Monday, May 24, 2010

Onward to Belgium

I started the day out in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and ended up in Bruges, Belgium by the early evening. Today was a busy day in terms of traveling! I got up early to get to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam when it opened at 10:00AM. I arrived ten minutes after it opened and already the line was almost around the corner! Good thing I had already bought my ticket online! This museum seems even more popular than the nearby Rijksmuseum, the rooms are fairly open, but it was still packed! Now, I know that this is not exactly Northern Renaissance art, but I just could not pass up the collection. This museum has the largest body of works by van Gogh and also shows a collection of 19th century painters and sculptures. The ground floor, (0), displays works by artists admired by van Gogh in both the Barbizon and the Hague schools of painting. Next, the first floor contains the permanent collection of van Gogh paintings. The collection is arranged chronologically and by location, thus, visitors are able to really capture the developments, changes, and influences of van Gogh. The rooms move from the Netherlands, to Paris, to Arles, to Saint-Rémy, to Auvers-Sur-Oise. Here I was able to see several of van Gogh's most famous self portraits as well as "The Potato Eaters," "Sunflowers" (1889), and "Almond Blossoms," which is one of my favorite paintings. The Saint-Rémy section was especially interesting to me as I was fortunate enough to visit the former hospital last summer to see some of the well-known views van Gogh painted. The second floor unfortunately was closed for renovations but the third floor showed paintings by van Gogh's artist friends as well as works by symbolist painters. I really enjoyed this museum and loved the way it was set up. I believe the chronological approach was extremely beneficial to the overall effect. After I left, I grabbed my bag from the hotel, checked out, and was on my way to the train station to catch a train to Bruges, Belgium, or several trains as it turned out. Luckily I only had to transfer once, in Antwerp, here called Antwerpen, and made it to Bruges, here known as Brugge (pronounced BROO-ghah in Flemish), around 5:30PM. Bruges is absolutely one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen, full of beautiful canals and winding stone paved streets. A former trading center, Bruges had the same population as London in the 14th century, and was the most important cloth market in northern Europe. The 15th century saw Bruges as a refuge for peace from the Hundred Years’ War for the Dukes of Burgundy, and also saw artists Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. However, by the 16th century, the economy had collapsed, leaving the city almost dead until tourists rediscovered it. And I am glad that they did! I spent the evening walking around what is called the Markt Square (Market Square), where the Belfort (Bell Tower) lies and surrounding canal streets. Most of the shops closed at 6:30PM, but I continued to window shop, especially for chocolate, which Bruges has many shops for. I also found St. Salvatorkoorst, a very beautiful cathedral. Tomorrow I am in search of more art from the two main museums Bruges has to offer!