Of course, if you truly are a fan of Rembrandt, you really need to go to Museum het Rembrandthuis, or the Rembrandt House Museum. Located in Amsterdam on Jodenbreestraat, it is where Rembrandt lived from 1639 until 1658.
The museum provides an excellent window into how Rembrandt lived and worked. It is able to do this because there exists a comprehensive inventory of Rembrandt’s possessions and furnishings.
Why does such an inventory exist?
Because the guy went bankrupt. His possessions and the house were sold in 1658, after which Rembrandt rented a smaller house in another part of the city. He lived there until his death in 1669.
The house on Jodenbreestraat was bought by the city of Amsterdam in the early 1900s, and opened as a museum in 1911.
I’ve written before how much I like smaller art museums dedicated to a single artist; this museum is one of my favourites and I visit it every time I come to Amsterdam. The building next door to the original house is now a gallery where Rembrandt’s etchings are displayed. As fascinating as the reconstructed living rooms and studio are, the experience of seeing a roomful of Rembrandt’s etchings is easily the highlight of a visit to the Rembrandt House Museum.
Vermeer gets a lot of attention in this country, but then, so does Rembrandt van Rijn. He was born in Leiden and The Night Watch is arguably the most famous of famous Dutch paintings.
And so, when I went to Leiden, I decided to follow the Rembrandt trail. It’s not much of a trail, but it provided a nice structure to my four-hour walk through Leiden.
First stop: Rembrandt’s birthplace. The house is no longer standing, but here’s a plaque to mark the spot. Rembrandt lived here until he was 25.
Turn around, and you see this tableau in a little square called Rembrandtpark.
The building in the centre of this next photo is the Latin School, which Rembrandt began attending at age 10. All classes and exams were conducted in Latin, and it was here that Rembrandt had his first drawing lessons.
And the mill in this last photo is located directly across the Rhine River from the house where Rembrandt grew up. Rembrandt’s father was a miller and although this was not his mill, it is a reconstruction of one that stood on this spot when Rembrandt was a boy.
Rembrandt was a tad more prolific than Vermeer — it is thought he made about 300 paintings and 400 etchings in all. When I look at the above photo, what I see in my mind’s eye are the many landscapes he did of the Dutch countryside.
I found another one! (A beautiful medieval Dutch town, that is.)
This time it was Leiden, about 40 minutes from Amsterdam. I’d first noticed how beautiful Leiden is while passing through it on a train during a previous visit to the Netherlands. So I added it to my mental list of places to check out some day.
Leiden is larger than both Gouda and Delft, but still compact and easily walkable. Like Gouda and Delft, it has lovely canals and bridges and beautiful buildings — just more of them. Like Haarlem, it has an impressive church. (Two, actually.)
And like all three, it seems to be a popular wedding destination, but maybe more so, as I counted five weddings in my four-hour wander through the town.
Here is one wedding procession I passed.
And here is another, but in this case, the stretch limo was no match for the curved canal bridge. The bridal party had to get out and walk to their wedding venue.
Which was here: at the Botanical Gardens.
The gardens are lovely to walk through.
They are famous because of this fellow, Carolus Clusius. It was his study of the tulip that made the Dutch mad for the flower. He was not the first to cultivate tulips in the Netherlands (they were brought over by traders from present-day Turkey in the sixteenth century), but his work made them famous.
Clusius was a botanist and a professor at Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands. Two of its distinguished alumni include Descartes and Rembrandt (although apparently Rembrandt did not bother to attend any classes).
This is the university’s academic building, which is next door to the Botanical Gardens where Clusius worked.
One of the wedding parties I passed by took place in an outdoor café beneath this tower, which is part of the Stadhuis, or town hall. Trowestraatje means “little street of faithfulness” — an appropriate name for a street in the shadow of the Stadhuis, I thought. That’s because all weddings in the Netherlands, including church weddings, must start with a visit to the registry office for the marriage to be official. I saw another wedding procession gathered on the front steps to the Stadhuis just around the corner from where I took this photo.
This next photo is of the Koornbrug (Corn Bridge). It got its name from the fact that it was where the corn market was held (which is why it is a covered bridge — to keep the product dry in case of rain).
