30pm. It was a former bank and has a beautiful vaulted stained-glass ceiling.

I am not an alcohol drinker, but how can one be in Belgium and not have a beer? I asked the waiter to recommend a light-weight beer, and he recommended the Steendonk Blanche. For the meal, I had:
Appetizer: Salmon marinated with Rodenbach (Belgian beer) and herbs
Main dish: Braised cod on mashed potatoes, white celeriac chips, deep-fried herbs on an alambic (Belgian beer) sauce
Dessert: champagne-flavored cake (they had gaufres aux Bruxelles on the menu, but wasn't available that night)

The food was quite good, though not a WOW. The dinner came out to € 50.

My visit wasn't complete without a trip to the bathroom. It is a unisex bathroom with transparent doors. The door turns opaque only when one locks it. I was a bit tipsy from the beer, but still remembered to lock the door.

After dinner, I strolled back to Grand Place to catch the last act of the Brussels Jazz Marathon (May 20-22). It was very crowded as it was a beautiful evening. I walked around Grand Place for a bit and finally retired to the hotel around 10pm.
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May 28th, 2005, 10:26 AM
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May 23, Day 4
Part I - A Morning Stroll in Brussels

As I have mentioned before, today is Monday, so all museums are closed. I checked out of the hotel - unfortunately, my discounted rate did not include free breakfast. I left my luggage with the concierge and headed out.

I first went back to Grand Place to check out the guildhouses. Moving on, I headed to Mannekin Pis. It is smaller than I remembered from my last visit, and it is quite an ugly thing. Next, I went to Notre Dame de la Chapelle where Bruegel was buried. Unfortunately the church doesn't open until 12:30pm. The surrounding streets (rue Haute and rue Blaes) are collectively known as Quartier Bruegel, so I strolled along the streets to check it out. It turns out to be mainly home furniture, home design stores, which is a nice change from the touristy Grand Place shops selling miniature Mannekin Pis.

On the way back towards Grand Place, I happened to pass by a section of old city wall dating back to the 12th-c. By the time I got back to Grand Place, the shops were open, so I bought more chocolates - at Galler and then at La Maison du Chocolat Artisanal. I had previously planned on buying chocolates from Mary and Manon also, but I decided against it as I had already bought way too much chocolates.

I had hoped to have mussels for lunch at Chez Leon. It was only 11am and Chez Leon doesn't open for lunch until 12 noon. I didn't feel like hanging around Brussels for another hour, so I decided to skip it and move on.

Before I reached the hotel to retrieve my luggage, I passed by a cafe that advertises gaufres (waffles). Tempted, I sat down and ordered the gaufres de Bruxelles (with strawberries). It was light and crispy, delicious! It wasn't until I finished the waffles when I realized the cafe is called "Gaufres de Bruxelles!"

I picked up my luggage and caught the 11:57am train to Antwerp. This concluded my 23 hour and 49 minutes stay in Brussels.
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May 28th, 2005, 11:54 AM
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May 23, Day 4
Part II - 7 hours in Antwerp; dining at Flamant and Horta

The train ride took about 50 minutes. I arrived at Antwerp station and stored my luggage in a locker (3 sizes available). There is a Tourist Info (TI) inside the station, so I picked up some free brochures. The Antwerp train station is a beautiful building, in stark contrast to the ugly (IMO) Brussels Central station (more about that later).

My first stop was the Bibliotheek Permeke (26 De Coninckplein) - which I had read about in a magazine the night before. The building used to be a Ford garage owned by the painter Oscar Permeke. It was recently remodeled to become a library in the style of a green glass cube.

I was starting to get hungry, where to go for lunch? I suddenly remembered a thread on Fodors about Flamant. I couldn't remember where Flamant was, except that it was near Verso. I headed towards Lange Gasthuisstraat and voilà! Flamant is right across the street from Verso.

For those of you who don't know, Flamant is a home interior store which has a restaurant inside. The restaurant is actually located upstairs. I was greeted by a very friendly and good-looking host. He apologized that the menu is only in French and Dutch, but he would be happy to translate the entire menu into English for me. I told him that would not be necessary, but I'd ask him questions if I need to. I ordered a Thai Crab wrap.

