Monday, May 23, 2016

Amsterdam on the Level, part 3

What did I miss seeing this time in Amsterdam? A few fascinating things I'd seen before and a new list for next time.

I had already made a thorough visit to Rembrandt House Museum. The master lived here from 1639 to 1658 and the interior has been restored to its original state.

Even more important to connoisseurs, almost a complete collection of the 290 Rembrandt etchings that we know about are housed here and some are always on display. Better yet, there are demonstrations of how  he made those etchings, you can  see. And probably best, you can absorb the environment in which he created such incomparable work. Highly recommended.

Neuw Kerk
I had also seen Oude Kerk, the oldest in Amsterdam, and Neuw Kerk, the "new," 600-year-old church with its changing exhibits, before. Both recommended.

Anne Frank House.
i skipped the Anne Frank House for two reasons: steep, claustrophobic stairways, not good for Levelers, and the lines. If you want to spend the better part of the day waiting to get in, by all means do so. I didn't.

Between time, weather, location and/or energy, I also skipped

Eye, the art of film

Stadsarchief, the City Archives;

Museum Willet-Holthuysen, a historic canal house

Het Grachtenhuis, the museum of canals

Maritime Museum
Het Scheepvaar, the National Maritime Museum

NEMO, the science center

 Amsterdam Pipe Museum

The Botanical Garden

but have penciled them in for future trips.

There are many more, of course. Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, the Torture Museum and the Sex Museum come immediately to mind. Both attract enormous crowds, but neither appeals to me nor do I think they are worth money or the wait.

Leia Mais…
Thursday, April 21, 2016

Amsterdam on the Level, Part 2

Don't you want to know what the inside of these homes look like? Small museums give you entree.

Smaller museums are often overlooked in cities like Amsterdam where travelers allot perhaps two days to see and do what could take a month to cover. Too bad because many are a treat.

A treat but potential challenges for us Levelers.

I decided to find out which are worth the effort. It was my money and my time so I began with those that most appealed to me. I concentrated on truly smaller museums, eliminating those in large, more public facilities because they are more likely to be fully accessible. 

Foam, which deals with all things photographic, is artfully slipped into a traditional canal setting with a distinctly contemporary interior.

Tip: There are elevators to each floor, but within each you will encounter different levels; no more than seven steps though.

Seated Man, Mike Disfarmer.
The two exhibits I examined were both excellent. Early color photographs by Jacques Henri Lartigue, whose photographic obsession began in 1901 when he was seven, were a surprise. One does not expect color so early. The vintage black and white prints of American Mike Disfarmer, presented visitors with simple studio portraits of the residents of Heber, Arkansas, from 1930-50. The work of Helmut Newton will be featured during the summer, 2016.

The Van Loon Museum, home of the family of a co-founder of the Dutch East India Company.
Almost directly across the Keizersgracht Canal from Foam is the elegant Museum Van Loon,  an opportunity to see inside one of Amsterdam's grand canal homes.  Willem van Loon was co-founder of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, his grandson was Mayor of Amsterdam and in in the early 19th century the family was elevated to nobility, becoming wealthy bankers.

The house was built in 1672, first lived in by a student of Rembrandt, its interior redone in the mid 18th century and purchased by the Van Loons in 1884 as a wedding present for their son, Willem Hendrik van Loon, and his bride, Thora. It was opened to the public in 1973 but the family still occupy the upper floors.

Warning: There is no elevator but I found it worth the effort. I will list the number of steps as I go along.

The dining room could seat 24 when the table was extended.
The home is unusually spacious for its time, especially the high ceilings and grand staircase. Visitors are given a small pamphlet to aid in their self tour. There are  changing exhibits from the family's collections; in March, it was clothing. In June Foam will provide the exhibit.

The garden and carriage house.
As one might expect, the dining and drawing rooms are quite elegant, but it is the garden room that is an eye opener to most foreign visitors. The city radiates out from its ports and the houses along the semi-circular canals were designed with spacious gardens backed by stables extending to the next street. Each June some of these gardens are open to the public.

Tip: There are 11 spiral steps to the bottom level kitchen which was headquarters for the family's10-15 servants. A sample menu included foie gras served for dessert. There are seven steps up to garden level. The copper beech was planted by the Van Loons in 1881. Seven steps will take you inside the Coach House where up to eight coaches and six horses could be stabled with room for the coachman and his family upstairs.

