We all went to bed at 10:30. I set the alarm for 8:30. Woke up at one point, thinking, well, if it’s six, that’s something.

3:59 AM.

Everyone else woke up after that. After it was agreed that we were well and truly hosed, we all read until by general consensus we thought “let’s give this crazy thing called ‘sleep’ another run, eh? And the next thing I knew it was 8:30. I admit to knowing I was asleep while I was asleep, because in the middle of a dream that suddenly veered into the Precison Pie-Pan Defecation Tournament - well, that’s what the sign said - I thought, well, I have to be asleep for this.

An excellent breakfast, hallos across the dining room to old friends who had assembled for the cruise, then the long slog towards the museums. I spied this and was happy:

The Concertgebouw! I thought of the days back in Fargo listening to LPs by the orchestra that played here. And now I was standing right before it! Thinking, that's . . . well, the pediment is nice. Let's zoom in:

They never put these things at ground level so people can see them.

Turn around and there's a long, long walkway to the main museum. Again: it's significant without being likeable.

Gorgeous museum; hardly a dead room. One of the finest I've ever seen. Now and then you’d pass through the Obligatory Small Drawings of Limited Interest, but the pacing was excellent, the selection exquisite, and it lacked the stock Renaissance Overload you get that makes you wearing of oval-faced Marys and stodgy baby-Jesuses with glum old-man faces. Not to say the period wasn't well represented:

John the Baptist! It's what's for dinner. The genre is "in disco," if you're curious - "caput Johannis in Disco" if you want the full term. I find the genre bizarre, particularly when you consider that the very un-Salome woman is dressed in contemporary fashion. Here's another Salome from elsewhere in the museum:

You can see the shift betwee devotional art to something that's more individualistic, and represents what the painter finds hot.

Of course, Rembrandt; the "Night Watch" was at the end of a long hall, thronged, and you had to taser your way to get to the front. I think if the artists knew how these things would end up they'd paint everything in the top third of the picture, because that's all anyone can see from the back.

There was a reproduction of an old library:

Interesting to think that nearly everything in those old books was wrong. But don't tell that to the men expertly rendered in stone; they won't hear a word of it. This fellow is quite confident he's correct:

And this one is equally certain you are mistaken:

We ended, by mistake, in a modern wing which had a few pieces just to make the 20th century feel bad about itself, and then went to the other 3rd floor gallery with Art Nouveau and some Mondrian. I love Mondrian. I loved leaning close and seeing his signature.

Some stark modern faces that glare into the future with mechanical arrogance. It’s a period that feels like a breath drawn and held, wondering what will happen when it exhales and has to breathe in again.

After another walk we found . . . what? Ah: the old Town Hall, now one of the Royal buildings..

I loved it: 18th century, grand but reasonable, celestial allegories everywhere, Atlas:

The audio guide noted that the Tsar’s daughter, who got married to some fellow who lived here, hated it - not just the dampness and dour mood, but the weeping children and skulls over the door. She’d lost a child recently. Hell, even if she hadn’t, she probably would have hated it.

But maybe she would have been cheered by a trip down the Execution Room! That’s where sentences were read, and the marble was designed to let the accused he descended from a long line of historical villany. One fellow was having his eyes put out for rape; Solomon was about to cleave a baby; Brutus was having his sons decapitated. Medusa heads and spiky plants and of course weeping infants reclining by a skull. Merry place.

Of course, there had to be weepy babies in this room, too.

Talk about rubbing it in. It's bad enough you're dragged here to have your sentence announced for the townsfolk to hear, but good Lord, does everything have to say PAIN AND MISERY? A guy has to be thinking I get the point already.

That was it, more or less; a long walk back, a nap because we were dead, and then a stroll for the evening meal. A nice sidewalk cafe with a long wait; amused ourselves by wondering why a light was flashing on and off across the street on the third floor, and whether it was connected to the ungodly screams that seemed to be coming from the same direction.

“Sounds like someone’s giving birth,” Daughter said.

“Have you seen any children in this neighborhood since we got here? No. No one gives birth here any more.” Just kidding, but we’d passed a kindergarten with two outdoor items for play on a rubber mat. One was a metal spring that looked like it was immovable; the other was a round metal ball bolted to the ground.

“Maybe it’s art,” daughter said. You never can tell.


The next day we had some time before the bus arrived, and we walked to Beatrix park. The dark damp city had been replaced by one that seemed fresh, warm, and green, and my attitude about the place, positively modified the previous day, was now set firmly in the “positive” category. Nothing like snap judgements in sequence to give you a verdict you’ll carry until disproved, hard, and with some unpleasantness.

Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BEE-TRIX

The park had art.

Not sure what the attenuated stone fists were protesting; burial, perhaps. It seemed an oddly aggressive thing to see in a park, until you consider that this was supposed to flatter the social conscience of the residents, who took this as a sign that they lived some place where injustice would be resolutely opposed. If not by the Queen, then perhaps the sculptors.

This was where I started to wish I could stay another day.

Back on the bus to the terminal. The Holland America terminal. You’d think they’d have the whole “embarkation” thing down pat, since it is the Holland America line and this was, well, Holland, but it was confused, chaotic, slow, and resembled a group of people trying to leave a city due to be occupied in a few hours by advancing troops. After we got our documents it was another line to the security line, where your bags went through so fast they came out the other end with windburn, and then up the gangway to the Ship. Knew just where to go. The room:

Because of bridge construction, we took a side route out. Slid through a canal for over an hour. It was like taxing a 747 down a superhighway instead of flying, but absolutely perfect.

And now the vacation really begins.

Next: the wettest city in the world.