Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Elizabeth's blotchy hands

No sign of Snow White but I guess she's resting...

National monument in Dam Square

Blue skies! Just as we're about to leave!

August 7, 2010

Today didn’t start off too well. Firstly, somebody’s alarm went off at about 7am and it sounded like a fire alarm going off. I can deal with alarms in dorm rooms, you come to expect them. It is very, VERY annoying though when the person turns the alarm off and rolls over and goes back to sleep. I mean, what flaming idiot sets an alarm they don’t need? Do they do it just to annoy other people? I’m conscious of setting my alarm when we need to and ensure my phone is right by my pillow so I can switch it off quickly and easily when it beeps. I also make sure to turn it right off so that I don’t forget to turn it off for the next morning. Sounds like common sense to me but I guess some people just aren’t wired that way!

Secondly, Elizabeth woke up covered in some massive red blotches. Over the last couple of days she had been getting bitten by some bug or other but this morning they all seemed to have come up quite big and bright red. She only seemed to get them overnight so we reached the conclusion it was bedbugs and when we went down for breakfast we told them and they said they would change the pillow and mattress. The girl even said she would speak to her manager and find out how much money we would be refunded. We hadn’t even asked for a refund but it was nice to know that the staff were helpful and thoughtful and took me back to the stupid cow in Rwanda who just kept laughing at us and wouldn’t give us credit for being kept awake half the night.

We walked out to Rembrandt’s House this morning after seemingly resolving that issue and along the way tried to pick up some stamps for our postcards. The supermarket near us only sold them in books of five and we only needed three. We then “found” a post office which no longer existed before we finally stumbled across a post office which did exist and was open. When we went up to the counter the woman there told us they only sold them in fives there too and that was the way in the entire Netherlands. What a stupid system. We bought five and then tried to decide what to do with the other two!

It had been raining constantly this morning but it wasn’t too heavy. Even so we were quite pleased to get to the Rembrandt House and into the dry. We took the audio guide there which was included in the price and worked our way around the house. Rembrandt actually lived in the house for quite a while and he had spent a fortune on it, both with the building itself and many of the contents. He had fallen behind with payments for it though and the creditors moved in. Ultimately, this has helped in restoring the house as the creditors made a complete, detailed list of every item in the house, most of which were sold to pay off his debts, including the house itself. The tour took you through the large kitchen and entrance hallway. The entrance area was lined with many pictures and Rembrandt used to use this area as a showroom for many of his own pieces, encouraging guests to buy them. The cabin beds in both the kitchen (for the maid) and ante-room (for guests) were very short. This was due to the fact that in those times many people believed you could die from blood rushing to your head while you slept so they slept in a partially seated position!

Upstairs, you saw some of the other rooms including his studio and a storage room. The studio had been decorated as it had been depicted by Rembrandt himself in some of his paintings, including his easel in the corner with the window blinds open to show where the light shone in. The light came from the left of the easel and this setup might explain why so many of his pictures are lit from this direction. The storage room was full of many items Rembrandt collected from around the world including shells, corals, stuffed animals armour and weaponry. He was also an avid collector of artwork and he kept several hundred books featuring several thousand pieces of art. These included works by Michelangelo and part of you has to wonder how much that piece would fetch in the current market. I’m pretty sure the amount would dwarf whatever amount Rembrandt owed even with inflation!

An entire section was dedicated to Rembrandt’s etchings. The exhibit started with a film showing how the etchings are transformed into the final pictures but seeing the final pictures themselves from the etching plates is something entirely different. The detail in some of the pictures was unbelievable and when you think that this have been created by scratching a metal plate, using the depth of the scratch to indicate tone and shade, and done in reverse the sheer talent involved becomes clear. The best exhibits were the ones which had the original etching plates alongside the finished picture so that you could really see the detail. Many of the pictures of course contained Rembrandt’s signature but the one which stuck out most was the one with his signature backwards – he had obviously forgotten about the reversal of the plate when he signed it! Nevertheless, this makes it all the more amazing that on the regular etching plates he was writing his signature backwards! His lighting technique remained the same in the etchings, too. The plates were all shown using a light source from the left which meant the final prints showed the light from the right hand side. It is amazing how you notice these things but even more amazing how an artist gets so used to doing something, or a certain style, that the habit is difficult to break.

