Two Dutch museums: Van Gogh in a green park; "A Bridge Too Far"

It was a threatening, gray morning when I stepped off the train in Arnhem, and my energy level was less than at a peak after a night in a couchette from Milan, but I knew that nothing would keep me from fulfilling three travel promises in the hours ahead.

One was a vow I had made in print (Monitor, June 10) to make a Dutch biking tour before the summer was out. And what better place than this rolling southeast sector of the Netherlands where I could also (2) finally pay a visit to the Kroller-Muller museum, a remote repository of outstanding modern paintings and sculptures, and (3) tour the memorial cemetery and museum dedicated to the World War II allied air drop of "A Bridge Too Far" fame.

There are more direct routes to Arnhem than a sleeper from Milan. One can hop a train in Amsterdam and, with a bus connection at the Arnhem station, be at the Kroller-Muller in a few hours.My plan was to do the historic and cultural circuit by rented bike from Arnhem, though at 8:21 on a Sunday morning I had to admit I was challenging the customarily foolproof and efficient Dutch touristic system.

In a country where the two-wheeler is as important as the four-wheeler is to the San Fernando Valley I should have known a bike rental and storage shop would be alive (if not exactly humming) at that hour. Oddly enough the blond lad in charged hadn't heard of the Kroller-Muller (was it my pronunciation?), but he readily turned over a one-speed model with American footbrakes for just 5 guilders (about $2.50) and a 100-guilder deposit. Now I had to wait until 10 a.m. for the local VVV tourist office to open for maps and directions, and I used the time on the quiet Arnhem streets to get my bike legs back.

The hilly and wooded Arnhem region is something more of a biking challenge than the average Dutch tableland (four-and five-day tours can be booked through the local VVV office) but it's nothing a one-speed machine can't take. Using bike lanes and separate trails in spots, I was at the Kroller-Muller in an hour, almost half of the journey taken up by the Hoge Veluwe National Park where the museum and its treasures lie hidden.

Once the park was the private domain of Willem Kroller and his wife, Helen Muller, a tireless art collector. In 1934 Mrs. Kroller-Muller gave her collection to the state, which built a museum to display the mostly 19th-and early 20th-century works that included 276 van Goghs. A new wing was constructed in 1977 to house more recent purchases.

I was pleased to find as much peace and where the museum and its treasures lie hidden.

Once the park was the private domain of Willem Kroller and his wife, Helen Muller, a tireless art collector. In 1934 Mrs. Kroller-Muller gave her collection to the state, which built a museum to display the mostly 19th-and early 20th-century works that included 276 van Goghs. A new wing was constructed in 1977 to house more recent purchases.

I was pleased to find as much peace and where the museum and its treasures lie hidden.

Once the park was the private domain of Willem Kroller and his wife, Helen Muller, a tireless art collector. In 1934 Mrs. Kroller-Muller gave her collection to the state, which built a museum to display the mostly 19th-and early 20th-century works that included 276 van Goghs. A new wing was constructed in 1977 to house more recent purchases.

I was pleased to find as much peace and serenity within the museum as in the green and wooded parkland around it. The paintings -- many Mondrians, Legers, Braques, endless van Goghs -- are hung without crowding in a series of small connecting rooms with ample skylighting and simple gray rectangular rugs centered on gray concrete floors. The titles of the paintings are in Dutch only , but I find that the local tongue, if confusing and guttural to the ear, is almost comically easy to figure out in print. So if beside a small Gris you read "Stilleven met Karaf en Citroen," what else can it be but "Still Life with Bottle and Lemon"?

As the rain clouds rode away and the sun peeked out, I strolled the Kroller-Muller's splendid sculpture garden -- Rodin, Bourdelle, Lipschitz, Moore , Oldenburg scattered amid towering pines and beeches. Drawing the biggest crowd was a huge Dubuffet work maybe 50 yards across, a sort of concrete garden in which visitors are free to roam and recline.

Forty-five minutes later, following the signs to Oosterbeck where the cemetery and war museum are located, I pulled up at a crossroads to check my directions. Instead of consulting the map I hailed a foursome cycling past. "You must come with me," said the leader, a moustached man of about my age. We two fell in behind the others and he recalled the September day in 1944 when the British Airborne and Free Polish units parachuted from gliders into the Dutch countryside in hopes of taking the bridge at Arnhem over the Rhine.

"I was five years old then and living on a farm near here," he said. "I could see the men in parachutes coming out of the sky from a long way off. They didn't have much chance. The Germans were waiting for them before they hit the ground. You know, it had a big effect on me, that sight. For years I couldn't go to an air show."

After a mile or two he pointed me down a narrow unmarked road, and near the end, behind impressive red brick gates, I found the Arnhem-Oosterbeck War Cemetery. Down the center of the perfect greensward are long orderly rows of British graves landscaped with rhododendrons and wisteria; off to the side are the stones marked "Polish Forces," most of them dated Sept. 21-24, 1944. Here lie the victims of the operation coded "Market."

Two years ago an airborne museum without a proper home was established in a large white frame house in the town of Oosterbeck, a few miles from th cemetery. You can't miss it. It's the only house in town with two antitank guns and a Sherman tank in front. Besides detailing the aborted air drop, the handsome exhibits describe the Dutch role in the resistance. There are old photos of local Dutch and, alas, Germans too, on the same simple black bicycles one sees on the town paths today. There is a front page from a Sept. 18, 1944, paper with the lead story by Stanley Woodward, a noted journalist (and sports columnist in peacetime). It describes the difficult Allied attack and is datelined, "Somewhere in Holland, Sunday." Here, 36 summers later, the same words might have summed up my own expedition. Somewhere in Holland, Sunday.

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