Medieval Treasures and Night Watch Crowds – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It would be hard- though not impossible- to be in  Amsterdam and not visit one of the many amazing museums located there. For me, the struggle was real when it came to deciding between museums like the Ann Frank House, The Van Gogh Museum, and even the rather esoteric Museum of Bags and Purses. Thankfully this heartbreaker of a decision is something tour guides are well aware of and during the morning walking tour I took the guide our group had helpfully suggested that if you were pressed for time and you really could only visit one museum, the best choice would be the Rijksmuseum.

Reasons why this would be your best bet? It’s the largest art museum in the country (and one of the most visited), has a total collection of 1 million objects that span the years 1200 to 2000 – 8000 of which are on display to the public- and it even has three paintings by Van Gogh so that you won’t completely miss out on the experience of seeing one of his paintings here even if you can’t make it to the Van Gogh museum. The museums collection is focused on arts, crafts and history- which made it all that more fantastic for me because while I like art museums, wandering hall after hall of paintings can lose it’s appeal for me after a while. That being said, plunk me down among armoire, cabinets, tapestries and other objects with historical context, add in piles of documents/bank notes and throw in some letters and you’ve got my attention for probably an eternity. That stuff is like cat nip to me and this museum not only had it in spades but its also one of the most beautiful buildings i’ve ever been in.

Almost inadvertently, I started out in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (1100-1600) section, on the ground floor 0 and spent a really peaceful hour slowly perusing the objects on display at my leisure. As you can probably tell from the photos, very few people lingered in this section- though to be fair,  few areas of the museum were really crowded, probably because it was around 1pm on a weekday when I visited. Not really having much of an idea of where I wanted to go next I decided to skip the first floor for the time being and head to the second floor, where the much lauded Night Watch is located.

I found the crowds here in the Gallery of Honor and more specifically in the Night Watch Gallery . I won’t say the Night Watch isn’t spectacular to behold in person, but it’s a bit like the Grand Canyon in the sense that no matter how magnificent it is in person, it’s been well and truly hyped up to an almost dizzying degree so that it can’t quite match up to what you have pictured in your head. The presentation though, thats unexpected and truly breathtaking.

An inside joke for friends- of course I love any depiction of Caesar getting stabbed as the final assignment in the worlds worst/best group project

I eventually finished up in this part of the museum, took a quick break on one of the many cushy benches scattered around and made my way to the 17th Century hall, passing through theThe Great Hall which I didn’t take any photos of, because honestly only video can really do justice to how amazing that hall is. Hopefully I can get around to putting together a video compilation of the trip that will include that clip but for now, just take my word on it, it’s unexpected and just that close to heavenly.

~m

Foggy Canals and Amex Adventures- Amsterdam

The day started early…ish. It also started with some light rain and a bit of a foggy mist, which really wasn’t the most promising start to my first day in Amsterdam, especially given I had planned to spend most, if not all, of it walking around. I was tempted to think the rain I had encountered in Scotland had followed me down, but that would be dubious logic, right?  No matter the weather, it was still unbelievable amazing to actually be here, in Amsterdam.

Not to say being in Scotland wasn’t amazing and it’s own kind of dream come true but, Amsterdam was the city I had first picked out to visit when I was 16 and only just starting to dream of traveling to Europe. Full disclosure: this probably had a good bit to do with a big and rather inconvenient crush I had on an incredibly sweet and friendly Dutch boy I knew at the time, but the love for the city remained even after that summer infatuation faded.

I had never done any kind of tour before this trip, but after reading about people who’d done them and not wanting to spend all my hours wandering by myself through a new city, I decided to sign up for one just a few days before leaving and hope for the best. The walking tour I signed up for met at 10am at the National Monument in Dam Square and for someone that hadn’t ever had the chance to really sit down and learn about Amsterdam’s history, it was unbelievably informative while still being super fun. Some of the subjects and areas that were covered in the 3 hours:  Anne Frank’s story, the Dutch East India Company, the Red Light District, multiple hidden Catholic churches, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, and the history and reasons behind the leaning buildings & gable stones. While doing a walking tour that consisted of mostly all couples while I only had my camera as companion might have turned out a bit depressing, the guide we had was so chipper and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching us about her city’s history as to make me feel only that much more happy to be there.

