24.04.2014 - 24.04.2014 18 °C
Thursday, 24 April 2014
Kroller-Muller Museum/Arnhem, The Netherlands
Those of you who have been with this enterprise from the very beginning (way back in the Paris days, before I had become sophisticated and adopted the blogging format, rather than mass emails) may remember my comments about the preponderance of Japanese tourists in Paris and Australia. (Interestingly, I do not recall this issue arising in Ireland or on the Christmas Market Cruise. I totally understand the lack of them at the Christmas markets, but I’m going to have to think a little bit more as to why they were not so in evidence in Dublin…) Regardless, they’re BAAAAACCCCCKKKKK!
We started out the morning in Nijmegen, which is in the Netherlands, but almost at the German border. From there, we boarded motorcoaches for our choice of destinations: either the Kroller Muller Museum or a tour of the battlefields around Arnhem. (For those of you who are military history buffs, which I most assuredly am not, this is apparently the site of the infamous “Bridge Too Far.” There’s also a movie with that title, and Mel suggests you watch it. I have no opinion either way. You are all adults and free to do as you wish.)
Have I told you about the poker chip system yet? It’s actually the relatively easy and painless way Tauck uses to break the big group up into manageable groups for things like boarding buses and tours with local guides. They put out dishes of different colored poker chips, with the number of different colors corresponding to the number of sub-groups they need to have. You grab a chip for yourself and through it in the champagne bucket (yep, they are using a champagne bucket). When all of the chips for a particular color are gone, that group is full. You can use the system to either be with your new friends by grabbing chips for your entire group at once, or you can avoid people—for instance, I have observed some spouses picking different colors! Anyway, blue has been good to Julie and me, so we’ve stuck with it all week.
So we boarded the blue and red bus for the ride to the De Hoge Veluwe National Park, in the midst of which is situated the Kroller-Muller Museum. This museum is similar in provenance to both the Isabella Stewart Gardner and Barnes Museums: Helene Muller, a rich heiress, married Anton Kroller. Anton, using money he won in the Belgian lottery(!) bought into Daddy’s steel and mining concern, where he quickly increased shareholder (i.e. the family) value. Poor Helene simply did not know how to spend all that money (and her diamond shoes were too tight, too), so she started collecting art, specifically Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and more specifically Vincent Van Gogh at the behest of a Svengali-like art history teacher named H.P. Bremmer. The resulting museum was a protracted and collaborative effort to build a home for her magnificent collection. Hers is the second largest collection of Van Gogh in the world, second only to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, containing more than 90 paintings and 180 drawings. What differentiates this collection from the Gardner and Barnes collections is that the curators have the authority to add selectively to the collection; for example, paintings by artists Helene enjoyed but perhaps couldn’t afford during her life time. Also, I don’t think there are any funny rules about stuff having to be left in exactly the same place, because the museum catalog indicates that they bring in special exhibits, etc.
We arrived at the museum to discover two things: it was school field trip day, and that a large portion of the population of Tokyo (or maybe Osaka…frankly, I didn’t ask) was on holiday at THIS museum. It was like the Christiana Mall at Christmas, people—pushing, shoving, elbowing…and that was the little blue-haired ladies! And just like at the Louvre, they were taking selfies in front of all the paintings—I think I managed to avoid any Japanese tourist photo bombs, but it required stealth and patience! Avoiding the Dutch school children who were on some kind of an art scavenger hunt was more challenging. Frankly, this was one of those days that had me wishing for a do-it-yourself tubal ligation kit.
