Sunday, January 31, 2016

A hike with more than one Boa Vista

a different angle than one normally sees it

 Panoramic view from Boa Vista (and yes, you can click
on the image to view an enlarged version of it) :)

With temperatures having risen to significantly more comfortable levels today from last Sunday and even earlier in the week, my regular hiking buddies declared themselves ready and willing to venture into the Hong Kong countryside this afternoon with me; and this even though today's weather forecast included mention of "rain patches".

As it so happened, not a single drop of rain fell on us on our Tai Tam Country Park hike which took us from Quarry Bay to the Tai Tam Reservoirs via Mount Parker Road and Boa Vista.  And so warm did I feel from my exertions that early on during the hike, I decided that I could take off my sweatshirt and just do with a single T-shirt layer (though it's also true enough that later on in the afternoon, I not only put that sweater back on but also added a windcheater to the clothing equation)!       

Then there were the ultra windy conditions we encountered a couple of times during the hike. The first time around, my two friends and I could hear that we were approaching an open area minutes before we actually got there!  Then when we stood atop Boa Vista, the wind blew so strongly that the smallest of us said afterwards she thought she was going to get blown off that 260-meter-high hill -- and I swear that after I put my backpack down on the ground, I saw it being moved by the gusts of wind we encountered up on that exposed hilltop!

Despite the strong winds that we encountered while up there, my friends and I were in agreement that being atop Boa Vista, from where commanding panoramic views are to be had, was the highpoint of today's hike.  And because the trail up the hill isn't signposted (like with High West, another Hong Kong Island hill from atop which stupendous views also are to be had), there's the bonus of feeling like you've been let in on a wonderful secret when you find out about it!

Incidentally, I learnt today that the Chinese name of Boa Vista (which means "Good View" in Portuguese) translates into English as "wild boar trail" and am moved to wonder whether the person who did the translating heard "boar" instead of "boa" when told the hill's "English" name!  If so, this might explain why so few people think of going up Boa Vista and the section of unpaved trail on the southern side of Mount Parker that looks to have been given the same name as the nearby hill.

Of course another possibility is that the Chinese name for Boa Vista attests to it being a place where wild boars are to be found.  In which case I have to say that I'm really glad that we didn't spot any this afternoon -- because wild boars on top of strong winds would have made for a far too scary situation for me to deal with atop that hill! ;( 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My first bicycle ride in Hong Kong!

View of Lek Yuen Bridge from 
a Sha Tin area riverside bicycle path

The day I biked from Sha Tin to Wu Kai Sha (and back)
was one with lovely weather and beautiful blue skies :)

 Its water may not be the cleanest in the world 
but there are brave souls willing to crew on the 
Shing Mun River Channel as well as jog alongside it!

Since I returned from the Netherlands earlier this month, dry, beautiful blue sky days have been few and far between; what with this January not only having had unusually cold days but also being unusually wet.  So when the rare day with dry weather and comfortable temperatures has come along, I've made a point to go outdoors and enjoy the sun and the creature comforts it brings along with it.

As an example, today saw me spending a few hours on a beach in Cheung Chau; and even though it was to do some beach cleaning rather than sunbathing, I did manage to have a good -- and also fulfilling -- time.  Then there was the day a few days after I returned from Amsterdam when, inspired by bicyclists galore I saw in action over in the Netherlands, I decided to go on my first ever bicycle ride in Hong Kong.

Looking back, it seems a bit strange that I'd go on a bicycle ride in the Japanese countryside before I'd go on a bike ride in the Big Lychee.  I guess it's because it seems so much easier to go hiking in Hong Kong than go hiking in Japan or bike riding in the "Fragrant Harbour"!  

Still, once I actually determined to do it,  I found that going and renting a bicycle in Hong Kong isn't all that difficult to do -- and seems quite reasonable too, with the Tai Wai bike shop I rented my mechanical ride from charging HK$70 a day on a weekday (and HK$80 -- i.e., HK$10 more -- on weekends).  

