Friday, September 20, 2013

Postcards from Holland: A Homage (Van Gogh + Jamie Oliver)

In eleven days, I roadtripped with The Dutch across three countries in Europe - The Netherlands, Germany, and France.  It was a trip to explore the triumvirate of great European capitals - Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris.  For me, travel is surpasses the declaration of "I have been there" but more of being an enriched human being because of it.  I recognize my privilege of being able to see the world just like I have always dreamed of and I never want to take the gift of mobility for granted.  It's much too precious.  I want to soak every little piece of insight I could, especially since I never know if I'll ever have the chance again to come back.

This was my third time in The Netherlands, my second in France, and my very first in Germany.  In a series of indeterminable number of posts, I will share what I have seen, what I ate, what I learned, my insights, and perhaps what has become of me because of them.

I love Europe because other than the obvious (i.e. food, art, culture and architecture), it is a complete escape to something utterly different from daily living in America (or Asia).  It's amazing that the pond dividing the two continents make a world of a difference in lifestyle, politics, and society.  Not in its entirety, but I covet pieces of the culture and lifestyle of that part of the world.  I live for discovering snippets of history and culture revealed through conversations with locals, eating their food, walking miles on promenades and in museums - especially in Europe.

I will be writing about this trip in parts and it might get overkill, but I'm documenting it for me.  It is a place for the hundreds of pictures I took as well as remembrances of the insights I had while traveling.  Like I said, for me, this is pretty precious stuff.  And if in my own process, I spur a little wanderlust in others, or even just to inspire living a life of your own personal choosing regardless of whether it involves hopping on planes, then it will just be a happy and welcome coincidence.

The adventure begins and it begins in Holland!

I do not follow any other impressionist than Van Gogh.  His art, his life, his (mooching?) relationship and correspondences with his brother, Theo, and yes, even his madness - they all fascinate me.  Other than France, there is not much else in the world that bears significance to a Van Gogh groupie like me than The Netherlands since after all, Vincent was Dutch.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam reopened this year in May after a brief renovation period.  It houses hundreds of his works in all three floors of the building, some of which are his most recognized and most important ones.
Sunflowers and Irises
The Yellow House in Arles (top) and The Harvest, one of my favorites (bottom)
I have never seen seascape painted by Van Gogh so this was a revelation to me. The Sea at Les Saintes Marie de la Mer
There were many other paintings that I did not take pictures of including The Potato Eaters, two paintings of his room in Arles and a painting of cherry blossoms in a bright aqua background which he painted for Theo's son (i.e. his nephew that Theo named Vincent, after him).  The three paintings below were among his last works.  Tree Roots was unfinished and was the last canvas he was working on before he tragically put a bullet in his head.  I have never seen these before and I spent a lot of time staring at them trying to detect the immense loneliness the man felt before his death.  

Wheatfield with Crows
Wheatfields Under Thunderclouds
Tree Roots
But on a lighter note...

Amsterdam is also the city of one of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurants.  Jamie Oliver is a huge personal influence for me and when I learned we will be in Amsterdam, dining at Fifteen was inevitable.  I never took interest in homecooked, fresh, and delicious meals since this guy.  I am also growing a vegetable garden due in part to his influence.  I mustered up the chutzpah to work the kitchen because his books made it seem so easy.  And cooking - all its pleasures and joys - really is.

The core of Fifteen is to provide employment to the talented, young and unemployed, and give them a shot at making it.  It was called Fifteen because the flagship in London started with fifteen young apprentices who were trained to make magic in the kitchen.  (Trivia: If you've heard of the restaurant in Paris called "Frenchie" on Rue du Nil, Frenchie is a bloke who actually started out at Fifteen).

And made magic they did.  The food was simple and honest, and devoid of the intimidation and snobbery of some neo-bistros in Europe.  The prices were reasonable and servings were pretty hefty.  We ordered charcuterie plates and a salad to start so we ended up splitting the main course.  Everything was perfection and there were zero leftovers.

We were meeting up with friends from America who happened to be on their last night in Amsterdam.  One of them was celebrating his birthday and the wonderful folks at Fifteen gave us another round of dessert.  No one complained!

The next couple of days, we will find ourselves in the countryside of Holland where life is a little slower and simpler.

Until then...

P.S.  If you ever make it to Amsterdam to make the same homage, make sure to download the Van Gogh apps available for free from the Van Gogh Museum.  For Fifteen, I suggest making your reservations online.  If you've heard of the restaurant "Frenchie" in Paris, "Frenchie" is actually an alumni of Fifteen. ;)

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