We ended up with a docent named Sandra who very clearly Knew Her Schtuff. She managed to lead us on a tour of the museum whilst dodging the crowds. Audibility was abetted by these little devices that Tauck gives us, called Voxs. They are basically a closed-circuit microphone system—we wear the receivers and an ear piece (not unlike a TV news anchor man), while Sandra and the other guides wear a transmitter and a lapel microphone. They work surprisingly well and facilitate situations just like this, when locations are crowded and noisy. So, despite the crush of people, we could hear Sandra just fine. She guided us the history of Helene’s acquisitions, as well as the historical and artistic significance of the pieces. We saw Van Gogh (of course), Monet, a Cezanne, Renoir, a lovely artist by the name of Isaac Israel, as well as several pointillists, including Paul Signac, who was new to me. I really liked his work, but sadly, the gift shop was out of the book about him. The Cubists were well-represented, with several Picasso paintings and a sculpture, some Gris, and a Bracque or two. I also found a couple of Mondrians that I particularly liked. One interesting factoid that I managed to retain (hey, you try listening, walking, photographing, and dodging and weaving among Japanese tourists—there is simply no bandwith or hands left to take notes!) was that Van Gogh signed all his paintings “Vincent” because the French (where he lived and to whom he was trying to sell his work) could not pronounce Van Gogh correctly. The best Dutch phonetic pronunciation I can come up with is “Van Gochk” with the “chk” sort like how Achmed the Dead Terrorist says his own name—lots of pleghm. And of course we ended our visit at the gift shop, which didn’t have the Signac book, but I did get a little book about the history of the museum and one about “The Essential Van Gogh.” You are welcome to borrow them if you wish to enhance your appreciation of art!
We did a quick tour of the sculpture garden outside the museum, where rumor has it that there was a Rodin in there somewhere, but we didn’t spot it and we had to haul buns to claim our good bus seat. About that bus seat—we have determined the optimal spot on the bus: the two seats immediately behind the back door on the right hand side. This allows us to both board and disembark the bus expeditiously, which is saying something when dealing with the geriatric crew. The effect of this seat choice is exponential, because if you get off the bus first, you get on the ship first, you get exchange your shore pass for your room keys first, and you can beat them to dinner, too! And for those of you who’ve been with me since the Australia excursion, it is the QANTAS boarding protocol all over again!
We caught up with the ship in Arnhem, to which it had sailed after we got off. Applying the rapid entry/exit protocol, we made it off the bus and onto the ship first, which allowed us to hit lunch in the Lido Bar first. Hot dogs were promised for lunch. What was served bore a passing resemblance to a hot dog, in that it was a tubular sausage of some sort, but it was definitely NOT a hot dog. We will give them an E for effort, but I ended up eating salad and fruit. Julie says the chicken Caesar wrap in the main dining room was delish. Live and learn.
After lunch, we set out for a self-guided shopping tour of downtown Arnhem. Julie found a lovely new bracelet, but more importantly, I got the name of an apparently awesome office supply store in Amsterdam from the two sweet little clerks! Cha-ching! (Am I the only person I know who considers foreign office supplies good souvenirs?) I found a cute cookie cutter at a kitchen store that had an EXTENSIVE assortment of gorgeous china, then we hit absolute what we thought was pay dirt but turned out to be a dry hole: a store called Cook & Book that sold…you guessed it…cookbooks. I recognized the DUTCH LANGUAGE versions of many baking books I already own, but found nothing in English. (Again, local baking cookbooks = excellent Heidi souvenirs. I hope you people are writing all this stuff down.) We also found the Hokie Pokie diner, and a comic book shop that had Smurf books in English (don’t ask).
It was starting to sprinkle a bit, so we headed back to the ship in time to listen to our pre-dinner entertainment: an amazing trio of classical musicians called La Strada. Two violinists and a guitarist played a selection of classical pieces, Gerswhin, and even some gypsy tunes. They were magnificent! After that, it was time for dinner, which was actually REALLY good tonight: shrimp cocktail, butternut squash soup, beef tenderloin, and brownies with ice cream for dessert. I give it four stars.
Tomorrow we are going to have a really Dutch experience: we are touring a cheese farm and an old-fashioned windmill! Wonder if I can scare up some wooden shoes for a photo op…
Love from Arnhem.
Oh my goodness! I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you about my sleuthing work. Remember I told you about seeing the captain and the blonde who works the front desk having dinner in Veere? Well, this morning she was giving out the shore passes, and I noticed that she had a wedding ring on (as does the captain). Using my highly-cultivated deductive reasoning skills, I concluded that perhaps they are married to each other! So, and Julie can’t believe I did this, I asked Jeremy, the cruise director if they are, and he confirmed it. So no scandal at all…not sure if I’m happy at the happy ending, or disappointed at the lack of scandal!