A “Movable Feast” in Europe—Part III

Erik Renssen-Oil on Canvas

To bask in her warmth

aurora for anguished soul

karmic interlude

In the third leg of our trip, we focused on representative cities and towns in Northern Europe.  In Germany, we visited Munich and Berlin, in the Netherlands, Amsterdam, in Belgium, Bruges, in the Czech Republic, Prague, and in Russia, St. Petersburg.

Whenever possible, we rode overnight trains across Europe, five of them in total. I love trains. The high-speed sleeper trains have a rhythmic, hypnotic quality about them that makes long-distance travel restful and relaxing. We left on the overnight trains between 19:00 and 21:00 and arrived the next day, refreshed and prepared to work or play.

Antique Japanese Kite-Deutsches Museum-Munich
The Universality of Music-Old Jukebox
The King lives on. Long live the King.
Bonsai! Banzai! Kampai!
Restaurant Wasabi in Saint Petersburg

A few impressions stick in my mind about our entire journey, perhaps hackneyed yet so true that they merit restatement:

My first impression is the incredible diversity in Europe, a kaleidoscope of distinctive language, cuisine, dress and customs. Notwithstanding this quilt work of culture, the force of globalization has created a common, international patina. English remains a lingua franca in Europe, so that in all places I could bluster my way through to communicate despite limited knowledge of the local languages, and in Russia, a virtually zero command.

In Bruges
à votre santé
The medieval town of Bruges preserved in the 21st century.
The Begijnhof (Convent), UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bruges

Like it or not, globalization is here to stay. The clock does not tick backward. You can be in a restaurant like Teplo in St. Petersburg (a marvelous place owned and operated by women), or Dressler in Berlin, Palladio in Amersterdam, and ‘t Huidvettershuis in Bruge— and it is if as you are eating  in San Diego, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires. Despite this convergence, national culture resonates with delightful accents of local flavor and charm. Visit, for example, the grandiose beer gardens in Bavaria, and drink a liter of Helles Lager to the beat of German university students, or listen to middle-aged Russians sing Soviet era folk songs in a St. Petersburg restaurant(just as though en masse they were entertaining in a huge Tokyo Karaoke Bar)—and you will be assured that local culture is alive, well, and pulsating.

A myriad of canals, bridges, encounters in Amsterdam
See what I am talking about?
Houseboats are the rage in Amsterdam.
You can farm here too!
And eat well (as well!)
But watch out for the bikers, who run 'fast and furious'.

My second impression is the incredible beauty in our world, everywhere. Ask me what I consider the most beautiful place that I visited in Europe and I could hazard a guess, but it is like asking me what I want to eat as a last meal or what is my all-time favorite movie. No country has a monopoly in beauty. There is no epicenter in this world. Each country can point to the splendor of its own terrain.

Overlooking the Charles Bridge in Prague
Astronomical clock dating from the 15th century at Old Town Hall in Prague
It took 600 years to complete St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
Rooftops tell the story...
Church of the Savior on the Blood-Saint Petersburg
View of the Hermitage at 1am
White nights in Saint Petersburg— the sun doesn't quite set
Party time on the Neva River
St. Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg at 3am
View from the window of St. Isaac's Cathedral
A closer view

My third impression has to with harmony. We humans crowd the planet, and in the leading destinations of Europe, tourists further overload the travel lanes—yet not once in the 2 ½ months on the road did I witness an argument (except a couple of internal arguments that I had with myself!). People went about their lives in harmony, both the tourists and their local hosts. It reminds me that by and large it is the politicians (in power or clamoring for power) who make war or peace. The proverbial man on the street is coaxed to align with the government’s agenda. He may be indoctrinated to hate but his natural instincts are to love.

The light of eternal hope—peace memorial at Dachau
A soldier stands vigilant at Prague Castle.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at Checkpoint Charlie
Fragment of the Cold War Wall separating East & West Berlin
Wall Painting-Communist era East Berlin

Museums and the Art Scene

Marc Chagall-Behind the Looking Glass

I have been lucky to visit most of the world’s top museums, including the Louvre, Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art(MoMA), Museo Nacional del Prado, National Palace Museum Taipei, Rijksmuseum, Musée national Picasso Paris and Museu Picasso Barcelona.

On this trip to Europe I could enjoy a magnificent exhibition of Chagall paintings at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, as well as visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. By themselves, each museum justifies a trip to their host cities.

Art Gallery at the Hotel Putlitzer, Amsterdam

Stroll along Spiegelgracht, the street and canal leading up to the Rijksmuseum, and you will discover how abuzz Amsterdam is with art. Visit the Renssen Art Gallery at Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 44 (http://www.renssen-art.com/) and you will  both see some wonderful Dutch modern art and be received cordially by the artist’s wife, Suzka Michels.

Poster at Van Gogh Museum with 'live' Amsterdam buildings reflected in background
Rock Garden at Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum at Paulus Potterstraat 7 houses the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, from his earliest works until those completed right before his death.

The Hermitage—a Tour de Force

The Hermitage at 2 Dvortsovaya Square
View of the roof of the Winter Palace
The Peter Hall (Small Throne Room)
Main (Jordan) Staircase of the Winter Palace
A minor hallway in the Hermitage
The Great Throne Room (St. George Hall)
The Gallery of 1812

The Hermitage stands out both for the greatness of the art masterpieces that it contains and the startling beauty of the museum itself. The five buildings that comprise the Hermitage (Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, New Hermitage, Large (Old) Hermitage, Hermitage Theater and Winter Palace of Peter the Great) are world cultural heritage in their own right.

Leonardo da Vinci-The Madonna and Child

Plan on at least one full day to feast on a sampling of what this cultural treasure house  offers you. You’ll just be getting started on an exploration of the Hermitage, with world treasures ranging from antiquities of Siberia and ancient Egypt, as well as earliest Eurasian art and culture, to the finest works of the great European masters.

And I hope that I’ll see you there!

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2012 Warren J. Devalier