From what I've heard, the most popular leisure cycling route in Hong Kong takes one from Tai Wai -- or Sha Tin itself -- northwards to Tai Po.  Rather than go along that 16 kilometer route on my first Hong Kong bike ride, I opted, instead, to go from Tai Wai westwards to Wu Kai Sha -- a shorter route one way, except that I ended up riding there and back again since the bike shop I rented my bicycle from didn't have a branch in Ma On Shan; so ended up riding around 16 kilometers in total!

What with conditions including cool (rather than cold or hot) temperatures and fairly low humidity levels, it really was a very pleasant maiden bicycling outing in Hong Kong for me.  I really enjoyed the breeze that I felt as I peddled away on the bicycle.  At the same time, I also had no compunction in stopping every so often to admire the view, take photos and just enjoy being out on a beautiful day.

As I got to realizing, in certain parts of Hong Kong, there do exist bike paths that are well designed, marked and maintained.  The thing though is that, unlike with the Netherlands, bicycling is considered a leisure activity rather than an actual means of transportation that could actually be preferred to, say, taking a bus, train or tram, or even walking.  

I guess the sense among the authorities is that Hong Kong doesn't possess ideal weather conditions for regular bicycling, what with there being a not insignificant amount of rainfall annually.  On the other hand, as I think I am experienced now to say, the Netherlands isn't exactly dry as a desert either -- and yet the bicyclist is most definitely king there (and the country's king being among its millions of cyclists)! ;D

Friday, January 29, 2016

Vignettes from a day out in The Hague (Photo-essay)

After spending a week in Amsterdam, I was raring to see other parts of the Netherlands.  So my German friend and I got an earlier start than usual one morning in order to spend a day out in The Hague.  Located 50 kilometers south of Amsterdam, the Netherlands' seat of government and third largest city feels both more stylish and quieter than the country's largest city and capital.  

Blessed with wider avenues and less crowded streets than Amsterdam, strolling about The Hague's historical inner city was a real pleasure.  And even though we did do some more museum-going on this day trip, we also did spend time exploring the city itself and doing such as gazing into interesting shop fronts, occasionally venturing inside a few stores (including a wonderful-smelling bakery!), gaping at impressive old buildings and -- of course! -- posing a certain cute puppet plushy in some unlikely places! ;b

Just a small section of the bicycle park 
outside The Hague's central railway station!

So many tempting attractions, so little time ;(

 New and old architecture mix well together, as viewed from 
the central square known simply as Plein (i.e. Square)

Among the buildings lining the Plein are ones that house cafes,
and also government departments like the Department of Justice!

Unbelievably, Puppet Ponyo was able to get up close to,
and pose by, the main door of the Ministry of Defence! :O 

View from the Mauritshuis of a tower of the former castle that now 
part of the surrounding moat and nearby buildings

At the Binnenhof, Puppet Ponyo posed in front of the Ridderzaal 
(Hall of Knights) that I had initially figured was a church or cathedral

 And here's the incorrigible one eyeing the doorknob
of the main door to the king's cabinet! :O

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tasty Dutch foods beyond savory and sweet pancakes

A nice selection of yummy Dutch bar snacks :b 

Of the five plates of delicious food on the almost-too-small table, 
three of them were mine, mine, MINE! ;b

Fast food, often fried, ready to be dispensed Dutch style!

Decades ago when I used to spend quite a bit of time in England, I came to know of a restaurant in London called My Old Dutch whose specialties included savory as well as sweet pancakes.  As it so happened, I didn't have any pancakes on my recent visit to the Netherlands.  Still, I actually did eat a lot of Dutch food over the course of the trip; and the only times (twice!) I ate anything Asian while there, it was in Indonesian restaurants serving rijstaffel -- which, while composed of often familiar Indonesian/Malay dishes (such as gado gado and rendang), is considered to be a by-product of Dutch colonialism.

Despite partaking of the generous breakfast spread that the Amsterdam hotel that I stayed in laid out daily, I still ended up also having lunch and dinner every day that I was in the Netherlands.  Often times, I'd just have a sandwich at lunchtime but there were days I was hungrier and ordered more substantial fare like snert, a pea soup so thick that it seemed more of a stew than its name makes it seem.  Oh, and vegetarians should beware: this pea soup also has chunks of meat sausage in it as well as carrots and such, and is frequently served with a piece of bacon atop a slice of buttered bread!

