Tag Archives: Delft

Traveling in Europe: Delft in White and Blue

These posts on Europe will come sporadically as I have to digitally fix the photos for web viewing and it’s a busy season for me right now. To view my full album of Delft, click the first picture.

Europe 2011: Delft

After Amsterdam, I took a train to Delft. I was stunned at the thousands of bikes at the station. I doubt if you gathered all the bikes in Vancouver that it would even equal this number. People commute by bike and train a lot. Because there had been some confusion in email as to the dates I was staying at the B&B I ended up doing last-minute couch surfing for my first night. Robbert had just finished his university and was still in a student apartment. He was helpful in giving me directions to get to his place and the next day into Delft central. He tried to teach me some Dutch and pronunciations but some forms are so foreign in English I just had problems getting them to sound close.

Delft is small, when you’re looking at the medieval center. The next day I waited for the B&B owner to show. When she never did, I walked back to the tourist information center, always a good place to visit in any major city. Delft is small enough that they know of all the B&B’s. They tried calling both lines;when they couldn’t reach her they advised me to find someplace else. They ended up helping me find something in my price range (52 Euros) with someone who had just called in. (98 Plantages–not available through any sites) was run by Liesbeth and was beautiful, clean, updated and close by. Liesbeth was an excellent host, giving me some ideas of restaurants to try and directions into Den Haag.

canals, Delft, Holland, history, travel, William of Orange

Delft's picturesque canals have lilies and waterfowl.

Delft was by far the prettiest town I visited in Holland, with Den Bosch a close second. The clean canals were picturesque with lily pads, swans and ducks. I even ran into a heron on the walkway beside one canal and got within two feet. The streets in the old town are cobblestone and shops line the streets. Delftware, that famous blue and white china, is not cheap but plentiful. I saw a guy on a scooter  where the front design was the Delft blue and white.

My first day after the screw-up with B&Bs left me with enough time to see the old and the new churches. (Throughout Holland and Belgium all shops close by 5. There is no evening shopping.) They were rather plain in the style of the no-fun Protestants who had pulled down statuary, removed paintings and white washed churches so that one would only concentrate on god’s glory, not on what humans had made. The one, ironic, concession to ostentation was the tomb of William of Orange, assassinated at the Prinsenhof (a convent he had taken over for a residence).

William of Orange, Dutch royal family, Delft, tomb, travel, history, Holland

William of Orange's tomb was so big that it was hard to photograph it all.

The Dutch started later than some countries in instituting royalty and pretty much voted in the best merchant. At least that’s what I could tell . William’s grand tomb is the central design of the church. Before this date the royal family was buried in Breda but it was still under Spanish rule, so they began putting the royals in Delft, where they are entombed to this day (the dead ones that is). I was beginning to think after Amsterdam’s two and Delft’s churches that I was getting churched out, partly because they were rather bland in a gothic cathedral sort of way. The focus became the pillars, the gothic arches (which are impressive) and the black floors, carved with names, dates, arms and symbols of those who had passed on before.  I wrote a rough set of poems here that I call triptych, after the style of religious paintings (that have three panels) used in many churches of the period. These will be polished at a later date.

I took in the Prinsenhof on my third day. The bullet hole in the wall from William’s assassination is framed and stands out. There are works of art such as paintings, sculptures, silverware and Delftware for which the Dutch are famous, plus the story of William’s life. I believe the new church, starkly plain had many partitions that told the story of the royal family from its beginning to its present day. Like England, they have had a queen since WWII (and before). But reading about all the royals and who killed who or succeed whom was mind numbing after a while. I just enjoyed walking along the canals of Delft and would definitely go back here.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Couchsurfing

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Turret Guest House's single room

With my recent trip to Europe I used a combination of bed and breakfasts and couchsurfing. I also booked some places beforehand and others a few days before arriving. September is still a pretty busy month for tourists and leaving things last minute can become difficult especially the more popular cities, such as Amsterdam. On the couchsurfing.org site you can list yourself for host or surf or both. People list profiles and reviews, and you choose which person would suit you best and send a request. Some hosts will just give you a space but don’t have time or are not interested in showing you around, talking with you or whatever. Whereas other hosts state explicitly “don’t treat this as a hotel” and want to interact with the surfers in some way, maybe even show them around.

Of my couchsurfing experiences, one was made last minute when problems happened with a B&B. Most of them were great, with friendly hosts willing to chat, share dinner or even show me around. One was not a great experience, the host being rude, condescending and living in a very dirty and smelly place. It was uncomfortable to be there and when more couch surfers arrived, he was friendly to them so maybe he did forget I was coming and was embarrassed by that. However, three surfers when he had said he had room for only two meant one person slept under a towel the second night because of insufficient bedding and bed space.

I stayed at the Turret Guest House in Horley on my arrival and it was basic, a little rundown, tiny with the smallest shower in existence. A large or tall person would have had trouble fitting in the shower; I could barely turn around. The towel was small and thin and when I asked for a second I got a bath mat. They talked about raising the price in the near future from 38 pounds but I think they need to upgrade a few things. The breakfast was fine and they pick and drop you off at the airport.

