2023 Travelogue: Art and Science in Amsterdam & Mannheim

When I saw that the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was having a once-in-never again Vermeer exhibition, I immediately bought tickets, and took the opportunity to explore a bit of a city I’ve only ever traveled to for conferences.

One of my goals for 2023 was to read more real news, start subscribing to useful newsletters, and to get the hell off Twitter. When one of those newsletters had a recap of what’s new in the art world in 2023, I learned that the Rijksmuseum was having a major Vermeer exhibit, collecting nearly all of his 35 or so known works from around the world. I bought tickets immediately.

I never really grew up as a big art person. It wasn’t until I was taking advanced Spanish courses, studying Picasso and Dalí that I began to understand it. I’ve always entangled the study of art with language and culture, and I almost always make it a habit to visit a museum of some sort when I’m in a new city. I was able to buy tickets early enough to manage the trip to take advantage of a Berlin federal holiday: International Women’s Day, March 8. The exhibition has of course long since been sold out.

Vermeer’s paintings are as spectacular as people say. I’m not nearly educated enough in the field to say smart things about his use of light or perspective, but I do know that when looking at a painting like The Procuress, you could almost feel the fibers of the rug in the painting. It’s fantastic. I was also surprised by how small some of his more famous works are, like The Girl in the Pearl Earring.

Amsterdam is a city I’ve been to a few times before, almost always for a conference. I’ve not had much chance to explore the city, so I took the weekend to get around. It’s one of those cities that looks and feels exactly like it does in the movies. The canals are as annoyingly pretty as you might see in a movie, and the vibe is exactly what you expect—right down to the mass of British tourists doing marijuana tourism. It’s a city I get right from the beginning, but I think my favorite part of it was the fact that it has decent bagels.

A view of a boat tied up on an Amsterdam canal

I’ll say one thing, though. I stayed in the worst hotels I’ve ever been in in my life there. I’ve done the math, and I’ve almost surely stayed in hotels for more than a year of my life. I’m 40, so 1/40th of my life is 2.5%. That’s a lot of overnight stays, and putting not one, but two hotels on my list of worst hotel experiences is quite a remarkable feat. I’m pretty sure both hotels I stayed in were crime fronts. I felt like I was an extra in the movie Hostel. One of them smelled like a rotting corpse. Folks, when staying in Amsterdam, pay the money for a proper Marriot or something. It was awful.

A view looking down a stairwell at some loose boards and sketchy woodwork in an Amsterdam hotel

After my weekend at the museum, I hung around a couple days and did some work out of my company’s beautiful Amsterdam office. Catching up with some coworkers who transferred a year or so ago was pretty nice, and it was good to do some planning and co-working with my colleagues in the Netherlands. It’s good to see what capabilities exist around the company.

Sadly, my holiday off was a little less restful. Since I was out west anyways, I planned a trip to visit a client in Mannheim, and took the direct train there from Amsterdam. It wasn’t long, but with delays it took longer than it should have. It was essentially a working holiday, and I took the time on the train to get some writing done. My client team and I enjoyed a nice dinner that night, had a nice workshop, and then I headed back to Berlin. I made a mistake, though. I needed to be back in Berlin the next morning and didn’t want to take a 5+ hour train from Mannheim, so I flew. But I flew from Stuttgart instead of Frankfurt, and I found myself remembering again how much I despise Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof right now. Seriously it’s a solid 15 minute walk between an intercity train and a train that goes to the airport. Like what the heck.

Anyways, I think the lesson of this trip is that I’m living in the heart of tons of culture, which I can pretty easily just go and see whenever I want. It’s not that expensive to get around, and I don’t even need to take time off of work to do it. I can end my workday and be sleeping in a seedy Amsterdam hotel that night. I could be in Paris whenever I feel like it. That’s pretty cool. Definitely beats Twitter.

Posted: 25.03.2023

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Updated: 24.04.2023

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