Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Beautiful World

A group of bloggers have got together in order to show just how wonderful and beautiful the world we live in really is. Posting photographs from around the world, contributors really do show the beauty that surrounds each and every one of us if only we would (or could) take the time to stop and look about.

I am thrilled to be able to say that I am now one of those contributors (Trousers, thank you for pointing me in their direction) so please pop over for a visit....you wont be disappointed!!

All you have to do it click here

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Amsterdam part 4 - our last couple of days

I spent the following day meandering round the Rijksmuseum which is just along from the Van Gogh Museum. It's in the process of being renovated so only had one wing open but it has chosen to display what it called the crème de la crème of its permanent collection in the newly furnished Philips Wing. The exhibition was called 'The Masterpieces' and it offered the unique opportunity to view all the highlights of Amsterdam's Golden Age in one place. I'll be honest and say that the paintings were not really my kind of thing but I could still appreciate the work and skill that had gone into creating them. One of the things that really stood out was the painters use of light...I guess that's not surprising when the musuem was featuring work by Rembrandt and his pupils (Rembrandt was famous for his use of light)...but the atmosphere they managed to create in their paintings was incredible!

That evening Chris and I found the most amazing little resaurant where we had warm bread with olive tapanade, followed by steak with hand cut chips (the waitress was very funny in her disaproval of Chris wanting his well done) and mushrooms marinated in honey and tomato ketchup (which sounds horrible but was absolutely gorgeous!) and then I had chocolate mousse and Chris had a lemon sorbet. OMG it was good!!

The next day was our last one so we got up early, checked out of the hotel, dumped our bags at the train station and then made our way to Anne Frank's House. For those of you that don't know the story (I'll be surprised if you don't!), Anne Frank was a Jewish girl living in Amsterdam that had to go into hiding to escape the Nazis during the second world war. Otto Frank, Anne's Father, was a fairly wealthy man and ran his own Jam making business in Amsterdam where they had fled after Hitler became the head of the German goverment. When the Germans invaded Amsterdam his daughter, Margot, was called up to go to a German labour camp so the family had a secret annex built in his office which was hidden by a bookcase. They went into hiding with another family where they stayed, unable to go outside and in constant fear of discovery, for over two years. They were eventually betrayed (it was never discovered by whom, and in 1944 were arrested, split up and taken to the concentration camps. Anne died Auschwitz in 1944. Otto was the only family member to survive and when he returned to Amsterdam in 1945 hoping to find his family he discovered that all that remained was the diary that had been written by his daughter which was saved by one of his employees that had helped them during their time in hiding. Her dearest wish was to be a writer and to publish a book called 'The secret Annex' based on her diaries when the war was over. He fulfilled her wish.

To be honest I don't really know what to say about the house. I spent the entire time trying not to cry....it was the every day things that really got to me....the pictures that she had pasted onto her walls to make them a bit more homely, the marks on the wall that charted her growth and the view of the blue sky that they could see from the attic. It's an amazing place and stepping through the opening behind the bookcase was indiscribable...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Amsterdam part 3

(We had internet problems whilst away so in true Blue Peter style......here's one I prepared earlier...)

Yesterday was absolutely wonderful! The area we are staying in is beautiful and I had a lovely long walk down wide, tree lined avenues that led to the stunning purpose built building that houses the Van Gogh Museum.....and OMG what a museum!!

It really is a moving experience to trace Vincent van Gogh's tragic life and extraordinary achievement through such a varied display of his art. The museum houses the world largest collection....it has 200 paintings and over 500 drawings not to mention 850 letters that he wrote to friends and family. The thing I really loved about the museum was that it put his work into context....it started with paintings done by his contemporaries such as Gauguin, Monet and Pissarro, showed his very early work (which really was pretty awful!), highlighted the influence the Impressionism movement had on his work and then documented his growth as an artist. The lovely thing was that it didn't stop there...it then went on to show how his work influenced the next generation of artists....it was extremely interesting and moving.

I got to see his 'vase with sunflowers', 'Bedroom at Arles', 'Irises' and 'Wheatfield with Crows' to name but a few. I adore his Sunflowers (one of my favourite flowers too) and his painting of the Irises was absolutely captivating (the blue against the yellow was so vibrant it just jumped off the canvas) and his Japanese style paintings were just as stunning...my favourite was 'Almond Branches in Bloom' which he painted in 1890 after the birth of his nephew (he painted it as a symbol of new life). The guide thingumy (I have no idea what you call them but you have headphones and a keypad) was worth every penny (actually that should really be Euro shouldnt it) as it was very moving standing looking at a painting listening to the actual words he had used to describe it (we know this from the letters).

It's actually thanks to his sister-in-law that we have what we see today....after his death, and the death of his brother six months later, she decided that she would dedicate her life to showing the world what an amazing talent he had and she put together a number of exhibitions showing his work. It was these exhibitions that brought his paintings into the public eye and influenced the next generation....can you imagine what would have happened if she'd thought they were crap...*shudders*

Monday, 14 June 2010

Amsterdam part 2

Here's the next update....

