Having been a budget traveller all my life, the thought of booking a professional guide to a museum would never have occurred to me. Since there are so many books and other resources on every possible artist, historical period, or art movement, I thought it an unnecessary expense. If nothing else, we’ve got the internet! This was until I got an invitation to join a semi-private tour with Context Travel.
It all starts with a name. And their name had a lot to do with why I accepted their invitation. Synonyms to context are “conditions”, “environment”, “circumstance”. I wish more people looked to pay attention and understand the context of the places where they travel to: what makes their destination take the shape it does, the cultural aspects that make it unique, what lies beneath the surface. Context Travel is a name that points to a good direction: as a traveller, you do not stay on the surface. You dive. Now, that’s something I like.
At Amsterdive, I am intentional with avoiding the hotspot and the stereotype. The Van Gogh Museum has long become the epitome of the Amsterdam cliches that the typical tourist think they need to cross off their list. We’re talking crowds here. Crowds don’t exactly create a suitable environment for contemplating and experiencing works of art. But, at one point or another, one needs to do the work of verification. Especially when we’re talking about an institution like the Van Gogh. If there is a perk to being a blogger, the opportunity to join experiences you wouldn’t otherwise take part in is undoubtedly one of them. So I decided to face the scepticism. It was a sort of Van Gogh Museum: It’s Now Or Never.
We met at Museumplein on a convenient Monday, 09:00. By convenient I mean, the museum will not exactly be quiet but, at least, it’s not peak time on a weekend.
Anna Heimbrock, our guide, was very friendly, professional, and energetic. She started by introducing herself and asking us what our motivation was to follow the tour, how much did we know about the artist, or if there were works we wouldn’t want to miss. I learned that, with an MA in Museum Education, she was an expert in her field. We started the enterprise by contemplating one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits in silence, a ritual that Anna kept throughout the whole experience. First, she let us absorb the art, and then she proceeded with the talking.
Van Gogh was a prolific artist who, according to Wikipedia, has created about 2,100 artworks in less than ten years. His genius was recognised only posthumously, which arguably contributed to a troubled existence, which was moreover plagued by mental health issues. This tour gave us the opportunity to explore in-depth not only the whole spectrum of his artwork but how it evolved over time. We also got to see the work of his contemporaries and understand their Historical context. That’s when the guide’s input is the most interesting, in helping the visitor connect the dots of the story. And I must say that I got impressed with how knowledgeable Anna was. I have followed the tour with a fellow blogger who was well-versed in the artist’s life and every time she asked questions, Anna had a solid answer, which also revealed a passion for the topic at stake (find more about Anna’s museum ventures on Instagram @wonderwomenatm).
Many of you might know that Van Gogh’s life is documented in the first person in the correspondence that he exchanged with his brother. This fact adds an extra dimension of depth and drama to the experience of the museum, so I left feeling like I can now understand the hype a little bit better. Also, I wouldn’t have dove the way I did had I not have my guide’s expertise in highlighting and intertwining the most critical aspects of the story of a legend. Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much crowds make me nervous. That morning though, I got so absorbed in Anna’s words that I forgot the mass of people around me. The moment I noticed it, it became evident that, yes, this is an experience that I can only recommend. After seven years in Amsterdam, having been introduced to the Van Gogh’s universe by Context Travel was a delightful treat.