Friday – Amsterdam

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Today we arrived in Amsterdam. It’s been a bit grey and quite cold all day, but at least it didn’t rain.


I was a man on a mission today. Last year, I missed getting into the Van Gogh museum on account of the huge queues, and then discovering later that I could have purchased fast-track tickets from just inside the cruise terminal. So, after a hearty breakfast, I headed ashore, determined to rectify the situation. Sure enough; there, just inside the cruise terminal was an information counter, providing maps and tickets for attractions on the city….


None for The Van Gogh museum, though. Assuming he perhaps hadn’t heard me the first time, I pointed out again, that I’d like to purchase a fast-track ticket for the Van Gogh Museum, to which the young chap answered that they didn’t do them. He pointed to something called a City Ticket, which would admit me to the museum, entitle me to a canal boat trip, and a hop-on-hop-off bus tour… all for only 28 euros.


But I didn’t want a canal boat trip, and I didn’t want a bus tour – I just wanted to see the Van Gogh Museum., but didn’t want to have to join the mile-long queue that I saw last year. I guess I’d just have to walk it again, and take my chances… at which point, he said “Oh, you don’t want to do that… it’s not there…!” Huh?


He then explained that the Van Gogh Museum was in the process of being refurbished, and that it was temporarily housed in the Hermitage Musem.


He pointed to where I would find this location, on the map, and I commented on the fact that it was much closer… I asked him how big the queues would be, and he shhrugged his shoulders, saying that it was out of season (but it was last year, too….)


So; armed with a city map, and a new location, I headed for The Hermitage. It didn’t take me long to get there – no more than about a half an hour’s walk… a massive place, where they had signs everywhere announcing that they were the temporary home to the Van Gogh Collection, along with another current exhibition; The Impressionists!


I was pleased to see that the queues to get in weren’t that bad. I only had to stand for about 10-15 minutes before I handed over 17.50 euros in return for a ticket. They wouldn’t allow backpacks in, so I had to deposit mine in a little locker (another euro – but returnable) before I could enter that hallowed place bearing just one name: Vincent.


I have to say, it was one of the best 17.50 euros I think I’ve ever spent. I’ve never been able to make my mind up about Vincent Van Gogh, and whether or not I like his work, but the exhibition was simply awesome. It took the visitor through his entire life, starting with the simplest of sketches, through his time in ‘The Yellow House’, and the Sunflowers and Lilies, through to his desire to be a peasant artist, and his cornfields and ‘Potato eaters’ paintings. I stood in front of his ‘Bedroom’ painting, quite transfixed. This is a painting that is so familiar, having seen it in books and prints… and I had to remind myself that this was the real thing… the actual canvas upon which Vincent placed his actual brushmarks…. all simply awesome!


My ticket was a combi-ticket, though, which meant I was in for a further treat, for in the other half of the museum was a collection of world famous Impressionist paintings; Monet, Manet, Gaugan, Renoir, Cezanne.. they were all here….


When I exited the museum, I was astonished to see how the queues had grown; security guards had been put into place, and the line of people stretched right around the perimeter of the museum’s inner courtyard… it seemed by timing had been impecccable.


That was almost 3 hours of my day.


After which, everything else seemed quite bland.


I meandered my way back towards the ship through the city’s Low-wattage bulb district and Chinatown, and it all seemed a little seedy and quite uninteresting after having had the privilege of seeing such great works of art in the flesh.


Amsterdam is a city of cyclists, trams and mad drivers. Pedestrians do get zebra-crossings and lights, but nobody seems to take much notice – certainly not the cyclists – on more than one occasion, I found myself brushed by an oblivious cycle rider, and hooted at by angry drivers (sudden thought: maybe I’m just rubbish at negotiating busy cities).


At 5pm this afternoon, I attended an official meeting of speakers and tutors, chaired by the Cruise Director, Gareth and Assistant  Cruise Director, Amy. The meeting was partly to let everyone meet each other, but also to bash out the timetable for the forthcoming weeks. The surprising thing was that they’ve added two more craft tutors – it being billed as a ‘Super-Crafts’ Cruise n’ all… raising the obvious question of how in hell are they expecting to squeeze us all in?


I couldn’t possibly recall the entire meeting, but the bottom line is; the two craft tutors and myself, from last year kind of got our way… the two new crafters have been allocated places elsewhere in the ship, while we repeat what we did on last year’s cruise. Because so many passengers, on a pre-cruise questionairre expressed an interest in watercolour classes, my first session, tomorrow, won’t be a workshop as such – it’ll be an induction session, to sound out exactly what numbers we’re talking about. From Sunday onwards, I’ll have roughly three and a half hours sandwiched  between Pat the Card-maker and Michelle the Scrap-booker to run my classes. Hopefully, the interest will be stretched thinly-enough across all the crafts that I’ll only have to do 2 sessions. If everybody that said they wanted to do watercolour actually sign-up, then I’ll do alternate days; an A-day and a B-day, with two sessions on each. If there aren’t quite enough people to justify 4 classes, then we’ll adjust the timings so that I repeat the three-classes-per-day-thing I did last year.


It was almost 7pm by the time I got back to the cabin, and I was starving, having not eaten anything since breakfast.


This evening, I managed to catch Gareth’s ‘Blues Brothers’ show, having missed that last year also – so that was two missions accomplished.


Tomorrow, we’ll be at sea, and the real work begins…. I wonder how many will turn up to the induction session…..

Peter Woolley

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