Day 2 (why do I feel like adding the words 'in the big brother house'? I don't even watch the bloody programme!!) - Anyway, I spent some time in the morning blogging (I know....shocker eh!) then headed back into central Amsterdam. After doing some research on the double decker train (Yes, I'm still rather excited about them) I discovered that the museum I wanted to go to I had actually walked past the day before so I knew exactly where I was going...didn't need to get the map out or anything!! (which for me is practically unheard of!!)

The Hermitage Amsterdam features works of art on loan from the bountiful collection of well over three million objects in the 'parent museum' Hermitage St. Petersburg. The exhibition that was on (they change frequently) was based on the pioneers of modern art and was called Matisse to Malevich and featured works by Matisse, Picasso, Van Dongen, De Vlaminck, Derain and many others that were painting around that time. It was absolutely fantastic!!



Now I have to be honest and say that I've just never really 'got' Picasso....I've always looked at paintings and gone 'Meh' usually followed by a shrug followed by a 'I just don't get what all the fuss is about'....well I tell you what....I do now!! I think it was the first time I've ever seen one of his paintings in the flesh and it took my breath away....it was the painting 'woman with a fan' that did it. I just couldn't take my eyes off it!! I spent about three hours meandering around the exhibition and I loved every second of it!!

After that I headed to the Joods Historisch Museum which is based in what used to be the heart of the Jewish quarter. It is made up of four former synagogs and is said to be the largest Jewish museum outside Israel....I thought it would be interesting and would help put Anne Frank's house into a bigger context when we visit later this week. I wasn't wrong!! I learned a lot about the lives of the Jewish people....did you know that it was the Jewish community that established the very first stock exchange in Europe? I also learned a lot about how they were treated during the war....it was very moving....of the 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam only 10,000 survived. Words fail me...

I met up with Chris, we picked a direction and then went off exploring. We actually ended up meandering through the red light district which we both agreed was a bit tame by Thai standards. It was a bit odd seeing women wiggling about in shop windows but the ones we saw? Well, I think Chris's comment 'Not even with someone elses' kinda summed it up!! Anyway, we ended up in this fabulous little restaurant where we had the most sublime fondu....It was made with Gruyère, Emmental and blue cheese and had an olive and tomato tapenade mixed through it....OMG it was good!!

The Weekend - We didn't have any real plan in mind except that we wanted to see a bit more of the city so we headed west to the Jordaan district. It is known as the bohemian quarter and is a labyrinth of picturesque canals, narrow streets, cafes and restaurants....oh and there are houseboats gallore!! We saw the Homomonument which was designed by Dutch artist Karin Daan. It consists of three pink granite triangles, the sign homosexuals were forced to wear during the Nazi occupation, and it commemorates all those who have been persecuted because of their sexuality. Just round the corner from the monument is Amsterdam's smallest art gallery and I have to confess...I couldn't resist....I bought a picture (which I cant wait to get framed and put up). We then found a real bussling little square so parked our bums and had a couple of beers....actually we both ended up staring at peoples bikes as they went past. Chris read in the guidebook that only some bikes in Amsterdam have proper brakes and the others? Well, if you want to stop then you have to pedal backwards!!

We went on a canal tour in the evening....I have to say that sunset over Amsterdam is a sight to behold!! I was, if I'm honest, a little disappointed by the tour.....I think perhaps we should have done that on our first night but because we had walked around the city so much we had pretty much seen everything that we passed. Still, I guess it was nice to see it from a different angle and it gave my aching feet a nice break! We got back just in time to catch the end of the England USA game (oh the joy!!) and ended up joining a truly international group....English, Scottish, Dutch, Canadian and American. It was very good natured and we rolled out of there in the wee small hours.

Yesterday we had quite a chilled day.....Chris's conference started in the evening so we had to check out of the hotel we were in and get over to the new one! (That didn't stop us dumping our bags at the train station and heading over to the Sunday Flea market before we left!). We're now in the heart of the Museum district (just along from Van Gogh Museum where I am headed today.....Chris wanted to go but since time is short he's opted for Anne Frank's houses instead) and just next to Vondelpark which is Amsterdam's largest and oldest municipal park. The weather yesterday was beautiful so we went for a walk round the park and stumbled upon a free open air concert. The atmosphere was great and we both really enjoyed sitting in the sunshine listening to the music and just watching the world go by. Too soon it was time to head back to the hotel....Chris headed off to the conference reception and I had a long soak in the tub and then ordered room service. I do love hotels!!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Amsterdam

Well, I have only been here one day and already I love the place!!

This city is the first one that I have really explored on my own (Chris was working yesterday and is again today) so I headed out with map in hand slightly apprehensive that I would get totally lost (It is something I am rather notorious for!!). I made it from the hotel to the train station (good start!!) and then got the train into Cenraal Station (Did you know that they have double decker trains in Amsterdam? I had never seen a double decker train before and was most impressed!!). I was sat there studying my guidebook when a lovely Chinese woman walked up to me and handed me an origami crane (for those of you that don't know....cranes are a sign of good luck and are all over the place in Thailand). I thought that was a lovely thing for her to do and I was rather chuffed!!

