Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Van Gogh, Russian Tanks and the Lost Boy. More Netherlands: Otterlo and Eindhoven

Kroller Muller Museum

As I said before our last trip to Amsterdam was done mainly for me to go to the Van Gogh Museum. We also paid homage to one of our other favorite historical figures, John Adams and stopped by the home he occupied when when he was the Ambassador from the US to Holland. This was in 05, long before people started to take notice of Adam's singular contributions to the founding of our country. Mozart, Van Gogh and Adams would be my dream dinner.

The beauty of Mozart's work is that I can experience it today, just about anywhere. The same with John Adams, as he left behind countless letters and documents which allow me first hand access to his thoughts. These touchstones are not limited by space, I can have the same experience regardless of where I am. It's only my Taurus earth sign nature that requires me to be near places they lived and died.

Art is different. I can access high resolution images of all of Vincent's paintings and I have large book of his complete works. They are poor substitutes. Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of a Van Gogh painting seen with your own eyes. Even a hundred years later, the magic of his genius leaps off the canvas when you are inches from the exact spot where he choose to deposit that specific drop of paint. It's a physical experience. I'm not one for bucket lists, but I do have a goal of seeing every Van Gogh in person, in my lifetime. Now that may not be possible as some are missing and some are in the hands of private collectors. Elizabeth Taylor has one hanging in her living room and I'm thinking she's not going to have me over anytime soon. Maybe, if I'm near the end of my quest and I figure out how to publicize my request.

Whenever I travel, I check the city and see if there is a Van Gogh that I haven't seen. The Dallas Museum of Art and the Kimball in Fort Worth have been very accommodating as they have had several Van Gogh solo or Impressionist centric exhibitions. Vincent comes to see me!

There are 3 main concentrations of Van Gogh's....Musee D'orsay in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I've been to both. The next largest concentration is at the Kroller Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. It's a museum in the middle of a national park about 45 minutes east of Amsterdam. Without your own transportation, its a tricky one to visit. I was so close, I couldn't let this opportunity go by.

Helene Kroller Muller was the daughter of a German industrialist. An extremely wealthy woman, she and her husband ran her father's business. She was also a great art scholar and collector. She amassed hundreds of paintings in her lifetime, including over 20 Van Gogh's. She was one of the first to recognize his genius. During the depression of the 1930's, her company came into hard times and it was likely she would lose her collection. She made a deal with the Dutch government in 1935. She would donate her collection and her estate, if the state agreed to open a museum and park on the lands. Kroller Muller was the director of the museum till she died in 1939.

So, now the government has a beautiful national park and a first class art museum pretty much in the middle of nowhere....well as middle of nowhere as you can get in Europe. The Van Gogh's were there and I needed to see them.

Off we went to Otterlo. We paid our admission to the national park, which unfortunately included an additional 28 Euro's for bus parking! At least there was an easy spot to park the camper.

The museum was nicely laid out and not extremely crowded. I had I all the time I cared for to indulge my passion. All I can say, is if you haven't had the chance to see a Van Gogh in person, please find a way. Even if you are not an art lover, I can tell you that it will amaze you.

The museum also had it's share of modern art. You know the giant 8X8 canvas painted completely white, or a room with Christmas lights and sticks laid out on the floor in a permanent installation. It's so entertaining to take my extremely practical son to see modern art. His indignation at the fact that someone could possibly make money from such seemly simple creations is something to behold.

Eindhoven – The Netherlands

Our original plans had us heading down the Mosel river and into Rhine river country. Alex was still on a history high from his visit to Bastogne. He knew he was in the belly of he WWII beast and wanted more. We told him to peruse the WWII sites book and let us know if he found something else and we'd try to fit it in. He found the Wings of Freedom Museum http://www.wingsofliberation.nl/ just north of Eindhoven in Best.
Band of Brothers has made him also partial to the 101st Airborne and this museum was on the site of their drop into Holland in 1944 for the Market Garden offensive. The museum was about an hour south of Otterlo. We picked out a campground nearby and headed that way.

When you first pull into the parking lot, you see what looks like a restaurant and banquet hall. Yup that's what it is...but walk through the restaurant and you find a huge museum. There are 8 buildings (6 are open) that tell the story of WWII from the Dutch perspective. Nice life size dioramas, lots of vehicles and weapons. More eye candy for Alex. The Dutch perspective was one I hadn't much contemplated. This was an occupied country. One day, there is a new Nazi sheriff in town. Your neighbors might decide it's best to bat for the other team. Odd dynamic. Handsome, Kind German soldier wants to court you....West Side Story? He's just a cog in the wheel? Then the Handsome German soldier and his buddies lose the war and your neighbors cut off your hair for sympathizing with the enemy.  Do you continue to go to work everyday? How  much does your life change? So many questions. Ponder this sometime.

