Starry, starry night‘Vincent’ – Don McLean
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
So we’d made it into Amsterdam; that was good. This is because, prior to leaving home, we’d purchased tickets online for entry into the Van Gogh museum at 3.30pm and we certainly did not want to miss that.
We were up around 8.30am, and we went up to the Belvedere buffet for our breakfast as usual. Prior to our visit to the art gallery we had the whole day to do what we wanted, when we wanted; there was certainly no shortage of things to do in Amsterdam! 🙂
After breakfast we went outside on deck briefly to see what the weather was like. It was 8°C which wasn’t bad for the time of year; in fact it was 22 degrees warmer than it had been in Oslo! The sky was dull and there was a threat of moisture in the air, but the weather wasn’t too bad apart from that.
We got our coats, hats and bags, made sure we had our Euros, credit cards and shipboard passes and disembarked the Arcadia about 10.30am. We recognised where we were; we were docked in more or less the same place as we had been on Balmoral in August 2019, so it felt familiar.
The Google Maps app told us we were 2.7 miles away from the Van Gogh Museum and outlined various methods of transport we might choose to get there, but we decided Shank’s Pony was the best as we were not in any hurry and, in any case, we were in dire need of some exercise after all the Christmas overindulgences. 🙂
We therefore set off in the direction of the city centre, passing the impressive Amsterdam Central Station on the way. This is the largest railway station in the Netherlands and receives around 192,000 passengers a day on trains arriving from all over Europe.
I smiled as we passed the railway station. It features prominently in a hilarious book I had read recently; Gerard Philey’s Euro Diary: Quest for a Life by new fiction author Brendan James. If you want some laugh-out-loud outrageous fiction set in Amsterdam, this is the book for you.
Anyway, I digress. As we walked along the frenetic streets it seemed as if everyone had decided to visit Amsterdam on Boxing Day. People pulling wheeled suitcases wove in and out of the crowds on their way too and from the station. Cyclists in their hundreds wove in and out of the traffic and pedestrians. We walked through the streets past the shops, bars, restaurants and “coffeeshops”. You could close your eyes, take a deep breath, and instantly know you were in Amsterdam; the strong herbal smell of pot seemed to waft out of every other doorway. 🙂
As we arrived at one of the many canals, we spotted a sign offering 90-minute canal boat tours and we decided it would be a great way to explore. We paid our 17 Euros each and boarded the vessel and soon we set off. The commentary was broadcast in a number of languages, and the helpful boatman pointed out any of the sights that were more difficult to spot.
After a very pleasant and interesting ride, we disembarked and set off once again through the eclectic Amsterdam streets in the general direction of the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. As we were in the Netherlands, we decided to stop at a bar or café (I was tempted to go in a coffeeshop, ha ha) for a Heineken. We went into a little café that was just starting its lunchtime trade and we let the waitress know we only wanted a drink; some places won’t let you in at lunchtime if you don’t actually want to eat. She directed us to a table for two; the tables were very close together and it was quite a squeeze to take our seats. We each ordered a large Heineken and enjoyed our beers, while relaxing in the ambience of the place. We were pleased we’d be staying in the city for two days, as we’d have another day of exploring tomorrow. Who doesn’t love Amsterdam? 🙂
After our beers we continued on our way, enjoying the laid back atmosphere and the unique smell of the city (you know what I mean!). Soon we came to the Rijksmuseum, and walked through the distinctive archway towards the Van Gogh gallery. As our ticket time was not until 3.30pm, we had about 40 minutes to kill, so we went into a nearby café for another beer, and to use their loos.
Once outside again, we saw a sign outside the Van Gogh museum saying “all tickets sold for today” so we were pleased we’d bought our tickets online before leaving home. We went inside and the lady scanned our QR codes and showed us where we could pick up the audio-guides. The museum was on three levels, starting with some of Van Gogh’s earlier sketches and drawings; you worked your way upstairs and the audio guide explained which way you needed to go to get the most from your visit.
In addition, it was not only the works of Van Gogh that were on display. There were other ‘guest’ artists’ work, particularly those artists whom Van Gogh himself admired or who were contemporaries. There was also a separate exhibition (which we’d visit if we had the time) of the ‘Golden Boy’ Gustav Klimt.
We made our way from room to room, looking with interest at the artwork on the walls. Van Gogh is my favourite artist (ever since I had to do a school project about him when I was 12) and I found it wonderful to look at the works he had created with his own hands. At home, we have a reproduction print of the Yellow Chair on the wall in the spare bedroom, but to see the actual works, and look at the brush strokes and his name ‘Vincent’ signed on them was, to me, something special and not a little moving, particularly when you know the tragic story of Vincent’s life, and how he committed suicide at the age of 37. 🙁
We made our way through the gallery, noting how the paintings Vincent created in his later life were so much more colourful and brighter than his earlier ones. Yellow was his favourite colour and he used it a lot. We saw the famous painting Bedroom in Arles, as well as The Potato Eaters, Wheatfield with Crows and, of course, Sunflowers. That one had a large crowd of people around it – just standing, gazing with their own silent thoughts.