The restaurant decor is minimalistic, but with a warm brown tone with lots of wood. The lunch crowd there consisted of the rich and the fashionable (of which I am neither). The host was curious to know how I found out about the restaurant, as it had just opened in Dec 2004. I couldn't really go into the details of the world of Fodors... so I told him that someone had recommended it.

There was nothing Thai about the Thai Crab wrap, except for 1 sprig of cilantro. Instead of a rice wrapper, it was wrapped in tortilla. Instead of a fish sauce, it was a mayonnaise-based sauce. However, it was still delicious. The lunch came out to just under € 20 (I had water and coffee).

After lunch, I went downstairs to check out the store. It has nice stuff but nothing spectacular. I crossed the street to Verso - I wasn't impressed at all. Granted, I normally don't buy or wear the clothes they sell anyway.

I headed to Grote Markt to check out the Antwerp Cathedral. En route I passed by Louis (mentioned in my guidebook) and again I was unimpressed. The fountain in Grote Markt features a sculpture of Brabo (a Roman soldier who freed Antwerp) throwing a severed hand.

The Antwerp cathedral is famous for the Rubens paintings inside, specifically the Descent from the Cross. Afterwards, I went to St. Jacobs church where Rubens and his family were buried.

Having seen enough churches for the day, I headed towards Leopoldstraat in search of the botanical garden which Myriam had recommended. Even though not too many flowers were in bloom, it was a nice oasis. I also checked out Bourla Theater (went upstairs to check the 1/2 dome ceiling), Rubenshuis (closed that day), and passed by Museum Mayer van den Bergh (also closed - and Bruegel's famous Mad Meg is inside).

I went to look for Walter (St.Antoniusstraat 12) - the store of Walter Van Beirendonck, one of the Antwerp Six. It looks more like a garage/gallery than a store, and I decided to pass on.

I also dutifully checked out Het Modepaleis - Dries Van Noten's boutique. I was curious to see where the clothes were made. It turns out that some were made in Belgium, some in Slovenia, some in Romania. Regardless, everything was way too pricey for me, so I left empty-handed.

It was almost 6pm by then, so I walked towards Grand Cafe Horta for dinner. The iron framework of Horta's Maison du Peuple (demolished in the 1960s) was used to decorate the restaurant. The interior is very airy and bright. BTW, I didn't realize until then that Horta also designed the Brussels Central station (which I thought was ugly).

The restaurant was practically empty as it was early for dinner, and I debated whether I had time for appetizer + entree or just entree. I planned on catching the 7:23pm train to Amsterdam. Of course I made the wrong decision - I opted for appetizer + entree. I assumed the restaurant being empty, it shouldn't take long for the kitchen to cook the food. I ordered a mustard soup with salmon and dill to start, followed by boiled white asparagus (in season!) with boiled egg and potatoes in butter. Unfortunately, it took the food forever to come, and I had to wolf it down. The food was a lot better than I had expected. Dinner came out to € 27,50. I ran out of the restaurant at 7:05pm.

I kept running and running and actually got to the station a little ahead of time. I caught the next train to Antwerp-Berchem and changed for the train to Amsterdam (all trains to Amsterdam leave from Berchem station).

The train arrived in Amsterdam 2hr 15 mins later, on time. I bought a 15-Strippenkaart from an automatic machine and boarded Tram #5 to the hotel - Hotel Washington near Museumplein.

I arrived at the hotel around 10:30pm.
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May 28th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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May 24, Day 5
Amsterdam, Part I - Rijksmuseum

After an early breakfast at the hotel (included in room rate), I walked to Rijksmuseum. I arrvied at 8:50am and was among the few who were waiting for it to open at 9am. As most of you know, Rijks is undergoing renovations and the main museum is closed until 2008, but it moved its "masterpieces" to the Philips Wing.

9am, doors opened. I bought the Netherlands Museum Card (€ 29,95) at the entrance. (This is the best deal, IMO. More about it later.) The regular admission price is € 9. I rented an audioguide and bought the museum guidebook also, as it is cheaper to get both together at the entrance (€ 7,50 for both, instead of € 9 if purchased separately).