The museum was really good and was not busy at all which was quite a treat in itself! The audio guide was detailed enough to give a good insight into the house and the person who lived here but brief enough to not be too boring! It was good we got it though because the signs around the house were pretty brief!

We had a walk around after that although the rain had started getting a bit heavier. We really didn’t want another soaking so after a quick stop for some crisps and coke to accompany our stolen sandwiches, we made haste for the hostel. When we got back, our room still hadn’t been cleaned so we grabbed our stuff, went downstairs and Elizabeth complained again. This time they said the room would be cleaned immediately and they told Elizabeth we would be getting a refund of 50% of the cost of her bed, which amounts to nearly $120! It isn’t nice to suffer and be itchy like Elizabeth has been for the past 2 or 3 days but at least we feel the hostel is trying to sort it out. However, our room had still not been cleaned when I checked with the receptionist a while later. It didn't help that Elizabeth was starting to feel a bit ill and just wanted to lie down. I told reception we needed our room cleaned immediately so Elizabeth could have a lie down and thankfully they did it. I’m not sure what they did though as I think it might just have been a change of sheets and to make life easier for Elizabeth we swapped beds. If I’m covered in bites later on or tomorrow I’ll be complaining again.

This weekend is Gay Pride weekend in Amsterdam (and other places, too, so I gather). We had planned to watch some of the gay boat parade along the canal today but given the weather we decided to skip it which was probably good as Elizabeth wasn’t feeling too well. She has got a booking for the Anne Frank House this evening as well so I wanted her to rest before she went to that.

At about 5pm Elizabeth left to walk around to the Anne Frank House. It was still raining so I decided I would leave around 6pm which gave her an hour or so headstart on me to look around the house once she got there and meant I wouldn’t have to stand around in the rain for too long. Of course, I was still soaked by the time I got there but at least it wasn’t too bad. Along the way, I saw some of the Gay Pride boat parade but chose to take a different route as the canals and pavements were packed full of people and made it tough to get through quickly in the rain. Along with the wide variety of supposedly shocking outfits, I also saw a boat of skinheads shouting abuse at a boat full of men dressed in pink and a guy trying to chat up a girl by telling her that “she was so pretty she could be in a window”. I’m not sure that is the way to impress any woman!

For dinner we headed to an Argentine restaurant making use of another of the vouchers we’d found offering free drinks with meals. We were both able to get a nice, juicy rump steak plus a drink and it didn’t break the bank. It still wasn’t cheap but we’ve really done well here by resisting the temptation to go out and get drunk every night and eating sensibly and cheaply at the hostel.

August 8, 2010

Our final day in Amsterdam and we had to check out of our hostel room this morning. We went down for some breakfast first and then came back up and packed our cases. We hadn’t packed last night completely as some of our clothes were still damp and we wanted to give them a chance to dry off a bit! After breakfast, packing and checking out, we decided to just take a walk around the city and so we enjoyed the little bit of decent weather the day gave us and enjoyed the canal side paths and quieter areas of the city, before we had to turn back in towards the centre and find some lunchtime nourishment! We had a long overnight train journey ahead of us so we decided to have a bigger lunch and so we found a Thai restaurant offering a decent lunch special and decided to go for it. The service wasn’t great but the food was decent enough and it certainly gave us something to keep our hunger away for a while.

Back at the hostel we hung out for a bit before heading off to the train station. We were again in a 6-berth compartment on the train but for the first hour or so we were the only people in there so we were able to make ourselves at home and get our bags stored away. The train left Amsterdam about 6pm and wasn’t due into Copenhagen until 10am the next day so we had plenty of time to do nothing!

We had a lot of fun in Amsterdam even though the weather was pretty bad at times and the city was increasingly over-run at the weekend due to the Gay Pride event. It is such a picturesque city to walk around and enjoy and there is so much more to it than just the drink, drugs and sex stuff!

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