As the museum closed at 5.00pm (it was usually six but it was closing earlier because it was a Bank Holiday) we were more rushed than we would have liked to have been. I could have stood in front of some of the paintings for ages, particularly when the audio guide told you the story behind each one.
Most poignant of all was the unfinished painting entitled Tree Roots. This was the one that was found, still propped on Vincent’s easel in his room, the day that he shot himself. VVG suffered from depression most of his life as well as psychotic episodes; he spent some time in an asylum because he was “insane”. If he had been alive today, it is likely he would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and received treatment. As it was, he only because famous after his death; during his short and tragic lifetime he never sold a single painting. 🙁
Soon after viewing this painting, a voice came over the PA system to say that the museum would be closing in 30 minutes, so we had to hurry up if we wanted to see the other artists’ exhibits. I was disappointed not to see The Starry Night, but there are so many VVG works that it is impossible to exhibit them all at the same time, so they are done in rotation. That’s a good excuse for another visit to the gallery next time we’re in Amsterdam. 🙂
When we left the museum after a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking visit, early evening had descended and we saw the festive lights of a nearby Christmas market, a cold crescent moon hanging in the cool winter sky.
We didn’t look around the market; it was already after five o’clock and we had 2.7 miles to walk back to the cruise terminal. We set off back through the darkening streets; Amsterdam comes alive after dark and is a real eye-opener; the sex shops, the ‘working girls’ sitting in the windows enticing passersby to buy, the porno theatres (featuring ‘live shows’), the ever-present aroma of pot wafting out of open doors and windows… it’s like nowhere else in Europe. 🙂
We arrived back at the cruise terminal and boarded the Arcadia once again. My legs were aching and my Samsung watch told me I’d walked over 7.5 miles today (over 20,000 steps). However, with all we’d eaten and drank on the cruise so far, that was only a drop in the ocean, so to speak.
As we were getting washed and changed in cabin E26 (we’d missed our dinner sitting so we were just going to go up to buffet), Captain Sharples, like a prophet of doom, announced that we would be leaving Amsterdam earlier; at 4.00am in fact, as the weather would be worsening and we still had to do the return journey through the North Sea canal. Therefore, all passengers had to be back on board by 3.30am at the latest, and we would spend tomorrow at sea instead of another day in Amsterdam! 🙁
As we took the lift up to the Belvedere buffet, there were signs all over the ship saying “ALL ABOARD 3.30am 27 DECEMBER 2022”. So much for our exploring the city tomorrow, and it would have been very disappointing for those for whom this was their first visit, or who had an excursion booked tomorrow.
The rest of the evening we spent in the usual way. After dinner it was off to the Rising Sun pub for a couple of drinks before the show. In the Palladium Theatre tonight, we enjoyed an original show by the Headliners Theatre Company called “Magic Moments” and featuring the music, and lifestory, of Burt Bacharach. It’s amazing to think how many songs he has written; what a prolific composer.
Then it was up to the Ocean Room where we met up with John and Linda for the Syndicate Quiz. As we were last night’s winners, we had to start with a score of -1 as a handicap. We didn’t win this time; in fact, it was table 22 (who we’d stolen the prize from in the tiebreaker last night) who regained their crown, and won the bottle of plonk. As we came out of the Ocean Room, I went to go to the loo but (predictably) it was out of order.
We finished the evening off by going to the Rising Sun. The first thing I wanted to do was go to the loo but guess what… they were out of order!!! This was becoming beyond a joke. I had to go all the way through the photo gallery to the other end of the ship before I found a toilet that worked! P&O are taking the p***, quite literally in this case! 🙁
As Trevor, John, Linda and I sat in the Rising Sun, we once again bemoaned the fact that P&O have declined in quality so much. John and Linda already have a cruise booked on Arcadia for Christmas 2023, but they were seriously thinking of cancelling it. It was, sadly, just not up to the wonderful standards we had been accustomed to in the past. Lots of first-time cruisers on this voyage were complaining on Twitter about the amount of ‘moaners’ there were on this cruise, but I suppose if it’s their first time they’ll have no previous cruises to compare it with, otherwise they would know how justified we were in complaining.
Once again, the time was getting on for 2.00am when we returned to cabin E26. All was quiet, and hopefully we’d be sound asleep at four o’clock when the Arcadia set sail again. So we had an unplanned sea day to look forward to en route to Zeebrugge, and we wondered what tomorrow would bring.