Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Europe 2015’ Category

Royal Museums, Brussels, June 12th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 13, 2015

If you’re my age or thereabouts, you remember learning a poem that begins like this at school:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…

The poem is called Musee des Beaux Arts and it’s by W. H. Auden.  It goes on to describe the fall of Icarus, as painted by Brueghel which shows that no one takes any notice of the amazing event – a boy falling out of the sky. The painting is in the Musée Old Masters, part of the complex of Royal Museums here in Brussels.

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

It was one of my favourite poems at school because I loved the line about how the dogs go on with their doggy life, but there are two English teachers in our group who said they didn’t know it, so I guess nobody teaches it any more. What a shame!

There were so many lovely artworks in this museum!
We mainly focussed on early Flemish and Netherlandish art but there are a couple of later works in this slideshow:

 

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After a break for coffee in the cafe, we checked out the Musee Fin-de-Siècle.  These were interesting because there were quite a few Bolshie paintings and a couple of the sculptures looked almost like Stalinist art which made me wonder about Belgian politics at the end of the century.  Were they pro socialism??

Anyway, my favourite from this Fin-de-Siècle collection is the one called Listening to the Music of Schumann.  Does she like it, or not??

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We had a delicious buffet lunch at the Brasserie (ordered in my best French!!) and then we set off round the corner to the Museum of Musical Instruments. We confined ourselves to the second floor where they had the most fantastic collection of classical instruments I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry that the photos are not very good, everything was in glass cabinets and there were lights shining everywhere, but still, I hope you can see the amazing shapes and sizes of the early and experimental versions of the instruments our orchestras use today.

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Tomorrow (yikes!) we have to be on deck at 8:30 for a day trip to Wallonia. Will do my best to report in at the end of the day…

Posted in Art Galleries, Belgium, Brussels, Europe 2015, Museums | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Lier, June 11th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 12, 2015

Tonight we’re in Brussels, just round the corner from the European Parliament (in session, which explains the massive security force and the traffic jams), but we travelled her via the small town of Lier, not far from the border of the Netherlands and Belgium.   Although they speak Flemish, the town feels more Dutch than Holland does because they go out of their way not to speak English or French, and Flemish is just Dutch pronounced in a different way and with some slightly different words.

We had planned to visit the Lier Cathedral but (much like everything else in the town) they close very promptly at noon for lunch, so they threw us out after five minutes.  Still we were able to scamper around and take some nice photos, including the grandiose silver reliquary of St Thingamabob which features in the town’s Big Deal procession every October.  BTW I think that tombstone includes the body of Johanna The Mad, one of the more interesting of this region’s women…

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Van Ouytsels Koffiehoekje

Van Ouytsels Koffiehoekje

We had a nice lunch at a restaurant called Van Ouytsels Koffiehoekje. Like the church there were no concessions to non-Dutch speaking visitors – everything was written in Dutch. But we made a reasonable effort at translating and only needed a little help from the very helpful staff, and Tim enjoyed a local beer called Caves which we wouldn’t have known about without her recommendation.

And then we went to the Brueghel exhibition at the municipal museum.  Apparently the major Brueghel gallery at Antwerp has been closed for renovations for ages, and won’t re-open for ages more, so they have farmed out their artworks far and wide, and some of them are in Lier for the duration.   Not all of them are Brueghels, some are done by the Elder’s Offspring, and some by other enthusiasts, but whatever, we enjoyed the exhibition immensely.

Two versions of Proverbs (Breughel, maybe)

Two versions of Proverbs (Breughel, maybe)

The guide was a wealth of information, especially about this picture called Proverbs.  There were actually two versions of it, almost exactly the same except that one was darker than the other, maybe because it needs cleaning,  but I have no idea which one was which, and frankly I don’t think it matters.  Tim looked it up on Google afterwards and apparently there are over 100 depictions of old proverbs in it, though she only told us about 25 of them or so.  If you are like me and you just thought that Breughel was an artist who did beaut scenes of cheery peasant life with a bit of naughtiness thrown in, then it is a bit of a revelation to discover that he is much cleverer than that and his work is really sophisticated in intent and execution.