Leiden also has what’s called a burcht, or citadel, that dates back to the eleventh century. It’s on top of a small hill and its ramparts offer an excellent view over the entire city. Which is where I took this photo from.
What a view.
Leiden calls itself the “City of Discoveries.” Which is so appropriate in my case as it was most definitely a new discovery for me.
I’m so glad I stopped by.
If you are stuck for time, Haarlem might be the most convenient day trip you can make from Amsterdam, because it’s a mere 15 minutes away on the train. In fact, it’s so close you can cycle to it, enjoy a nice lunch and a wander around, and then cycle back to Amsterdam in time for dinner.
Which is exactly what my friend and I did. (Those are our bikes locked to the railing in the photo below.)
But if you only have a few hours, take the train and go for coffee. Haarlem is that close.
You’re all wondering how I could write a post on Delft and not make a single mention of one of its most famous residents.
That would be Johannes Vermeer, born in Delft in 1632, died in Delft in 1675. Painted maybe 35 paintings (that we know of), three of which are in the Frick in New York. (I still can’t believe that one collector got his hands on 8 percent of Vermeer’s oeuvre.)
If you’re a fan of Vermeer’s work, you might want to start your day in Delft at the Vermeer Centrum. It’s a small museum dedicated to his life and work.
One particularly innovative display allows you to put yourself in his studio, as if you were the subject of one of his paintings.
Be sure to ask at the front entrance for a map of the Vermeer Trail. It’s a self-guided walking tour of all the places in Delft significant to the life of Vermeer.
Including this street scene, supposedly the setting of The Little Street. My friend and I concluded it was a bit of a stretch — if it was the setting, both of the houses on either side have been completely rebuilt. (On the other hand, not far from this street is the street where my friend’s father was born and where he claimed The Little Street had been painted.)
One site there is no argument about is where Vermeer was buried. That would be in the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Here’s the memorial stone.
The painting (and book and film) that has renewed interest in Vermeer and his work is The Girl With a Pearl Earring. The shops in Delft are not above exploiting the painting’s popularity.
None of Vermeer’s paintings are located in Delft, sadly. For that, you need to go to The Mauritshuis in Den Haag (some 10 kilometres west of Delft) or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Or the Frick in New York.
I remember being inexplicably excited the night before my first-ever visit to Delft. I was 13 years old and we had been told we would be seeing beautifully stained-glass windows in two very old, very large churches — that may have been the reason — or it may have been the promise of an afternoon on the beach that would follow. (Delft is only 15 kilometres from the North Sea.) Whatever the reason, this small medieval town has stood out in my mind ever since as one of the prettiest I have ever seen.
When I made a return visit many years later, I was disappointed by the torrents of rain that spoiled my day. Wanting to redeem that rainy day ever since, I finally got the chance last week. The weather was spectacular, and Delft was as beautiful and charming as I remembered.
Here, take a look.
One curious sight I definitely did not see on either of my previous visits was the stairway where Willem the Silent, Prince of Orange and founder of the House of Orange-Nassau, was assassinated in 1584. It happened here, in the Prinsenhof (Prince’s Court) — originally a convent, then Willem’s home, and now a museum.
And here are the bullet holes on the wall beside where he was shot.
William of Orange was buried in this magnificent mausoleum in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), beneath which members of the Dutch Royal Family have been laid to rest ever since.
Besides its association with the Dutch Royal Family, another of Delft’s claim to fame is its Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue) pottery. Dutch potters adopted the blue patterns from the China porcelain brought back to the Netherlands by Dutch traders in the seventeenth century. Only one factory, the Royal Delft, remains from the many in existence during the peak of production, but it has been in continuous operation since 1653. You can tour the factory and, if you have money burning a hole in your wallet, the many shops that surround the Grote Markt (Great Market) will be happy to take it off your hands in return for some exquisite pottery.
And here’s a tip from me: if you only have time for one day trip outside of Amsterdam, make it Delft.
The problem with spending a day in Delft is this: how do you choose which photos to post to your blog?
I mean, seriously.
The reason my friend and I decided to go to Gouda last week was the result of a happy accident: we had been invited for dinner at the home of my friend’s cousin, who lives near Bodegraven. And Bodegraven, it turns out, is not far from Gouda.