I eventually just went with the B&Bs because my money was working out better than I anticipated. I also worried about inconveniencing a host. Some give you a key, some won’t. In certain cases you need to be out of the place when they are and if you come in late at night, would you disturb them? My first B&B was in Delft and I had booked it online a couple of nights before. For this purpose I brought a laptop with me but I didn’t have a phone. Booking as I went actually became a bit stressful and next time I would see if I could get a cheap phone in Europe since my own didn’t use a SIM card and wasn’t compatible. When I arrived at that first B&B I waited an hour and a half and the woman never showed. Eventually I trundled back with suitcase to the tourist information center that most cities have. Luckily Delft is small and I was trying to book in the town center.

I looked up other places but had a fairly limited budget for what I could spend, about 50 Euros which is the equivalent of

B&B, bed and breakfast, Delft, travel, accommodation, rooms

98 Plantages spacious room

about $65 CAD. I let the woman at the counter know this and she found me a place not listed on any site. The owner had just returned from vacation. 98 Plantages was a short walk from Delft center. The Dutch do this thing where instead of saying 98 they will say eight and nine or eight and ninety. I thought the woman had said 89 so after no answer I remembered being told this the night before and went up to 98 Plantages.

Liesbeth met me and was immediately so warm and friendly, helping me carry my suitcase up the stairs and giving me Imodium for the tummy issues I was having. She also suggested a few places for dinner. The room was clean, bright and newly renovated. It had WiFi, a  TV, a complimentary half bottle of wine and a table. The room was about 52 Euros. Like any place I stayed in, in Europe, the buildings are centuries hold, with little insulation and large windows. Cars going over cobblestones are noisy and you’re bound to hear some sound in the mornings. It didn’t bother me too much though.

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The lovely breakfast spread

The breakfast was more than enough though she thought I ate little and included spreads (salmon, pate) plus jams and the Dutch predilection for sprinkles on bread. I could have had more but my stomach was happy with this. Notice the Delftware. I stayed three days in Delft, one with a couchsurfing host and two at Lies’s. I’d recommend her place but you’d have to find it through the local tourist office as she’s not listed on a site. Of all the B&Bs I stayed at, I enjoyed it best.

Holland (and England) was a blend of couchsurfing and the B&Bs. It’s always good to find out if WiFi/internet is included, if there is a price with or without breakfast, if they have TVs, hair dryers, shampoos (if you want these things) and how close they are to public transportation and likewise, if there are a lot of stairs. People with physical problems will want to try to get lower floors or go for more expensive hotels that have lifts/elevators. I’ll talk about Belgium the next time around.

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What’s Good About the Dutch?

Dutch houses, canals, gables, history

The top of the house shape is called a gable and this hook is used to bring items in.

I’m on day 5-8 of my European adventure and I’ve learned far more about Dutch history than I ever knew before. Granted, there are still gaping holes, but I know a few things about art and history now.

My education started before I arrived with reading the guide books, probably written a few years before.  They were the Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam and the Lonely Planet guide to the Netherlands. I’ll review these books side by side later. However as I read through and forgot information the one thing that struck me was, “How could I have forgotten about the Dutch masters?” I didn’t really.

I mean, the local gallery had a show the year before (with more impressive silver work and glassware than I’ve seen yet in any of the galleries). Yet my front lobes seemed to backfire and I kinda forgot. So what is Holland known for historically? Surprisingly little of it is military. Let’s say that the great deeds of men killing each other do live on somewhat but it is the painter and writers, composers and jewellers and architects whose great works we go to see.

Holland was a great naval nation and that’s only natural when you battled back the sea to claim land and most of the country is below sea level. Flying over Holland the great canals and swathes of very flat land were visible. I never realized exactly how pervasive the canals are and even before I landed I knew the Dutch would be superior at dealing with anything to do with land and water. They’re perfect hydraulic engineers because they’ve been doing it for over 500 years.

This also gave rise to the tall narrow houses in various cities and especially Amsterdam. They were once taxed by the width of the house so people built up instead of out. Stairs are extremely steep and narrow, which means you can’t get furniture in through the door. All the old houses have a hook at the top of the house where a rope can be put through and then items that are too wide can be pulleyed up the floors. Which means, when you look at Amsterdam streets, that all the houses all tilt out and look crooked. They’re done this way on purpose so that heavy objects don’t bang into walls and break windows.

The Dutch were huge sea traders and had a huge part in bringing tobacco,

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Dutch canals are in every city. This is Delft.

chocolate and spices to Europe, not to mention being great silver smiths, painters and farmers. They’re a pretty helpful bunch and they really love their beer. Oh and there are those chocolate spreads and sprinkles to put on your toast in the morning.

They also love meet and I’ve never seen so many Argentinian restaurants as in Amsterdam. Meat, steak, meat. And beer. Wine is at a minimum and cider can be found but it takes hunting.