Painted wall hangings were purchased from Drakenstyn mansion.
Back in the house you will encounter 16 steps to a landing followed by another 12 to reach the second floor bedrooms. My favorite was the Drakensteyn Room with its painted wall-hangings that were rescued from the private mansion of HRH princess Beatrix.

TassenmuseumHendrikje, Museum of Bags and Purses. I had heard good things about this, the largest museum of its kind in the world. It did not disappoint.

It is another opportunity to go inside a canal house, this originally a 17th century mayor's residence developed by Cornelis de Graeff on Herengracht, one canal closer to the port than Foam and the Van Loon.

Tip: The elevator will take you to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors; you will have seven steps to the permanent collection on the 4th floor. The excellent shop and bathrooms are on the entrance level.

Sixteenth century goat leather belt bag with 18 pockets.
There are over 5,000 items in the permanent collection, some 1,500 on display at any one time. The historical survey begins at the 1600s with an 18-pocket goat leather belt bag and moves forward with each floor.

Initially, both men and women carried purses until the 17th century when tailors began adding pockets to men's attire. Women's attire was so voluminous through the 19th century that they could carry two purses underneath, tied around their waist with strings, one to a hip. Thus the expression, "controlling the purse strings."

Circa 1740 Netherlands chatelaine with needle case,, scissors, vinaigrette and thimble box.
They had traditionally carried chatelaines, brooch-like affairs with items such as needle cases, scent bottles, keys and scissors, that doubled as jewelry. However, as purses and bags became both utilitarian and fashion statements, they became works of art as well. As new materials were developed, women's purses and bags were produced in them, expanding both utility and creative expression.
Beaded bags like this prayer rug themed one with more than 50,000 beads created between 1929-25 have been popular for 200 years.

Included in the cavalcade of purses are those made for and/or carried by royalty and celebrities, such as the one created by  

Gianni Versace for Madonna,
the "Socks" minaudiere created by Judith Leiber for Hilary Clinton
and the Lanvin evening bag made for Elizabeth Taylor.

From bags and purses just off the runway to novelty themed ones large and small, you will find it here.

Dine on lunch or high tea in a period room.
If you become hungry or thirsty, there is a charming cafe on the 1st level as well as two period rooms with painted ceilings that can be reserved for lunch, high tea or private functions.

Entrance to the cat museum.
Also on Herengracht is Kattenkabinet, The Cat MuseumI had wanted to visit it since spying its sign during a canal cruise a number of years ago.

Lighting was miserable.
What a disappointment. It, too, is in a canal house, but everywhere you turn are Keep Out signs. The steps are creaky and the railing loose, lighting is dismal, the sculptures, posters and paintings are hardly visible (although the dust is) and the staff act as if paying visitors are an imposition.

Gift shop and its resident cat were my faves.
The best thing about it is the small store and the tabby that calls it home. You can go in there for free. Don't waste your money on the rest.

Another museum in a 17th century canal house is the Amsterdam Pipe Museum but I didn't make it there.

Amsterdam on the Level, part 3, will address what I didn't see but put on the list for next time and the city's most popular attractions according to the tour companies. In part 4 I'll tell you about what I did on the one sunny day after four of gray, rain and cold. Can you say best bulb plants?


Leia Mais…
Friday, April 15, 2016

Amsterdam on the Level, part 1

You would think that a small country like the Netherlands which is either at sea level or below would be heaven for Levelers. It is, outdoors.

Inside, well, consider this. The Dutch ruled the seas and trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, creating untold wealth. All the money and dikes in the world could create only so much land, though. Space was extremely limited; houses were narrow and went up, three, four, five stories high with the least possible area sacrificed to stairways.

The result in Amsterdam is a city Levelers find enjoyable to walk with buildings that can present major challenges.

Tip: Make sure your accommodations come with elevators. Some of the smaller, less expensive ones don't.

Fortunately, the Dutch have made many activities, larger museums and public buildings accessible.

I recently spent several days checking out those facilities including some of the smaller museums that are well worth your time.

Canal tours. Easily accessed; an easy step onto the boat, a few small steps down. By all means take one.

Rijksmuseum. A don't miss and after several years of work in updating the facility it gleams. Always, always, get your tickets in advance, before you leave the States, and arrive early. It opens at 9 a.m. on the dot.

Follow the bicyclists through the portico; the entrance, a revolving door, is on your left.

Tip: There are 21 steps down to the 0 level of the Grand Hall, where you must start, but there is an elevator to the right of the ground level entrance.