But then, as I am quickly learning, most places in Holland are not far. (From anywhere.)
So, because we were going to be in the area, we decided to spend the afternoon in Gouda. Once we were finished our bit of sight-seeing and had taken all the photos we could possibly want to take, we hopped on a train to Bodegraven. And then we walked the three kilometres to the next village where my friend’s cousin lived. She advised us to stick to the right bank of the Oude Rijn — it was a much prettier walk, she said.
And that it most certainly was, as you can see from the above photo.
In the house where I grew up, we had two kinds of cheese: Dutch cheese … and everything else. And by Dutch cheese, I of course mean Gouda cheese. (Which is pronounced GHOUW-da, with a guttural “g,” not GOO-da. If the “g” is too much for you, think HOW-da, and stress the “h.”)
But the town of Gouda, I learned last week, has a whole lot more to it than just its cheese.
For one, there’s a pretty impressive Stadhuis, or Town Hall, built way back in the middle of the fifteenth century in the Gothic style.
For another, there’s a pretty impressive church, known as the Grote Kerk (Great Church) or Sint Janskerk. At 123 metres, it is the longest church in the Netherlands.
Hugging the church’s perimeter are many tiny little streets filled with tiny old houses.
These streets are a delight to wander through.
Naturally, Gouda cheese does play a big role in Gouda’s tourism, and the city does a fine job of using it to promote itself.
During the summer months, there is a weekly cheese market (which we did not see) that takes place in front of the Waag or Weigh House.
But I did buy some cheese at the regular Saturday market that was going on in the Markt or market square.
People were first attracted to the area around Gouda by the peat that was plentiful in the nearby swampy marshland and which they harvested. This was back in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. By 1272, Gouda was granted city status. It is less than an hour from Amsterdam by train and well worth a visit.
Even if you’re not as crazy about cheese as I am.
There’s a saying in the Netherlands that I quite like: “God created the earth, but the Dutch made Holland.”
It refers of course to how much of the Netherlands is reclaimed land. Netherlands (or Nederland) means “Low Countries,” which it is. About half of the country lies barely a metre above sea level, and a quarter of the country is reclaimed land that would flood if not for the dykes. The larger areas of reclaimed land are called polders.
Reclaiming land from the sea involves an intricate drainage system of dykes, canals, and pumps. In days gone by, windmills were the pumps.
And that’s the lesson you learn when you visit Kinderdijk. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to 17 windmills that have been pumping water for almost three hundred years. They were supplemented by steam pumps during the nineteenth century, and then, in the last century, they were replaced by electrical pumps.
But now the windmills — the largest concentration of old mills in the Netherlands — remain as a living museum.
Kinderdijk means “children’s dyke” and there are a number of stories about how the name came to be. The one I like best is a simple one: the dyke that was lower than the surrounding dykes was smaller, like a child, and became known as the Kinderdijk.
The Kinderdijk windmills are called “ground sailers” because the sails almost reach the ground. I expect it was a risky business, living in a windmill, as one wrong step could easily end your life.
There are three kinds of windmills at Kinderdijk. The Nederwaard mills (at right in the photo below) were built in 1738 and are made of brick, except for their caps, which are thatched. This cap can be turned, which allows the miller to move the sails so they face the wind. The mills are staggered to make sure they do not steal the wind from the sails of the other mills. One of them has been turned into a museum, furnished as it was during the 1950s when the last miller lived there.
I learned there is nothing quite like the sound of being inside a windmill as its sails turn. Let’s just say there was a whole lot of creaking going on.
The Overwaard mills (at left in the photo above) were built in 1740. They are thatched mills and are not staggered because they are spaced further apart.
The last type of windmill is a wipmolen (hollow post mill), which is the oldest type of windmill in the Netherlands. There is just one of these at Kinderdijk and it too has been turned into a museum.
The wipmolen can also be rotated, which is exactly what this miller is doing.
If you want to see windmills in the Netherlands, Kinderdijk is where you need to be. It is easily accessible from Rotterdam by bus or waterbus and can done as a day trip from Amsterdam.
And if the wind is blowing, as it was when we were there, be assured you will see many of the mills in action.