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My flight from Humberside Airport to Schlipol in Amsterdam was very brief, but I had a six hour wait before my next flight to KL. What do you do with six hours in Amsterdam? No, it is not a trick question, but it would make a good conversation starter. The last time I passed through Amsterdam was with the teaching team I travelled to Malawi with. Most of them went on a tour of the Red Light District. I went to the Van Gogh Museum. I assure you, I had the more pleasurable experience.

This time I went to the Reichs Museum. It had been years since I had seen it last, and I read that there were a couple of Vermeer’s from the States on loan that I hadn’t seen before. I paid an extra five euros for the audio tour, and it was well worth the coin. The narrator was Jeroen Krabbe, a veteran European character actor (The Fugitive, Transporter 3), whose brother is an artist and who clearly loved the Dutch Masters. His insights were charming and valuable. Did you know that the red in Rembrandt’s painting was derived from crushed lice only found on a certain cactus? Or that Vermeer used real lapis lazuli for his blue? That combined with the thin cracks caused by aging catches the light causing the tablecloth in the picture above to appear almost iridescent.

The Dutch were indeed masterful painters, and represented a huge leap forward from the sterile canvasses of the Medieval Age. In some of their techniques they presaged the work of the Impressionists with their innovative layering and brush techniques and their brilliant use of light. With time at a premium I could only catch the main attractions of the museum, but it was well worth the effort to get into town, and time spent with Rembrandt is never a waste. What a student of human character he was! And Vermeer, such serenity of soul; it does one good just to get lost in his inner spaces.

The streets of Amsterdam were crowded with pedestrians, trams and the ubitquous bicycles. As with most European towns, cars were mercifully almost completely absent. I had a pleasant late lunch (art comes before food with me) overlooking the square and caught the fast train back to Schlipol with plenty of time to spare. I sat beside two pleasant British women who lived in the Yorkshire Dales, of all places! The plane was quiet, and I got some much needed rest. Pam had prepared the closest thing to a turkey dinner that can be managed in this country, and it was good to get back to Malaysia.

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