DE RIJKSMUSEUM 2013 | Amsterdam

It’s taken forever and a day but Amsterdam’s counterpart to Paris’ Louvre, Florence’s Uffizi, and St Petersburg’s Hermitage is finally, finally (can’t stress that enough) fully open to the public again. To mark the occasion, most of Museum Square was decorated with large, beautiful tulips in full bloom, with the Queen herself opening the complex just a few hours earlier. Unfortunately, she was long gone by the time I got there.

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In the nearly five years that I’ve been in this country, all that I’ve seen from the Rijksmuseum, apart from the limited selection of art on display, were the building’s varying degrees of construction. Now ten years and half a billion dollars later (what EU recession??), it finally opened to much fanfare on April 13.

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Even from afar I couldn’t help but feel excited to see what was inside and the festive atmosphere on the busy square just made me feel even more so. Could definitely sense a high feeling of anticipation, and possibly even relief. When the 99 day countdown clock started last January 4, it became clear even the authorities wanted to assure the world that the waiting was nearly over.

As fate would have it we didn’t make it on opening day – the crowds were simply too maddening, especially when entry was free of charge. When Teko and I and a couple of American tourist friends went the following weekend (when it was no longer free, alas), we were early enough to be among the first through the door and went straight to the Mona Lisa of the collection before the crowd came roaring in. It was a first time for me to see the renovated Gallery of Honour complete with all its Rembrandts and Vermeers and couldn’t help but think how lucky the Dutch were to have so much of their heritage intact. After hanging around for ten years in the Phillips wing, the most famous painting in the country is now back to its original location. Like a famous television channel theme song from my childhood once said, This is where you belong…

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Thankfully, their policy of allowing photos was still in place, the absolute opposite of their stubborn next door neighbor, the Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum has clearly learned for a while now that you attract more bees with honey – the room was totally buzzing by the time we left.

Even if it doesn’t reach the breadth and scope of the Louvre, the reborn Rijksmuseum could easily match it in caché – there were enough impressive works coupled with the revived historic interiors to somewhat justify the €15 entry fee, though it is food for thought that the more substantial Louvre only charges €11, and is even free on the first Sunday of each month. That’s Amsterdam for you.
And speaking of food, the restaurant prices proved jaw-dropping – to some visiting Americans friends at least. For three slices of pie, five coffees, and two sodas, the damage reached €50. It surely must have been the juiced-up ambience we were paying for. Either that or they’re trying to slowly recoup their half a billion dollar investment one meal at a time.

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One of the rooms that got me wide-eyed also seemed to come out from nowhere. From one of the exhibit rooms, a heavy glass door opened out to a balcony that overlooked a three story reading room. It turned out to be the largest art history library in the country. Indiana Jones would’ve fit in quite nicely. In this internet age though, I can’t imagine that these books wouldn’t be digitized to save time and space but it was amazing to look at though.
It’s moments like this when I wish I had a better camera. The pictures I took just didn’t do it justice.

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So glad that after a very long time, after considerable delays and expense, the Rijks was finally done, in a sense finally completing the city in which it was an integral part of. She’s back with a vengeance, cleaned up and with more than a fresh coat of paint, ready to show off her extremely subtle make-over. So glad that I was still here while she did.

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