I know the knock on Americans are that they are immersed in their own culture and only speak one language. Our experience is so different then those who live in Europe. I can imagine it's hard to grasp the distances.  At the 10,000 ft level America is very similar. You don't live in close proximity to potential enemies or very diverse cultures. Believe me if they spoke a different language in Louisiana, I'd be able to speak it. (wait a minute....maybe that's a bad example). OK, if they spoke a different language in Oklahoma..on never mind! You get the point. I can't imagine a world where Arkansas takes up arms and invades Kansas. In Europe, historically speaking, it happens all the time. Here...just once and that was to keep us together.. not to invade.

We spent about 2 hours at this museum. They had a unique building dedicated to the Russian military. Weapons, uniforms and tanks you don't typically see. A great and unexpected find.  Just the kind of thing you can do when your can make your own schedule. 

By the time we were done with the museum, it was close to 3:30 PM and we were starving, we had forgotten to eat! Wait, didn't we have to walk through a restaurant to get to the museum....yes! Perfect. We sat outside and had a lovely meal. The menu was all in Dutch, but our server was so kind, she went through and described everything on the menu. Later when dinner was brought over, the other server chatted us up for a good 15 minutes. We learned all about the town and about their lives. The guy had worked for an American company and had been to Amarillo, TX. He liked it..OK whew. We had good laugh as they were a bit embarrassed by Amsterdam as well. Such a pleasant experience. Again all the Dutch we met were happy as clams. Dessert in our bellies it was time to check out our new campground. Our server was nice enough to ask us if we needed directions to our campsite. We said we were OK, we had our “SatNav”. It had been fairly good to us so far. Luckily he asked us about this, as he warned us that locally they are told to ignore the GPS, as the freeways are too new and not listed in most GPS'. He sure was right. We made it through with our maps, but the GPS thought we were "baja"ing through the tundra. If we didn't know what to expect, we would have surely been lost and confused when the GPS just lost it's way. Thank you!!!!

This campsite might have been the cream of the crop.


 We had a huge space, right near the showers. The campground had an indoor and and outdoor pool. It had awesome WIFI that we could used to our heart's content. It had tennis courts and all manner of recreation. A great restaurant and a snack shack. Frederick, Alex and I headed up to the outdoor pool to cool off. That we did. It was quite cold! Frederick couldn't hang so we decided to head to the indoor pool. It had a slide. A long snakey tube slide like a mini Wet n' Wild. The boys had a great time. (yes that's Frederick and Alex). Frederick's parents came up and Alex talked his Lolo into going down the slide with him..he wasn't so successful with this Lola. It was a really nice relaxing time.

Hours had gone by and we found we were getting hungry again. We decided to finish off the spaghetti.
It just cried out for bread. Frederick and I went up to the reception, intending to hit the little grocery for bread. Alas it was already closed. We wandered into the snack shack, hoping perhaps they had some sandwich rolls or something. To our amazement they freshly baked up 2 baguettes for us...wow yummy  fresh hot bread. Later that night we went back and ordered 3 more loaves. While we were waiting the 6 or 7 minutes for the bread to finish, this little boy comes wandering into the snack stand. He walks up to the adult, shoulder high deli counter and offers up his tiny hand, palm up with few sweaty coins laying on top. The counter lady doesn't see him. We point him out to her. He's a tiny 2 or 3 year old boy. He seems too small to be out on his own. We look around and see his family outside on the patio. The he utters a few words in dutch and the lady smiles and exchanges his coins for different coins. The little boy then runs to the vending machine and smiles widely as he buys his new super ball! A few minutes later he's back for more. Very cute! Little kids are bit more independent and trusting here. We will learn more about this tomorrow morning.

This was the camp of little cute little boys. The next morning, I'm outside getting ready, curlers in my hair, when a little blonde haired boy comes running up to me, walking his bike, speaking to me in Dutch. He's about 5 or 6. OK, no chance he speaks English and he doesn't have enough experience to understand I don't understand him. He opens up his hand and gives me a piece of paper. It has a word on it and a #. Oh, he's lost. My mom instincts finally kick in! I assumed it was his last name and his camp site. This is a big camp site, so kudos to his parents for giving him a way to get home. I was in my robe, curlers and such and not in any condition to go walking around the camp. I didn't think he wanted to wait for me to get dressed, so Lolo (Lolo and Lola are Grandpa and Grandma in the Filipino language Tagalog) to the rescue. Armed with a camp map, the little boy and Lolo went off in search of his camp site. They were gone for quite a while. It turns out it wasn't a last name on the paper, it was a section name for the campground and the #'s repeat in different sections. They went to the closest site 174 to our section and that turned out to be wrong. They had to find the right section first. Lolo said the little boy kept talking to him the whole way and he talked back to him, neither one of them understanding a thing they said to each other. I guess we all expected that Lolo would have the chance to do this good deed and the boy's parents would be so happy someone returned their boy. Well this story ended abruptly. As soon as the boy recognized his campsite, he smiled and took off. Before Lolo knew it, the boy disappeared into his camper. Ah well, just glad we got him home safely. It was pretty early in the morning, his parents might not have even noticed the boy had left their site.

We wished we could have spent another night in this campground. It was really enjoyable, but there wasn't much else to do in Eindhoven. We were off to our next stop the site of the former bridge at Remagen and the Rhine river.

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