I had expected the Philips Wing to be filled with paintings, so I was quite surprised to find the first many rooms focus on the Dutch sea power in the 17th-c. Obviously this makes sense, as if it weren't for its sea power, the Dutch wouldn't have been so rich and powerful and it wouldn't have its "Golden Age." Other surprises include a room displaying delicate Delftware, including a porcelain violin, and an extravagant dollhouse complete with paintings, procelain, silverware, weaved baskets etc, all made in 1:9 ratio. Apparently the dollhouse cost roughly the same amount for an actual canal house back then.

The majority of the paintings are housed upstairs. The highlights include:
- Avercamps's Winter Landscape with ice skaters - this is one of the larger-sized paintings of Avercamp (who, BTW, was a deaf-mute). It features a birdtrap in the left foreground, which likely he had borrowed the idea from Bruegel's Winter Landscape with Bird Trap (which supposedly is in the Brussels museum but I didn't see it). The painting also shows someone's buttocks, as well as a couple making love in the haystack (took me forever to spot that).
- Saenredam's church paintings
- Rembrandt's first self portrait at age 22. This is rather funny. I had seen this painting in 1994 and bought a poster of it. The poster has been hanging on the wall since. This is an example of how memories are fickle. When I saw the actual painting, I was shocked by how tiny the painting is (about 7.5"x9")!
- Rembrandt's Jewish Bride. Apart from it being a tender-loving scene, the painting is known for Rembrandt's use of thick paint to accentuate the clothings. Apparently when Van Gogh saw this painting, he said, "I would give ten years of my life to sit in front of this painting for another fortnight, with nothing but a dry crust of bread to eat."
- Rembrandt's Syndics of the Amsterdam drapers' guild
- 3 Vermeers. Rijksmuseum owns 4, but only 3 are on view: Milkmaid, Little Street, Woman reading a letter. The Milkmaid is by far the best of the 3. Vermeer put in meticulous detail into the painting: holes in the wall, shadow of the nail in the wall, broken window pane, the crusty bread etc. It is such a delicate piece that I could almost hear the milk being poured.
- Jan Steen and de Hooch
- Lastly, Rembrandt's Night Watch. It is so nice to see the actual painting and be able to fully appreciate the contrast between light and dark. I also got a good look at the little girl (what is she doing there?) with the chicken tied to her waist. There is also the half-hidden face in the back, which supposedly was Rembrandt himself, peeking over a soldier's shoulder.

By the time I was done, at arond 11:30am, the museum had gotten quite crowded.
yk is online now  
May 28th, 2005, 01:09 PM
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Great report. You are one active person, for sure!
Sorry you had to run for your train in Antwerp. I should have told you there is a metro that would have brought you there in, say, 3 minutes ...
MyriamC is offline  
May 28th, 2005, 01:11 PM
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May 24, Day 5
Amsterdam, Part II - Anne Frank House, churches

Before I continue, I forgot to mention a painting I missed at Rijksmuseum. It is Rembrandt's Self-Portrait as the apostle Paul. I asked the guard, who told me that it was on loan.

When I left Rijksmuseum, it was raining. I caught the tram to Westerkerk (opens 11a-3p only) to pay my respect to Rembrandt. He was buried at Westerkerk in an unknown grave. But before I went in, I checked Anne Frank House next door. The line wasn't bad, so I went there first.

I waited for 5 minutes before I got in. It was a very moving experience, even for someone like me who had never read her Diary (don't flame me!). The Westerkerk next door plays its carillon daily from 12n-1p. I could hear it loud and clear inside Anne Frank House. The visit lasted for just under 1 hour, and I went next door inside Westerkerk.

Even though there is no actual tomb of Rembrandt, there is a wall plaque inside the church. The plaque was modeled after the plaque painted by Rembrandt in the Night Watch. To my surprise, the organ inside the church was playing. From the sound of it, the organist was practising. Nonetheless it was still a delight.

By the time I left, the rain had stopped. I walked towards Nieuwe Kerk (admission: € 3, free with Netherlands Museum Card (NMC)) which is where the Dutch monarchs are crowned. I saw a pamphlet at the entrance - there will be an organ concert from 12:30p-1p on May 26. I made a mental note of it, hoping that somehow I can squeeze it into my tight schedule.

