The crowds are back.
Just look at the picture above to see the queue to Amsterdam’s famed Rijksmuseum, home to some of the most famous paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Dyke.
We arrive bang on time for our 10:30 a.m. entrance slot and find ourselves behind several hundred people. The good news is (1) the line moves very quickly and (2) the Rijksmuseum is massive, so you never feel like you’re crowded by people. The other good news is that I freaking hate COVID and I’m happy to see humans gathering together.
Just get vaccinated!
I guess a lot of people come to the Rijksmuseum because it’s on the list of things to do in Amsterdam. But come in prepared to be wowed. We ARE talking Rembrandt here. The Master of Light. There’s not an artist or a photographer alive who hasn’t tried to recreate his techniques in manipulating light and shadows. There’s also not an artist or photographer out there who hasn’t failed trying.
The main attraction at the museum is The Night Watch, a massive Rembrandt painting depicting a military company about to move into action. But part of the painting is missing. In 1715, 73 years after the painting was completed, authorities trimmed several feet off the masterpiece so that it would fit neatly into a space in Amsterdam City Hall.
In the last two years, artists and scientists have been working hand-in-hand to restore the missing edges using a copy of the original painting as well as artificial intelligence to recreate Rembrandt’s brush strokes. Check out this fascinating video on the Rijksmuseum website.
Today you can see the painting on display with the new edges and - for the first time in 300 years - get an idea of Rembrandt’s entire vision.
But hurry - the museum is not planning to keep the full restoration. Apparently not everybody is a fan of the decision.
As one of the museum guards told my wife: “They’re about to make the same mistake twice in 300 years.”
I could sit here and rave about Rembrandt’s work for hours. And I really don’t know much about art. But seeing what he accomplished 350 years ago is nothing short of amazing. Breathtaking. The same holds for Vermeer. You look at The Milkmaid and you swear that the milk is actually pouring from the pitcher. With all of the advances we’ve made in digital special effects, is there anything that comes close to this artistry?
(The answer, in my mind, is no.)
After a couple of hours of being blown away by some of the greatest art in the Western world, we were ready to get off our feet and have some lunch.
And that’s when we made our first culinary mistake of our trip. We head over to the nearby Cafe Americain, a beauty of a building sporting a stunning Art Deco interior. We glance at the menu and order what we think is a steak sandwich - listed on the menu as a “Filet Americain.” Beef on lettuce and bread. Seems safe, right?
My wife Grainne and I are both pretty savvy in the world of food. We know menus, especially European menus.
But we had no idea that “Filet American” is a raw beef mousse.
Yes. Raw. Yes. Beef. It’s not steak tartare or carpaccio, both of which we are familiar with.
Despite its French name invoking an American dish, Filet American is entirely Dutch. Let’s just put it like this: It’s featured in an article entitled “5 Dumb Ways to Die in the Netherlands.”
There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not what we were expecting. We call the waiter over and tell him we want to send it back.
The waiter is flustered. The manager shows up. He’s acting like he’s insulted and that we must be ignorant Americans if we’ve never heard of a Filet Americain. We still send it back and order an overpriced hamburger.
Nobody’s happy. We finish up and get out. Sometimes things just don’t work out.
With that unfortunate incident out of the way, we do a little shopping and then make a quick stop at the local Catholic church to light a candle in honor of our son Killian, who died of leukemia 18 years ago today. I loved him. I miss him very much.
The exhaustion, stress and emotion are a little much, so we head back for a well deserved afternoon nap. I do love napping on vacation. It works a treat.
We’ve made plans to eat tapas for dinner at Restaurant Jottum, which specializes in small dishes from countries all around the Mediterranean.
The disappointment around lunch fades into a distant memory as our table is filled with jamon Iberico, calamari, Iberico sausage in a smoky tomato sauce, stuffed mushrooms and patatas bravas. A small pitcher of white Sangria.
We’re over the moon. I can assure you that nothing gets sent back to the kitchen.
Sometimes things do work out.
Tomorrow, we pack up and head out to Dublin in the afternoon to see Grainne’s brother for the first time in three years. Have I mentioned that I really hate COVID?
But I really love Amsterdam. Even with its Filet Americain.