What I’ve Been Up To

After four and a half months, and with less than two weeks to go, I would like to present to you the project I’ve been working on as I have traveled around this wonderful country (as well as a couple of its neighbors). As I’ve traveled from place to place, small Dutch town to large German city, I’ve been collecting post cards to serve as a memory book.

I used to try and restrict myself to only one post card and only at museums, so that I would be forced to capture “the essence” in just one postcard size version of a work of art. It didn’t have to be the most famous work in the museum or the most beautiful or well done, but it had to be the one painting that I remembered the most after I had seen and done everything and had arrived at the wall of postcards in the gift shop. For example, the postcard I have from my first trip to the Rijksmuseum is of a busy, 17th century religious work about the animosity between Catholics and Protestants where both are in boats fishing people and objects out of a river. I just thought it was funny (and kind of ridiculous) and it was the painting that stuck with me even more than the giant Nachtwacht or the beautiful landscapes or Vermeer paintings that the museums also boasted.

About a month in, the one postcard rule went out the window and I was picking two or three postcards at some museums where I simply could not choose. I was also buying postcards that would “represent” cities I visited where I didn’t go to a museum. There’s a lovely postcard of Leiden with different views of the city and its canals in my stack, for example.

One of my favorites is one of the postcards I purchased during a trip to Brussels, when I visited the Atomium (the showpiece of the 1958 World Exposition- a giant Iron atom). It’s a black and white picture of people dancing outside in front of a restaurant on the Exposition grounds. In the background looms the giant Atomium, a mid-century modern contrast to the neo-classical building in the foreground. Another favorite of mine is also from Brussels, and it’s a turn of the century black and white photo of the view from the top of the current Music Museum in Brussels. Through the Art Nouveau ironwork balcony you can see the spire of the Hotel d’Ville (City Hall) on Grand Place and the rest of the center of Brussels.

On the back of each postcard I write the date I visited whatever is depicted, and then a couple sentences on what I did and what it was like. Sometimes the back boasts rave reviews (postcards from the Kroller Muller Museum), and sometimes it tells a brutally honest tale of how I only went into the museum because it would have a clean and free bathroom (postcard from the Amsterdam Museum).

Pictures of course have value in the grand scheme of fondly remembering a trip or vacation. But I believe the system I worked out might be even better than simply having pictures. The blurbs I put on the back of each of them helps me remember more vividly the experience I had. It gives me funny stories to laugh about. It helps me remember that I got horribly sunburnt in Leiden and was absolutely overjoyed. It also helps me remember the works of art that were not the famous ones associated with the museum but the ones that truly struck me and that I remembered when I exited through the gift shop.

Plus, for about 1 euro, it satisfies my need for a souvenir.

I’m off to Eindhoven tonight to chill in a hotel until I get on an insanely cheap Ryanair flight to London tomorrow. I can’t wait to find more postcards for my collection. I’ll bet Harrod’s sells them. Collecting these has been one of my favorite things as I’ve traveled around, I recommend doing something similar to all of the other people embarking on study abroad.

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