Eindhoven & Nuenen, the Netherlands: Discovering the town once home to Vincent van Gogh

Travelling from the beautiful city of Prague to the industrial Eindhoven seemed on the surface like we were taking our foot off the gas with our adventure around the great cities of Europe. How wrong we were though, there is plenty happening in this hip city and beauty to discover among the surrounding rural areas, demonstrable by the effect this setting had on the troubled genius that was Vincent van Gogh.

On the first evening of our brief stay within the city we took to the streets of the centre-most Binnenstad and Bergen districts. The pulsating nucleus of the city is dominated by two things, the historic Sint-Catharinakerk (St. Catherine’s Church) at the centre and it’s nightlife (the area’s nightlife that is, not the church’s) which seems to spread forth from this looming landmark.

Sint-Catharinakerk lit up at night

We filled up on our favourite go-to dinner at de pizzaplaats, situated in downtown Eindhoven on a lively square outside the PAnd P performing arts theatre. Here there are a handful of restaurants with terraces spilling onto the street outside the theatre, making this the ideal place for dinner and a show or just a relaxing spot to have a meal before delving further into the city centre.

As we passed by the Van Abbemuseum and over the river Dommel, we discovered the beating heart of the city. Reminiscent of our nights in the Altstadt district of Düsseldorf, this area can be viewed as one single entity with bar after bar lining the streets and linking the patrons of each one together into one single, swarming organism creating a lively vibe. We remained within this hive of activity for the remainder of the evening soaking up the party atmosphere and stumbled back home to our hotel.

The evening allure of the vibrant city centre

We had an early rise the following morning for a truly unique experience, a trip to Nuenen. The town sits just outside of Eindhoven and claims one of the greatest artists of all time among it’s former residents. Le fou roux (The redheaded madman), as he was once dubbed by the townspeople of Arles, Vincent van Gogh is today considered a brilliant painter who produced many masterpieces throughout his life and his work is celebrated the world over. This was not always the case however.

Van Gogh himself only took up painting as his profession at the age of 27. Tragically he killed himself aged 37 having sold only one painting in his lifetime and garnered very little acclaim within the artistic community. As an emerging artist still honing his craft, van Gogh moved to Nuenen in 1983 where he found a passion for painting peasant life and produced his first major work, The Potato Eaters. We learned all this and more from the ‘outdoor museum’ within the town which tells the story of the former inhabitants life there.

It’s easy to see how such a simple place could inspire great art

From the Vincentre we were able to pick up a map marked with locations of monuments dedicated to the painter, places which played a significant role in his life in Nuenen and many real life sights that van Gogh drew or painted. The attractions include a modern statue depicting an early masterpiece, The Potato Eaters; the houses of his parents and of his neighbour and lover Margot Begemann as well as the De Roosdonck windmill which was featured in no less than seven of the prolific Dutch artist’s paintings.

We even had a stroke of luck as the now privately owned windmill is still operational today and open to visitors on Saturdays. We may have missed out on seeing two of da Vinci’s works during our stay in Milan however our fortunate timing here meant that we got to experience the inside of one of the iconic facets of peasant life in Nuenen which van Gogh so admired.

Inside we were shown around by a worker at the windmill who described the work as his hobby which he did voluntarily. From the remarkable, hands-on experience we learned a little bit about windmills and gained a huge new appreciation of the less celebrated work from van Gogh’s time in the rural town.

A peaceful sight in rural Nuenen

The walk which the route takes you on passes by a tranquil lake distrubed only by a family of ducks, a park area with statues erected in tribute to van Gogh and his work and through the calming countryside which defines the area to this day. Eventually we had to leave the sanctuary of charming Nuenen and return to city life in Eindhoven.

Here we continued our culture trip with a visit to Sint-Catharinakerk. A Roman Catholic church which has remained part of the community since as far back 1240 despite suffering damage and destruction through several centuries of war. The current neo-Gothic version of the church has stood since 1867.

Inside is an impressive cathedral with brilliant artwork, colourful stained glass windows and even a section dedicated to archaeological finds from digs at the site. Bones and artefacts dating back to the medieval origins of the building are all on show so even if you have no interest in churches or architecture, it’s worth a visit for the storied history of the building and the exhibits within.

Designed by Peter Cuyler, the architect behind the Rijksmuseum and Central Station both in Amsterdam

There’s not much to tell from the final evening of our two day stay, mainly because I dragged Kirsty to a crammed Irish bar to catch the final of the Champions League. However we did get another opportunity to immerse ourselves in the vibrant nightlife within the city and look forward to visiting another Dutch city famed for it’s nightlife, Amsterdam.

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