There were lots of other lovely pictures to look at as well, though the less said about the contemporary photo exhibition, the better.  Apparently they feel that they can’t just show these Breughels for three years, so they commissioned a local to interpret the concept of ‘procession’ in photos, and the only word I can think of describe them is lame.  I almost resented being made to spend time having them explained to me, except that I understood that the guide was being loyal to her local artistic community…

These pictures aren’t named because the gallery very cunningly hasn’t named them so that you can’t tell which are real Brueghels and which ones aren’t.  Maybe when I get home I will do some Google image searches, but in the meantime, enjoy!

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Posted in Art Galleries, Belgium, Cathedrals & churches, Europe 2015, Lier | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Wednesday June 10th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2015

Another day, another wonderful art gallery, this time in Rotterdam.

The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen is a little different because it is inclusive of art from outside the Netherlands, and it has quite a bit of modern art, but truth be told, although I quite often like modern art, I tend to find it banal after I’ve been admiring the art of earlier times.  Even major impressionists look a bit limp after looking at Rembrandt and Vermeer, so it’s best left for another day, IMO.

We have to pack for our departure for Brussels tomorrow, so without further ado, here are the highlights of today’s artworks!

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Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2015, Netherlands, Rotterdam 2015, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Dinners in Delft, June 9 & 10, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 11, 2015

On our first night in Delft we dined with the tour group in a French restaurant called Le Vieux Jean.
We had a room upstairs to ourselves, and we started off with amusées in the room where the wines were stored.  The highlight of this dinner was the guinea fowl served with small French turnips and tiny crispy potatoes.  Le Vieux Jean is a very nice restaurant and we have no hesitation in recommending it.

IMG_0116 (800x600) Right next to our hotel is a terrific little cafe called Het Labyrint.
It’s not fine dining, but they do delicious toasties, the service is great and if you fancy a pre-dinner drink because the restaurant you want to go to isn’t open yet, you can also call in for a G&T or a shot of Laphroig. (No prizes for guessing who had which.)

But the highlight of our dinners in Delft and indeed of the Netherlands so far was the one we had at Restaurant De Prinsenkelder.  It’s a French restaurant serving a choice of traditional and contemporary cuisine, and it’s splendid.  Faultless friendly service, a terrific choice of wines, and the food was just perfect.

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Posted in Delft, Dining out, Europe 2015, Netherlands | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

MC Escher Museum, The Hague, Tuesday June 9th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 10, 2015

Even if you’re not a great fan of MC Escher, the museum is good fun, especially on the top floor where the young and the young-at-heart can play with optical illusions of all kinds.

The house used to belong to the Queen but I am not sure whether the furnishings and more traditional paintings are hers or the Eschers’…

What I liked best of all was the amazing chandeliers –  watch the slideshow to see how stunning they are!

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Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2015, Museums, Netherlands, The Hague | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Mauritshuis, The Hague, Tuesday June 9th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 10, 2015

The Hague is an interesting place to visit en route to Delft.  There is a large square somewhat reminiscent of the one at St Mark’s in Venice, but the wind was brisk and cold so the chairs and tables were mostly empty.  (The indefatigable cyclists were undeterred, but they are not as feral here as they are in Amsterdam where you cannot relax and stroll about at any time because you risk being knocked for six if you don’t keep your wits about you).

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My goodness, we’ve had some excellent guides on this tour!  I am sorry to say that I didn’t catch the name of the wonderful young woman who showed us the highlights of the Mauritshuis, because she really was exceptional.  Knowledgeable, excellent English and witty too, she really brought this grand palace alive.  Once again there is no way my photos can capture how lovely the paintings are, but these slideshows are the best I can do.  I hope they are big enough to see, the internet is slow here in Delft so I’ve had to reduce the file size quite a bit.

