Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meandering in the Netherlands

To roam the world and see wondrous places and have unique experiences. What more could one ask for. It ravishes the soul and sets the discoverer in you on wings. Recently for a business trip, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend three weeks in the Netherlands and was thus able to roam around Netherlands and admire it's beauty. 

Netherlands or Holland is a small country in Europe and distinguishes itself from the other countries in Europe, by the strange mysterious presence of water everywhere. In the form of streams or rivers or canals or the ocean, the small country was brimming with water everywhere.

One of the first places, I set out to visit, during the first weekend was the famed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which was opening after a period of ten years, when it had been shutdown for renovation. Any country's pride is it's history and culture which makes the experience of visiting a new place all the more richer for a visitor. It was the same for me. Rijksmuseum was a treasure trove of beautiful paintings by some of the Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Each of the paintings depicted the lives of people, be it royalty or be it the local peasants. Some of the paintings tried to highlight a principle of their lives while some were highly inspired creations of Fantasy like 'Orpheus and the Animals'. Those paintings were able to take me to another time and another realm, a time of kings, peasants and mythical creatures.

One major attraction at Rijksmuseum was Rembrandt's 'Night Watch'. A colossal painting which adorns the wall. Every detail of the painting so sharp and vividly telling a story in itself. The painting actually depicts a scene set in the Dutch Golden Age in the the 16th century and is striking for it's use and rendering of light and shadow.

Every painting had a story to tell or a lifestyle to depict, be it in terms of food or children's games or the popular flowers of the period. They also spoke a lot about Dutch history and culture. Their trade relations with other countries including India, their conquests of colonies like Surinam and so on. Apart from paintings the museum actually has a lot of craft exhibits, models of ships and actual ship mastheads and a huge Library of books maintained for centuries together..

After spending time at Rijkmuseum, I started my journey to the Van Gogh museum which housed the great paintings of the eccentric genius post modern impressionist. However the paintings were temporarily moved to the Hermitage museum and therefore took a canal ride to Hermitage museum. The canal ride was fun as it had people from all over the world. I spoke to others in English and as they tried to make sense of my English and I tried to make sense of theirs, I started enjoying the beautiful sights of the canal and the old buildings. The journey to Hermitage took quite some time, but the sights were really beautiful and is a really good way to take in the sights of Amsterdam.I was glad that I took the canal ride, though Hermitage is actually nearby if one were to walk.

Vincent Van Gogh has always been an interesting figure in history and some of his paintings have been so iconic that they keep getting reproduced. The vigorous, confident brush strokes and sheer explosion of colour, shapes and madness in his work really can be a very emotionally and intellectually tiring experience.

Be it the innumerable paintings of houses and flowers or be it the self portraits, they are done with so much imagination and cleverness that you are in awe. The paintings were all chronologically arranged starting with his first pieces of work, then his time spent along with the peasants, when he produced his masterpiece, "The Potato Eaters", followed by the paintings he created of Japanese gardens. The pictures of the beautiful japanese blossom gardens, reminded me of Akira Kurosawa's film "Dreams", where he pays tribute to Van Gogh in the segment "The Crows". It was a humbling experience to see and feel how Art keeps inspiring more art and beauty. Some of the most striking and sad paintings were those that he had painted while he was put up at the St.Remy Asylum. They evoke a deep pathos and sense of loneliness and yet are such magnificent paintings. In those moments, I actually started to feel the happiness and sadness of Van Gogh's life, almost as if I had imbibed his spirit and those moments shall always remain in my memory forever.

I also visited the well known Rotterdam zoo at Blijdorp. The zoo was one of the biggest ones in the world but was damaged a lot during the world war. The zoo housed a lot of beautiful birds, reptiles and a huge underwater aquarium called 'Oceanium' which was really beautiful with sting rays and sharks and other colourful fishes. The world under water is at times infinitely more beautiful than the one above and yet still waiting to be discovered.

Walking around the zoo early in the morning, the fresh air and the jungle like surroundings, the feeling of being close to nature is so much more that it fills your heart with peace and happiness. Sometimes I wonder that perhaps all man made creations are still aspiring to provide the same happiness that nature so easily provides.

