August 17-18, 1990: fly to Amsterdam, The Netherlands
August 18, 1990: Rijksmuseum, Leidseplein, Leidsestraat, Herengracht, Rembrandtsplein
August 19, 1990: Westerkerk, Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, canal boat cruise
August 20, 1990: Jewish Walking Tour of Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House), Fifth Synagogue of the High German Community, Waterlooplein, Jewish Historical Museum, Portuguese Synagogue, red light district (Oude Zjids Voorburg Wal)
August 21, 1990: Bible Museum, Amsterdam Historical Museum, Royal Palace, Homomonument, red light district (Oude Zjids Achterberg Wal)
August 22, 1990: Stedelijk Museum, train to The Hague/Scheveningen, Prison Gate, fireworks display
August 23, 1990: Mauritshuis, fireworks display
August 23-27, 1990: Confiction, Museon, fireworks displays
August 28, 1990: train to Brussels, Belgium; Grand' Place, Town Hall (Hotel de Ville), Maison du Roi, Manneken Pis, Les Galeries St. Hubert, Petit Rue des Bouchers, Place des Martyrs
August 29, 1990: Atomium, Cinquantenaire Museums (the Royal Museum of Art and History and the Royal Museum of Arms and Military History)
August 30, 1990: Grand' Place, Guild Houses, Town Hall, Maison du Roi, Museum of Classical Art (Museum of Ancient Art, La Musee de l'Art Ancien)
August 31, 1990: Bruges, Church of Our Lady, Groening Museum, canal cruise, Gruuthuse Museum, Burg
September 1, 1990: Royal Museum of Central Africa, Waterloo
September 2, 1990: Liege, Church of St. Bartholomew, Arms Museum, Liege Sunday market, Palace of the Prince-Bishops
September 3, 1990: train to Amsterdam, return to New Jersey
August 17, 1990: Sometimes when I write my trip logs they start out in the present tense and fall into the past tense as I fall behind. No fear of that here--I'm already almost a full day behind!
We left work later than planned and the intermittent rain and slow- downs on the Belt Parkway added to my usual anxiety about being late to the airport. But we got there almost three hours before flight time, so as usual, my fears were unfounded.
After checking in, we went to the snack bar to have some dinner. While we were sitting there we saw at least one professional science fiction author (Geary Gravel) walk by, so there would be at least one at the World Science Fiction Convention, our excuse for the trip. (A report on that will be issued separately.)
We (Dale, Jo, Mark, and I) were sitting there, we saw Kate walk by, so Mark flagged her down and we killed time before our flight talking about "Star Trek."
August 18, 1990: The flight was about an hour late taking off (I think, but since I was asleep, I'm not sure). I ate hardly any of the meal, but slept as much as possible, though not very well. We made up the lost time and even landed at Schipol ten minutes early. After collecting our bags and changing some money, we went through customs (very easy in Europe). Kate's friend was supposed to meet her but couldn't. The replacement she sent was holding up the NOT OF THIS EARTH postcard that Kate had sent. Mark had noticed this but didn't realize it was a signal for Kate. Finally they met up and went off and the four of us headed for the train.
The train from Schipol to Amsterdam's Central Station took about fifteen minutes and cost about 3.75 guilders (about $2.20)-- much cheaper and faster than getting into the city from an airport in the United States. As we walked around the station, looking for the Tourist Information Center (VVV), someone said to me, "Don't I know you? Aren't you Evelyn Leeper?" It was Carol Springs, whom I had met at an @-sign party and who had provided much information about the Netherlands. She was also looking for the VVV so we walked part of the way together until she realized she had lost sight of her boyfriend and decided to try to find him first.
It took us quite a while to find the VVV. First of all, the signs directed us outside (into the drizzle) and then disappeared. After about five minutes of walking around, we decided that three of us would wait by the luggage while Mark went unencumbered in search of the VVV. He did find it, in about ten minutes, across the tram tracks and a street in a poorly marked building. He had hoped to get a Jewish Walking Tour pamphlet and a Museumkaart, but the lines of people (students, mostly) waiting for hotel reservations made us change our minds. Instead, we went over to the taxi stand and took a taxi to our hotel--about 18 guilders.
The Hotel Engeland is a typically narrow Dutch house, so the stairs are also narrow and steep. Luckily our suitcases were small--I remember trying to manage a large suitcase up similar stairs in a B&B in Brighton. Our room was small but clean with a private bathroom, but no phone or television.
We unpacked, washed up, and immediately headed for the Rijksmuseum, This was only a short walk (fifteen minutes) from our hotel and we arrived there about 2 PM. (Oh, I forgot--we tried to stop at the VVV at Leidseplein right near our hotel, but it also had a long line and the woman at the currency exchange window said we could get Museumkaarts at the museum.)
The first entrance we saw at the Rijksmuseum seemed far too small for a major museum: no crowds, one door, etc. Sure enough, it turned out to be the back entrance, which had no Museumkaarts, so we kept walking around to the read of the museum and through to the front. The museum is in two buildings on either side of a street and a connecting building over the street. The street is not actually used for traffic any more, but vendors line both sides and bicycles do pass through. At the main entrances there were crowds, and it took a while for us to get in.
Finally we got in, bought our Museumkaarts (40 guilders) gone for almost all museums in the Netherlands, and started in on the ultimate goal of the trip to the museum--the art.
Built about a hundred years ago in the neo-Gothic style, the Rijksmuseum houses 7 million works of art, including 5000 paintings. We did not see them all.
We did, however, see the Dutch paintings of the 15th to 17th Centuries, or at least those on display, a goodly number. (In fact, they seem to have extended them into the area previously taken up by French, Spanish, and Italian painters.)
Even listing the highlights is difficult, in part because my tastes aren't always in sync with what the guidebooks list as the "best" works. Frans Hals's "Merry Drinker" is okay, though I found Velazquez's "Wine Bibbers" in the Prado more evocative. "The Night Watch" is considered by all to be Rembrandt's greatest work, but I can't help but feel much of that is due to its size. I personally prefer the portrait of his mother reading the Bible or perhaps the "Staalmeesters," though that is perhaps overly familiar, being the picture used for Dutch Masters cigars. And I would recommend Pieter Aersten's "Terrified Swan," a work rarely if ever mentioned, over many of the ones so often praised.
Other artists represented included Jan Vermeer (four paintings--"The Little Street," "The Kitchen Maid," "The Young Woman Reading a Letter," and "The Letter") and Willem van de Velde the Younger, who did amazingly detailed black and white naval paintings. (At least I think that's who it was--my notes didn't say but the guidebooks' descriptions make me think it was him.)
The other area the Rijksmuseum is known for is its Asian art. To get to this area of the museum is sort of like getting from the Netherlands to Asia--long and difficult. Up and down stairs, through other exhibits, eventually we found our way there. They had several pieces from Indonesia (not too surprisingly) as well as some from Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and India. We were looking at a bronze of Siva, Lord of the Dance, and I asked about the arms--there were four but I thought Siva had six. A woman standing there--not a museum employee-said that earlier works showed Siva with many arms, but eventually they settled on a more manageable number and put a circle with flames emanating from it around Siva, the flames each representing an arm.
After the trek back to the main part of the museum we visited the gift shop for the obligatory post cards and then out.
(Oops, I forgot one section. Before the Asian art we went to the Dutch history section, partly because they had a few rooms on naval history, one of Mark's pet topics. It is clear that the Dutch don't think other people will find their history interesting--the descriptions were only in Dutch. In other sections, the descriptions were in Dutch and English. We went through anyway, picking out a word here and there; Dutch has few cognates with English. It also has more 'j's than any other language I've seen. The best painting in this section, in my opinion, was of Louis Bonaparte. There were also more van de Veldes and a painting of Queen Juliana which had been slashed in Jakarta in 1960. Unlike "The Night Watch," which had been restored after being slashed in 1975, this has been left as is, sort of a silent commentary on history.)
After the museum we walked back to the Leidseplein to look for a place for dinner. The problem became to some extent a surfeit of riches-- there are dozens and dozens of restaurants in every cuisine imaginable. We even saw a Nepalese and Tibetan restaurant! First we saw a Dutch restaurant that sounded good. After Dale and Jo changed more money at the VVV, we saw an Indonesian restaurant Mark favored, but Jo wanted to go to the Dutch place. When we got there, however, we discovered it was playing raucous music, so we started walking down the street looking for a place to eat. Every place was a restaurant--the only decision was which one. Having decided that Nepalese-Tibetan was a bit too exotic for some members of our party--mentioning no names, of course--we settled on the Sedap. It was--surprise!--an Indonesian restaurant. We had individual dishes rather than the rijstaffel that most people think of when they think of Indonesian food (if indeed they think of anything). Mark had cumi-cumi (cuttlefish in a spicy sauce) and I had a Javanese dish of vegetables in a spicy peanut sauce. Dale had lamb sate (lamb marinated, then cooked on skewers and served in a sauce) and Jo had something (beef, I think) in a coconut sauce. It was all good and different from other Asian cuisines; why doesn't someone open an Indonesian restaurant in New Jersey?
After dinner we returned to the hotel, but Mark and I were just dropping stuff off before going out for a walk, since it was still only 7:30 PM. But Dale's knee had been bothering him so they were not eager to do a lot of extra walking.
We walked past Leidseplein up Leidsestraat. This is a very lively albeit touristy area. The newsstand has magazines in several languages (though the books are pretty much all in Dutch). The line at the VVV was somewhat shorter, but seems permanent. We had managed to get what we needed before dinner so we proceeded past it and the usual tourist shops up Leidsestraat to Herengracht. (By the way, "straat" is street, "gracht" is canal, and "plein" is square.) A right turn on Herengracht took us past the flower market (closed, of course, at this hour, but we could see into the shops and barges through the plastic sheets). We followed Herengracht to Rembrandtsplein, another square full of people in sidewalk cafes. A street mime was performing and we watched him for a while, but we were so far back in the crowd it was hard to see him.
By now (8:30 PM) it was starting to get dark and we decided to return to our hotel while we could still read the street signs. We got back by 9 PM, wrote in our logs for a while, listened to the news from the BBC on our shortwave radio (no improvement in the Middle East) and then to bed about 10 PM. I suppose that I should compare the Rijksmuseum to the other great art museums I have seen. It's been too long since I saw the Metropolitan as a single museum--now I tend to go to see some particular exhibit or section. Jo claims the Met far outshines all the others, and perhaps it does. My vote, however, would go to the Prado, even given its exclusion of non-Spanish works. It does include French, Italian, and Flemish artists of the period during which Spain controlled those areas, and this softens the limitations. The Hermitage may have a better or more comprehensive collection than either the Met or the Prado, but much of it is not displayed (or wasn't for a long time, anyway) or is poorly displayed. The Rijksmuseum is ahead of the Hermitage, but behind the Prado--in part because the Rijksmuseum's paintings are also limited for the most part to Dutch artists and areas of interest.
August 19, 1990: Breakfast at the hotel consisted of orange juice, egg, ham, cheese, bread, and coffee. After breakfast Mark, Jo, and I walked over to the Anne Frank House while Dale rested his knee. This took us along the Prinsengracht Canal, where we could see the many styles of canal houses. Some were even tilted as they used to be built, with the top leaning over the street. This is so items being hauled up to upper stories via the hook extending from the top wouldn't bang against the building. Because of their narrowness, all the buildings, tilted or not, have such hooks. The style of the gables-- triangular, step, or bell--gives you some idea when the house was built. With so many buildings declared national monuments, I suspect the canal streets don't change their appearance much these days. The latest change was the low railings added by the insurance companies to keep people from accidentally driving their cars into the canals!
On the way to the Anne Frank House, we passed the Westerkerk, which is the tallest church in Amsterdam and also where Rembrandt is buried. Since it was Sunday morning, the church was not open for tourists.
The Anne Frank House is located at 263 Prinsengracht. I read somewhere that this is the most visited site in Amsterdam. Certainly the long line at 10 AM on a Sunday morning made one wonder what it was like at a more popular hour.
The line moved reasonably quickly and we got in at about 10:30 AM. The descriptive brochures were available in many languages, including Japanese and Hebrew.
One look at the extremely steep stairs convinced us that Dale had made the right decision not to come--with his knee he would have had difficulty. At the top of the stairs a video program gave a brief history of the house (in English, with several other languages available via headphones at the back of the room).
Though it is called the Anne Frank House, the building was not, strictly speaking, a house at the time. Otto Frank had his wholesale business there; until 1942 the Franks lived in Merwede Square after having left Germany in 1933. On July 6, 1942, they moved into the Annex, hidden behind a bookcase that concealed the connecting door. This consisted of four rooms: one the room of Mr. and Mrs. Frank and their older daughter Margot, one Anne's room (which she later shared with Mr. Dussel when he joined them in hiding), one the room of Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (which also served as kitchen and living room for all) and one for Peter Van Daan (which led to the attic storeroom). There was also a washroom, which could be used only outside office hours, since it could be heard by the people below (the entire ground floor of the building was still in use as a warehouse). Here the eight hideaways lived for over two years, with help from a few trusted friends who supplied them with food and other supplies. (In her diary, Anne describes going into hiding wearing as many layers of clothes as possible, since they couldn't be seen carrying luggage.)
On August 4, 1944, the Nazis raided the Annex--no one knows who betrayed the hideaways. They emptied Otto Frank's attache case onto the floor to use it to carry away jewelry and valuables, and in doing so left Anne's notebooks behind. Of the eight, only Otto Frank survived; both Margot and Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen one month before the end of the war.
While the Annex is a very moving experience, I found myself wondering about all the other hiding places whose occupants did not leave behind diaries. There were many, in the Netherlands and in other countries, yet all attention seems focused on this one. Perhaps it's necessary for a focus to exist, but I suppose I would like to see an acknowledgement of all that other people did to help hide people from the Nazis and all the struggles other hideaways and fugitives went through. (A 1987 documentary, WEAPONS OF THE SPIRIT, was made about Le Chambon-sur- Lignon, a town in France that during the war managed to hide and smuggle out a number of Jews equal to the population of the town.)
We finished about 12 noon; a large section of informational panels took a long time since many of the people in front of us in line had to read them in a language other than their native language--the choices were Dutch or English. We then returned to the hotel to pick up Dale and went to the Reijnders Cafe on Leidseplein for lunch. Mark had a cheese sandwich; I had a toasted cheese sandwich (and a beer--it seemed like the thing to have, but I still don't like beer). We sat outside but the somewhat threatening weather meant smaller crowds than usual to watch.
After lunch we walked to the Van Gogh Museum on the far side of the Rijksmuseum. Since they had a special exhibit of Van Gogh's letters, there was an additional 3.50-guilder charge in spite of the Museumkaart. (The card cost 40 guilders. The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh were 6.50 each, not counting the surcharge. The Museumkaart isn't taken at the Anne Frank House.)
There was a long line to get into the Van Gogh Museum. There seems to be a line to get into most things here. We started at the top when we finally did get in, the recommended procedure since that's lets you work your way up (so to speak) to his paintings as the grand finale. The top floor is paintings by contemporaries that Theo Van Gogh had purchased--interesting in that they provide context for Van Gogh's work but by no means what most people came for.
The next floor down was an exhibit of Van Gogh's letters, complete with drawings and sketches. These letters were written mostly to his brother Theo, who helped support and sustain him. During his lifetime (1853-1890) Vincent Van Gogh sold only one paintings, but after his suicide and his brother Theo's death six months later, his sister-in- law continued to work to get his talent recognized. While his drawings are excellent and deserve wider recognition, it is for his paintings that Van Gogh is known, and this museum has them--200 of them, having practically cornered the market. I will not attempt to describe them all, or even list them all, but will comment on a few of my favorites. There were three "Japonaiserie" done in the style (sort of) of Japanese prints but looking somehow very un-Japanese, especially "The Actor." "The Raising of Lazarus" is (I believe) his only Biblical work and certainly different in style than most Biblical works I've seen. The "View of Arles with Irises," "Wheatfield with Lark," and the "Harvest at La Crau" are all wonderful landscapes. For bleaker landscapes, the "Garden of St. Paul's Hospital in Autumn" and "The Harrow and the Plough" stand out. "Woman at a Table in the Cafe de Tambourin" is done in a more subdued style (reminiscent of Renoir). "The Langlois Bridge" looks just like so many of the canal bridges still in use in Amsterdam today, with counterweights to help raise them sans motors. There are, of course, several famous self- portraits and the paintings of his bedroom and his house in Arles. The bedroom painting showed up in a short in the latest INTERNATIONAL TOURNEE OF ANIMATION; I suspect the piece ("The Bedroom" by Maarten Koopman) was made in connection with the Van Gogh centenary this year.
After buying some postcards--I passed up the overly used "Sunflowers," which was even painted on the side of one of the canal houses we passed earlier--we left the museum. Or rather we went outside onto the covered porch.
Though it had been bright and sunny in the morning, it was now raining. So about a hundred people stood around, having been evicted from the museum when it closed, but not wanting to go out and get wet. Eventually the rain eased up a little and, having put all our purchases in a plastic bag in a knapsack to protect them, we headed back to the hotel. Though the trip to the museum had been fairly long because of the "detour" to Leidseplein for lunch, the return was only about eight blocks, which pleasantly surprised those who expected as long a walk back.
For dinner we picked the Tearoom Berkoff based on the KLM guidebook's suggestion. It was 1) further up Leidsestraat than we expected and 2) closed. Luck of Leeper strikes again! As time was running short--we had tickets for an 8 PM boat cruise--we settled on the Camp David, an Israeli restaurant. Dale got the mixed grill and the rest of us got spaghetti. (Okay, so it's not typical Israeli food.) Nothing was outstanding except the difficulty the waiter had in taking a Visa card- -he had obviously never done one before and couldn't even work the imprinter.
In spite of these difficulties, we made the boat on time. Starting from the Singelgracht, we went northwest to the Leidsegracht, then northeast to the Prinsengracht. We followed the Prinsengracht past the Anne Frank House, then went east on the Brouwersgracht, south on the Keizersgracht, east on the Leliegracht, and north on the Herengracht. This took us past hundreds of classic canal houses, including the oldest, the narrowest, the thisest, the thatest, .... (By the way, the reason canal houses are narrow and deep is that, canal frontage being valuable, houses were taxed based on their width.)
Through all this we had some drizzle but the main difficulty in seeing things was the boat itself. Fully enclosed is nice, but the framework holding the windows and skylights in place was wide enough to block one's view. Maybe other companies' boats are different-- look around. Another problem was that, since the tour was given in five languages (I think), you might be almost past something before you heard a description you could understand.
We then took the Brouwersgracht into the Singelgracht and out into the Het Ij. (There must have been a somethingest on the Singelgracht, because we went south a bit, then turned around and went north, but I can't remember what.) By now the twilight and the rain conspired to make viewing difficult, but we did pass the Maritime Museum and the Sea Palace, a floating Chinese restaurant copied after Jumbo in Hong Kong, only about a quarter of the size. This is still pretty big--900 people versus 3000. Then we came back in on the Oude Zjids Voorburg Wal to the Grimburg Wal and then onto the Amstel River. We followed this down to the Magere Brug ("Skinny Bridge"), then turned around and headed north to the Herengracht and then wets, returning to the dock via the Leidsegracht. (All this makes more sense if you follow it on a map.)
Luckily the rain had pretty much stopped by now, and it was dark, so we decided to see a bit of the nighttime look of the canals with the bridges lit up and all. And because the rain had stopped, we didn't get soaking wet as we went for ice cream and then back to our hotel.
August 20, 1990: After breakfast (the same as yesterday) Mark and I went off to do the Jewish Walking Tour of Amsterdam. We got on the tram to the Central Station, but part way there we realized we had forgotten our cameras. So we rode around back to the stop near our hotel, got our cameras, and returned to the Central Station. (Well, at least we got a tram tour.)
The tour began by walking from the Central Station past the Schreierstoren, or Weeping Tower, from which ships set sail and at which women waved good-bye to their husbands, often for the last time-- hence the name. Then we went along the Gelderskade to Nieuwmarket. In the Nieuwmarket (the article seems to be optional) is the Waag (Weigh House) which held the Jewish Historical Museum until 1986. Not the museum is in newer quarters (more on that later) and the Waag is under renovation.
Under the Nieuwmarket is the metro station, with photo montages of life in this Jewish quarter as it was. Much of the quarter was demolished for the building of the metro, commemorated by a wrecking ball poised against a brick wall at its moment of impact (at the top of the stairs leading to the train platforms). Eventually metro construction was halted as Amsterdammers decided too much destruction was needed to finish it, so the metro remains limited and trams continue to operate.
Exiting the metro (via an escalator that turns on and off via an electric eye--a good way to save electricity), we found ourselves on Sint Anthoniebreestraat, which in spite of the name was more than half Jewish at the turn of the century. The Huis de Pinto is here. De Pinto was a Portuguese Jew who came to Amsterdam in 1492 (see Spain log for details on why) and converted the house into one of the most elegant in the area. We arrived too early to see the interior, with its painted ceilings, so proceeded to Jodenbreestraat and the Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House), where Rembrandt lived from 1639 to 1660.
There are some paintings in the Rembrandt House, but they were done by Rembrandt's masters and pupils. It is instead devoted to his etchings, containing almost a complete collection (about 250, according to one book).
I have to say I found the etchings of Rembrandt in many ways more interesting than his paintings. Maybe it's my math and technical background, but the preciseness of the etchings, and how Rembrandt could use this to show light and shadow, softness and motion, is really amazing.
Also, there seemed to be many more small touches, often humorous. Many of the etchings have dogs in them, for example, playing or watching or (in the case of "The Good Samaritan") relieving themselves. (In the latter Rembrandt even included the "residue" in the engraving! I was reminded of the tapestry in El Escorial which shows a drunken man urinating against a wall in one corner of a courtyard scene.) In "Adam and Eve" there is a very plump elephant about the size of a puppy. And a self-portrait of a "startled" Rembrandt makes him look like Tom Baker's Dr. Who. It is possible that his paintings had these touches but that the darkening they have undergone may have concealed them. Portraits show his range in style. The etching of Ephraim Bueno is formal, with great care given in making the clothing drape naturally and reflect light. The portrait of Jan Six, on the other hand, is done in a much more natural style: Six dressed informally and leaning against a window reading a book.
Not surprising for the time, many of Rembrandt's themes were Biblical. I've mentioned some, but one that really stood out was the "Raising of Lazarus," not so much for itself as for the fact that Van Gogh's "Raising of Lazarus" seemed to be a copy in oils of the exact composition of Rembrandt's etching.
One etching is called "The Woman with the Arrow." No one seems to know who she is or what the scene represents. Some have said she is supposed to be Cleopatra; others have said it is not really an arrow but part of the drapery pull (she is seated on the edge of a bed with curtains around it). Since a man's face is dimly visible on the bed, I thought perhaps it was Jael preparing to slay Sisera (why does the word "slay" appear only in Biblical contexts?).
This all took about an hour and a half, including a slide show about Rembrandt. We then walked down a side street past a diamond- polishing works (with a parking lot full of tour buses) to see the Fifth Synagogue of the High German Community. At first there appeared to be nothing but a wall with some rubble behind it, so we walked to the other side of the street to return and, glancing back, saw a huge 50- foot tall building set back from the street with Stars of David in the windows. I think we both were expecting something much smaller, like we had seen in Spain, and weren't looking at large buildings. That the Jews could build such large synagogues says something about their acceptance by the Dutch.
We walked back to Waterlooplein and had lunch in the Waterloo Cafe. I had a roast beef brooje (sandwich) and Mark had a croquette with fries. This was definitely not a tourist place--no one spoke English and our pronunciation of Dutch was so poor we ended up having to point to menu items.
After lunch we walked past Moses en Aaronkerk, which in order to disorient people is nowhere near Moses en Aaronstraat. It's also no longer a kirk, or church, but a youth center, and was (as is usual when we're around) under renovation behind scaffolding and fencing.
Waterlooplein is once again a flea market, though it has lost its Jewish character.
The Jewish Historical Museum is housed in a restored complex of four Ashkenazi synagogues. It is different from other Jewish museums I have seen in that the text on the displays seems written more for non-Jews than for Jews. There is, not surprisingly, a heavy emphasis on the Holocaust, but also a large section on Jewish ceremonies and holidays, and another on Jewish life in Amsterdam in the past and now. This included a picture of a Shalhomo seder; Shalhomo is an organization for gay Jews and it is, I suppose, representative of Amsterdam's (and the Netherlands') attitude that such a group is included as straightforwardly (if I may use the word) as it is.
We joined Jo and Dale in the snack bar of the museum, as we had run into them there. They were doing an abbreviated tour, and in reverse direction. So after a rest they went off towards the Rembrandt House and we went off towards the Portuguese Synagogue.
The gates outside the Jewish Museum, which are the original gates around the synagogues, have an emblem of a five-pointed star with a harp in the center--the symbols of the High German Jewish community. The pamphlet describes them as Solomon's Seals and David's Harps.
Just before the Portuguese Synagogue across Mr. Visserplein is "The Docker," a statue by Mari Andriesen commemorating the February 25, 1941, strike by unarmed dockworkers and others to protest the Nazi oppression of the Jews.
When the Portuguese Synagogue was completed in 1675, it was the largest synagogue in the world. It has the same tall, boxy shape as the Fifth Synagogue of the High German Community we saw earlier-- both were modeled on the Temple of Solomon and look very unlike the low buildings of today. On the other hand, to light an area as large as was needed without electricity required tall windows by day and large candelabra by night, so the height was also practical.
A combination of circumstances allowed the Portuguese Synagogue and its contents to survive intact. The building survived because the Dutch had declared it a national monument, though the Nazis did use it as a warehouse. The contents were packed up by the Nazis for display in their "Museum of a Dead Race." But instead they were recovered after the war and are once again in use.
In contrast to the Ashkenazi synagogue gates, the gates of the Portuguese Synagogue are decorated with a pelican.
After crossing the Hortusburg Bridge we walked through what had been a Jewish suburb. In it was the Natura Artis Magistra, one of the oldest zoos in the world. And in front of the entrance was a protest against zoos, with a protester locked in a cage to get people to put themselves in the animals' place. I am of mixed feelings on this issue, I suppose. I agree that caging animals up for people to stare at is probably a bad thing, but the animals in the zoos can't just be let loose--they haven't the ability to survive in the wild any more. And for many species, zoos seem their only hope of survival these days.
The last stop on the tour was the Hollandsche Schouwburg Theatre. Before 1940 this was a Jewish theater, but that of course ended and from 1942 the Nazis used it as a transit center from which Jews were transported. After the war the theater auditorium was demolished and a garden with an obelisk "In memory of those who were carried off" and an eternal flame are all that is left behind the facade.
We arrived here at 3:55 PM, just making it in before they lock the gates at 4. So the two-and-a-half-hour walking tour is really closer to six hours if you actually stop and look at things, go into museums, eat lunch, etc. (This does not include shopping--so far all our shopping has been done in museum shops and consists of three books and twenty postcards.)
We then returned to Waterlooplein via Weesperstraat, going past a monument dedicated in 1947 "to the protectors of Dutch Jewry in the years of occupation." So the tour was actually a bit more than six hours. By now the wind had picked up and it was colder. In addition, all three sets of batteries we had with us decided to die at once-- luckily at the end of our picture-taking day rather than the beginning (though of course then it would have been relatively easy to buy more). We did take a few more shots with my camera (an Instamatic has few virtues, but its non-dependence on batteries is one of them).
We wandered around a bit, looking for someplace to sit and write, but couldn't find any. We decided to eat dinner and walked down Damstraat, settling on the Sukasari, an Indonesian restaurant. I had nasi gurih, rice steamed with coconut milk and chicken in a soy sauce; Mark had a different chicken dish. Good stuff and reasonably priced--about $21 (including coffee) for the two of us.
After dinner we decided to walk through the infamous red light district. From the map we had, we decided to walk up Oude Zjids Voorburg Wal. As usual, we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot. First, it was still only 7 PM. Second, this was not the primary street (as we discovered later). The result was that I began to think that the heyday of Amsterdam decadence had passed. Oh, we did see a few windows with red lights and women sitting in them, and a small number of sex shops, but it all seemed much toned down. As we later discovered, this was not quite accurate.
When we got to the end of the street we decided to return to the hotel. While it wasn't very late, we had been on the go all day and even with the coffee I was fading fast. So we took the tram back and wrote in our logs for a while. Dale dropped by about 10 PM; they had also walked through the red light district but his description sounded almost totally different from what we had seen. We ended up making tentative plans to go back the next night, perhaps later in the evening.
August 21, 1990: Today's schedule included the Bible Museum, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, and the Royal Palace. Luckily the opening times were in sync: the Bible Museum (which was the closest) opened at 10 AM, the Historical Museum at 11 AM, and the Royal Palace at 12:30 PM.
The Bible Museum (for which we used our Museumkaarts) was mostly in Dutch though there was some English throughout. The slide show (in English) and the exhibits put much more emphasis on the Old Testament than on the New; in most museums, etc., covering both the emphasis is on the New. One of the major exhibits was a series of models of Solomon's Temple, including a lucite impression by Mulder which is probably more accurate proportionally than the others, though obviously the Temple of Solomon was not made of lucite rods. This model also lit up (once we found the cord to plug it in) with rays of light emanating from the Holy of Holies which was itself in darkness. And if you tried to look in through the front at the light source, a lens prevented you. The caption said this was because one could not look directly into the eye of God.
We also watched some of a "Son et Lumiere" about the Temple, but because it was in Dutch, we gave up part way through. One item of interest was that several of the models show figures of angels and such. This may seem inaccurate to show such figures on the Ark, but in fact the prohibition against all representational art came into effect only later. The Biblical references to carved images are left untranslated in the King James Version, so people don't realize what they mean.
After the Bible Museum we went to the Historical Museum. Our first exhibit there was the cafeteria, since it was lunchtime. (Oh, by the way, the Historical Museum is also included on the Museumkaart.) Lunch for me was brie and French bread; Mark had croquettes and French fries. I also have jenevers, or Holland gin, with a very subtle taste. I don't generally drink hard liquor but I do like to try the national drink wherever I go. The cafeteria was decorated with statues of David and a giant Goliath.
After lunch we saw the museum itself, relatively more interesting than most historical museums, even if much of the description was in Dutch. It looked as if the older signs were in Dutch and the newer in both Dutch and English.
After the Historical Museum we walked to Dam Square to see the Royal Palace, which is actually more a town hall than a palace. This was recommended by the Michelin guide (though admittedly only one star) but a bit of a disappointment. It was one floor of ornately carved rooms, decorated with paintings and furniture. There was a bed in one room, so it does seem to have been used as a residence at one point. The facade, which used to be white is now gray or even black from years of exposure to pollution (not just recently, but also earlier, from wood smoke, etc.).
We had hoped to see the Nieuw Kerk, just next to the Royal Palace, but it was being renovated and we had to content ourselves with a glimpse inside through the front door.
One of the main things I wanted to see in Amsterdam was the Homomonument. This is a memorial to all the gays and lesbians killed in concentration camps by the Nazis, and also to all lesbians and gays who have been persecuted for their orientation. This is the only such monument anywhere, yet none of the guidebooks list it. I had seen mention of it on the Net and asked for directions. When I compared the directions I had received with a map after arriving in Amsterdam, it was clear they were wrong (thanks, Henry :-) ): they referred to the canal side of Nieuw Kerk, which is nowhere near a canal. So I had asked the hotel clerk where it was and he knew exactly (and immediately, putting him well ahead of the guidebooks). It was at the Westerkerk. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is; we passed it on the way to the Anne Frank House, unfortunately before we knew it was the church we wanted. But Westerkerk is only about a half a kilometer from Dam Square, so Dale and Jo took a break at a sidewalk cafe while Mark and I went to the Homomonument.
Henry had described it as three pink granite triangles, two by the church and one in the canal wall. I was picturing triangles about six inches on a side; they were actually about forty feet. So I was looking at the church for a small pink spot when suddenly I realized that there was a large pink granite pier extending into the canal!
The Homomonument was designed by Karin Daan and erected in 1987. The three triangles represent past, present, and future. One is actually a block of granite, triangular from above, and three feet high, The second is a pink granite triangle set flush with the plaza and about forty feet away. Then across the street along the canal is the third, with pink granite steps leading down to a triangular dock. The three are connected by pink granite strips which form a fourth equilateral triangle with the three at its vertices.
On the triangle in the canal visitors had placed bouquets of flowers and single roses in remembrance.
Figures vary, but it is estimated that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 gays died in the concentration camps. And when the camps were liberated and everyone else released, they were sent to prison, because homosexuality was still a criminal offense. And even with all the information available lately on the Holocaust, hardly anyone knows this. The Homomonument is not a site of great historical interest (like the Anne Frank House) or of information (like Yad Vashem in Israel), but it does make me sad and angry that it is so ignored. There were about ten other people there when we were there, and the flowers show that some people, at least, know and remember.
We returned to the cafe where Dale and Jo were finishing up their drinks. We now had the problem of how to kill some time before walking over to the red light district, as Dale had offered to show us where we had gone wrong. His description was so different from what we had seen that we concluded we had gone down a different street entirely.
After much wandering around and rejecting this place and that, we settled on El Rancho. (I should mention that we had first gone to Henri Brouvin, specifically recommended by one of the tour books, but they weren't serving meals, only snacks.) As we were walking towards El Rancho, an Argentine steak house, I joked that I didn't want to go to an Argentinian steak house; I wanted to go to a Uruguayan steak house. Dale and Jo thought I was joking until they saw that right across the street was a Uruguayan steak house! But we settled on the Argentinian one and had a good steak dinner. We walked a bit more looking for a place to have coffee and dessert and finally found one, although they didn't serve ice cream after 6 PM! (One side note: it is very difficult to get water in restaurants, and since service is included in the price, there's no way to encourage good service or discourage bad.)
After killing some more time here, we walked over to Oude Zjids Voorburg Wal. This was the street we had walked down Monday night but not, in fact, the street Dale and Jo had seen. We walked over to the next street, Oude Zjids Achterberg Wal, and, sure enough, that was the main street, complete with red lights strung across the canal. Everything we had heard about this area was true, though often not as we had pictured it. For example, there were women sitting in picture windows with red lights. I had pictured them as dressed in something lacy and exotic--maybe a negligee or a Victorian-style corset--but they were mostly wearing extremely skimpy one-piece swimsuit sort of outfits or bikinis. They also tended to more Rubenesque proportions than one might expect. The only thing I can comment on for the live shows-- since we didn't go in--is that they don't put "black-out bars" or dots over the photographs outside.
The crowd walking around on the street was certainly more varied than the one you would find on 42nd Street in New York. There were a lot of couples, many women in groups, and even families! The whole area seemed to be more a tourist attraction than a business area. There were cars of people driving through, though no tour buses we saw. ("Over here we have Amsterdam's oldest live sex show. Okay, my group, now follow me to the souvenir area." And, yes, there is even a "Red Light Souvenir Shop.")
One of the buildings had several scenes painted in sections on the facade, sort of like a checklist of things to do, except they were about ten feet high and five feet wide, with spotlights on them. (Dale had originally described them as stained glass, but he was mistaken.) Several other buildings were also decorated, but this was the most elaborate, with paintings going up to the fourth floor.
After walking up one side of the canal and down the other, we returned to our hotel and sleep.
August 22, 1990: Our last day in Amsterdam. (But not Dale and Jo's-- due to confusion early on, their six nights in the Hague overlap ours by only five nights.) Rather than rush off to the Hague, we went to the Stedelijk Museum, which has the modern art collection. This went fairly quickly as most of the museum was closed due to the dismantling of two special exhibits. IN fact, so much was closed that they had lowered the entrance fee from the usual 6.50 Dfl to 1.75 Dfl. Luckily, most of what we wanted to see was still accessible: Chagall's "Fiddler," other Chagall works, a couple of Van Goghs. There were some unexpected surprises too, such as Breitner's "Red Kimono." In the cafeteria was a metal sculpture by Ted Rosenthal entitled "Jack Doesn't Eat Here Anymore" with a rather cartoony monster roasting something over a fire, all done in scrap metal. Some of the art was less than thrilling--one was clumps of horsehair strung on a transparent string. From across the room it looked as if the art had been removed from that wall and there were a few spots on the wall where it had been. This, to my mind, is not art. There was also a walk-through reconstruction of a 1950s beanery where all the people's faces were clocks. This, to my mind, may or may not be art--the jury is still out.
After finishing up here, we returned to the hotel and picked our luggage up. We had already checked out, so all that remained was to take the tram to the Central Station and then on to the Hague. On the way to the Central Station there was a ticket check on the tram and someone fined and ejected for zwartzerijden ("black riding"), or riding without paying a fare. There are various passes and then there is the strippenkaart. On the latter, when you board the tram you stamp in a machine some number of space corresponding to the length of your trip in zones. There are machines on the tram for doing this. But in general no one checks your ticket. There has, I suppose, been an upsurge of people riding without paying, so now the equivalent of our transit police board the trams and buses at random and check everyone's tickets. That the honor system has worked as well as it has says something about Dutch honesty, but the current situation reminds me of the scenes in World War II movies when the Gestapo boards the train to check everyone's papers. (You can also buy individual tickets to wherever you're going.)
After this we purchased our tickets for the Hague at the station. We had thought of getting a Benelux rail pass but decided it was equal in cost to individual tickets if we did everything we planned, and not buying it would give us more flexibility. I had all the phrases in Dutch i needed, but the ticket seller and information clerk spoke English. I'm having more trouble with Dutch than I have had with any other language where I've traveled. Even a few simple phrases seem to be beyond my ability to remember and pronounce.
On the train we ran into several other fans also going to the convention--you could tell they were fans because they were carrying books like THE FLYING WARLORD in the pockets of their suitcases. The hour-long trip to the Hague took us past farms with cows and windmills. When we got to the Hague we bought three-day tram passes (the maximum you can get without a photo to be applied to them) and took the tram to our hotel, the Flora Beach in Scheveningen (the resort area). Kate had already checked in, which was a relief. She was supposed to call us Tuesday night to arrange to meet Wednesday, but didn't. It turned out she had tried to call, but the hotel didn't recognize our name.
After unpacking, we decided to go to the Prison Gate, now a museum of torture and punishment. I'm not really a big fan of this sort of thing, but it was free with the Museumkaart and Mark wanted to see it, so what the heck. This was an hour-long tour, after which we just walked around the center of town for an hour, past the Grotekerk (closed) and a variety of shops, stores, and restaurants. We bought a blue and white egg cup for our chatchka table and went to an Indonesian restaurant where I had the bihoen rames special and Mark had the nasi goreng complete. This was enough food for at least three people--maybe four--at least to a small eater like me.
Stuffed, we decided to hop on a tram and ride it out to the end of the line and back just to see more of the Hague. But while some of the architecture near the center of town was interesting, we found the further-out areas were characterless blocks of flats (apartment houses, but the British term seems more appropriate). When we got to the end of the line, we changed over to another line that ended a few blocks away and rode a different route back. In the center again, we managed to get confused changing routes and found ourselves at a stop that didn't list our tram. A bus labeled "Scheveningen" came along and we got on that, then realized it went to the wrong part of Scheveningen. Luckily, when we got off it was at a stop where our tram did stop, so we made it back to the hotel after all.
When we got back to the room Kate was there, so we got caught up on what we did and what she did. At 10 PM we were interrupted by a fireworks display, perfectly visible from our balcony, and again at 11. This just happened to be when the four-day Scheveningen International Fireworks Festival was being held. Some impressive displays, including a twinkling effect that must represent the latest in fireworks technology.
We also had a chance to look at Kate's convention schedule and discover we were on several more panels than we though, but that and other convention details will be covered in a separate log (available on request).
August 23, 1990: Since convention events didn't start until 2 PM we went to the Mauritshuis in the morning (on the Museumkaart, naturally, which has definitely paid for itself). This is a smaller museum occupying a large house--well, they built houses larger in those days, so let's say a very large house. To get to it we walked through the Binnenhof courtyard surrounded by buildings of various periods with a church in the center.
The Mauritshuis has the usual supply of local painters: Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. Particular favorites of mine were Steen's "Girl Eating Oysters," Avercamp's "Pleasures of the Winter Season" (which seemed to presage Brueghel), Paulus Potter's enormous "The bull," Van Poelenburch's "Gathering of the Gods," and Willen Van Haecht's wonderful "Apelles Painting Campaspe," which portrays an artist's studio full of copies of the old masters' paintings, each one painted (of course) accurate to the original, at least as far as size permitted. I also got into a discussion (okay, an argument) with Mark over whether Houckgeesl's church interiors looked far more modern than their period would suggest. Whether it's the geometric nature of them (in the arches) or his use of white when most artists seemed to avoid it, I think his paintings look out of place among others of their period. It may be just the painting of church interiors as light instead of dim is what it is.
Throughout all this I haven't said much about individual paintings, but that's because I'm totally unqualified as an art critic. The Mauritshuis at least provides background comments on half a dozen of the most important works in each room on laminated sheets in several languages, but that brief exposure is not enough to speak from.
I also haven't said much about the Netherlands, Amsterdam, or the Hague in general. That's because just keeping up with what I'm doing is impossible--I'm about three days behind now, and only that close because the convention will be covered separately.
As had been predicted, most of the people we contact into contact with spoke English, though admittedly we weren't really off the tourist track. The squares in Amsterdam were filled with hordes of tourists, mostly young. The Hague, while it had far fewer tourists, still had its share, especially with the convention in town adding a couple of thousand. The Dutch take all this in stride, being used to large influxes of strange people (though my tuxedo on the tram did draw some stares).
August 24, 1990 through August 27, 1990: Most of this time was taken up by the convention (covered separately). The one non- convention thing we did was got to the Museon, a museum near the Congress Center (Congressgebouw). We nicknamed this the Museum of Everything since it has a little bit of everything: history, science and technology, ethnography, natural history, .... Unfortunately, almost all of the captions were in only Dutch, though I could pick out a few cognates. There was a very nice display of African and Asian masks and another of various types of Indonesian puppets. In the natural history area they had a spider exhibit with live spiders--in glass cages, of course. One section of the museum was devoted to the problems of increasing population: hunger, the use of trash from the rich to produce usable objects by the poor (e.g., tires into sandals), and population control. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only museum with a condom display.
Most convention days lunch was a quick snack in the Congress Centre, and dinner not an elaborate meal either. The first night we ate at the Congress Centre, having discovered that there was nothing open nearby for dinner. The next night we had pancakes on the boardwalk near our hotel. Pancakes in the Netherlands are much thinner and larger than in the United States--more like crepes. They come with a variety of toppings, from chocolate or fruit to fish and vegetables! Saturday we ate at a seaside restaurant, and Sunday in the Congress Centre restaurant (rather than the fast food section). Finally Monday we had time to go to a real restaurant, La Galleria, somewhat more expensive even though it was still on the boardwalk. I had the fillet of sole with asparagus; Mark had the mixed grilled fish. It was nice to eat real food for a change, especially since it was our anniversary, which we celebrated with Dale, Jo, and Kate.
After dinner we returned to the room to map out our plans for Belgium, making Kate extremely jealous.
August 28, 1990: We had planned to go to the Gemeentenmuseum before leaving for Brussels, but since it didn't open until 11 AM we wouldn't get to Brussels until 4:30 PM or so, and since we didn't have reservations we decided to try to get to Brussels earlier instead. Mark was starting to overdose on museums anyway, even though we had been to only five in the last week. But with several more looming on the Belgian horizon we figured we could give it a rest.
We took the tram back to the HS station and (after some confusion) got on the train for Brussels. The confusion was from the frequency of the trains. We didn't expect three other trains to pass through (and stop) on our track in the fifteen minutes before the train arrived.
We saw more Dutch and later Belgian landscape as we rode, including Rotterdam, Antwerp, and lots of farms. But most Dutch windmills are now on postcards and most wooden shoes are now in tourist shops. Arriving in Brussels with no stop whatsoever at the border, we discovered our train stopped at the Central Station (Gare Central) as well as at the Gare du Midi, which was well south of where we wanted to end up.
Upon debarking with our luggage--and those few books were starting to feel heavy--we spent a fair amount of time finding the information center in the station, only to discover it was train information only. Following their instructions with another couple from Washington, we eventually found the Tourist Information Center, about four blocks away.
We booked six nights at the Hotel Opera, which was actually at the low end of our price range (1950 Belgian francs per night, including breakfast, or about $65), and yet three blocks from the Metro and three blocks from the Grand' Place. The room was spartan, true, and given the heat it would have been nice to have air conditioning, but I suspect that luxury is only in the most expensive hotels. Oh, and it was also less than a block away from the Rue des Bouchers, "The World's Greatest Restaurant Street."
After finding our way to the hotel, past an amazing number of restaurants, and over cobblestoned streets, we unpacked, changed into lighter clothes, and went out walking (booking a room for Dale and Jo on the way out). It was about 86 degrees out (30 degrees Centigrade) and I bought an iced tea in a can. They carbonate them here. (Oh, we had changed some money near the Tourist Information Bureau.)
Wandering around, we found ourselves in the Grand' Place, the old (and still) town square. Though the square itself probably dates from the 11th or 12th century, the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) was built in the 1400s and the remainder from 1695 to 1699, after the original buildings had been destroyed by Louis XIV's army. (He told them to use the spire of the Town Hall to aim at. That the Town Hall was the only building to survive probably says something about the accuracy of his men.)
In addition to the Town Hall, the Grand' Place also has the Maison du Roi, built by Charles V in the 1500s. Though called the Maison du Roi, it was never the home of a king, but rather a communal building. And of course, the Guild Houses--several dozen of them, done in a Gothic/Baroque style rather than the "purer" Gothic style of the Town Hall, with a uniform procession of pillars Since we had agreed to see the Grand' Place in detail with Dale and Jo, we left via Rue Charles Buls, passing the reclining statue of Everard t' Serclaes, Brussels's hero. Legend has it that rubbing the arm of this statue will make your wish come true, so naturally it is worn smooth and shiny.
Two blocks south of the Grand' Place is the Manneken Pis, a two-foot tall statue of a little boy ... well, pissing. Though it seems to be the symbol of Brussels, to my mind it ranks with the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen as much over-rated. As if the statue weren't tasteless enough, it is dressed at various times in costume--we just missed seeing it as Elvis Presley.
After the exciting interlude, we walked a few blocks to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de La Chapelle. It was closed for renovation, however, so we saw mostly scaffolding. We returned via a section of the old city wall, then behind the Gare Central and up to the Cathedral of St. Michel. It was not closed for restoration, but it was being restored and large sections were covered with scaffolding. Because of this we decided not to enter, on the theory that enough of the interior and windows would be blocked to make the 250-franc (yes, $8+!) entry fee not worthwhile. So we missed seeing the stained glass window showing Jews desecrating the Host--a disclaimer underneath purportedly labels the subject as just a legend. I will say that the restoration is worthwhile and much needed--the white or almost white of the restored part of the exterior is in marked contrast to the black parts which still show a half a millennium of pollution.
(Sometimes I feel I'm on a tour of the great scaffolding of the world. In Leningrad St. Isaacs was being restored for the 75th anniversary of the Revolution--one suspects the celebration may be toned down somewhat. Or maybe it was the 70th; I'm not sure.)
The next "saint" thing we saw was Les Galeries St. Hubert. Hubert must be the patron saint of shopping--this was the world's first shopping arcade, built in 1846. It was also the site of the world's first "cinematographic picture show" on March 1, 1896. Now it's full of fancy stores, including several selling fancy Belgian chocolates.
Tucked in among all the lace shops we did find a church that was not covered in scaffolding or being restored, the Church of St. Nicholas. Nothing amazing, but I felt we should see at least one church in Brussels. (In the Netherlands we saw the insides of four houses of worship--and they were all synagogues, a proportion rivaled not even by our Israel trip.)
Stopping at a fruit stand to pick up a snack, we returned to our hotel room for a rest before dinner. The heat (around 90 degrees was of course unusual even for this time of year (as with the scaffolding, Luck of Leeper strikes--it will either rain constantly, or be in a heat wave or cold snap wherever we travel).
After a couple of hours of doing laundry, writing logs, reading up on Brussels and Belgium, and wrapping ourselves in wet towels, we recovered enough to head out for dinner.
So many choices! Dozens of restaurants along the Rue des Bouchers and the Petit Rue des Bouchers presented themselves, most featuring mussels (moules) in some form or other. Mussels appear to be the traditional food of Brussels, though it could be all a trick for the tourists. We eventually chose Mouton d'Or as being in our price range and having people eating in it. For 595 francs each, we got four courses: soup (I had gazpacho; Mark had a tomato fish soup), appetizer (I had mussels a la escargot, which is mussels in garlic butter; Mark had grilled shrimp, which arrived in the shell with all pars still attached), main course (I had the grilled fish assortment, of which only the salmon was exceptional; Mark had the poached salmon with mussels), and dessert (chocolate mousse--the apparent dessert du jour around the world). Considering tax and tip is included, $20 for this meal is not too bad a deal, though adding beverages can run the total up quickly. And many of the restaurants along the street had similar deals. I realize that some people had said the food in this street is touristy and bad, and my main course was not great, but to my uneducated palate it will do.
After dinner we walked around a bit, and around twilight came upon the Place des Martyrs. Though at one time a hundred years or so ago this was probably very imposing, the stately buildings surrounding the square are now boarded up and abandoned. Set away from the streets, it was also very quiet, which gave the whole scene an even more mournful quality.
August 29, 1990: Up early for our (continental) breakfast and a trip to the Atomium, a huge model of an iron crystal molecule magnified 20 billion times in which the balls representing atoms contain various exhibits on energy and the connecting tubes stairs and escalators. We picked up our 10-ride Metro tickets (220 francs versus 35 or 40 per ride) and headed out to it on the outskirts of Brussels.
Saying the Brussels Metro is cleaner and nicer than the New York subways is probably unnecessary. We arrived at the Atomium at 9:30 AM only to be told it didn't open until 10, contrary to every guidebook. So we walked around the park it is in for a half hour and then went in.
Not all the scaffolding in Brussels is on cathedrals.
Yes, like so many sites before it, the Atomium was under reconstruction, here to install new exhibits. So only the observation deck and two balls were open--with much trimmed-down displays--and none of the escalators, including one that is supposed to be among the longest in the world. We did get to ride Europe's fastest elevator (five meters/second) to the observation deck on its 5,988,964th trip and walk down a 161-stair staircase between balls (which one woman there was less than thrilled about--she may have had a fear of heights). One difference we noted between the Netherlands and Belgium is that in the Netherlands wen a museum is mostly inaccessible (as was the Stedelijk), they lower the price accordingly. But not in Belgium-- here they charged us the full 120 francs admission even though more than half the Atomium was inaccessible.
After seeing what we could, we took the Metro to the Cinquantenaire Museums (the Royal Museum of Art and History and the Royal Museum of Arms and Military History). Arriving at their Metro station, Mark decided he wanted a cold soda out of the machine. Being Mark, he chose the one thing he hadn't heard of--Jupiler. Jupiler is a beer. While it was interesting to discover beers sold in soft drink machines, it didn't help quench his thirst any so he got a Coke and I drank the beer. The weather was very hot and the beer was cold so it wasn't too bad.
The first of the two museums we went to was the Art Museum because it (supposedly) closed from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM, while the Arms Museum closed from 12 noon to 1 PM. Since it was 11:30 AM we figured this would give us an hour, which should have been sufficient because only the decorative arts sections were scheduled to be open. (They open some galleries on odd days and some on even days.) We were wrong or misled on several counts. 1) The museum did not close for lunch. 2) Several of the antiquities galleries were open, including Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Islamic. 3) Given #2, it's a good thing #1 was true. It took us three hours and that included only a quick look at many rooms of furniture, ceramics, tapestries, and retables. (Retables are carved religious scenes.) I'm not sure why this is not listed as one of the major museums of Brussels, though it lacks labels on most items and also lacks any individual masterpieces, unless you count the Easter Island head. (It does, however, have some "hands-on" exhibits labeled in Braille.)
When we finally finished at the Museum of Art and History (not to be confused with the Museum of Beaux Arts or the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art--it's not bad enough that all museums have two official names, one French, one Flemish (Dutch), they have very similar names), we went across the center of the park to the Museum of Arms and Military History. This also had an enormous quantity of stuff, mostly unlabeled. For example, there were dozens of circular displays of swords and/or guns on the walls, each with fifty or so items, none labeled. I think part of the reason there was so much, or at least why it appeared so to us, was that this was the first war museum we had seen on the continent of Europe. Given this and especially given Belgium's history as the battlefield of Europe, the quantity of items available for museums was undoubtedly greater than in other places we've been.
After seeing three huge halls of arms, we got to the air and tank museum. At this point I just sat down on a bench to rest and write while Mark walked around a hall the size of an airplane hanger (and the area behind it) looking at planes and tanks.
We finished about 3:30 PM, really too late to hit another museum, but still early, so we decided to walk back. After a few blocks of characterless office buildings in the heat, we revised out plans and took the Metro back instead.
Oh, one more note on the museum--there was a group of five- year-olds (or so) being brought through. With all the exhibits, what did they find the most interesting? The pivoting top on the wastebasket.
After resting up for dinner we went out about 7 PM and ate at La Bergerie, across from the previous night's restaurant. The menu was very similar, but I decided to have just a main course instead of a multi-course dinner and so did Mark. I had filet mignon au poivre with fries (the standard accompaniment for everything, it seems), and was unimpressed--the meat was certainly not up to filet mignon standards at home and arrived somewhat rarer than the medium I ordered. Mark had mussels a la Provencale, which he said was good.
Around 10 PM, after we had returned to the hotel, Dale and Jo arrived from Amsterdam via Rotterdam and a day of sightseeing there. It sounded like fun and I wish we had more time for that sort of thing, but they have three weeks and we only two.
August 30, 1990: This was sort of "do the basic sights" day. It was also a much more comfortable day--the heat wave broke during the night and though it drizzled a little on and off during the morning it was much better than the heat. After breakfast, we walked to the Grand' Place, where we looked at the Guild Houses in detail. When it started to rain, we went into the Town Hall for a tour, but discovered the tour in English wasn't until 11:30 AM. So we went out and discovered the rain had let up. We did a few more houses, then went into the museum in the Maison du Roi. This shows the history of Brussels (though in honor of our visit, part was closed off) and some sculpture and objects d'art (ceramics, tapestries, etc.) as well as some of the costumes of the Manneken Pis. The whole idea of dressing this statue had led to a collection of outfits that reminded me of the Barbie doll section of the store, though the Dracula outfit was cute.
We then finished the Guild Houses (which I will not describe in detail, as there are thirty-six of them) and returned to the Town Hall for the tour. Again, some rooms were closed for restoration but we did get to see many tapestries and art in the part that was open. We also heard the true story of the off-center spire. The tower/spire of the Town Hall is set about 40% in from the right-hand side instead of in the center. Legend has it that this was a mistake and when the architect discovered it, he committed suicide. As with many legends, this is a tissue of lies. The truth is that the tower was originally at the right-hand end of the building, but that later the building was extended further out. The truth of this can be seen by examining the relative thicknesses of the two interior walls of the tower--it is clear one was internal and one was external.
For lunch we went to 't Kelderke, a restaurant in the Grand' Place recommended by someone on the Net. Mark and I shared carbonnades flamandes (beef stewed in beer, but a very rich sauce) and waterzooi, a chicken and leek soup; Dale and Jo did likewise. Very good and a nice change from the more tourist-oriented menus of the Rue des Bouchers: mussels, steaks, and chops.
We then walked several blocks (uphill) to the Museum of Classical Art. It's called the Museum of Ancient Art, but that's a rather poor translation of the French name, La Musee de l'Art Ancien, since it covers up through the 19th Century. Upon arriving we discovered that all the rooms containing Flemish primitives were closed except for the room containing the Hieronymous Boschs. The latter was a relief, since we had been looking forward to seeing his "Temptation of St. Anthony." But we discovered that many "Temptations of St. Anthony" seemed to be inspired by his: Van Leyden's, Huys's, and others'. The Final Judgement was also a popular theme, though showing more stylistic variation--Huys had a particularly nice one. The "Temptations" all seem to have the humans with animal heads, the mechanistic puns, and the pink eggs of Bosch.
As far as visual puns go, there were also "anthropomorphic landscapes" or "anthropomorphic still lifes" in which the trees, animals, etc., actually form a larger picture of a face (example: vases of flowers are the eyes, a bunch of carrots the nose, etc.).
The Brueghel family was well represented, with Pieter Brueghel the Elder having an entire labeled room to himself. One characteristic in some of his paintings I noticed was his technique of putting the supposed focus of the painting hidden off in a corner somewhere--in "The Fall of Icarus" it is hard to find Icarus and in "The Numbering at Bethlehem" the birth of Jesus is represented by a small glow behind some figures in the lower left-hand corner. The latter painting was redone by his son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. This seems to have been a family habit. Both also did "The Fair" with almost all the details the same and "The Massacre of the Innocents" with slightly more variation. Then Jan I Brueghel and Jan II Brueghel (Pieter the Elder's other son and grandson) did "Aeneas in the Underworld."
I am, of course, not the first to note Brueghel's diminution of the focal event; as W. H. Auden said:
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 duly along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there must always be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Brueghel's ICARUS, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. "Musee de Beaux Arts"
Two rooms have been devoted to Rubens: one for his monumental pieces twenty feet high or so, and one for his smaller works, which I found more interesting. I particularly liked his very life-like study of "Heads of a Negro." I did find it odd, though undoubtedly intentional, that his "Fall of the Titans," "Fall of the Rebel Angels," and "Fall of Icarus" were all hanging right in a row. This merely emphasized how similar they were (much like Kelly Freas's Laser Book covers).
Remember Van Haecht's "Apelles Painting Campaspe" I mentioned in the Mauritshuis? This seems to be a standard theme for painters, sort of like the sampler for embroidery students. We saw several more here: Francken the Elder's "Cabinet D'Amateur," his "Boutique de Jan Snellinck," and Teniers's "Archduke Leopold in His Gallery."
Other noteworthy pieces included Van Verendal's "Happy Reunion" (a touching scene of a family dressed in the clothing of the time-- but they are all monkeys!), and Gaspar's "Lioness" (a magnificent sculpture not even in a gallery, but in a room leading to the restrooms!).
Two other side notes: There were one or two paintings by Vernet. To most people this won't mean anything, but to Sherlockians, the name will be familiar as a distant relative of the great detective. And what we call "still lifes" the French call "nature mort" ("dead nature").
All this left us very little time for the more recent works and no time at all for the Museum of Modern Art next door. On the way back to the hotel we passed Wittmer's, which Jo had read was the best chocolate shop in Brussels. We stopped and looked in, but their selection of bon-bons didn't have the variety we had seen in other stores. Dale and Jo did buy some, however, at 275 francs for 100 grams (about $2.50/ounce). Upon returning to the hotel they shared them with us in honor of our recent anniversary. They were definitely good chocolates, perhaps even too rich, and with the alcohol fillings managed to eliminate any desire for dinner. (Well, we had had a big lunch as well.)
Later on, we decided to walk around window shopping and such. We also wanted to see the Grand' Place at night when it was lit with floodlights and spotlights on the buildings. Mark and Dale wanted to stop for ice cream, so we went into a cafe just off the Grand' Place. At 10 PM all the lights seemed to go out in the Grand' Place. Mark went out to investigate and came back to tell us they were playing classical music and changing light patterns on the buildings. We paid our bill and went out to watch. It lasted about 45 minutes and while the music was nice, there is only so much one can do with colored lights. I think we all agreed that the fireworks in Scheveningen were more impressive albeit in a less impressive setting.
August 31, 1990: Today we went to Bruges. Since I need to catch up in this log, I'll just say that Bruges was nice. Just kidding--I won't let myself (or you) off that easily.
We caught the train about 9 AM. I had hoped to charge our tickets, but they don't take charge cards for train tickets here. The train took about an hour, with a brief stop in Ghent.
In Bruges we walked through Minnewater Park and along some streets, making our first stop at the Church of Our Lady, notable for its pulpit and its statue by Michelangelo. The former is oak and appears to be supported by only the tips of three angels' toes. Actually, it is suspended from the ceiling by metal braces concealed in a sunburst design. The statue, of the Madonna and Child, is the only Michelangelo statue to reside permanently outside of Italy. I was surprised--or perhaps annoyed is a better word--to see tourists coming into the church in shorts. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but that seems like inappropriate attire to me.
Our next stop was the Groening Museum. Here too were works of Bosch, including his "Last Judgement." I still like Bosch, but I must admit there is a certain repetitiousness to his paintings. There were also more "Temptations of St. Anthony," but not so many of them as in the Brussels museum. I also liked Provoost's "The Miser and Death," Adriaan Pietersz Van de Venne's "Dance on the Sabbath" (which looked more like a witches' sabbath to me), Edmond Van Hove's "Life's Sunset" of an elderly couple, and Jean Delville's "L'Homme-Dieu" (a more modern painting of the apotheosis of man). One of the strangest was Roger Raveel's "Your World in My Garden," which used mirrors, bird cages, and two live birds. It looked like the same sort of thing as we had seen on the way to the Museum of Classical Art the previous day--a large cage with what looked like a hornets' nest about six feet high with transfusion bags flowing into it, all placed outside in a plaza. But is it art?
After some discussion about what sort of place to have lunch at, we settled on a sandwich shop with tables and had cheese sandwiches on French bread. With a beverage, this was about $3 a person, a nice change from Brussels prices.
After lunch we took a half-hour canal cruise. The canals in Bruges are not as heavily used as those in Amsterdam--we saw no houseboats and the only boats moving seemed to be the tourist boats. At the end of the trip, however, the guide said the same thing as in Amsterdam: that the guides work for tips, so tips are appreciated. In countries in which tipping is rare to start with, I find this particularly annoying. Silly me, I expect the price quoted for a "guided canal cruise" to include the guide.
The Gruuthuse Museum was next, a museum of items of historical or artistic interest displayed in an old mansion. One of the most interesting things was the architecture of the mansion itself, which included a chapel with a window cut directly into the Church of Our Lady so that the members of the family could attend services without having to mingle with the riff-raff. This is similar to El Escorial outside Madrid, where the king's bedroom opened directly into the chapel, but that was because he was sick. Of the rest, little need be said, except that this did give me a chance to see old handmade lace up close (we skipped the Lace Museum in Brussels).
We all decided against going to the Memling Museum, even though the Shrine of St. Ursula is one of the "Seven Marvels of Belgium." These were seven artworks that a committee chose to represent the best of Belgian art. Their objectivity--if one may use the term in relation to art--is somewhat suspect, however, since the seven are divided quite nicely amongst the rival regions: three from towns in Flanders, three from towns in Wallonia, and one from the "neutral" city of Brussels (Brueghel's "Fall of Icarus"). Instead, we walked around the old streets of Bruges (cobble-stoned, of course, as is much of Brussels) and eventually arrived at the Grote Markt (Town Square) having changed most of our left-over guilders to francs and bough a couple of lace doilies. We decided to pass on the 366-step climb to the top of the Belfry and walked on to the Burg. Here around the square are the Palace of Justice, the Town Hall (the oldest in Belgium, dating from 1376), and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. We got to see it a bit of the interior of the Town Hall because there were what appeared to be a number of weddings taking place and people were milling in and out. I also saw the lower part of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This church dates from the 1100s. When Derek of Alsace returned from the Crusades in 1146, he brought with him a relic--a piece of cloth supposedly soaked with Jesus's blood. This is displayed in the upper part of the Basilica on Fridays, but only during certain hours and not when we were there. If I had realized the basilica had a newer, upper part I would have at least looked at it; as it was I saw only the Romanesque section. (I think the door to the upper part may have been closed. In any case, no one else in our group was interested.) I wonder if anyone has suggested carbon-dating this relic (or whatever was applied to the Shroud of Turin).
We returned to the train station via a circuitous route, pausing at the Beguinhof (or Beguinage). These were built in this area during the era of the Crusades as retreats for women, often widows of crusaders, to live in away from the world. They were not religious retreats, so women did not need to take vows of poverty or obedience to live in them and they could leave at any time. Is this the first example of "womanspace"? At any rate, shutting oneself away fell out of fashion, and most remaining beguinages are unoccupied or occupied by nuns; this one is occupied by Benedictine nuns whom we could hear singing vespers in the chapel.
On the way out of the Beguinhof, I head someone say, "Hi, Evelyn." I turned around and it was Joe Siclari, a science fiction fan and book dealer from Florida with whom I've been on panels. We talked for a few minutes about our itineraries around the convention, which was of course why he was here as well.
Returning to Brussels, we again passed through the farm country that seems to characterize both the Netherlands and Belgium. There are a lot of farms with horses, cows, and sheep. I didn't see much in terms of crops, though I was surprised to see cornfields!
Dinner was at Chez Richard (indoors because of the chilly weather). I had avocado vinaigrette and mussels a la escargot. As an example of the mediocre service one receives on the Petit Rue des Bouchers, the waiter brought mussels gratinee and insisted that was what I had ordered even after I said it wasn't. Finally, he took it back and brought the right dish. The guidebooks recommend this street (and this restaurant), and at first I admit the restaurants seemed okay enough, but I would now advise against it. It used to be more reasonably priced, but inflation and a weak dollar have changed that as well. Where before many restaurants had fixed-price menus for under 500 francs (which was about $14), now they're at the 600-franc mark (which is about $20 at the current rate--not outrageous, but hardly a bargain). I'm sure someone will tell me everything I'm doing wrong, but I will say that the convenience of these restaurants to our hotel was a major factor in our eating there so frequently.
September 1, 1990: Our last day in Brussels, since we have a day trip to Liege for Sunday. We started by taking the Metro and tram to Tervuran to the Royal Museum of Central Africa, built by Leopold II to house the artifacts brought back by Sir Henry Morton Stanley (who was hired by Leopold) and later expanded as Belgium expanded its role in Africa. As a result, the museum has an excellent collection of masks and statues, much better than I've seen elsewhere. But, unfortunately the museum also has a certain ethnocentric or perhaps even congratulatory tone. For example, it mentions the Congo achieving independence in 1960 without saying anything about the bloodbath it was, but (by omission) implying Belgium as an enlightened nation freely granted the independence. Perhaps it's just that Belgium was a late- comer to the imperialism game, having not even achieved its own independence and unity until 1830.
The museum also had a natural history section with dioramas which seemed strangely crowded with animals compared to Africa itself.
We had come to the museum with Dale and Jo but decided to split up afterwards as Jo wanted to see the art nouveau of Brussels and we wanted to see Waterloo. First we took the tram, the Metro, and then another tram to the Place de Rouppe. This took about an hour. (We later realized that our ten-ride tickets were not valid for the tram in Tervuran, but since the driver didn't say anything when we used them, I can't feel too guilty.) Then after buying a roll of film at an outrageous price (and this was not a tourist area), we boarded a bus for Waterloo, after ascertaining it was indeed the right bus: We asked, "Waterloo?" and the driver asked back, "Butte du Lion?" (making a pyramid with his hands) and "Napoleon?" We eventually all agreed this was the bus we wanted and got on. Then we rode--for almost another hour. (Well, you didn't think they fought Waterloo in the heart of Brussels, did you?) Eventually the driver indicated we had reached our stop and pointed in which direction we should walk. We didn't see anything at first but in a half a block the trees across the street moved to one side and we saw the Butte du Lion.
Rather than give you a full description of the Battle of Waterloo (and aren't you glad of that?!), I will refer you to Victor Hugo's long chapter in LES MISERABLES, though you'll have to find an unabridged edition. Suffice it to say that on June 18, 1815, Napoleon, having escaped from Elba and raised an army, met Wellington and Bluecher in battle here. It was a close thing--had the reinforcements been Napoleon's instead of Bluecher's, it might have been Wellington who "met his Waterloo." But it wasn't, and though Napoleon escaped capture at Waterloo, he was seized a few days later and died in exile on St. Helena.
The most notable feature of the battlefield of Waterloo today is the Butte du Lion, which was non-existent in 1815. It is an artificial hill built by Belgian housewives who carried buckets of dirt by hand to construct it on the spot where the Prince of Orange fell. When one climbs the 226 steps to the monument of a lion at the top, one gets a panoramic view of the battlefield and surrounding area.
Before we did that, however, we saw the audio-visual presentations in the Visitors' Centre at the base. First was a presentation explaining the course of the battle. This consisted of a tabletop model of the battlefield, with lights to represent the various troops. To handle the multiple languages visitors knew, descriptions in four languages: French, Dutch, English, and German) on slides were flashed on a screen. So, for example, in the introduction, the red lights on the field were lit and the screen said, "Wellington's Troops." Later, you would see flickering lights going from a cluster of blue lights to a cluster of red lights and the screen would say, "11:15 AM The French Assault on the British Left Flank" or some such. By turning lights in the model on and off, troops could even be made to appear to move. This was the clearest explanation of the battle, much clearer than those in the guidebooks. And through it all, appropriate sound effects (guns, horses, etc.) were played.
After this was a film, done entirely without dialogue to solve the language problem. It started with a group of children playing on the battlefield in present times. One, then a second, fall into some sort of time warp in which they find themselves in the thick of the battle (done using scenes from the film WATERLOO). Directed by Philippe Vismara, it had perhaps too much of a "Twilight Zone" touch, but served to convey a feel of the confusion of battle.
Then we climbed the Butte. This was done in stages--226 steps is about ten stories. Naturally all the little kids were running up past us. From the top one could see the terrain and the fields of battle, but of course none of the generals had the benefit of this view. For a better idea of what they saw, we descended and walked to some of the points described in the guidebook Mark bought. These were amongst the fields--the area is still farmland and this year's crop seemed to be turnips--and not nearly as popular as the Butte, though in fairness I have to say that wasn't swarming with tourists either. We spent about an hour this way, which I think more educational than spending it in the touristy things near the Butte: a wax museum, a 360-degree diorama (painted a hundred years ago--almost of historical interest in its own right, as it is older now than the Battle of Waterloo was when it was painted), etc. By walking around you can see how the rolling terrain would conceal troops in hollows or over the crests of hills until one group was practically on top of another. The area is remarkably unchanged; La Haye Sainte probably looked much the same 175 years ago as it does now.
We decided finally we needed to start back, it being a long trip. The two people we asked had different answers for where we should catch the bus to Brussels, so we opted for the stop right outside the Visitors' Centre as being the closest (and it did, after all, say "Bruxelles" on the sign. Sure enough, a bus came along in a few minutes (which also stopped at the other stop mentioned) and we returned to Brussels. (By the way, there is a McDonalds within sight of the battlefield.)
We returned to the hotel, dropped off our stuff, freshened up, and went with Dale and Jo to dinner. We stopped at one restaurant, but decided the prices were far too high and left. Eventually we found a restaurant closer to our range. I had the rack of lamb (a small rack); Jo had salmon in a honey and orange sauce which was one of the more unusual menu items.
September 2, 1990: Today we went to Liege. Belgium is divided into two major regions: Flanders, which is Flemish-speaking (Dutch) and Wallonia, which is French-speaking. Brussels, though in Flanders, is officially bilingual, though because more visitors speak French than Dutch, French tends to predominate. (There is also a small German- speaking area.) So we visited a Flemish town Friday (Bruges) and a Walloon town Sunday (Liege). (Note: by traveling on a weekend we saved more than 50%--we paid 570 francs for two round-trips and I think the normal fare would have been 1200, but it was hard to figure, because the explanatory signs were in French and Flemish. If you don't mind consecutive day trips, weekends are a good deal.)
Liege has a reputation for independence and this immediately became clear when we discovered that the current museum schedules (and prices) bore no relationship to anything in the guidebooks. In fact, most of them were closed on Sunday. And the Museum of Modern Art, which Jo wanted to see, was closed permanently while it was being moved.
Armed with the latest schedule from the Tourist Information Bureau (which was open only until 2 PM on Sundays), we revised our schedules accordingly and agreed to regroup at the Church of St. Bartholomew at 4 PM. The primary reason for coming to Liege on a Sunday was the market that day. But the market ran until 2 PM, and the Arms Museum your was at 11:30 AM, so we decided to do the market second.
The Arms Museum in Liege is reported to be the best in the world, since Liege was a major manufacturing center for arms for hundreds of years. So naturally we were eager to see it. But on Sunday it was closed except for the guided tour. Therefore the first order of business was getting to the museum by 11:30, To do this we had to plow our way through the market, which was not an easy task. We eventually found the Arms Museum, but a sign outside seemed to indicate that the tours left from the Curtius Museum down the street (though the sign was in four languages, it was confusingly worded and the schedule indicated the Curtius Museum was also open only for a guided tour, so we thought maybe it was one tour for the two museums). Finding the other museum wasn't easy, as the stalls blocked it off somewhat, but we did find it. At 11:25 AM no one else had arrived. So I suggested that we turn on our walkie-talkies and I go back to the Arms Museum. There a group was forming. The tour, it turned out, would be entirely in French, but having not much choice (and figuring it was no worse than no guide at all), I called Mark to come back. (I think the guide was a bit taken aback by our walkie-talkies: he asked me how many in my group when I used mine.)
We did buy an English-language guide to the museum, and that helped a lot, as I figure I understood perhaps 5% of what the guide was saying. He talked about how armor developed in parallel with arms-- advances in one spurred developments in the other. He discussed gunpowder and how, though the Chinese invented it, they never thought to use it to fire projectiles. I even managed to follow his explanation of the difference between a pistol and a revolver. But on the whole we followed the guidebook while listening to the guide for the few words we could understand. I would not recommend this as the desired method of seeing a museum, but I think we got some feel for how non-English-speaking tourists to the United States must feel. (And Mark and I still disagree on whether one item was a bow or a slingshot!)
This over, we plunged into the market. The crowds were incredible--the Liege Sunday market attracts people from three countries; Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. The signs reflect this, with many stands posting prices in three currencies, or conversion rates. There was a little bit of everything, or rather, a lot of everything: clothing, food, flowers, livestock, pets, miscellaneous stuff. Not quite the antiques market I think Jo may have expected, but fascinating, especially the animals: sheep, goats, rabbits and hares (the former with the pets, the latter with the chickens, ducks, and turkeys), songbirds, even turtles and goldfish.
We got lunch at the market. First we had a waffle, which had little nuggets of sugar inside it. Then we got tcetchouka, a spicy sausage topped with scrambled eggs in a long roll. I have no idea what language the name is from--'tc' is not a leading combination one sees very often. We also picked up some dried apricots for general snacking on the train and the plane.
At 2 PM all the stands closed up and gridlock began in earnest as huge vans tried to negotiate down narrow streets. We left the market area as quickly as possible and just walked around for a while. Though the Museum of Walloon Life was open, our previous experiences with museums lacking English labels made us decide to skip it. (I would have settled for Spanish, but that does not appear to be one of the major tourist languages in Benelux.)
We walked around the Palace of the Prince-Bishops. Liege was one of the areas of Europe in which the bishops of the Church also attained secular power. One of the strongest, Bishop Notger, built this palace in the 11th Century and when Charles the Bold leveled the city in 1468, he spared it along with other religious buildings. The current exterior facade was added later and it is for its interior courtyards that it is known, but those did not appear to be open, though we could see one from an entrance driveway.
We returned to the Church of St. Bartholomew at 3:30 PM, rather unimpressed by Liege. It seemed a rather grubby industrial city, with none of the charm of Bruges or even Brussels. The main square was particularly unfortunate. In the 1790s French Revolutionaries had torn down the Church of St. Lambert in an anti-clerical frenzy, and thus destroyed much of what gives many such squares character and focus. The fortress-like facade on the Palace of the Prince- Bishops completed the isolation of the square from its surroundings and now it serves mostly as a bus stop and turnaround, with traffic islands scattered around it. Where the church stood is a hole in the ground where they're building (I believe) a new train station.
But one thing that continues to attract people to Liege (besides the market, of course) is the baptismal font in the Church of St. Bartholomew. Cast by Huys in the 1100s, it is yet another of the "Seven Marvels of Belgium." It is also still in use--there was a group in the church preparing for a baptism when we went in to see it. Supported on the backs of twelve oxen (representing the Twelve Apostles), it was cast in a single piece of bronze and stands as a technological achievement as well as an artistic one.
Around the sides the font shows in bas relief various scenes of baptisms from the New Testament and subsequent times. It is beautiful and all the more impressive for its age, and I think its inclusion as one of the Seven Marvels can be justified that some example of a bronze or other three-dimensional piece should be included. The church itself was being renovated, and the contrast between the unfinished Romanesque section, solid and unadorned, with the newer section was startling.
Though we had planned on eating dinner in Liege, we all agreed that we should probably revise our plan and return to Brussels for dinner, especially as we had to pack for an early start the next morning. We also decided not to climb the 400-step stairs for a view of Liege, in large part because the view from the ground was not really encouraging. So back we went, not entirely sorry we had come to Liege, but somewhat disappointed.
For dinner we decided we had had enough of the "Greatest Restaurant Street in the World." It may have been once, but it is now coasting on its laurels. (The more expensive restaurants on the street, such as Aux Armes de Bruxelles, may still be worth it--we didn't go there so we couldn't tell.) We decided instead to return to 't Kelderke on the Grand' Place. I got mussels marineres; Mark got steack de cheval. After we had ordered, Dale said he had noticed the latter on the menu, but that it was translated "horse steak" and he didn't know what kind of steak that was. What can I say?
One again, the food here was excellent--the steack de cheval was much better than the filet mignon I had the other day, and the mussels were firm, not mushy the way they seem to be in the United States. After dinner, we went outside and listened to "Brussels Big Band" playing hits from the 1940s (and later) from a make-shift stage in the Grand' Place. There's something strange about hearing a Chinese singer singing "New York, New York" in Brussels. After the concert, we watched the light show, then returned to the hotel since we had an early day coming.
September 3, 1990: We got up about 5:30 AM, and left the hotel around 6:15 (having settled our bill the night before because of our early departure). We walked the two blocks to the Metro station and took the tram to the Gare Midi (South Station). The train we were taking also stopped at the Central Station nearer us, but we wanted to get on at the beginning to guarantee seats, not that this turned out to be a problem. After purchasing our tickets, I had time for a cup of coffee before our 7:10 AM train. The coffee is served in individual drip portions, which does add a little time for the coffee to drip through. The cook/waiter noticed I kept checking the water level and asked me something in French. Eventually we established that his English was better than my French (no great feat) and that he was saying if there wasn't enough water he could add more. I explained I was just checking to see if it was ready. In settling on a language, he mentioned he was actually Flemish- speaking and would rather speak English than French (shades of the Canadian language feuds!), which was fine by me. I guess he started with French on the assumption that more tourists would speak French than Flemish.
We bought a snack on the train, using us the last of our Belgian francs. When we arrived at Schipol around 10 AM, we discovered the check-in desk for our 1 PM flight wasn't listed yet. At 11 AM, when it still wasn't listed, I asked at information and found which mob to join to check in. This time we checked our suitcases because we had another bag besides the garment bag and felt carrying all that on would be pushing it. We spent the rest of our Dutch guilders on chocolate and cheese slicers.
When we went through the security check, they noticed Mark's walkie- talkie and asked what it was. (They had somehow managed to miss mine.) When we told them, they insisted we check them--afraid, I suppose, that we would switch them on during the flight and mess up the communications.
The plane was almost two hours late taking off, but made up some of the time on the way. When we got to JFK, it was a real zoo--four jumbo jets had just landed and they were trying to herd us all through at once. The signs at the beginning of the corridor indicated that United States citizens should stay to the right. Eventually we got to a large hall where a woman at the front, sans microphone, was attempting to make sort of announcement. All we could hear was her at the end asking "Do you understand?" to which we all yelled back, "No!" Finally, the word trickled back: United States citizens and all those from the Aer Lingus flight should be on the left, non-resident aliens on the right. That's right, we all had to swap sides. By this point, though, they were so swamped that passport control for citizens consisted of just holding up your open passport as you went past the guard.
Our luggage was scheduled to come on a certain carousel. Unfortunately, that carousel was in use for the Aer Lingus flight, so we had to wait an hour before our luggage even started coming out. The first thing out were our walkie-talkies. So even if we hadn't checked anything else, we would have been stuck there an hour. By the time we got our luggage, the Customs inspection was also just a wave-through, even though we had checked off "visited a farm or ranch outside the United States" on our form. (Well, we knew we weren't tracking anything back.) It was a relief that our friend was still there to pick us up--given the almost two-hour wait after the plane landed, he could have decided we weren't on it and left. But he didn't and we arrived home safe and sound.
Of course, less than 24 hours later I was flying to Denver for two days (tag-team suitcases, anyone?), but that's another story.