0 Level information desk, Rijksmuseum.
When you reach 0 level you will see an information desk ahead of you. Bathrooms, coat check and cafe are accessed from here. The attendant who scans your ticket is across to the left, elevator to the upper levels to the right beyond him. Exhibit wings surround the Grand Hall space.

I always recommend starting on the top floor and working down to avoid the crowds. You will be working from the most recent works on display to the oldest.

The Vermeers come first, then the Rembrandts.
Tip: Elevators will be in the middle hallway. Rembrandts and Vermeers are on Level 2. From Level 0 the gift shop is 12 steps down, another set go to the children's shop. Lockers are six steps down, bathrooms four from there. The Cafe is up but there is an elevator.

Watch a period fashion show at the "Catwalk" exhibit.
If you will be in Amsterdam before May 19, 2016, I strongly recommend the "Catwalk" exhibit on Level 2. Designed by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, it highlights items from the museum's extensive costume and fashion collections, which most of us never knew it had. Highlight was the catwalk portion, a recreated fashion show with rows of chairs on either side of a conveyor that slowly and elegantly circulated mannequins attired in superb 19th and 20th century fashions. Great fun and a good break for the feet.

Across from the Rijks on the Museumpleine, you will find the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum for modern and contemporary art.

Crowds are a problem outside and inside the Van Gogh Museum.
Getting into the Van Gogh Museum will be your biggest and most annoying challenge. Even with an advance ticket there were long lines "Disneyd" along stanchions when I arrived 5 minutes after it opened. The museum simply is not designed to accommodate the crowds trying to enter.

All I can recommend is get that ticket in advance and arrive before opening.
When you get in, go to the top and work your way down from Van Gogh's last work to his first, trying not to succumb to claustrophobia.

Tip: Fortunately, there are escalators down to shop, coat check and bathrooms and elevators to the upper floors.

 If you arrive before June 19, 2016, another strong recommendation is to stop by the special exhibit "Easy 'Virtue" before you leave. It is a rarely done look at the Belle Epoche's ladies of the evening as portrayed by first tier artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, Courbet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Kees van Dongen.

A Chagall fan at the Stedelijk.
Stedelijk Museum won't be everyone's cup of tea but I found the fabric designs by Picasso, paintings of Appel, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Redon, Cezanne and Chagall, as well as the design work on everything from Apple computers to chairs and lighting worth the time and effort.

Give it a try.

Micropia is the only museum about microbes in the world. Besides being unique, it is a lot of fun. Who knew what different microbes look like or that the microbes that eats your tooth enamel are killed by the exoskeletons of microbes in your toothpaste? That we share microbes with our pets? Fascinating stuff, really.
Who knew microbes were this colorful?

Warning: You will be ushered up in an elevator, but will have to either walk down the stairs to leave or ask an attendant to go downstairs, bring the elevator back up and let you use it to go back down. Something about programming.
How many microbes are you carrying around and what do they look like?

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Two Personalities of Jekyll Island

Marshes. Photo © by Judy Wells.

View from historic district pier. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 On one side of Jekyll Island, GA, the Intracoastal Waterway is a highway for boaters and the Marshes of Glynn a nursery for thousands of aquatic species. The Jekyll Island Club, founded by America's industrial millionaires who traveled here in their massive yachts for the winter, welcomes contemporary sun-seekers and the millionaires' "cottages" provide insights into the good life of the early 1900s.

North end of Driftwood Beach. Photo © by Judy Wells.
On the other side, the Atlantic Ocean rolls onto 10 miles of sandy beaches and the brand new oceanfront Westin Jekyll Island provides modern amenities to beachcombers.
Nature is never far away. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 In between, golf courses, nature areas and 600 houses are hidden within a maritime forest and massive, moss-hung oaks. It also is blissfully flat and accessible to us Levelers.

Millionaires put Jekyll Island on the map and the state of Georgia protects its near pristine condition. The rest of us get to enjoy it.

Best of all, "new" things may be built but will never usurp more of the natural island than what is currently there; 65 percent remains undeveloped.

The Westin is definitely a new thing, having opened in 2015. It still had that new hotel smell when I was invited up along with other travel writers to check it out during Jekyll Island's Rededication Weekend in November 2015.

With 200 rooms, many ocean-view, 5,350 square feet of meeting space and the beautiful Jekyll island Conference Center and Beach Village shops as next door neighbors, it is the perfect choice for levelers.