Something I had every day (at breakfast, lunch or dinner) while in the Netherlands was cheese.  The Hotel Larende's breakfast options included Gouda but also Turkish white cheese.  Often times too, I'd find a slice of cheese in a sandwich I ordered.  In addition, cheese cut into small cubes and meant to be dipped in mustard is a popular bar snack that I ordered more than once while drinking and dining out at such as an old brown cafe, the wonderful Brouwerij Het Ij's convivial pub or an atmospheric cafe-restaurant located in the historic De Waag.  

Probably the culinary highlight of my Dutch trip were the two dozen oysters in total that I ate while there.  On two occasions, I was served French oysters.  But I actually do reckon that the most delicious of these shellfish that I sampled in the Netherlands were the Zeeland oysters that came from the territory's own shores.  (And lover of a bargain that I am, I have to say how happy I was to see very fresh oysters priced so much more cheaply than is the case in Hong Kong!)

Something else served raw that I found very much to my liking was ossenworst, chunks of raw (yes, really!) meat that I saw translated on one menu as ox tongue and on others as beef.  In any case, eaten by itself, dipped in mustard or as the filling of a sandwich, I totally was won over by this Dutch delicacy I didn't know existed prior to my setting foot on Dutch soil.

A Dutch culinary specialty that I knew about before I went to the Netherlands and definitely wanted to try was bitterballen.  I had seen photos of it and seen it described as like fried meatballs.  But as I found out, the inside is actually more "liquidy" than the dry burger type filling that I had expected to see and eat -- and, actually, quite a bit tastier!

Although I had heard about the Dutch loving chocolate sprinkles, and even having that on toast for breakfast, I actually didn't have any on my visit.  Neither did I eat any herring or get any chips from the stalls that just seemed too open to the elements for my liking on a cold winter's day or night!  And while I like the look of FEBO's automated wall dispensers, I have to admit to thinking that food from there might not be all that tasty, never mind good for me!

Not having as much of a sweet tooth as many people (including, it would seem, the average Dutch person), I also didn't eat too many sweet things while in the Netherlands.  At the same time, I felt like I needed to try the famous stroopwafel, crispy waffle-type cookies with oozy caramel inside of them.  So I ended up buying a tin of it -- complete with an illustration of cross-mouthed Miffy along with a windmill and other quintessentially Dutch emblems on the tin -- and have to say that they really are a most inspired culinary creation! ;b

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Amsterdam's semi-hidden De Krijtberg

A physically impresive church which wasn't mentioned
in either my German friend's or my Amsterdam guidebooks!
The light at the time of the day that we visited
created some interesting visual effects
There's much within the church 
that catches the eye (too)!
Some five and a half years ago now, I went and spent time in Germany with my German friend who had recently returned to Deutschland after living and working in Hong Kong for a little over seven years.  Eager to show me some of her country's most famous sights, she took me to several cities, villages and towns, including the historic cathedral town of Speyer.
In many of these places, we'd inevitably visit at least one cathedral or church.  And I have to be honest and admit that I got "churched" out fairly early on!  Consequently, on the day that we went to Speyer (where we visited three churches in addition to its UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral), I told her that from now on, I was going to limit her to showing me "only" a maximum of three churches and cathedrals a day -- and I can remember this "rule" causing her much stress in Mainz, where there apparently were so many Christian places of worship that she wanted to take me to!
On my second trip to Germany and our first visit to Luxembourg in December 2015, that onus to visit churches and cathedrals remained strong.  So it was with some surprise that I got to realizing that it wasn't until my seventh day in the Netherlands that I visited my first churches and such in that country!  
As it turned out, the first two Christian places of worship I visited in Amsterdam were the "hidden church" and English Reformed Church located within the enclosed courtyard of the Begijnhof.  Then, shortly after my German friend, American friend and I left the Beginjhof's confines and I was admiring the late afternoon sky, my gaze was led -- seemingly by divine intervention! -- to an impressive nearby building whose identity was not disclosed in any of our tourist maps or guidebook but turned out to be a church built in 1881 on the grounds of yet another of those "hidden churches" which the Catholics resorted to worshipping in for a time after the Reformation and the founding of the largely Protestant Dutch Republic.

