I waited ten whole days before buying a used bike and equipping it with a set of panniers. Despite being relatively comfortable on a bicycle, I was a bit nervous because there are so many bikes here. It seems that it’s how everyone in Groningen gets around. I decided that my first few outings should be at quieter times of the day, so as not to get swallowed up by rush hour traffic.
It’s raining, as I’m sure it will do many more times during my stay. I have to leave the cozy warmth of my apartment. Is it better to walk or to bike in the rain? If I walk, I’ll be out in the rain longer. If I bike, the rain will pelt me harder. I can’t decide. I’ll have to do an experiment.
My first few days in the Netherlands have been great, I still can’t really believe that I’m here. Here are a handful of pictures…
I’ve spent my first 48 hours in Europe with my sister in London. Yesterday, my sister needed to scout out the British Library for an upcoming project that her students will be doing, so I went too. The British Library is part museum, part library. We spent the majority of our time in the gallery that is the home to many really interesting documents. Manuscripts of some remarkable works of literature handwritten by their authors (Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, Percy Shelley). I loved seeing the edits these authors made to their own great works. Random bits of paper with the lyrics to Beatles’ songs scrawled on them by Ringo Star and John Lennon. I saw a good number of illuminated medieval manuscripts including a great one of Vergil’s Aeneid which was open to the beginning of the second book, the very first lines of Vergil that I ever read. There was also a Gutenberg Bible that was spectacular. In addition to the document gallery, we checked out a special exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On display were various illustrated editions of the story, art work inspired by Alice, and lots of toys. It was cool, but I remain troubled by a drawing of the Cheshire Cat that I can’t shake…
Amidst all the logistical preparations, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about Dutch history, culture and art before I leave for the Netherlands. At the moment, I’m visiting my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece on the East Coast and had the opportunity to check out the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was my first time at the museum and it’s an amazing place. As luck would have it, they’ve got a special exhibit at the moment called “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer.” I feel like I have a decent foundation in Italian renaissance art. The scenes depicted are usually familiar to me because they are often focused on the ancient world. However, what I saw at the MFA today was totally different despite being from more or less the same time period. I particularly liked the paintings that were chosen as representations of manual laborers and farm workers. They were a welcome change of pace from mythology. I really enjoyed their focus on depicting the real world as workers experienced it. But my very favorite thing of all was all the spaniels in paintings… Very cool! I’m looking forward to exploring the world of Dutch painting much more when I’m in the Netherlands.
For whatever reason, Groningen wasn’t even on my radar of cities that could end up being my home for the first half of 2016. When I found out that’s where I’d be, the first thing I did was double check it’s location on a map. Yep, it’s really far north. I need to be ready for weather that’s colder and days that are shorter than I’m used to. I bought a warm, waterproof coat and knitted myself another thick scarf. I’ve learned that Groningen’s university was established in 1614 because the regional assembly wanted a university in the area. Today, about a quarter of Groningen’s residents are students at the university. I was very excited to find out that Groningen is also know as “The World Cycling City.” There are lots of dedicated cycling paths and lanes as well as a car-free zones in the city. I’m looking forward to getting back on a bike in a town that is designed for biking.