As promised, I’m posting a bit more about my trip to Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general. I was able to work a little sight-seeing in during the working part of my visit. And, I was able to time my visit with my children’s spring break, so my family were able to come and join me for nearly a week of vacation as well.
One highlight of my sight-seeing was visiting the Kröller-Müller Museum. This museum is inside a national park just outside the village of Otterlo, and contains a huge number of pieces by Van Gogh and many of his contemporaries. It’s rather out of the way and little difficult to get to, but fortunately it is close to Wageningen University so I was able to see it at the end of the day of my visit there. The museum is surrounded by an extensive sculpture garden, and the experience as a whole was wonderful.
While I was in Vienna in the fall, I saw an outstanding exhibit at the Albertina Museum on the development of pointillism, and the way that the ideas of color separation influenced subsequent painters like Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and (my new favorite) van Rysselberghe. As it turns out, a number of the paintings in that exhibit (for example) were on loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum, and the works still at the museum expanded on the shifts in painting style that I had seen earlier. The dynamic brush strokes and distinct blobs of color that many of the artists used are captivating to me.
You can actually view what seems to be the whole collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum online, but of course, there is no comparison to being there and standing in front of the canvas itself, looking at the individual brush strokes.
During my first weekend there, I was invited to a family dinner by Todd Hufnagel, a professor from Johns Hopkins who was also visiting Peter Schall’s group as part of his sabbatical. This gave me the opportunity to visit Utrecht, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. Despite being so close (by U.S. standards), Utrecht has a very different feel from Amsterdam. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but found the Dom Tower (the tallest and oldest church tower in the country) truly impressive. There is no way to capture its scale in a single photo. Walking through the arched tunnel at the base of the tower was quite an experience too, since it seems to funnel the wind, so it was almost difficult to walk!
Todd and I had discovered just after we met at Science Park that we had a student in common — my former I.S. student Elliot Wainwright (Wooster Physics ’15) is now a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, which turns out to be exactly the department that Todd is a professor in! So, after dinner, we took this photo, just to surprise Elliot. It worked.
One of the most popular images of the Netherlands, of course, is the windmill. We visited an outdoor historical village called the Zaanse Schans just north of Amsterdam, which has a number of rebuilt or relocated windmills which are still operating. You can tour each mill and see how it works. My favorite was the oil mill De Bonte Hen which is the one on the right in the photo. I love seeing the ingenuity of mechanized equipment — in this case how flax seeds were ground, warmed, and eventually pressed to create linseed oil, all by harnessing the rotational motion of the windmill.
Also at the Zaanse Schans, there was a compact but absolutely packed museum on clocks and methods of measuring and displaying time. I knew some of the challenges of accurately keeping time, but I had not realized that Christiaan Huygens (of the famous Huygens construction used in optics) had invented the use of the pendulum clock! There were also older clocks that used torsional oscillations to keep time and had no display at all — they only chimed the hour, so you had to wait until the chime to find out what time it was.
Another museum we really enjoyed was Micropia, a museum dedicated to life at the microscopic level. Given that microorganisms were first described by Dutch scientist van Leeuwenhoek, this museum seems particularly appropriate for the Netherlands. The museum was amazingly interactive and fascinating. There was wonderful basic science, where you could control the microscopes to see different organisms, and also applications to our daily life, like seeing the colony of bacteria resulting from sampling someone’s calculator or cell phone. We definitely all washed our hands when we left!
One of the ways I like to explore a different country is by checking out the local foods. I knew in advance that the frites (what we would call French fries) would be good, but the enormous meringues took me by surprise.
Finally, I was very excited to see the famous gardens of Keukenhof, with a magnificent spring display of all types of bulbs. The daffodils were in full swing, but outside, only the very earliest tulips were blooming. Fortunately, a huge area of tulips was partially indoors and so already blooming. These displays made me desperately want to plant tulips at my house again. I’ve given up on tulips because the deer always munch them just before they bloom, but maybe I should try again.
Overall, we were very fortunate with the weather, and had the opportunity to see some beautiful things (art and nature!) and learn a good bit of history during our visit. There are so many things that we enjoyed during our visit that I just can’t include it all here, so feel free to ask me for more information if you are interested!