A Jesuit church dedicated to the St Francis Xavier who had done missionary work in several parts of Asia (and whose body was buried for a time in Malacca's St Paul's Church, and some relics remain installed in one of Macau's churches), De Krijtberg stands out from its neighboring buildings, thanks in no small part to its two 55-feet-high towers.  Built in the Neo-Gothic style, it's quite a bit bigger than it looks, due to only one side of its building being visible from the street.  On a related note: its exterior only hints at how impressive its generously decorated interior looks.

Seriously threatened with demolition in the 1970s, De Krijtberg was thankfully restored instead -- with that work finally being completed only in 2001.  I may not be all that religious but I do recognize human artistry.  And this is one of those churches that I'd consider a glorious work of art even while realizing that for some people, it's first and foremost a place of worship. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Historic hofjes in Amsterdam and beyond

Puppet Ponyo poses at the entrance to the Beginjhof,
built as a hofje for beguines (devout women)

The office of the head administrator of the former hofje whose 

The serene buildings of another hofje -- this one
located in Haarlem

On the same day that my German friend and I visited Amsterdam's royal palace, the two of us and my American friend also went and checked out the Beginjhof located just a few minutes' walk away.  An enclosed courtyard with some buildings dating back to the 14th century, it was a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood whose members lived like nuns even though they didn't take up those specific religious vows.     

The 47 buildings that surround the courtyard are still occupied by single women, many of them elderly -- and there are signs requesting that visitors be quiet and refrain from taking photos while in the locale (which also includes a "hidden church" and an English Reformed Church which has been in existence since 1607).  Unfortunately, few of the visitors -- the majority of whom appeared to be European (rather than misbehaving Mainland Chinese tourists!) -- that were there when my two friends and I were in the area actually complied with those requests.  

So while I can imagine that the Beginjhof could be a serene place during those times of the day when it's closed to the public, I get the impression that its residents have had to reconcile themselves to their residential area not being as much of an oasis of calm in the city as they'd like during those times when that inner court area is open to the public.  I guess this is the not entirely unexpected downside of living in very pleasant historic buildings located in the heart of a city which attracts millions of tourists annually.  Still, what a pity that it has had to come to this!

As it so happens, the day before we visited the Beginjhof, my American friend and I also had gotten acccess into the buildings of another former Amsterdam hofje.  Established in the 17th century to provide shelter for 400 needy women, the Amstelhof (or Deanery Home for Old Women) is now home to the Dutch branch of Russia's Hermitage; and it was to that museum that my friend and I had gone to see the impressive Spanish Masters from the Golden Age: The World of El Greco, Ribero, Zurbaran, Velazquez, Murillo and Goya special exhibition which runs there through to May of this year.

Much of the former Amstelhof has been converted into exhibition halls and other spaces for the use of the Hermitage Amsterdam.  But a few rooms remain that serve as reminders of the buildings' former history as an almshouse, including a large hall where the residents attended church services but also had their meals, a kitchen located in the cellar restored to give an idea of what it was like in the 18th century, and the office of the governess (i.e., female head of the Amstelhof).

A few days later, when my German friend and I visited the nearby city of Haarlem, we came across another couple of hofjes.  My Frommer's guidebook states that "Amsterdam has many secret courtyards surrounded by almshouses".  But to judge from what we saw in Haarlem, there appear to be a number of hofjes that are installed in far less secret locations in the Netherlands than the Beginjhof which I reckon lots of people would overlook or be unable to locate if not for the sign posts directing visitors to it!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Amsterdam's very accessible Royal Palace! (Photo-essay)

When my German friend and I visited Luxembourg in December 2014, we were surprised to discover that its Palais Grand Ducal was located in a central area of the capital city, with souvenir shops and eateries as well as the high court building and the home of its national legislature located within a stone's throw of the Luxembourg ruler's official residence.  

