Tourist at Home: Renwick Gallery

It truly boggles my mind, how many quality museums and galleries we have access to living in the D.C. Metro area, and I’m constantly adding to my list of must-sees as exhibits come and go. Chris and I both had yet to ever visit the Renwick Gallery, so over the long July 4th weekend we decided to go see the WONDER exhibit before its final days.

Part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery houses contemporary crafts and decorative art, and admission is free to the public. And if the free entry isn’t enough of a bonus, photography is encouraged!

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The Renwick Gallery completed a huge two-year renovation last year and reopened with the highly Instagrammable exhibition, WONDER, full of large-scale whimsical pieces.

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I’ll leave any real critiquing to the true art connoisseurs, but I personally loved this exhibit. As the title suggests, the pieces play with the imagination and inspire wonder. I especially loved Gabriel Dawe’s vivid piece, Plexus A1, constructed of sixty miles of rainbow-colored threads.

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A few of the installations will remain as part of a long-term collection including the hanging Volume piece (shown below), but three of the other works will close next weekend on July 10th.

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Aside from the WONDER exhibit, there are plenty of interesting and beautiful works of art in the permanent collections.

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The gallery is located just a few blocks from the Farragut West metro station so it’s an easy addition to any D.C. day itinerary. We popped in shortly after opening (10am daily), and since it’s a smaller building we spent a little under an hour meandering through the various displays. I highly recommend a visit, and bring your camera!

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Netherlands Snapshot

It’s (finally!) time for my superlatives round-up for The Netherlands! As usual in my Snapshot posts, I’m including a few never-seen photos and stories from our trip this past April.
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Best Moment

I absolutely loved our visit to Keukenhof Gardens. I set off for Holland with a longtime dream of photographing tulips, and it was at the gardens that I officially checked off that bucket list item. Being the worrier that I am, I fretted before we left that the tulips wouldn’t be in bloom during our visit, but (obviously) it worked out perfectly and I practically skipped around the park snapping away with my camera.
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I loved that while Keukenhof is mostly a huge, well-manicured park, there were also some secluded areas that felt like we were in the middle of rural Holland. It was all beautiful along each path and around every corner.

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Worst Moment

Alternate category title: Museum Misfortunes. Our time in The Netherlands was actually pretty smooth, so the two worst moments weren’t even that bad, but they were both museum-related. First, the day that I was able to purchase advanced tickets online for the Anne Frank House also happened to be King’s Day, and getting from Point A to Point B through the thick crowds proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We nearly missed our scheduled time to tour the museum because we had to wade our way through mobs like this one. We even got a bit separated from each other and I couldn’t see Chris for a few minutes, inducing a lost-child-in-a-department-store kind of panic.

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Adding to the stress, we were using my iPhone to navigate and it ran out of juice before we located the museum. We did find it just in time and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to tour this historically important exhibit.

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And then on the last day, we walked over to the Van Gogh Museum for their Vincent on Friday event only to realize I had not purchased tickets in advance like I thought I did. Oops! I’m usually incredibly organized when it comes to travel planning, but I goofed this time. We opted not to stand in the super long queue in favor of packing for our flight the next morning, so sadly we missed the museum. Next time, as I always say!

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Best Meal

As much as I loved trying local favorites like bitterballen and poffertjes, my favorite meal was actually a burger and fries! It was the smokey flavor of local cheese that made the burger amazing, though. That, and we sat at this cool table with our own self-serve Heineken tap! Fun fact: I tried my very first Heineken while in Amsterdam.

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Something We Learned

The fascinating process of how Dutch clogs are made is no longer a mystery to us thanks to the Wooden Shoe Workshop in Zaanse Schans. The machinery mesmerized us as simple blocks of wood rapidly transformed into the familiar wooden shoe shape. I was shocked at how quick it happened!

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We’re Thankful We Packed

Orange accessories to wear on King’s Day! My orange t-shirt ended up beneath layers of hoodie and jacket, but it’s in there. I found the sunglasses on Amazon for $7, and I purchased the lei in one of the many shops in Amsterdam selling everything orange for the occasion. (Side note: I’m not sure what happened in the King’s Day photo below. I think my point-and-shoot might have accidentally applied some kind of filter/effect? But I think it’s kind of fun.)

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We Didn’t Need To Bring

Short-sleeve tops. It was so cold for our visit in late April that we needed to wear multiple layers all day every day. Brrr! (This one is a direct cut-and-paste from my Belgium Snapshot because the same exact thing was true of both places.)

Trip Regrets

Not a thing! I would have loved to stay longer, as is true of most places, but I loved our itinerary and I don’t have any regrets.

Reasons To Go Back

We didn’t get to go to the Van Gogh Museum (see above) so this is on our list for next time! We also didn’t “get” to try pickled herring, so um…I guess I can put that on the when-we-go-back list.

