Van Gogh in Amsterdam & Ramsgate


We were in Amsterdam in for a couple of days stopover in October. It is still one of my favourite cities although it is suffering from over-tourism like many of the world’s top destinations. When I first went to Amsterdam over 30 years ago it was possible to visit the Ann Frank House museum as a walk-in customer without queuing. Nowadays even the museum’s website gets overcrowded and the server will put you in an online queue just to buy tickets which have to be purchased well in advance in order to secure a slot.


Worse is still to come for tourism hotspots like Amsterdam, Venice, London, Barcelona and Paris. The Chinese, Indians and Indonesians have only just begun to take foreign holidays en-masse. When ten million Asians book a Spring break in Paris it’s going to get a bit crowded around the Eiffel Tower.

amsterdam-streetAmsterdam is taking steps to prevent it being overrun by tourists, by banning Airbnb rentals in the busiest areas, diverting cruise ships and other measures. For now the city continues to retain its unique charm and culture and long may it last.

Famous Bench

My teenage daughter wanted to visit this bench which apparently played an important role in a film popular with her generation called The Fault In Our Stars. It looks like a regular bench apart from a lot of graffiti and a few of those love padlocks which no doubt have to be regularly removed.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Since we couldn’t get to see Ann Frank’s House we went to the Van Gogh Museum, which also requires advance online booking but I managed to get a slot in time. Visitor numbers are strictly controlled but it is still a bit of a melee in front of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Photography is banned throughout most of the museum otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move for selfie-sticks.

In the museum I learnt that Van Gogh spent some of his young adulthood in England, firstly in London in 1873 working at the London branch of Goupil, his uncle’s art gallery business, and later in 1876 in Ramsgate and Isleworth where, having had enough of art, he tried his hand at teaching.

In London he stayed in various boarding houses including this one at 87 Hackford Road, Brixton (the one with the blue plaque), the house of a teacher called Ursula Loyer. Van Gogh fell for Ursula’s daughter Eugenie and it is believed he proposed to her, unaware that she was already spoken for. This rejection seemingly weighed heavily on young Van Gogh, aged just 20, and he became reserved and withdrawn and may have prompted the beginning of his religious phase.

Van Gogh’s sketch of his Hackford Road accommodation.

After a spell at the Paris branch of Goupil, he returned to England at age 23 where he found an assistant teacher position at a boarding school in Ramsgate. The school, run by Mr William Stokes, was at 6 Royal Road within site of the harbour. It was a bit of a Dickensian dump with rotting floors and windows and Stokes sent his pupils to bed without supper if they were noisy. He didn’t pay Van Gogh a salary but just paid for his board and lodging.

Van Gogh taught here in 1876. This is how it looks today. If you pan around you can see the same view that Vincent sketched here:

Sketch made by Van Gogh of the view from Mr. Stokes’ school in April or May 1876.

He lived in an attic room just a few doors away at 11 Spencer Square, Ramsgate, then a dilapidated block which also housed a few of the boarders. Looks better nowadays:

Soon after Van Gogh’s arrival Stokes moved the school to Isleworth, a suburb of London. Van Gogh was offered an extension of his contract but since he was not being paid anyway Van Gogh moved to a paid position in a better school, also in Isleworth, run by Rev Thomas Slade-Jones school. This is how the building looks today:

He was allowed to give sermons at a local church and run Sunday school lessons which was more in line with his passion for the Bible but his family were concerned that he was becoming too pious and after a visit to the family in Holland in December 1876 he did not return to England.


Van Gogh often illustrated his letters to his brother Theo with sketches in the margins such as this one showing nearby churches at Turnham Green and Petersham. I believe neither of these buildings survives today.

Back in Holland

Luckily for art lovers Van Gogh was not a great success at either teaching or preaching and after his return from England he focussed on his drawing and painting career to leave us with pieces like this.

Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht, The Hague Vincent van Gogh, March 1882
Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht, The Hague
Vincent van Gogh, March 1882

Huis Ten Bosch


It is the summer holiday season and the family wanted to go somewhere with a European flavour so I opted for this place, Huis Ten Bosch.

At Huis Ten Bosch’s main entrance is a carbon copy of Kastel Nijenroode (original in Utrecht). Inside is a teddy bear museum.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is in the Netherlands but it is actually a Dutch-themed resort park near Sasebo City on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

Domtoren tower is 105m high and dominates the park. It is a replica of Domtoren in Utrecht.

Huis Ten Bosch was conceived during the bubble period when Japan’s economy seemed unstoppable. It was a hugely ambitious project built at vast expense, intended to be not just a theme park but the hub of a whole new city to be created on scenic Omura Bay. Timing was poor however and it opened in 1992, just as the Japanese economy was entering its post-bubble recession from which it still hasn’t fully recovered.