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Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2015, The Hague | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Monday June 8th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 9, 2015

Today was one of those heavenly days I’m sure I’ll remember all my life. It joins my days at the Hermitage, the Louvre, the National Gallery in London and the Prado as a feast of great art, beyond any power of mine to describe in words.

The Rijksmuseum has generously put its works online and you can see them all on their website, but the slide show below is just a small selection of the ones that took my eye.

First of all, from the entrance hall, the lovely stained glass windows celebrating artists and philosophers:

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Then from the second floor, covering 1600-1700, in galleries we explored by ourselves:

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Then, the highlight of the day, the Vermeers, with expert guide Drs Kees Kaldenbach. If you visit Amsterdam, make sure you get into one of his tours, he is fantastic.

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And then, a period that enchants me, mostly medieval art from 1100-1600:

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And finally some odd little bits and pieces from the Dutch colonial past:

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Posted in Amsterdam, Art Galleries, Europe 2015, Netherlands | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Kasteel de Haar, Sunday June 7th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

On the way back from Utrecht, we visited Kasteel de Haar, one of the most bizarre historic buildings I’ve ever come across.  It was basically a ruin when the impecunious heir decided to restore it, which he was able to fund by fortuitously marrying a Rothschild.

The Neo-Gothic restoration by Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers was extravagant, to say the least.  It’s a bit gaudy from the outside, and rather gloomy in most of the rooms inside, but the rooms that Helena Rothschild had a hand in are lovely, and there are some stunning artworks and architectural features as well. It had very advanced plumbing and electrics, and a ginormous kitchen full of gorgeous copper pots too. Alas, I am not able to show you any photos of the interior because they not only won’t let visitors take photos, they also don’t have any for sale in the gift shop (if there is one) and there aren’t any pictures online either. All I have is a few pictures of the castle and garden, but, well, my heart wasn’t in it because I wanted to photograph the interior, or at least buy postcards of it.

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Now, far be it from me to encourage anybody to break the rules of unreasonable tourist attractions such as this one, and no, I have no idea how Wikipedia comes to have images which were forbidden to us, but if you want to have a look at least at the kitchen whose copyright they are so assiduously guarding, click here!

Posted in Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Netherlands | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Utrecht, Sunday June 7th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

Utrecht is a university town southeast of Amsterdam, about 45 minutes by bus.   It is a lovely place to explore, and we were fortunate to have an expert guide called Ingeborg Behari to show us around.

We started off in the Railway Museum Het Spoorwegmuseum where Ingeborg volunteers as a guide.   We were not interested in the trains, it was the beautiful building that was so captivating.  Typical of many of these grand railway stations built in the 19th century it featured stunning architecture and grand interiors, and this one even has a Royal Waiting Room.  (Though truth be told, this room was actually somewhere else to start with, but was transplanted here to the railway station when it became a museum.  BTW, do check out the height of the mirror in that Royal Waiting Room.   It is absurdly high, impossible even for tall people so its purpose was really to make the room look larger.)

PS (Tuesday)  I had an email from Ingeborg with some extra info about the ceiling of the Royal waiting room.

“Because there were no photos of the original ceiling and the year is the same as Kasteel de Haar (1892) the architects who restored Kasteel de Haar decided the ceiling could have looked like this.”
Thanks, Ingeborg!

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After that, we took a stroll through the canal districts, where Ingeborg regaled us with all kinds of interesting stories about the rich, the famous and the ones who wanted to be.   But one who definitely deserves to be famous is Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen who won a Nobel Prize for discovering X-rays, and you will see a tiled image of him in the slide show below. Utrecht encourages its citizens to come up with good ideas to enhance the city, and as well as ones like this that commemorate its most eminent citizens, there are also some that show paintings from past times, sited in the same place so that visitors can see the place both then and now. The best of these is the one that shows the cathedral before the tornado blew half of it away in 1674.

