Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Of Van Gogh and Rembrandt

I am not much into art appreciation and don’t even know the difference between a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt. But a recent visit to Amsterdam has opened my eyes to the beauty of such paintings, how they evolved, their stories, and what made them so remarkable. Below are my favorite picks:

1) Van Gogh

Do you know there are 7 versions of the Sunflowers? I always thought there was only one…

This is the first one, painted in 1888 by Van Gogh when he was 35. It's known as "Three Sunflowers in a Vase". The background is turquoise. Currently owned by a private collector in the USA.

The fifth version, painted in 1889. "Vase with 12 Sunflowers". Currently located in Philadelphia, USA. Notice the different coloured background.

This is the last one - "Vase with 15 Sunflowers", painted in 1889. Background yellow. Currently on display at the Museum of Art in Sompo, Japan.

Van Gogh first painted the sunflowers to decorate his friend, Paul Gaugain's, bedroom. Since then, he painted 7 versions of the sunflowers, one of which was sold for USD81 million at an auction in 1987.

Another one of my favourite pick for Van Gogh is the "Starry Night Over the Rhone". Splendid....

Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888)

 The actual landscape for Starry Night Over the Rhone

2) Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer was another famous Dutch painter. I saw his paintings at the Rijksmuseum and straight away fell in love with it. There’s just something about her facial expression and the way she pours out the milk that captivated my attention.
The Kitchen Maid (1660) - Vermeer

Description: A maid concentrates keenly as she pours milk from a jug. It is a quiet, tranquil scene. The only movement is the flow of milk. Vermeer turned a simple composition of a prosaic subject into an intense work of art. It is in the rendering of light that Vermeer truly excelled, painting tiny dots for highlights as on the bread and the blue cloth. (Rijksmuseum)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) - Vermeer

3) Rembrandt

The Night Watch (1642) - a masterpiece. This is considered one of the most famous paintings in the world.

The Night Watch is renowned for three elements: its colossal size (363 x 437 cm ~ 11 ft 10in x 14 ft 4in), the effective use of light and shadow, and the perception of motion in what would have been, traditionally, a static military portrait
This painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts the eponymous company moving out, led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq (dressed in black, with a red sash) and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch (dressed in yellow, with a white sash).

With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd, the two gentlemen in the centre (from whom the painting gets its original title, and the small girl in the centre left background. Behind them the company's colours are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen.
In 1715, upon its removal from the Kloveniersdoelen to the Amsterdam Town Hall, the painting was cut down on all four sides. This was done, presumably, to fit the painting between two columns, an all too common practice before the 19th century (see below).

This resulted in the loss of two characters on the left-hand side of the painting, the top of the arch, the balustrade, and the edge of the step. This balustrade and step were key visual tools used by Rembrandt to give the painting a forward motion.

The picture below shows how it originally looks like. (Source: Wikipedia)

The un-cut version

I saw the Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was awesome. The painting was huge, it occupied the whole wall of the building. It just made me wonder how on earth did Rembrandt paint that, given its enormous size.

And that was in 1642, the year the Dutch conquered Malacca from the Portuguese. Such amazing talent...

Will write more!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I Love Amsterdam - Part 1

Looking for accommodation in unfamiliar countries can be quite tricky. First, you don’t know the city, then you don’t know which area to stay in. Next, you don’t know if you could trust the information given on the internet or the people you deal with online.

In our recent trip to Amsterdam, we encountered the same problems. Coming from Malaysia, we didn’t really know where to stay. Jordaan? Plantage? Oud West? De Pijp?These places sounded so foreign to me.

Thank goodness for the internet, I Googled for information, but all the time, I kept on going back to this place called Sarphati Suite Apartment. I don’t know why.. I just loved the photos. The purple cushions and white linen really caught my eyes.

I read the reviews like a hundred times, but still I wasn’t quite sure about the place. As time was drawing near, I told my husband, “Let’s just book this Sarphati Suite 3. The place looks neat and the price seems reasonable.” My husband asked, “Where is it located?” I told him, “I’ve no idea.”

So, we booked the apartment and prayed hard that it would not be a mistake.

In less than 5 minutes, I received a reply from confirming my booking. I posted several questions on how to get to the apartment from Schipol and was nicely informed that: 1) I could check-in and collect the apartment keys right at the airport, and 2) the check-in desk would tell us how to get to the apartment.