If anything, the Royal Palace Amsterdam appears to be situated even closer to "the masses" -- with it abutting Dam Square, where tourists, hot dog and hamburger sellers and buskers dressed like Darth Vader and Death abound!  Even more amazingly, I never saw anything approaching the Dutch equivalent of, say, the bearskin-hatted sentries at Buckingham Palace -- whose daily Changing of the Guards ceremony I loved watching as a child -- outside the palace. Also, there didn't seem to be all that many security guards about when my German friend and I went and visited the publicly accessible sections of this royal residence!

Something else I found interesting about that which is known in Dutch as either the Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam or Paleis op de Dam is that its building had originally been constructed as Amsterdam's town hall -- and, in fact, had that function from 1648 to 1808.  One look at the photos of its interior below, though, and I think you'll agree that it actually is pretty palatial looking all the same...even if also creepy at times! ;b

 View of Amsterdam's royal palace from Dam Square
on the kind of gray day that was the norm when I was in the city

No I was not kidding about spotting Darth Vader 
at Dam Square, and in front of the royal palace! ;)
Walk in to the palace -- particular its Citizens' Hall -- though, 
and you'll feel like you've been transported into a different world!
At one end of the hall can be found this dramatic scene,

On top of that group of statues is a giant one
of Atlas holding the celestial globe
What by palatial standards is a more workaday room ;b
while sitting on the very chair behind it -- and in so doing, 
passed on the Dutch throne to her son Willem-Alexander
In truth, such as these sculptures in the room known as the tribunal 
gave me the creeps, and had me wondering why royals would choose 
to live in this building, however grand parts of it really is! ;O

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walking from Tsuen Wan to Sham Tseng on an unusually cold day in Hong Kong!

 Is that a noise barrier in the above photo?

Whatever they are, these predominantly orange-colored 
structures sure are eye-catching!

So too is the Ting Kau Bridge, whether viewed from
a vehicle passing along it or from down below! ;b

One summer afternoon some years back, I went and visited the Airport Core Programme Exhibition Centre at Ting Kau.  Because it was a pretty pleasant day, I decided to walk along the nearby roadside and do such as check out a few of the nearby beaches, including Lido Beach, from where one can get stunning views of the Ting Kau Bridge and Tsing Ma Bridge.

While strolling along what various signs got me realizing was a portion of the waterfront walkway between Tsuen Wan and Sham Tseng, I told myself that I'd return to walk the whole route on a cooler day.  Well, it finally happened today -- and it definitely was a cooler day.  Still, I have to admit that I never thought that it would be so much colder -- as in this turning out to be a day where certain parts of Hong Kong had subzero temperatures and frost, and temperatures were in the low single digits at sea level!      

Although the Hong Kong Observatory had issued warnings earlier this week that this weekend would be on the cold side, I don't think even its weather forecasters realized that the chill would be record-breaking: i.e., today's temperatures are the coldest recorded in Hong Kong in close to 60 years!  Many "frost tourists" who had gone up to places like Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong's highest mountain, were most definitely caught unawares by the icy conditions to be found on higher ground -- and needed to be rescued by firefighters from the cold (and, it would seem, their own stupidity).

Another way of getting a good gauge as to how cold it was -- and felt, with strong winds blowing and such -- today was that all my regular hiking buddies bailed on me!  Wanting to spend some time outdoors this Sunday rather than just freeze in my flat (with its thin, non-insulated walls, etc.), I ended up joining a meetup group for an afternoon stroll from Tsuen Wan to Sham Tseng, where we'd  visit the Garden bakery's plant (within which can be found a nice cafeteria and exhibit area as well as a store where one could buy its products). 

Although the afternoon was predicted to be dry, it drizzled down for a good portion our walk.  In all honesty though, none of our party of eight appeared to mind too much about this.  Instead, we enjoyed the brisk air, cool sights (which, for me, at least, included views of noise barriers and bridges from angles that I don't normally get to see these structures) and fun conversations we engaged in as we strolled along the scenic waterfront walkway.  