Stairs and steps are minimal. You will encounter four between the lobby and the oceanfront patio and a flight with landing going up to have a cocktail and enjoy the view from the small outdoor bar.

From lighting to menus, the Westin is green-centric. Special outdoor lights and blackout drapes prevent turtle hatchlings from confusing landward illumination with the moon so they will head to the ocean instead of roads. You can receive a $5 voucher or 500 Starpoints for each day you by opt out of housekeeping during your stay.

Fitness center.
If hiking around the island doesn't fill your workout needs, the gym here is one of the best I've seen in any hotel and the view is hard to beat.

Styling is spare, neutral, airy and contemporary with guest-friendly touches like urns of fruited water in the lobby and Apple computer stations nearby.

Computer station.
The old black working rotary phones opposite the elevators on each floor are a nice touch, but it will be the staff that you remember. Friendly, engaging and eager to assist, they bring warmth to every guest's stay.

On the island's other side, The Jekyll Island Club wears its Victorian heritage and style proudly.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Photo © by Judy Wells.
J. P. Morgan and his well-to-do pals with names like Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Fields and Crane bought the island and established the club as a hunting lodge in 1886. It soon became winter headquarters for 100 multi-millionaires and their families. They arrived in their yachts and private train cars for New Year's and hunted, rode, gamboled on the beach, partied and played golf, tennis and croquet until Easter. Some built "cottages," others stayed at the club. The outbreak of World War !! ended their idylls and the island was eventually sold to the state of Georgia to become a state park.

Today rooms are available in the Club and in two of those cottages with a number of good dining and recreational opportunities for guests and day-trippers.

Tip: There is a small, wheelchair-sized outdoor lift at the main entrance but Levelers may be challenged by the stairs indoors and at other entrances. There is one handicap accessible room at Crane Cottage and another at Cherokee.

A shaded walk in the historic district. Photo © by Judy Wells.

What to do

Put yourself on island time; no reason to hurry. Jekyll is an island made for ambling. Paved sidewalks connect cottages to be toured, the club, its pier, outbuildings and shops in the historic area.  The contemporary Beach Center with its shops, restaurants, market, convention center and the Westin are within a convenient two-block area with adjacent parking.

Gift shop, Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Photo © by Judy Wells.
How many wearable, decorative, playful or utilitarian objects are or have a turtle on them? You will be amazed how many when you enter through the gift shop of The Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Rehab Center. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Founded and operated by the Jekyll Island Authority, the center's goal is to help conserve these fascinating creatures through rehabilitation, research and education. 

Contention Center patio.
Since it opened in 2007, sea turtles have become the island's mascot and go-to logo. Loggerheads return to Jekyll Island each year to lay their eggs as do Leatherbacks and Green Sea Turtles.

Rehab Center resident. Photo © by Judy Wells.
In addition to interactive displays, visitors can visit the rehab center where injured turtles are cared for (60 percent are successfully returned to the wild) and meet the patients. Active programs include turtle patrols, walks, field trips and gatorology.

Driftwood Beach. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Driftwood Beach, a stretch of picturesque tree skeletons, is especially popular with romanticists, picnickers, brides and grooms and photographers. With a fishing pier at one end, anglers love it too.

Take a horseback ride on the beach. Rides, from one to three hours, are available sunrise to sunset Tuesday through Sunday from Three Oaks Farm.

duBignon Cottage is one of the historic homes in the historic district. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Explore the historic district. There is a 90-minute narrated tram tour with entrance into two restored "cottages"  that is perfect for Levelers.

Play tennis at the Tennis Center or a round of nine, 18 or more of golf on the island's 63 holes. Go smaller with a game of putt-putt. Geocache. Tour the historic district by foot or on a narrated tram tour.

Learn something. The Jekyll Island Club offers a plethora of opportunities throughout the year with special weekends focusing on photography, nature, craft beer, yoga, cooking, even ghost hunting.

Relax, read a book or get lost staring out to sea. It's that kind of place. If you want to do it on the beach, The Jekyll Market will sell you a plastic growler of craft beer.
Cyclists abound. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Getting there and around 

Bicycles and adult tricycles are a favorite means of transport for visitors and the 600 residents as well. The island is Leveler friendly in that you can usually park within a short, flat walk of where you want to be. For something different, rent an electric  "red bug" car from Redbug Motors.
These electric cars are named for the first vehicles rented on the island.

Leia Mais…