That was a comfort. At least we didn’t have to figure out how to get there ourselves.

So, the days passed and we finally arrived at Schipol Airport on 11 Nov 2012 at 3.45 pm. After collecting our luggage (there were 6 of us with 5 big bags in tow!), we looked for the apartment’s check-in desk at Level 1.

It was easy to find. The nice lady behind the counter briefed us on the procedures, gave us the keys and called a van to take us to the apartment. She also gave us a map and pointed to us where our apartment was. We were happy.

The trip from the airport to Sarphati Suite took about 20 minutes and it cost EUR 40. If you’re travelling in a large group, a big car or van would be better considering the number of luggage that you may be carrying. If you took the train, it would cost more or less the same but with a van, you wouldn’t have the hassle to drag your bags from station to station.

The apartment was located on a quiet area known as Sarphatistraat. The apartment was located on the first floor. The staircase was a bit steep, but we managed to drag all our 5 bags upstairs. There was a lift as well, but we didn’t know how to use it.

My first impression of the apartment – nice and cozy. The kitchen was fully equipped with pot & pans, plates, bowls, cups, glasses, cutleries etc. There was a microwave oven and a regular oven if you were in the mood for baking. My husband just loved to bake the bread in the oven every morning when we were there.

There was a dishwasher as well, and we found the washing liquid safely tucked in the cabinet under the sink. The fridge was ample; you could stock up quite a lot of things in there. I especially love the coffee machine! I would be the first person to make coffee every morning (and evening, as a matter of fact!) and the coffee was marvelous!

Moving on to the bedrooms, we found a nice queen sized bed with fluff-up pillows and cushion in the master bedroom. The heavy draped curtain and the purple cushions were just like how they were in the photos. The bed was just nice for 2 people, but since my youngest son (6 y.o) had to share the bed with us, it was a bit cramped.

My 2 daughters slept in the second bedroom while my other son slept on the sofa bed in the living room. They had no complains.

One good thing about the apartment was the location. Just a few steps away, you could find a grocery store, Albert Heijn, which sells food stuff and such. We went there practically every day to buy food and supplies. The tram/metro station was just nearby. Getting around was so easy as the Centraal Station was just 2 stops away.

And there was free Wi-Fi as well. So, whenever you want to go somewhere, just Google the place and use the map provided to find how best to get there. It was that easy.

If there was one thing that I would complain about the place was the lack of storage space in the bedroom cupboards. More hangers should be provided so guests could hang their clothes properly (instead of hanging them on the chairs!).

Also, we found only 2 rubbish bins in the apartment– one in the kitchen and another one in the toilet. They should provide one each in the bathroom and bedrooms for the guests’ convenience. We had to use plastic bags to put our rubbish in before throwing them away in the big trash can.

Nevertheless, these did not spoil neither our holiday nor our stay at the apartment.

The staff was very helpful as well. There was no water one day, so I called the number provided in the instruction manual. Shortly after, one good looking guy by the name of Ralf dropped by at our place to check on the water situation. “Hello!”, he said. It turned out there was water work going on nearby, and if that was the case, the water supply should be back to normal by 5pm.

In any event, Ralf informed us that if there was still no water by then, we could use the bathroom of the apartment upstairs to shower and clean up. I thought that was very nice of him/management to offer us such privileges. We thanked him and said our goodbyes. (we didn’t need to use the other apartment after all as water was back to normal when we returned to the apartment that evening)

In summary, I would say Sarpathi Suite 3 is a great place to stay if you're looking for a relaxing holiday with the family in Amsterdam. Until today, we still talked about it. My husband missed the kitchen and the freshly baked bread from the oven.. I missed the cold weather and looking out of the window in the morning with my cup of coffee… my kids missed the living room where we gathered each night to watch South Park, Family Guy or Friends… We all missed Albert Heijn, the tram station, the bicycles and the falling leaves of Amsterdam….

If we ever made another trip to Amsterdam, I wouldn't hesitate to stay at Sarphati Suite once again.

Enjoy the photos!

Kids happy to touch down after a 12-hour flight

In the car to the apartment

Sarphati Suite Apartment
Lounging on the cozy sofa

The master bedroom

Freshly baked bread for breakfast

Strawberries and jam

View from the balcony

Entrance to No. 113

The tram passed by infront of the apartment

Another tram

Iron and powerful hairdryer !
The kitchen

Bread in the oven

We love Amsterdam !