None of us slept very well on the ferry heading out that night. I was too cold, too hot, then a bit of both while being clammy at the same time, the ship would hit a wave and creak, or the young child next door would wake up and start to cry just as I was ready to doze off.
Undeterred, we had our short breakfast in the cabin, got ready and went down to wait to disembark.
Driving on the coach through the grey, cloudy landscape that was not too dissimilar to an English countryside in the same weather I couldn’t help but think “I can see why he started out with greys and browns in his palette.”
Having seen only small or incredibly overly detailed maps of Amsterdam I had been rather concerned as to how exactly we were going to navigate our way around this maze of streets and canals. In Venice I had to check the map at every corner to see where we were and where we were going.
Thankfully we had all picked up a larger and more easy to read map on the ferry. On alighting the coach we turned right and found ourselves walking up what had to be the widest shopping street in the city. Halfway along it, Primark and C&A were next door neighbours in a delightful juxtaposition of old and new!
That brought us to the main square, the Dam, and the Royal Palace. After a brief wander around we started to head into the main arterial canal area, and that was where the fun started with the bikes. They came from every direction without warning! Without making a sound!
It was the kind of scenario in which you wished you had chameleon eyes so you could see from the back of your head and every other 360-degree angle in between.
We had to yell out “Bike! Bike! Bike! Bike! Bike! Bike!” to each other so often that we started to sound like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, interspersed with the occasional “Tram!" whenever Mam looked in danger of stepping out in front of one.
Somehow we made it through unscathed, grabbing a bag of famous Amsterdam frites on the way, and began the long walk through the art gallery shops along towards the imposing Rijksmuseum.
Cutting through the walkway under the facade of the main building, we found ourselves in a vast open green space. To my slight consternation I could not see a building that looked like the Van Gogh museum, only one way off in the distance that I sincerely hoped was not it.
Then Dad pointed it out to me. It was over to the right at a much nearer distance! The building I was nervously making for was the concert hall.
My e-ticket in my iPhone Wallet scanned in no problem, I bid goodbye to my parents and off I went. It was similar to the main entrance to the Louvre, a massive new underground entrance hall covered in glass. Why do all museums feel the need for that nowadays?
It was a bit overwhelming at first. I did not know where to start. Even with a floor plan it took a while for me to get my bearings. Basically: start at the bottom and work your way up.
It is a simple and effective route both physically and psychologically. You start with the aforementioned earthy browns and greys of "The Potato Eaters", progressing steadily upwards to the giddy, vivid colours of "Almond Blossom", "Irises" and "Sunflowers".
My experience in the National Gallery with "Wheatfield with Cypresses" where the wheat stalks seemed to move as I walked passed them was even more evident here. Everywhere I looked something on the walls was moving as the light caught the thick layers of oil paint.
Though I did have to stifle a laugh on reading the description of "Garden with Courting Couples", his attempt at a Seurat-inspired pointillism technique. After seeing all the other paintings with their large, confident palette knife strokes I found it quite amusing to imagine him trying out the dots for a few moments before getting fed up of it and reverting back to his own method. In the event they are not so much dots as tiny paint stripes in varying directions and thickness.
I even saw a painting that reminded me of a photograph I had taken in the North Yorkshire moors, in a small woodland in the village of Glaisdale. Had I been more selective with my cropping I would have had a very similar composition to “Trees and Undergrowth”. Maybe I should try it along with the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop?
I had taken a small sketchbook and pencil, but the galleries were quite busy so I had to content myself with clumsy, aimless sketches in front of “Almond Blossom”. There was however, a brief but wonderful moment when I found myself with space around me so I took a step to the left to be centre stage in front of this beautiful painting with no one blocking my view or peering over my shoulder.
One of my “must-see” paintings was “Wheatfield with Crows”, his final painting. I walked around the top floor three times in my quest to find it, but was unsuccessful. It later transpired that it had been removed for some restoration work.
Having been sent some birthday money by my two brothers, I made a beeline for the shop. I had an idea of what I wanted and while I stuck with a couple of purchases, most of them fell by the wayside.
I bought two books that were on offer when buying them together: “Draughtsman” and “Painter”. They are two beautiful big books with lots of information and pictures in them but they were awkward to carry on the journey home! I’m sure they’ll be worth it once I dig into them properly.
I also bought an “Almond Blossom” large postcard, a lens wipe and a pale pink, organic cotton t-shirt with the quote “What is done in love is done well”, a mantra I hope to bring to my own work.
Having had my creative fill I headed back upstairs to the entrance hall and was about to take out my phone to call Mam when I saw her approaching the doors. Talk about good timing!
We all had a quick sit down and I had a drink. Mam and Dad had already had both in the Rijksmuseum cafe. Then I navigated us back through the canals to pass Anne Frank's house, then along past the Dam to find a couple of churches Mam wanted to see. Dad and I had a coffee while she went into one little church that was inside what looked like a house.
By then it was time to head back to Central Station for our coach back to the ferry. Mercifully the sea was calm on the return voyage, the cabin beside us was empty and so we all slept well that night.
On our arrival into Newcastle city centre, as we headed through the Monument to get our free coffees from Waitrose with our loyalty cards before catching the bus home, I could not help but be relieved we no longer needed our chameleon "radar" to look out for bikes!