The park also had several exhibits of varied botanical species, exotic snakes, polar bears, meerkats, birds of prey, wild cats, tigers and lions and giraffes. The exhibits of vividly colored frogs and other amphibians and komodo dragons were all well organized. At a point, I got lost in a clearing and didn't know which direction to turn, when the lone elephant started trumpeting in it's enclosure well hidden behind the bamboo tree almost as if calling out to me to help me out in my predicament.

I have been to the excellent Jurong Bird Park and the zoo in singapore as well and it is quite natural that one may wonder what is so special and different about every other zoo, but these animals and plants are also in many ways integral to the beauty of a place because their pleasant existence speaks volumes about the humanity of the people living along with them. The Swans, ducks, seagulls and cute dogs seen across the breadth of this country are testimony to this fact.

A trip to the netherlands however has to be in spring, because it is only in Spring that the tulips at Keukenhof are in bloom and a trip to the netherlands is not complete unless one visits Keukenhof. It is simply paradise on earth and the silent shy presence of the tulips can make you feel small before the beauty and magnanimity of mother nature.

The flowers were of all kinds, of different colours, shapes, some hairy, some small and yet each flower so different and vibrant that you sense the life and cheer in them. Walking around the tulip garden, occasionally sitting amidst the flowers, I explored the gardens for a long time and since I had reached early in the morning, was able to linger and take in the sights slowly and passionately.

Often in our mad rush to lead our lives, we forget to see the beauty around us in every child of mother nature. We rarely stop to retrospect, adore and admire the beauty around us. It was like all of us visitors at Keukenhof were forced to stop and retrospect about our lives and how we had not been seeing all this beauty around us. People from all over the world had arrived to see the famed tulips at Keukenhof dance and bloom and I was infinitely glad to just be there and wished that my family was there with me at that moment. I felt emotional and vulnerable then.

There were long stretches of fields until the horizon with just those beautiful flowers. it was almost as if mother earth had decided to deck herself with her finest dresses and jewellery to celebrate the occasion of Spring.

I could instantly identify with Wordsworth as to how he could have been inspired by a field of Daffodils to write that marvelous poem. Those few words of the most beautiful poetry does not still do justice to the beauty of these flowers.

The friendly American couple I was sharing an apartment with asked me which was my high point during my visit to netherlands and I did not have to think twice before I answered, "Definitely Keukenhof!".

Delfshaven was another beautiful place situated along the river banks of the river Nieuwe Maas. The seagulls, swans and pathways, old ships and windmills and lots and lots of water. In essence it felt being inside a microcosm of each and every representative of the beauty of netherlands.

A good walk along the river in the evening is all one needs to set one's spirits light. I also had the privilege to dine at the famed Bla Bla restaurant in Delfshaven which is completely vegetarian, along with my colleague and the magic of that place has stuck with me deep inside somewhere.

All journeys have to come to an end and on my last weekend after an hectic 3 weeks decided to head to Scheveningen Beach in Hague. All rivers have to lead to the mighty ocean and the sea is like the final destination for a tired soul, where one just lets go, embraces the salty breeze and waves. Of course I could not embrace the water though as it was really cold.

To head to the sea, I had to take a tram from Hague Central and the journey was really nice as there were lots of people and the sights and scenery were really splendid. The beach was a long stretching one and there was a pier heading into the ocean, where you can walk till the end and take a closer look at the raging waves.

From there, the coast line looks beautiful, with hotels and buildings not far away from the beach. There was also a lighthouse at the horizon far left to me and I headed towards the lighthouse and saw suddenly lots of kites flying in the air. On reaching closer, I discovered people actually flying them on the water and surfing using them. It was a sports activity known as kiteboarding and it was fun to watch as they used their colourful kites to surf across the waters.

After a while, I sat on the sand and gazed into the horizon and thought about my journey back home across these seas, wondered about all the other places across these seas that I have not travelled to, not known about and yet felt happy that I have discovered Netherlands and travelled so far away from home.

In a way every journey is a learning experience as well, because it lends us perspective of what life could be, of what a global society is capable of and the limitations we have bound ourselves in. As you travel, you also in a way discover yourself, liking things you never thought you would like. I learned that there is a lot that I have, to learn about myself and perhaps as the journey continues, hopefully every lesson will be, as exciting as this one.

Pics : All taken by yours truly and thanks to the excellent public transport system in Netherlands