And for the record: I don't think I felt warmer at any point today then when we were in the Garden bakery cafeteria partaking of hot drinks and such as (in my case) a Cornish pasty which, given that it was made as well as consumed several thousands of kilometers and miles away from Cornwall, actually was not bad at all! ;b

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Patrick Kong's unglamorous Anniversary (film review)

One of the posters for Anniversary
which I've seen about Hong Kong
Anniversary (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Patrick Kong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Alex Fong Lik Sun, Stephy Tang, Leila Tong, Louis Cheung, Rachel Lee
"Do you really have to?"  That was the question a friend asked when I told him that I wanted to see Patrick Kong's latest film before I wrote up my top ten 2015 Hong Kong movies list.  And while Anniversary not being among my favorite Hong Kong movies of last year may appear to vindicate my friend's low opinion of the scriptwriter-director's filmmaking abilities, I do want to state for the record that I honestly don't consider this particular offering to be a throwaway work which was a waste of time to view!  
The fourth film from Patrick Kong which stars Alex Fong Lik Sun and Stephy Tang, Anniversary centres on a pair of 30something-year-olds whose marriage of 10 years has gone rather stale. Distinctly more dramatic than romantic, this at times thought-provoking work helps to cement its filmmaker's reputation as a guru of modern relationships as well as makes a case for his being better at drama than comedy (despite his often being called upon to helm lighter -- and arguably consequently more crowd-pleasing -- works). 
An ambitious career woman, wedding planner Bo (the name all of Stephy Tang's characters in the four films directed by Patrick Kong in which she's appeared alongside Alex Fong) appears to spend more time and energy on her work than her man.  And although the distinctly less professionally ambitious Keung (which also happened to be the name of Alex Fong's character in L for Love, L for Lies, the third Patrick Kong movie in which he co-starred with Stephy Tang) clearly is not happy with the state of his marriage, he nonetheless hasn't done much to try to remedy matters.      
Initially, it looks like Bo and Keung are surrounded by people who have been unsuccessful in the game of love.  For example, her father abandoned her mother (Rachel Lee, previously known as Loletta Lee during her younger, sexier days!) and their two daughters while Keung's father appears to be a henpecked husband saddled with a battleaxe wife.  And when suspicions gets added into the mix that one half of the couple is cheating on the other, Bo and Keung's marriage looks like it's headed up for a breakup before long.
More than once, however, Anniversary shows that things, and people, often aren't like they seem to be on the surface, or at first glance.  Among the positive instances are those which show that sometimes, it's not uselessly naive to hope that a person or relationship can take a turn for the better.  At the same time though, the point is also made more than once in this movie that there are indeed times when one has to actively work at a relationship in order to increase its chances of enduring.  And by doing so, its scriptwriter-director bestows a certain mature tone to this drama that also made the film and many of its character appear more realistic than is often the case with many a commercial production.
To be sure, stylistically, Anniversary is never much more than workmanlike. At the same time though, Patrick Kong has got good performances out of many of the film's cast members; with Leila Tong (who plays Bo's best friend) standing out, particularly in a heart-tugging scene which takes place in her young daughter's bedroom.  Cantopop singer-actress Stephy Tang also deserves kudos for her willingness to portray a character who is hard to like at times, and just plain hard-hearted in others.  Lastly, while Alex Fong Lik Sun may not have the strong cinematic presence of Alex Fong Chung Sun, he shows in this movie that he has considerably more acting ability than would be expected of a good-looking former swimming champion! :b
My rating for this film: 6.5

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nature abounds in Amsterdam, particularly De Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam! (Photo-essay)

Although I did manage to venture to other parts of the Netherlands beyond just Amsterdam and Schipol Airport on my recent visit to the country, I only glimpsed its countryside from aboard trains moving between cities and towns.  Thanks to a visit to De Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, however, I did manage to spend some time appreciating natural sights on thjs recent European trip.  

Actually, on our way to this treasure trove of a botanical garden, my American friend and I had spotted some wild winged creatures, including the kind of herons who don't look too different from ones I've seen in Hong Kong and Japan, in the vicinity!  And while we're on the subject of birds: the flocks of seagulls in many different parts of Amsterdam, including the Museumplein, served as a constant reminder that Amsterdam is a former fishing village that grew over the centuries into a major port-city...