Favorite Photos

Hands-down, this is my favorite photo! It’s the exact image I wanted to make on this trip.

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I also love this shot Chris took of some love locks along a canal bridge.

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  • AdrienneJuly 2, 2016 - 12:29 am

    I could look at your tulip photos all day. :) I think my favorite image though is the one of the blue and white clogs – I love the repeating pattern. (And having tried pickled herring in Sweden, I can assure you you’re not missing anything.)

Belgium Snapshot

I’m a little behind in getting it done, but it’s time for a snapshot post! So without further ado, I’ll summarize our time this past April in the land of beer and chocolate with a Belgium snapshot!

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Best Moment

As cheesy as it sounds, I really enjoyed our little canal cruise around Bruges. On a day that treated us only to pockets of clear skies, we managed to hop on the boat at the perfect time for a brief pause in the rain. The skies turned momentarily blue, and it allowed us to appreciate our tour of the city’s sights via water. We also loved our tour of De Halve Maan Brouwerij, but I’ll have more on that in a separate post soon!

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Worst Moment

On our third morning in Bruges, we were signed up to do a walking tour of the more hidden parts of the city and we ended up being the only two participants in the tour. The forecast predicted some sprinkles, but we encountered an absolute downpour. Our super enthusiastic guide was too willing to keep touring despite my pleas to call it a day and end our private tour, so we stayed out (getting soaked) longer than I would have liked. I can handle the cold and I can handle a bit of rain, but when they’re combined I am a big baby and I get a bit whinier than Chris would prefer.

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Best Meal

We loved our dinners at Cambrinus (don’t miss out on their amazing cheese croquettes) and De Koetse where I tried (and enjoyed!) moules frites for the first time. But in the best-of category, both Chris and I couldn’t get enough of the Belgian waffles covered in real melted chocolate at Oyya. We ended up eating there twice. It wasn’t a meal, but it was definitely our favorite thing we ate in Belgium, and it was just the thing to brighten a gray, drizzly day.

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Something We Learned

We learned that at any given time, Bruges is required by law to keep swans on its lakes and canals at all times. Specifically we were told that it has to be at least 100 swans, but I haven’t been able to confirm that exact number. Either way, we did see quite a few long-necked feathered residents on the water and hanging out in this area:

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We’re Thankful We Packed

Umbrellas. It rained quite a bit in Bruges, and it was a cold, sometimes even icy rain so we were glad to keep dry as much as possible (aside from that walking tour). Thankfully in between the rainy moments we did have periods of beautiful blue skies and sunshine, so I’ll still remember sweet Bruges quite fondly.

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We Didn’t Need To Bring

Short-sleeve tops. It was so cold for our visit in late April that we needed to wear multiple layers all day every day. Brrr!

Trip Regrets

I don’t think I actually have any regrets about our time in Belgium. I mean, I do regret that it was a little chillier than we expected and it rained about half of the time, but I’ve learned not to lament the weather during our travels too much (despite the fact that I’ve mentioned the weather at least a dozen times in this post alone).

Reasons To Go Back

While I think we covered Bruges pretty well, I think we’d enjoy seeing Ghent and Antwerp sometime!

Favorite Photos

Climbing to the top of the belfry rewarded us with some great birds-eye views and I love the results despite the wet weather.

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And then there’s this photo which is quite representative of our time in Belgium: eat all the waffles!

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  • SamJune 17, 2016 - 2:41 pm

    All the waffles!

    Beautiful pics as always. It looks just like I remember it. So glad it was a great trip for you guys ❤️

  • SusanJune 18, 2016 - 10:31 am

    All the waffles, indeed! (Accurate waffle count: three. But that’s still one per day.)

  • AdrienneJune 18, 2016 - 4:26 pm

    I think I’ve told you this before, but I love your idea for these “snapshot” style posts. Such a good way to give people a sense of what the trip was really like! I would have loved the canal cruise too (and the waffles of course!)

  • SusanJune 26, 2016 - 2:40 pm

    Thanks, Adrienne! I love including a few more behind-the-scenes details, especially for my own memory’s sake!

Zaanse Schans: A Dutch Fairytale

If there is one scene that comes to my mind at the mention of The Netherlands (besides tulips), it’s a Dutch countryside setting featuring windmills. So when I planned our trip with a healthy dose of Amsterdam city life and a day trip to the tulip fields, I knew I also wanted to work windmills in there somewhere for a perfectly balanced overview of Nederland. Enter Zaanse Schans, the super quaint neighborhood in Zaandam with several well-preserved, historic windmills.

