towers and museums galore (2004-03-07 - 11:19 p.m.)

An amusing fact I have discovered: Steph's bike is what is referred to as an "oma-fiets". Translated, this means "granny bike"! hee hee.

Two more nights in Utrecht. And Monday night doesn't count, since going with the usual pattern I likely won't sleep and anyway, I have to be on the road by 7ish to get to Schipol by 8:45 to catch my flight to London. Then I have to find a job, a bank and a place to live. My muscles are tensing at the very thought, and I've had this low-level-of-anxiety thing knotting up my neck all day.

On the plus side, I'm still here! Today we climbed up the Dom Tower, which is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. It also had the biggest bells. Was the bishop compensating for something?... Anyway, the climb cost 6 euros but in my opinion was more than worth it. For one thing, we got a guided tour, and the guide repeated part of it in English and also answered questions. Worth a lot when you can't read the language on the signs! The tower is more than 112 meters tall (and what seemed like a zillion stairs high). You can climb all the way to the top, and the in the last part the stairs actually wind upwards inside a pillar! As you can imagine, it's a very very narrow spiral staircase, and it actually made Steph a bit claustrophobic.

The first thing you see up the tower is the bishop's chapel, then we stopped to see the bells. They are ENORMOUS- taller than me, and must have been almost 2 meters across. They're made of bronze and are 500 years old. The church dates from the 1300s, and it took 61 years to complete the tower. The bottom walls are 4 meters thick! Anyway, the tower was part of the Domkerk, the main Utrecht church. It was a cross shape: the top of the cross and the arms were built first, then the tower was constructed, but the middle bottom of the cross shape was missing. Eventually they filled in the missing part of the church, but by this time Catholocism was on its way out and the middle part of the chuch was built with cheaper materials and no buttresses. Then, in 1674, a huge windstorm blew through Utrecht and destroyed much of the town. It blew down the newest part of the church entirely, leaving the foreshortened cathedral and the Domtower separated. The rubble lay there for 150 years, as no one wanted the expense of cleaning it up! Finally the area was cleaned out, and now there is a square there, with trees. However, you can still see the dark spots on the pavement where the pillars and walls of the old church stood.

Anyway, the tower was well worth the climb for the amazing view of Utrecht. It was hazy and rainy, but apparently on a clear day you can see to Amsterdam!

Yesterday was a very busy day. The weather did NOT cooperate, thus crushing our plans of going down to Zeeland. We went to Amsterdam instead, and managed to hit three museums in one day! (That Museumjaarkaarte was a brilliant purchase). The first was the Sexmuseum, which was something else. Then we moved on to the Rijksmuseum. Sadly, most of it was closed for renovations (5 years of renovations!) but the main collection is still open. Saw an amazing dollhouse and some Rembrandts and many, many other paintings and sculptures.

We had lunch in the garden of the Rijksmuseum and moved on to the van Gogh Museum, where we once again got in free with our cards. (The Dutch pronounce this name much differently, which is very confusing. "fan HOUH" with a lot of gutterals). This museum was brilliant - I really enjoyed it. Lots of great van Goghs, of course. My favorites were the ones he did while in the asylum. Not so much pictures as big clumps of painted emotion. Very interesting. They also had van Gogh's collection of prints by Hiroshige, a Japanese artist who I happen to love, so that was serendipitous. Also, both museums had explanations in both English as well as Dutch, making them much more interesting to me.

There was also an exhibit on Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I like his pictures very much, and I really enjoyed this. Many many pictures of red-haired ladies! By this time we could barely stand and had been museuming for nearly seven hours, so we caught the tram back to the train station and headed homeward.

The other thing I didn't get around to writing about was our trip to the Utrecht watertower. This is a very strange tower that looks like a giant brick chess rook (I swear!) that is close to Steph's house. Since we got in free, we stopped by to have a look. The museum was manned by a very friendly retired guy who spoke about twenty words of English. With that and Rem's twenty words of Dutch, and a lot of gestures, we managed to get along quite well. The tower has a little museum in it, with some cool old things to do with water (half an old street cleaner, many washing machines, and a Victorian commode that hides in a chest of drawers!) When we came back down there were a few more men there, one of whom could translate. The old guy gave us some free tea, and we sat around and had a very fun chat in broken Dutch and broken English. It was great to talk to someone who was so eager to talk to us, and so excited when we tried any Dutch at all, or when we managed to understand what he meant. It was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had in any museum.

To see Remkes' perspective on the same week, see his weblog .

backwards ~ onwards

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Missed anything?
moved! - 2008-05-12
Sunday = time to ramble on - 2008-05-11
apparently I'm doing monthly updates these days. Sorry. - 2008-05-04
watershed - 2008-04-06
end of trip - 2008-03-31

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