Not the kind of large wild bird you expect to catch sight of
perched on a tree in a major world city, right?!

 Can you tell which of the birds in the above photo 
are real and which are not? ;b

 This botanical garden which was founded in 1638
is home to a number of wonderful greenhouses

The large Three Climate Greenhouse has a very cool 
overhead walkway that gives ones great views
from high up of the abundant foliage arrayed below
Upon approaching the Hortus Botanicus' Butterfly Greenhouse,
I could scarcely believe my eyes upon catching sight of 
the South American Glasswing Butterfly! :O
Their flitting can frustrate when you try to photograph them
but it's really hard to not find butterflies attractive, right? :)
Puppet Ponyo looked enchanted, perhaps even ecstatic, 
upon being able to get up so close to a group of butterflies :)
On the other hand, no way was she going to go near
these seriously scary-looking Venus flytraps! ;O

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Rembrandt House Museum: yet another "must visit" Amsterdam museum for art lovers

Amsterdam's Rembrandt House Museum is packed
with paintings and people!

The 17th century building that now houses the museum
was the abode for around 20 years of Rembrandt von Rijn

This very room in the house was Rembrandt's studio,
chosen because it had perfect lighting in his eyes!

A couple of days after my German friend and I spent many hours gazing at great art in the Rijkmuseum, including more than one masterpiece by Rembrandt von Rijn, the two of us -- together with my friend from America who I also met up with in Amsterdam -- went and checked out the Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House Museum) located in the very house that the Dutch Old Master had lived and worked between 1639 and 1658.

An elegant town house where Rembrandt painted, taught (he had several pupils and apprentices), and bought and sold artworks by others as well as himself, the 17th century structure looks like it'd be a most comfortable place to live and work in now as well as then.  However, it appeared to be an ill-fated place for the master artist: with his beloved first wife, Saskia, dying there in 1642; three of the four couple's four children not having managed to survive beyond their first two months of life; and Rembrandt becoming bankrupt and needing to move out of the house in 1658.

Much of the house has been restored to resemble how it would have been when Rembrandt lived there; making it easy to do such as imagine the artist working in the airy, bright room he specifically selected to be his studio.  Potential visitors should know though that the bulk of the artwork found at this museum actually are not Rembrandt's creations.  Instead, they are by his contemporaries -- and are the kind of works that he would have bought and sold as an art dealer.   

In many ways, it's easy to think of the Rembrandt House Museum as the opposite of the Van Gogh Museum (which my German friend and I had visited one day earlier).  For one thing, whereas the Rembrandt House Museum contains few paintings by Rembrandt, the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world's largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh.  For another, whereas it's easy to imagine Rembrandt moving through the rooms of the museum that bears his name, the Van Gogh Museum is housed in modern buildings erected decades after the painter's death.

Something else that struck me is that even while the Rembrandt is a highly respected artist whose works surely are world famous, the Rembrandt House Museum has a more "local" and "personal" feel to it than the considerably larger, much more well known and, frankly, distinctly commercial feeling Van Gogh Museum.  Put another way: I got the principal aim of the Rembrandt House Museum was to have its visitors learn (more) about Rembrandt's life and times (using such as free audio guides) but, in contrast, felt that the main goal of the Van Gogh Museum (inside whose galleries, more than incidentally, photography was not allowed) may be a toss up between ensuring that the institution stays profitable and showcasing the work of the Dutch post-Impressionist artist whose name it bears.

In conclusion: it's true that a visit to Amsterdam for the art lover won't feel complete without having visited the Van Gogh Museum which, after all, is home to such famous works as The Potato Eaters, Irises and one of my personal favorites of van Gogh's works, The Bedroom, and had a special exhibition while I was there on Edward Munch and van Gogh that looked at parallels in the two men's art and lives.  But the Rembrandt House Museum is significantly more atmospheric and consequently interesting in its own way.  And the Rijksmuseum absolutely cannot be beat in terms of sheer quantity but also quality of art works on display, and quality of curation too.