We stopped at a restaurant for half and hour (I can’t remember the name of the place but I can tell you it was surreal, purple and very cool) in the middle of the tour so people could use the bathroom, rest their feet and talk to the tour guide about other tours available.  While I was debating whether to take that nights Red Light District tour one of the other people in the group came over to talk to me- she introduced herself as Elsa from Chicago and we started chatting and getting to know each other better as the tour continued.

By the time the tour concluded at the Homomonument (exactly what it sounds like yes- a memorial that commemorates gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality) the sun was well and truly out, the fog has dissipated and we set off to try and find lunch together.


Now, if you’ve read the last couple of posts you might remember that I lost one of my credit cards somewhere on my flight from Paris to Edinburgh and as such only had some Euros and one card left to me while I waited for the other two to arrive by overnight mail. The good news was that my other cards were due to arrive that afternoon to my hotel, the bad news was that I still had a whole morning to try and get by with what I had with me…which wouldn’t have been such a problem if I hadn’t decided to take my American Express card with me instead of say, my debit card. Amex, as some of you might know, is not excepted everywhere. Generally i’d been lucky with it being accepted and thankfully Elsa was a good sport about making sure we could find a place that took it but it was still a fun half hour of walking around the streets of Amsterdam looking for that little blue and white “we accept” sticker on windows. Eventually though we found a nice and quiet sandwich shop and tucked in to barbecue chicken and gouda sandwiches and chilled pear juice which was an interesting but surprisingly tasty combination.

After that we walked off in the general direction of the Rijksmuseum, which I had bought skip-the-line tickets for and where we parted ways as she was headed towards the Vondelpark. We exchanged numbers though, and made tentative plans to possible meet up again the next day before she headed off to Geneva and I headed inside to spend the next couple of hours wandering happily through the many (many many) hallways of one of the most beautiful museums i’ve ever visited.

So, fair warning- the next 2-3 posts will probably be about the Rijksmuseum because i’m a gigantic nerd and so if you’re not too interested in that (but why wouldn’t you be, it’s an amazing museum!) feel free to tune back in for the Salzburg, Germany and France posts that will come after that.

~m

Under The Ribbed Archways- The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

After leaving the Scottish National Gallery and getting slightly lost on our way to and back from a market that Rob was keen on visiting (it ended up being much more crowded than the museum we had left and the walk there and back made my very jetlagged body want to call it a day) we made our way back to the area we had begun the day at, to visit the National Museum of Scotland, which, to quote their own website features a stunningly diverse collection that will  “take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art, design and fashion and science and technology – all under one roof.”  We again went our separate ways once inside the museum and after a I took a quick sit down to check in with friends and get my slightly tired spirits back up, I happily went off to explore and make my nerdy dreams come true.

The area I spent the most time in was the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibit, and I can honestly say it was time really well spent. No area of the museum I went to was overly crowded but this part even more so was wonderfully quiet and it was a rare pleasure to get to take as much time as I liked to linger over the exhibits, reading the descriptive placards and just really taking it all in. Every item on display I got the chance to see seemed like it was so lovingly and perfectly curated and you could get the sense of trying to accurately and fairly represent the story of this period in time as honestly as possible.

Eventually I finally finished poring over bank notes and letters (seriously guys, I wish I was cooler than this but i’m a genuine history nerd and I make no apologies for it ), headed on to the rest of museum and then of course, to the gift shop to pick up postcards and other goodies for friends back home before meeting back up with Rob on the first level. We stayed until near closing time (17:00) and then headed back out onto the bustling streets to scout out dinner and then after that it was time for me to head back to the hotel because even though there was a huge part of me that wanted to explore the winding streets of Edinburgh, my body was ready to collapse in bed and melt into the sheets to rest in preparation of the next days adventure.

And what was the next days adventure? Well a very beautiful though slightly ill advised hike around Loch Lomond, of course.