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Zaanse Schans is just a short 30(ish)-minute trip from Amsterdam, so Chris and I hopped on the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Koog-Zaandijk. After a short walk from the train station, we crossed the bridge over river Zaan and I surveyed the scene straight out of a fairytale: windmills dotting the shore along water, sweet picturesque homes, and wooden foot bridges connecting winding pathways. Zaanse Schans certainly rounded out our quest for a quintessential Dutch experience.

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Not only did we enjoy seeing and photographing the windmills from the outside, we even had the opportunity to tour the inside of a windmill, De Kat, as it was working. We had fun climbing the steep steps and taking in the view up top while the floorboards shook beneath us from the power of the gears.

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And as the cherry on top of our Dutch day, we were treated to a (free!) demonstration on how to make wooden shoes at the Klompenmakerij. I couldn’t believe my eyes at seeing how quickly plain blocks of wood were transformed into a perfect clog shape.

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In addition to the windmills and wooden clogs, you can also get your fill of local cheeses at the Cheese Farm De Catherinahoeve, rent a bike for a scenic ride in Dutch country, and pop into all of the cute shops and cafes. I can’t recommend Zaanse Schans enough as a fun, easy, and fascinating day trip from Amsterdam.

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  • AlvinMay 22, 2016 - 10:59 am

    Beautiful Collection Susan!! Love the captured details and colors! Alvin

  • SusanMay 22, 2016 - 10:26 pm

    Thank you, Alvin! I could have stayed with my camera all day. And you’d probably love the people-watching there!

Tiptoeing Through the Tulips in Holland

As our flight descended into Amsterdam, I gasped, “LOOK AT THE TULIPS!” to Chris…and to all of the passengers within several rows. I snapped a quick (and fairly terrible) iPhone shot through the dirty, scuffed-up airplane window, and spent the rest of the time gawking at the birds-eye sight of The Netherlands, exactly as I had imagined it.

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So technically, teeeccchnically I could have crossed off my longtime bucket list goal of photographing tulips in Holland right then and there. But I had high hopes for doing a little better than a blurry iPhone snapshot. And then when we checked into our Oud-West neighborhood Airbnb apartment, a fresh bouquet of tulips awaited us. The next day we found them throughout the city, too, and thus plenty of tulips ended up in front of my lens. So again, I suppose I could have checked the box on being in Holland and taking pictures of tulips.

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But I had dreamed of photographing the tulip fields specifically, the rows upon rows of perfectly placed bulbs, blooming in bright springtime colors. With time and convenience in mind, my trip research pointed me to Keukenhof Gardens, where I’d be able to spot as many tulips as possible within a 30-minute bus ride from Schiphol.

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We purchased the combi tickets online before our trip, which allowed us to simply hop onto the 197 bus to the airport from the Leidseplein/Museumplein area of Amsterdam and then the 858 Arriva bus (big green bus covered in tulips – you can’t miss it) to and from the gardens. I liked that the combi tickets weren’t tied to a specific date, so we were able to play it by ear and pick the best weather day. I briefly considered a tour group simply for transportation purposes, but it would have taken up the whole day with no flexibility for the weather. I’m glad we went on our own schedule.

Keukenhof dazzled me from the moment we stepped through the gates (admission is included in the combi ticket), and I ran around photographing as many bulbs as possible before I wore myself out. Plenty of other people had the same idea that day, but despite the crowds it was still completely possible to find pockets of the park to ourselves, and to take pictures without people in them. I originally wanted to rent a bike and ride through the fields, but as was the theme of our trip, it was just too cold. I was happy to have a rain-free afternoon to see and photograph the flowers, so I’m not complaining! (Tip: flowers don’t always photograph as well in bright, direct sunlight, so don’t be discouraged by an overcast day!)
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Several resources in my research advised to plan a half-day or even a full day at the park. I suppose it depends on what you hope to accomplish, but we were there a little over two hours and saw everything we wanted to see. If you include a mealtime there, plus moments to just sit and take it all in, and/or are visiting with kids and plan to play on the playground and spend time at the little petting farm, then yes, you can probably fill the day.

We didn’t eat a meal at the park, but we did find very tasty waffles and poffertjes (mini pancakes) at a stand near the playground. We also did a boat tour around the fields, but I found it to be a bit slow and some of the fields had already been harvested so we were often gazing at empty plots of land. I think it took about thirty minutes.

And now…copious amounts of tulip photos.

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This photo of the field is the exact shot I was hoping to get! Rows and rows and rows…

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It was so fun to cross this one off! Up next: an afternoon in the quaint neighborhood of Zaanse Schans.

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  • AdrienneMay 29, 2016 - 11:13 pm

    Loved all your posts about The Netherlands! I’m so happy for you that you got to see and photograph the beautiful tulips in all their glory.

  • SusanMay 30, 2016 - 6:57 pm

    Thanks, Adrienne! This was such a fun one to cross off of the list! (And I’m thankful that the tulips showed up.)