Next I walked to Oude Kerk (admission: € 6, free with NMC). This is where Saskia, Rembrandt's wife, was buried. It also is hosting the 2005 World Press Photo Exhibit, which I had seen in London's RFH. Since this exhibit requires paid admission, there were far fewer people. I got to check out the photos which I had missed in London.

By the time I was done, it was way past lunch time. I opted for some fries with mayonnaise from a random stall on the Dam. By the time I finished, I had burnt the roof of my mouth with the hot oil, and clogged up all the arteries in my body.
yk is online now  
May 28th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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Myriam - Well, I could have taken a cab also. But I figured I had enough time to make it. The waiters at Horta were a bit annoyed that I kept demanding the bill. I don't blame them.

Thank you for suggesting the botanical garden. It was a nice little break for me from my hectic schedule. Also, without you mentioning it, I would NOT have gone upstairs of Bourla to check out the ceiling.
yk is online now  
May 28th, 2005, 02:12 PM
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More, more! This is great...
althom1122 is offline  
May 28th, 2005, 03:02 PM
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May 24, Day 5
Amsterdam, Part III - An erotic afternoon at Foam and Van Gogh...

Did this catch your eye?

After having the artery-clogging fries for lunch, I took the tram to Foam Photography Museum (admission: € 6, free with NMC). Foam didn't make it onto my itinerary until the very last minute. I had read about a retrospective photo exhibit by the Ukranian Boris Mikhailov in the Wall Street Journal. I figured if it made it on the WSJ, it probably is worth checking out. BTW, I've never heard of Boris Mikhailov.

Well, it wasn't my cup of tea. I simply just don't "get" it. All I saw was plenty of nudity pictures.

Another exhibit on view is far more interesting to me: photos of Lodz Ghetto by Henryk Ross. Ross was an "official photographer" hired by the Ghetto council during WWII to take propaganda pictures, but he also took pictures of the atrocities and sufferings going on inside the ghetto.

After Foam, I walked to the CD store Concerto (Utrechtsestraat 52). I didn't find what I was looking for, so I left empty-handed.

I decided to walk to Van Gogh museum (admission € 10, free with NMC). It looked like a 15-min walk from the map, but in reality, it took 30 minutes. I arrived just before 3pm and the museum was still rather crowded.

Audioguide was € 4,50. The majority of Van Gogh's paintings are on the 2nd floor, which is arranged chronologically. This provides a clear view of the progression of his painting style throughout the 4 main periods of his artist life. The major highlight paintings include:
- The potato eaters
- Still life with quinces and lemons (the only original painted frame by Van Gogh that remains)
- Van Gogh's bedroom
- Gauguin's chair
- Sunflowers
- Wheatfield with crows
- one of his last paintings

I was also happy to see Gauguin's Self portrait in which Gauguin titled it "Les Miserables" and depicted himself as Jean Valjean.

Missed: Still life with Bible, The Yellow House

When I was last at Van Gogh, the new wing did not exist. The new wing is reserved for exhibition, and the current exhibit is on Egon Schiele. I have absolutely no interest in it, but I do want to check out the new wing.

The new wing was designed by Kisho Kurokawa and I thought it is quite different from the original buidling by Gerrit Rietveld (one of the De Stijl members). The 2 wings are connected by an underground tunnel. There is a nice "pool/waterfall" in between the 2 wings.

The Egon Schiele exhibit is in some ways, a different kind of exhibition. Apart from showing his paintings and drawings, there is a partnership with a dance company which has scheduled live performances, as well as other "visual arts" performances. Now I understood what another poster, beanie0300, was talking about in his/her recent thread:

Egon Shiele is known for his erotic paintings with nudity abound. During my visit there was no dance performance scheduled. However, there was a live "performance" - if that's the correct word. On a platform, a man was wrapped in aluminum foil - his head, and from waist down. He was standing up, but kept banging his back against a wood plank, repeatedly. Next to him is a hanger with a black suit, and a pair of black boots on the floor. I don't know how long he has been banging before I arrived, but he was still banging when I left, about 30 minutes later. Doesn't that hurt?