Huis Ten Bosch’s creators intended to attract 5 million visitors annually (13000 per day) but it never reached that level and on our trip the number of visitors probably numbered in the hundreds or low thousands.

Great attention to detail gives a real Dutch feel to Huis Ten Bosch’s streets.

The park was loss making from the start and by 2003 it filed for bankruptcy with debts exceeding US$2 billion. But somehow it has survived, perhaps too big and too expensive to fail, and new backers have been found to keep it going.

Cafes and bars sell authentic Dutch beer alongside Japanese beers. Unlike some parts of Amsterdam, there are no legal drugs on sale.

By 2010 the park was starting to look desolate but since then new investment from H.I.S., a travel agency company, has seen a revival of fortunes, and now it appears to be in good repair and most of the attractions are operating, albeit well below capacity.

This Limited Express train takes 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete the journey from Hakata station in Fukuoka to Huis Ten Bosch station.

The park’s remote location on the western extreme of Japan has been another handicap. It is two hours by train from Fukuoka and a whopping 960km from Tokyo (nearly 8 hours by train). Since the park is closer to Seoul or Shanghai than it is to Tokyo the park’s operators are hoping that Korean and Chinese tourists will help to fill the void. However the recent strong Yen might deter foreign visitors – I paid US$100 per person for two-day admission tickets which includes free access to most attractions.

In springtime Huis Ten Bosch displays thousands of tulips but this July it was filled with fragrant lilies.

Lack of visitors might be bad for the investors but it was good for us since it felt at times as though we had this huge theme park to ourselves.

View from the 85m high Domtoren Observatory Platform.

The original concept was to create a theme park for adults, with beautiful gardens, museums, fine food and authentic Dutch architecture. While this is fine for older tourists like me, the lack of thrill rides and amusements did not really draw in the crowds so a lot more attractions have since been added such as a zip line, bungee jumping, a water park, haunted house type exhibits, virtual reality games, hologram theatre and much more.

We were almost the only people in the Hologram Theatre. Impressive 3D technology made us feel as though the performers were appearing live on stage. J-Pop though is really not my thing!
Full sized replica of de Liefde, the first Dutch ship to reach Japan in 1600, running aground near Usiki City on the eastern coast of Kyushu, about 250km from Huis Ten Bosch. The ship’s pilot was William Adams, on whom James Clavell’s book Shogun was based.
The porcelain museum displays 17th – 19th century Imari porcelain and other treasures in a room based on a German palace.
The level of detail of the architecture is superb, faithfully reproducing typical Dutch townscapes when viewed at street level.
Only when seen from above is it obvious that the buildings are all modern fakes and that behind their accurate facades they are mostly shells containing the park’s attractions together with shops and restaurants.

What they have created is a Japanese idealised version of Europe, specifically Holland. It is like old Amsterdam minus all the grubby bits. So there are clogs, canals, windmills, cheeses and Dutch gable houses but no traffic, litter or impolite foreigners who can’t speak Japanese.

These windmills look authentic but their sails are electric powered.

The management wanted some European faces at Huis Ten Bosch to add authenticity to the visitor experience. When the park first opened it employed 100 Dutch staff to entertain and dress up in Dutch costumes. Due to cost constraints they have since been let go but there are still a few western singers and dancers who appear to be from Romania and presumably cost less. They were good musicians.

There is plenty of scary stuff for thrill lovers. This virtual reality-based horror attraction is supposed to be the world’s first. I didn’t fancy it but my adult son confirmed it was very scary.
Henna Hotel
Henn-na Hotel staffed by robots.

There are four hotels within the park, including Palace Huis Ten Bosch which is a copy of a Dutch royal palace. Just outside the park perimeter are another three official hotels, the most recent of which is the Henn-na Hotel, the world’s first robotised hotel where most of the staff are robots. I considered staying there but with my fear of technology I envisaged being locked in my room forever and unable to communicate with Japanese robots. I needn’t have worried, the dinosaur robot speaks English.


You can even live at HuisTen Bosch. The residential community of Wassenaar (red roof tops in the middle distance of this photo) comprises 130 traditional Dutch style houses and 10 apartment blocks lining the banks of a network of canals. They look very nice and are not too expensive by Japanese standards. They are mostly second homes for weekend use and are popular with boat owners who can moor their yachts in front of their houses. The only problem that I can see is that residents would have to put up with the constant replaying of Huis Ten Bosch’s Disney-like theme tune which would be clearly audible from the houses and would be likely to cause insanity after a few days of residence.

The Game museum contains consoles and games from the earliest days of computer games. What’s more you can play them for free.
One of a whole street full of haunted houses. At night a 3D mapping show is illuminated on its facade.

I’ve been to a lot of theme parks over the past few decades. I find them rather tiring with far too much queuing. Huis Ten Bosch is different. There was no queuing at all. It may lack roller coasters and other thrill rides but there is plenty to do for the whole family. I would recommend it.