Utrecht is also very excited about two major events this year. They are hosting the start of the Tour de France, and they are celebrating the 60th ‘birthday’ of Miffy. If you don’t know who Miffy is, you had a deprived childhood, because the Miffy books are enchanting.  There are large Miffys all over the city, decorated by various artists, but this one is wearing a cape to keep it warm, courtesy of university students who play all kinds of pranks in the city, including chucking some of the ubiquitous bikes into the canals, so much so that they have had to increase the depth!

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We were sorry to come to the end of the tour, but we enjoyed a nice lunch at Graaf Floris.  Tim had Kroketten (which are, you guessed it, croquettes) and I had pork satays.  He also sampled two of the local beers including one drunk with a slice of lemon in it, and I had a cup of honeybush tea which was divine.  I haven’t had a decent coffee in the Netherlands yet, but their herbal teas are really nice.

We had just enough time to buy some bread, cheese and sausage at the Farmers’ Market for an in-hotel meal tonight and to duck into the cathedral before it was time to go.  The cathedral is gorgeous, restrained and elegant by comparison with the more extravagant Catholic cathedrals, and I was especially impressed by the altar which looks from a distance as if it is made of ivory.

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And then we were off to see Kasteel de Haar…

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Museums, Netherlands, Utrecht | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Amsterdam June 5 & 6, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 7, 2015

Well, here we are in Amsterdam, and it’s all been very interesting so far. We flew in from London at lunchtime yesterday and were met by the tour leader, a nice young man called Nick Gordon who has a PhD in history but escaped from academia and is now making a living as a tour guide. We were escorted to our hotel in a swish Mercedes Benz, but things went downhill from there because the hotel is disorganised and they didn’t manage to get our room ready until late in the afternoon.  These things happen, I know, but it was hard not to be a bit fed up – and we weren’t the only ones…

But apart from that it’s been very nice. Nick took us on a walk around the historic canals area and pointed out various palaces – though as you’ll know if you’ve been to Amsterdam, a Dutch palace is quite modest compared to everything else in Europe. Most of them are five stories high but they are narrow and if they have any gardens at all they are around the back of the building where you can’t see them. Missing also are the grand churches that you see in Europe’s capitals, I’ve only seen one church and it was quite ordinary.

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Anyway, after the walk we had a ‘welcome’ dinner which was very nice and (based on previous experiences of Dutch domestic cuisine) not how I expected Dutch cooking to be.  Alas I forgot to take my camera so I have no pictures, but we had numerous small courses, beautifully cooked and creatively presented.  We were very impressed!

In the morning Nick gave a talk about the long and complicated history of the Netherlands, and then – armed with knowledge about the hostility to Catholic Spain – we visited the Church in the Attic. This was a hidden church where worshippers came together in secret to avoid persecution. There was even a small confessional, and a little baptismal font. I know that religious persecution was widespread all over Europe, but still this little church was a vivid reminder that certain kinds of worship could result in a visit from the Inquisition during the period that the Spanish were in control here.

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From there we went to Rembrandt’s House, bursting with wonderful paintings and portraits and drawings by the great man.   They have tried to recreate the house as it was in his time, using the documentation from when he was made bankrupt to know how it was furnished.  There are paintings hanging on the walls as they would have done in his day, when apparently he displayed his work in the front rooms of the house for buyers to come and purchase.  You can see some of them here,  but of course it is nothing like actually being there.  I didn’t take photos because I thought we weren’t allowed to, but I have some postcards to use when I scrapbook this trip when I get home. My favourite room was his studio, which is a lovely light-filled space near the top of the house, and you can stand right there in the same place that he stood beside his easel. I wonder what he would have made of his home becoming a tourist attraction…

We had lunch at a restaurant called Senses and once again the food was excellent. All my preconceptions about Dutch food have now been laid to rest!

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We now have the rest of the day at leisure. So we’re putting our feet up for a bit, and will go out again later on, to brave the Saturday night crowds and the young people whizzing about everywhere on bicycles.

Posted in Amsterdam, Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Netherlands | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »