Thursday, November 28, 2013

Viking River Boat Cruise - Day Two - Kinderdijk

The big difference between an ocean cruise ship and a river boat is that you can hardly tell when the riverboat is moving. We were waiting for the riverboat to leave Amsterdam. Finally I looked out the window and saw that we were moving. That first night and in fact every night during we cruise, we slept fitfully.

The next morning when I went up to the sundeck to practice Taijiquan I realized that we were already moored at Kinderdijk. It was still dark at 6:30AM and it was foggy so I could see very little beyond the shoreline.
This was the only building that I could see from the boat early in the morning.

 By the time I finished practicing there was more light but it was still foggy. As I went back down stairs I was wondering, "where are the windmills?".

Kinderdijk is a tiny village located on a narrow strip of land between the the Lek and Noord Rivers. Kinderdijk's claim to fame is that is has the largest collection of windmills in Holland; 19. The windmills date all the way back to the 14th century. Kinderdijk has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the early morning the windmills was still shrouded in mist.

This map shows the layout of the windmills at Kinderdijk.  

This is a typical home along the canal at Kinderdijk

Here is our group trudging along the road to the windmills. Notice how flat and low the level of the ground.

There is something magical about these windmills!

I couldn't stop taking pictures of them!

We had the opportunity to visit one of the windmills that was kept as a museum for tourists. People actually live in the other windmills.

Inside the windmill looks much like any other home of the 14th century. It had a small cozy feel.

I don't know how the miller squeezed his 11 person family into the windmill. They must have slept two and three to a bed at night!

This a picture of the gear that turns the mechanism that turns the vanes of the windmill.

We were given a demonstration of how the miller changes the direction of the windmill to catch the wind. It is a very labour intensive procedure.

The miller turns the wheel manually using his hands and feet that turns a gear at the top of the windmill which pushes rollers that turn the top of the windmill to whatever position that the miller feels will pick up the most wind.

We were given a tour of the workshop where parts of the windmill are repaired and replaced. Most of the components of the a traditional windmill are made of wood. Depending on the type of wood required and its function it would be made out of a specific type of wood depending on its hardness, softness or toughness.

A diagram of the inner workings of a windmill

This one of the rollers that turns the windmill. You can see that the roller is made out of steel. These rollers have to be tough and durable in order to take the stress of moving all the weight of the windmill.

Our trip to Kinderdijk was truly fascinating. I had never seen anything like this in my life. My wife and I feel that we wee privileged to have had the opportunity to visit the windmills at Kinderdijk.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Amsterdam - Day Four - Viking

Day four in Amsterdam, October 4, 2013, our last day in Amsterdam but the first day of our Viking riverboat cruise. We wanted to make the best of our last day in Amsterdam. After getting up early to practice Taijiquan by the school I got into the Hotel Fita just moments before it started to pour rain. The rain was coming down hard while we ate our breakfast. It seemed that we would be stuck in the hotel until it was time to check out. That was a depressing thought. However, after breakfast the rain suddenly stopped as soon as it started. This gave us an opportunity to go out and take a few more pictures and spend a bit more time walking around the museum area before we checked out of the hotel and headed down to the port to our boat,

I don't know what this building is but I like it so much i had to take this picture and include it in this post

We managed to get a picture of this sculpture before it was mobbed by tourists

See what I mean!

A picture of the music conservatory which is at the opposite end of the field from the Rijks Museum. It was also a lovely building.

One last canal picture before we headed back to the hotel to check out.

We checked out of the hotel by 11:00AM and made our way down to the dock to our Viking boat, the Atla. The Viking brochure told us that the boat would be moored at one of three piers. Fortunately, all three piers were within walking distance on one another. We disembarked from the tram at Central Station which is almost at the harbour. The problem was that we were not quite sure how to get around Central Station to the water. We stopped and asked a couple of men who worked at the station how to get to the piers. One said go all the way around, the other said walk through the station it was faster. We decided to walk through the station because it was the fastest and shortest route.  Once inside the station we realized that to get through the station one should have first purchased a ticket. We took the risk and walked through. No one stopped or questioned us and we were at the dock in just a few minutes. As soon as we crossed the road to the water's edge we say our boat less than 100 meters away. There was a large red pavilion on the dock in front of the gangway to the boat to welcome passengers. 

Once on board, we were relieved of our luggage, checked in and shown to our room, all in less than ten minutes of setting foot on board. We were informed that there would be a lunch was being served from 11:00AM to 3:00PM. Since we had not eaten since breakfast and had exerted not inconsiderable effort getting to ship we thought it would be a nice idea to have some lunch. We made out way up to the lounge where an extensive buffet lunch was being served. As soon as we entered the lounge we were offered champagne which, of course, we accepted. As vegetarians, we are always interested to see what there is for us to eat. We were delightfully surprised. There were at least half a dozen different salads for us to eat and we sampled all of them. 

After lunch, we were informed that there would we a welcome walk around Amsterdam. We were provided with a local English speaking guide who took us around the old area around Amsterdam. When we were first taken to our room we were informed that there were two receivers that were for our use. the receivers were used to tune into the transmitter that our guide was using. In this way, even if the guide was some distance away we could still hear what they were saying, it was a nice system. We used the receivers for the first time on our last day in Amsterdam. Our guide showed us some of the historic sites in the old city and talked about the history and development of Amsterdam. It was all very interesting, especially so after having spent three days in Amsterdam already. At the end of the tour we returned to the boat in time to take part in a lecture given by a local historian.

The speaker, Ilsa,  started her talk with the story about the cat in the cradle. Apparently, at least two different villages claim to be the village where the story came from. IN Holland, dikes were built up from mats of willow that were built up year after year. Workers would dig ditches to direct water away from the swamp. The rivers would flood the reclaimed land every year. The dikes would sink as the rivers rose. These were challenging problems to deal with, Eventually, water boards were established to manage water issues. A Polder is a district with certain water levels. Each Polder had its own chairman, To become a member of the water board you had to drink a liter of water then write a poem. If the poem was good then you would be admitted to the water board.

In the 17th century the water kept rising in Friesland in Holland, the land was wet. Many people left but those who stayed became experts in managing water. Many technical experts in managing water emerged. There are three villages,  one has experts  in dredging., another has specialists in building floating islands, a third has experts in engineering projects to manage water.

Finally, Ilsa turned the discussion to Kinderdyk, our first stop after leaving Amsterdam. The Kinderdyk windmills were designed to pump the water from the canals to a basin to keep the level of the water low in the canals during high tide. When the tide was low the windmills would pump the water back into the canals. In this way the windmills helped to manage the water level in the canals. Kinderdyk was the first area in Holland to have electricity. Eventually, steam pumps replaced the windmills.

Today in Holland, the policy is to have wider and deeper rivers to make the water flow faster. There is also a policy to hold more water in the land. If you take all of the water out of the land then the land starts to sink. Global warming will have a significant affect on Holland in the future as global water levels start to rise. The Dutch government, as are all governments, is dragging its feet in implementing a plan to deal with global warming.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Amsterdam - Day Three - The Van Gogh Museum

Day three in Amsterdam was all about the Van Gogh museum. We were up early for breakfast at Hotel Fita then it was off to the Van Gogh museum.

Actually, the museum is at the other end of the street of the Hotel Fita, maybe a two minute walk. Even though we were at the museum before it opened we were still behind a group of very enthusiastic Japanese tourists. Still, when the doors opened the Japanese tourists went through the door for groups and my wife and I walked into the museum, bought our tickets and we were on our way in less than two minutes.

Since the art in the Van Gogh museum is arranged chronologically starting on the first floor, it would not make sense to start on the top floor and work our way down so we followed along with the crowd going up floor by floor.

The focus of the show was the artist at work. This is a self portrait of Van Gogh at work.

This one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings. It is one thing to see it in a book or on line but when you see the actual picture you experience the texture and dimensionality of the painting. You experience the brilliance of the colors that Van Gogh used. It is something that can only be experience when you are in the presence of the actual painting.

One of Van Gogh's early studies of an old pair of boots, not an untypical subject for students. Apparently Van Gogh would buy old shoes and condition them by dragging them through the mud and dirt until they were interesting enough to paint.

This study is called Homeward Bound. It was one of Van Gogh's student paintings.

This is a chalk drawing called the Discus Thrower.

This painting was from the period when Van Gogh lived with Paul Gaugin in Arles. You start to see the beginnings of Van Gogh's distinctive style emerging,

These are watercolor drawings that Van Gogh did. He felt that he was making headway in his use of color and handling a brush.

As he was learning his craft, Van Gogh made many paintings of peasants working in the field. These studies eventually led him to his painting the Potato Eaters.

Although the Potato Eaters had many technical shortcomings it projected an ethos that Van Gogh liked..

I like this still life because it is a great example of Van Gogh's distinctive brushstroke technique and use of color.

This is a painting of Claude Monet. It is bulb fields and windmills near Rijnsburg in the Netherlands.

This painting by Pissarro is an example of his pointillistic style using unmixed colored dots to create an unified painting. Van Gogh considered Pissarro to be his mentor.

A self portrait from 1887

One of Van Gogh's most successful paintings where he uses color effectively creating wonderful harmony of color and hue. No wonder it is one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings.

In 1888 Van Gogh shared this house with Paul Gauguin.

We know that Van Gogh actually painted this piece on the beach because there is sand imbedded in the paint. The way he uses blue and green, and yellow and white created the sense of waves and light reflecting off the waves. You can almost smell the fresh air and hear the waves crashing on the rocks.

Van Gogh painted these two paintings about a year apart. The second version was painted while Van Gogh was in the asylum so he had to paint it from memory. The differences in coloring are significant.

Van Gogh considered The Harvest to be the crowning achievement of his time in Arles, France

This work, Sunset at Montmajour was bought by a Norwegian collector as a Van Gogh then it fell into doubt until it was proven to be an authentic Van Gogh.

Van Gogh studied Delacroix on how to create and draw figures. This is one of his chalk drawings.

Van Gogh did this painting while he was at the asylum. When he ran out of canvas he used paper.

Van Gogh did this piece in 1890 using pencil, brush, oil paint and watercolor on paper.

This exhibit was unique in that it displayed many of Van Gogh's drawings and studies from all periods of his development.

This is another study from 1885.

I could go on and on about the Van Gogh exhibit but I think I have made this post too long already. If you are in Amsterdam there are two places you have to see, the Ryjks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. These are both "must sees".
We spent most of the morning at the Van Gogh museum. After lunch we headed off to the Albert Cuyp Market which turned out to be a giant open air flea market with some fresh fruit and vegetables. We did buy fresh figs and pomegranates. I did make one intriguing find in an antique store. I found several versions of Chinese porcelain Qing dynasty officials. When I turned the statues over I saw the impression of the artist chop with a reference to the Qing dynasty. They looked genuine enough that I would have bought a pair of the statues except that I did not relish the idea of trucking them through Europe with us so I left them where they were.
In the evening after dinner, we took the tram down to the Red Light district. Every tourist in Amsterdam has to make at least one visit to the Red Light district. The tram drops you off more or less in the middle of the Red Light district. You have to walk across the square in front of Saint Nicolas' church to the canal. The "coffee shops" where you don't buy coffee and the prostitutes are arranged along the canal. It is easy to find the coffee shops, you just have to follow your nose. As you walk past the coffee shop the smell of marijuana is literally intoxicating. It is not a good idea to linger too long, unless you go in for that sort of thing. The prostitutes are equally easy to find. They are standing behind their windows. Some are on the second floor of buildings but others are on the first floor. We watched a pretty young woman in a florescent bikini trying to entice a group of young men up to her room. We kept walking as they were trying to make up their mind. It was interesting but at the same time there was a sad and seedy desperation about the area. It was worth a visit but we don't think we would visit the area again.
Since it was our last night in Amsterdam we want to take in as much of the city as possible so instead of taking the tram back to the Hotel Fita we decided to walk back to the hotel. We had a map of the area and we estimated that it would take us less than an hour to walk back to the hotel. The safest route was to follow the tram tracks as the twisted and wound their way along. There were a lot of interesting things to look at, stores and restaurants and people walking, talking, riding their bicycles or sitting alone or in small groups on the street. Eventually, we made our way back to the main shopping area. We saw an McDonalds so we went in to look. They had ice cream on for the equivalent of 0.60 dollars Canadian which was too good to resist so we bought two ice cream cones and continued our walk. We saw a huge souvenir shop and went in to buy porcelain Christmas ornaments. After a time we arrived back at the Hotel Fita. That was enough touring for one day.
After some Qigong and Taijiquan practice it was time to end day three in Amsterdam.