~m

Among Cold Marble Stares and Brightly Coloured Walls- Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

The day started with a cluttered bed in a beautiful hotel room on the quiet and calm outskirts of Edinburgh… and the realization I had lost one of my credit cards somewhere on the flight from Paris. One of my only two cards, as I had left the others at home because yes, you guessed it, I didn’t want to risk losing them. Sometimes my life is a quiet riot of irony. So after turning my luggage inside out and rummaging through every crevice possible, I called my bf (who turned out to be the real MVP of this trip) and we came up with a plan to overnight my other cards to Amsterdam. After that I booked a taxi to actually go and begin my day, by meeting up with my penpal-turned-good-friend Rob who had taken a train up from Manchester to meet up with me in Edinburgh.

After an impromptu stop to exchange some euros for pounds we found ourselves outside the The Scottish National Gallery . If you’ve followed this blog at all over the last few trips i’ve taken, you’ll know that if there’s a museum around even just a teensy bit interesting, i’m there.

We checked out the Northern Renaissance and Gothic Renaissance exhibition first, though separately because Rob said he liked to go at his own pace. Considering I was photographing every other piece on exhibit it was probably for the best, though I did rather miss the chance of having someone to enjoy the descriptive placards with- I think this exhibition was my favorite both for the aesthetics and the inadvertently humorous stories being told through the scenes on display. Once done there, we headed back down to the first level to pursue the rest of the artwork on display.

As you can see from these photos, the crowds were minimal even though it was a late Saturday morning. The atmosphere was serene and there were whole rooms where it was just me peering up at the gigantic paintings, the stoic statues beside them looking down like silent guardians. These two paintings above are part of the “Constable & McTaggart: A Meeting of Two Masterpieces ” exhibit and are even more beautiful and awe inspiring in person.

The Rococo to Revolution section was a real treat for me to wander, featuring some personal favorites like The Campbell Sisters dancing a Waltz (1st photo, statue on the right) by Lorenzo Bartolini and The Ladies Waldegrave by Sir Joshua Reynolds (3rd photo, lower left) . The last photo is from the Seventeenth – Nineteenth Century Scottish Art exhibit.

Even knowing I would be heading to Amsterdam next, I still spent a goodly amount of time in the Dutch and Flemish Art section. Two other personal favorites here, Flower Still Life with Bird’s Nest  by Jan van Huysum (2nd photo)  and  A Singing Practice by Gerard ter Borch(last photo) . 

We met back up near the front after which I made a dash into the giftshop (ok to be perfectly honest I stopped in at two giftshops here because I have no impulse control) and then we headed back outside to seek the next adventure, which turned out to be a walk towards a market he was interested in visiting, lunch and caffeine for me and then a walk right back to where we had started to go visit the National Museum of Scotland.

~m

The Quietest Part- Denver Museum of Nature and Science, CO









After leaving the gems and minerals behind us for the day, we headed deeper into the museum, to find the North American Indian Cultures exhibit area. We had to leave before really getting a chance to explore everything to catch a show at the planetarium (Cosmic Journey: A Solar System adventure….and yes it was as fantastically nerdy as it sounds) but we came right back afterwards. I have a bit of a ….tempestuous, relationship with museums and their exhibits of Native American artifacts and the way they recount their history, but the Denver museum was- at least in my very humble and not overly scholarly opinion- really well researched, honest and above all, respectful. I would definetly recommend visiting for a chance to learn more about the cultures that span North America and getting a chance to see beautiful works of art (both ancient and modern).

Something of particular fascination to me were the signs you would see every so often behind the glass cases, just under a blank spot where an artifact use to sit. A small sign saying the object that used to be displayed there had been returned to their respective tribe or historical owner. I know the subject is something of intensely furious debate among certain groups, so I won’t go into it too much here, both because I don’t really come from a culture that has had it’s history taken to be displayed in museums without proper permission and also because I don’t have a Ph.D in…well anything really, but I will say it was something I though was interesting in many ways to see documented within the displays themselves. I ended up buying a really fascinating book on the subject in the gift shop (because of course I did) called Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture which was actually written by the senior curator of anthropology at the museum and I recommend as an interesting read on the subject.

We finished off at the small but super informative and fun Egyptian Mummies exhibit and then meandered our way down to the gift shop where as you can probably tell by now, I spent a stupid amount of money at. Books, postcards, souvenirs and even a new notebook, I would say don’t exit through the gift shop but… that would be so very hypocritical of me, no?

~m