Sometimes I overlook the good things lying right across my doorstep.
I almost skipped over Gary Bembridge's "Tips for Travellers" podcast on Dusseldorf: what could there be to say? I had passed through many times: my impressions from the airport and train station were of a charmless city, as compared to Koln or Dutch destinations. But Gary claimed that it was full of life, with wonderful arts, fashion, restaurants, and festivals.
Clearly, I had missed something.
So, as the rain moved back into Arnhem on Sunday, it was worth taking a spin over to Germany and check things out. Encouragingly, the clouds dissipated and trees came into bloom as the road ran on toward the rising sun.
The first destination was the K20 art museum, located next to the old city center. Critics praise the building's design, jet-black stone and curved facade, but I was much more impressed with the collection of paintings. The current exhibition, A Last View - The Collection's Masterpieces, shows many of Picasso's works in various styles (his versatility is amazing: he was always moving on when others were catching up), a wonderful room of Klee's colorful paintings, several of Kandinsky's "Composition" series, and diverse works by the Blue Riders, Chagal, Pollock, and Matisse. I've always liked the energy and creativity of the post-World War I artists, and the K20 galleries are well arranged and full of light. The guards are a bit twitchy, but this is really worth a couple of hour's visit. The K20 will close on April 27 for renovation until autumn 2009, so now is the last chance to see it.
Outside the gallery, it's a short stroll to the pedestrian core of the city. The Ko fashion area was closed on Sunday, but the 240 bars and restaurants that make up the Altstadt was jumping. I think that it was Football Sunday: the Irish pubs were doing brisk business with the Liverpool and Chelsea matches, and the streets and bars were crowded with couples and small groups. Strolling musicians (guitars and accordions) keep things festive, and there are restaurants to fit any imaginable taste and appetite.
A long line of people wound across the street from one dark archway where a small shop selling waffles was the focus. I joined the queue, and was rewarded with a really wonderful powdered sugar waffle. It was heavier than the Belgian version, and slightly undercooked in comparison to a US breakfast waffle, but the recipe was very good. Some people were eating them with ice cream and jam, but I preferred the simpler variety (very filling in any case).
The nearby Dussel riverfront was good place to walk off all the sugar. The city is set back from the rushing water, providing a wide walkway lined with restaurant pits that remind me of the Scheveningen beachfront. KD River cruises depart for Zons and Koln (a five-hour one-way trip), the fast current was making for tough sailing both for the cruises and the river barges, but it will be great on a sunny day.
Overall, I was really impressed with the ambience and activity throughout the area: the art was outstanding and the outdoor focus will really be good once the nicer weather arrives.