I got off the train and decided that I would just have a wee meander about as it was supposed to rain in the afternoon. As I got out my map another woman about my age approached me....she had just flown in to Amsterdam and was leaving again that evening....we got chatting and ended up going for a coffee (Yes, I mean a coffee not 'coffee'). She was from New Jersey but had been living in Israel for a couple of years and we had a very interesting chat about life there. After our coffee she headed off to the Van Gogh museum (Chris and I are planning to visit there later this week so I didn't join her) and I went off in search of the art gallery area.

Ooohhh I had a lovely time...there are just so many wee nooks and crannies to explore!! I walked the length of the Central district, had lunch overlooking the Bloemmarkt (which is the flower market to you and I) and then followed the canals round till I got to Leidsestraat in the West District. Leidsestraat is one long street, with god only knows how many side streets off it, jam packed with antique shops, art galleries and funky places. I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours going in and out of galleries and window shopping. Then I followed the canals again across to the East District and found Rembrandts house just as the rain was starting.

What a place!! The house itself is spread over about six different floors and is absolutely stunning. I got to see the studio where he spent most of his time, his collection of items that he used in his paintings (he had an entire room dedicated to coral, shells, Italian marble busts, butterflies, coins...you name it he had it!!), learned how the paint he used was made and even got to see a demonstration of how he made his etchings (and I got to touch one made by the man himself how cool is that!!). Did you know that he was the first artist to make his own prints? He used the excess ink on the metal plates to add texture and depth to his work. Each print required a new coat of ink which meant that every single print he made was different...I found it absolutely fasinating.

After that I made my back to Centraal Station where I met up with Chris. We then walked along to a restaurant that had been recommended in the guide book called Sarang Mas. I wanted to try it because it is famous for it's traditional Rijsttafel which translated means 'rice table'. It originated in early colonial days among hungry Dutch who, not satisfied by the basic Indonesian meal of rice and vegetables accompanied by meat or fish, always added other dishes. We had a mini-rijsttafel which comprised of pork satay, chicken coconut curry, pork in soi sauce with star anise, spicy beef curry, vegetables with lemon grass, prawn crackers, toasted coconut and fried banana. The idea is that you have a taste of each with a mouthful of rice....and it was absolutely stunning!!

After dinner we sat overlooking one of the main squares sipping chilled beer and people watching before we stumbled upon Amsterdam's oldest pub (I know....typical us eh!). It dates back to the 1600's and is known as a Tasting Inn. The entire pub just looked like some kind of weird physics lab...there were hundreds of old and unusual bottles full of different types, colours and flavours of gins and lots of different liquors....I kept waiting to see someone come in who looked like a mad professor!! We only stayed for one cause it was late and we were both knackered but I have a sneaky suspicion that we may end up back there tonight!!

So there you have it....day one of our trip. I can't promise that I'll be able to blog every day but I will do my best to keep you all up-to-date.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Freedom

Well, my poor neglected little blog and blog friends, I feel a bit like I should don a kilt, paint my face blue (ala Mr Gibson) and run across a field shouting 'Freedom' in a crap Scottish accent! (aherm, perhaps not).

I have now caught up on all the boring house things that I had been neglecting...the house is now all sparkly (that won't last long...Gai is molting...honestly, I don't understand why that cat is not bald given the amount of fur he leaves around the place!!), furniture has been bought and built (yes, that meant a trip to Ikea..Chris has still not recovered), grass has been cut and the last boxes from Thailand have been unpacked (It's only taken us over a year but hey, we get there in the end!!).

Gosh, all this time....what on earth am I going to do with it? Oh I think I might just be able to find a few things...

Finally I will be able to read something that is non-academic!! Over the last year I have been reading loads of book reviews on various blogs and, if i'm honest, I've been getting a bit stampy footed about the fact that I couldn't read any of them!! Now I can (wooo hoooo) and I fully intend to make the most of it (In fact I've already read two...Without Alice by the very talented DJ Kirkby (I'm afraid that was a sneaky peak so the rest of you will have to wait...but keep a look out for it in October? (DJ is it October?) cause it's fab!!) and Like Bees to Honey by the fabulous Caroline Smailes which was brilliant too!! (See previous post to buy a copy)).

I have an art exhibition at the end of next month so I shall be drawing and painting like a wee fiend. I can't wait to put pen to paper...I did manage to squeeze three drawings into my learning log for Uni but that's not quite the same thing. I can't remember who suggested it but I am going to do some work on the four seasons idea (based on this painting I did for DJ) using both gold and silver leaf. (I am going to have to get a magnifying glass for the flower work cause it's not easy to get the detail otherwise). I've also sold another two pictures and a friend is talking about commissioning something. Oh, and I found out that two of my weird head drawings have been bought by a psychiatrist *gulp* and he has them on the wall of his office. (Do you think that means I officially need help?)

Oh, and we're off to Amsterdam on Wednesday. Chris has a conference but I'm going to go along and do some exploring....it's quite handy because it means that I can check out all the art galleries and do some shopping (not his favourite pastimes) whilst he's working and then we can do stuff that we're both interested in over the weekend...best of both worlds me thinks!!

Right, now I have blogged I'm off to catch up with you all....