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Vermeer and Rembrandt at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Last night I attended the show at the Vancouver Art Gallery; “Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from The Rijksmuseum.” I went with a friend who is also interested in art history so we tended to discuss details and  techniques a lot. Though you could zip through the show in about 20 minutes, we took two hours. The show was bigger than I was expecting. In the past, some of the VAG shows were really lacking so it was a pleasant surprise.

The works included mostly paintings, some etchings, charcoal and brush sketches, drypoint work, watercolors of plants, blown glass goblets and containers, Delft ceramic tiles and vessels and silver items (and a few miniature chairs, 6 inches high). Although Vermeer and Rembrandt were featured as the main (or most famous) attractions, there was a myriad of works by other Dutch masters, many who had been trained by Rembrandt. A few of the names I remember from the show are: Gerard Ter Borch (quite a few pieces), Frans Hals, Karel du Jardin, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Aelbert Cuyp,  Salomon van Ruysdael, Hobbema, Visscher, etc.

The pictures ranged in size from small etchings and sketches (4-5 inches) up to five foot paintings. Many were either in original or very old wooden frames. I wished there had been more detail on the frames but we realised that the makers were probably lost in antiquity as just nameless craftsmen. One frame was carved with leaves and berries, a blank shield at the top and an odd woodsy, gnome face at the bottom. It was a true work of art in itself and about three inches in depth.

The images themselves ranged from watercolors of plants and portraits. to pastoral images, cityscapes, mythical and iconic images, still lifes of fruit, flowers, vessels, dead animals, portraits of course and daily life scenes. Overall it was a very good cross section of the Golden Age of Dutch art. Not many of the paintings were ones that I am familiar with, and I have looked at a good many books of medieval and renaissance art, but many were recognizable as being by one person or the next.

Four glass vessels were in the show; three drinking glasses and a flask in blue with engraved swirls and words on it. The other three were blown glasses and the plainest was also very interesting. It was a small cylindrical beaker of about 4 inches in height, of very clear glass (harder to attain in those eras) and with a few decorations that looked like wriggly worms with hands at the end, in clear and teal blue glass. I found the decoration, which covered the lower quarter of the glass, almost modern in its design. The glass vessels were also included to compliment the paintings which had similar or exact goblets in the images.

The silver items were amazingly shiny and looked brand new. I believe that the museums must have cleaned and polished them at the point of acquiring them. There were platters, ewers, spice sets, candlesticks, containers and a Jewish menorah. Many were covered with flowers and chasework, and sometimes whimsical creatures or raised motifs and arms. It would have been nice to have had more of a write-up beside these pieces. I wanted to know if they were molded, hammered, chased, or other techniques but they were probably like the glass vessels, meant to compliment images in the paintings.

The paintings were all behind glass, put into the frames. All of the three-dimensional artifacts were in Plexiglas cases on graphite metal stands, very sturdy and no way they could be knocked over. VAG is notorious for being somewhat lower grade when it comes to museum security, a reason that the truly great pieces of art don’t always make it to Vancouver. There were the requisite guards/watchers in every room. Several guys had that CIA look with a cord wriggling into their ears and walkies in their hands, but were professional and inobtrusive. The rest were probably volunteers and not “real” security.

This caused its own problem near the end, after we had been walking around the exhibition for nearly two hours. My friend and I discussed pieces, looking closely at brushstrokes and details, or how a hand, a vessel or a building had been rendered. We talked about qualities of light, colors used, whether a piece was faded, the faces realistic, the towns real or fantasy, the landscapes, etc. as well as the difference from one master or one painting to another. I need reading glasses for up close and used them to see the fine detail of the paint, which brought me within a few inches of the painting.

I’m very well aware of museum protocols and would never touch a painting or drawing (though almost all were under glass anyways) because I know the damage these would cause. So as my friend and I talked about the works she or I would point out something in a painting, using a finger to point. At one point I leaned in to look at a small painting and put my hand on the edge of the metal stand of the display right next to the painting. In swooped a watcher and told me not to touch the stand. I was hardly jeopardizing the piece or the stand.

The next and last room had paintings ranging in size down to a smaller piece about eight-twelve inches long. As we discussed the image of the woman taking off her stockings (a painting I have seen before) in her bedroom, I pointed out the lines that her garters had left on her legs. In swooped the socially inept watcher to say, don’t touch the paintings. I pointed out that I wasn’t and she replied, your fingers don’t have eyes so they don’t need to be so close. ??? WTF? This did irritate me in the rudeness and inanity of it all. And we had done this throughout the full exhibition only to have this creature at the end get proprietary with her little ounce of power. I wrote a letter to the VAG, not that it will do much good (years ago I used to volunteer there until they started charging their volunteers–yep, pay to volunteer).

All in all, I thought it was a good show and a great chance to see the actual works of the Dutch masters that I had not seen before in person. The admission isn’t cheap at $20.50. (I believe Tuesday nights might be free but you’d have to check that.) If you’re used to museums in England and Scotland where they are now mostly free, it’s a lot. Luckily I had a pass, but it was worth it, except for the few troglodyte guard dogs.

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