Apart from that, there are also video screenings of "movies" made by other artists who are inspired by Egon Schiele. One is titled, "Egon & Edith," a 30-min film showing all the word combinations using the letters in EGON/EDITH. Another one called "Removal" is a 30-min film showing closeup of a person (a woman, I think) using a pair of tweezers removing body hair. No, I didn't stand there and watch the entire film. At that point, all I wanted to do is laugh out loud! I left the exhibition and laughed my head off outside.
yk is online now  
May 28th, 2005, 03:33 PM
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May 24, Day 5
Amsterdam, Part IV - 2.5-hour dinner at Bordewijk

After Van Gogh Museum, I walked down PC Hooftstraat and did some window-shopping before heading back to the hotel around 6pm and rested until 7pm. I changed into something nicer, and headed out to Bordewijk (Noordermarkt 7) for dinner.

When I arrived, the restaurant was only half full, but it filled up completely by 9pm. As I looked around, about 1/2 of the diners were tourists. The decor is relatively plain and simple, which wasn't what I had expected. From the few photos I had seen, I thought it was nicer.

The chef himself came out to pass out the menu, while describing his 5-course dinner special (He did this for every table). One can either order a la carte from the menu, or order 3, 4, or all 5 courses from the 5-course dinner. I ordered the 5-course dinner.

Every diner was given a complimentary starter. It was marinated lamb liver. I don't think I've ever had lamb liver, but it tasted similar to foie gras.

First course - Seared tuna, artichoke hearts and tapenade, served with a small green salad
Second course - Grilled red mullet, squid and clams in a bouillabaisse sauce
Third course (main dish) - Young lamb with greens, new potatoes and mushrooms
Fourth course - cheese course - I picked 5 different cheese, including a bleu from Spain, a hard cheese from Holland, and a goat cheese flavored with truffles. Unfortunately, 3 out of the 5 cheeses were way too salty!
Fifth course - Ice-cream profiteroles with strawberries

Bordewijk receives great reviews from all the sources I read, and many desribed it as one of the "best" in Amsterdam. I don't think it is that good to be regarded as the best. My favorite was definitely the second course. The 5-course dinner was € 52 + drinks.

I was thinking of exploring the Red Light district after dinner, as I hadn't had enough of sex and nudity earlier in the day. But by the time dinner was over, it was past 10:30pm and it had started raining again. I ended up going back to the hotel, as I have another long day tomorrow.
yk is online now  
May 28th, 2005, 07:16 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Dear yk:

Fabulous report. If I had the money I would commission you to check out every gallery in Europe for me

Personally, I think your itinerary was excellent and definitely one I would do myself in a heartbeat. Best not to do it with a significant other: I remember my first visit to Paris with DH (my third visit). On day three, he said “Ger, I just can’t take another *expletive* art gallery!” In fairness, he enjoys an art gallery as much as the next person, but he WAS hoping for some “down-time” where he could sit in a side-walk café drinking the excellent coffee and enjoying the ambience of Paris and did not expect been forced-marched through every art gallery and museum in Paris. He went back to the hotel for a well-earned nap and I managed to fit in four hours of paintings. When planning the last vacation in Provence he asked: “Just HOW many Roman ruins am I expected to visit?”

I am very grateful for your review of the galleries. Please keep it coming. My thoughts: I am fascinated by Bruegel, recognize his genius, but I don’t like him: I find his works really disturbing and I am not sure I buy into his ethos. I adore Cranach and always visit him when I am in the Louvre. I am ashamed to admit that I have been in Amsterdam at least a dozen times and have never visited one museum, as I was always in a hurry to catch the first available train to Paris. Rubens is hilarious. He has some great works that establish him as a great master, but I find many of his paintings absolutely vile. I “discovered” Magritte, as a penniless student, in the Pompidou Centre, on my first visit to Paris. I was enthralled. I bought a poster, which meant I could not eat that day (my friends fed me their scraps). I still love his bizarre sense of humour and irony. Rembrandt: A wonderful sensitive artist and a complete genius; I can’t get enough of him.

Thank you so much for this excellent review of the galleries. I look forward to more.

Best regards Ger
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