Amsterdam Museum and Festival of Light

Lauren Ewing: Light Wave

On one of our evening strolls around Amsterdam, we came across this light sculpture which we discovered was part of an annual Light Festival. Best visited by canal boat, we booked up for a couple of nights later. We knew we were likely to get cold and wet in the evening so looked for somewhere dry and warm during the day, and decided to visit the Amsterdam Museum.

Until 1960, the building housing the museum was an orphanage. In one of the courtyards, shown above, you can see the cupboards that the children used to store their possessions, now filled with art. I wasn’t too taken with the main body of the museum which had been revamped since our last visit to provide (according to Lonely Planet) a “multi-media DNA exhibit, which breaks down Amsterdam’s 1000-year history into seven whiz-bang time periods”. Whiz-bang is not really me, and I also found the red and white timeline wall difficult to focus on.

The Civic Guard Gallery in the arcade next door was more interesting – you could both look down on it from inside the museum and enter (free of charge) from street level. On view are original group portraits, made between 1530 and 2007 by artists such as Bartholomeus van der Helst and Erwin Olaf, as well as Goliath, a 350-year-old wooden giant. From what I remember about the colourful carpet, I think each square represented a different country and we were able to find Scotland from the key.

We did, indeed, get very cold and wet on the way to the (open) boat, but fortunately the rain went off so we were “only” freezing cold during the 75 minute tour of the 35 light sculptures. Here’s a selection of my favourites – this first one is a general view of how busy the canal was, but it also shows one of the installations. Ai Weiwei’s Thinline (the red lights) ran the whole length of the route.

Ai Weiwei: Thinline

You might recognise some of the buildings in the next two images from an earlier post – the funny little roof-creatures outside the library, and NEMO Science Museum. The pyramid is Infinita by Cecil Balmond. In A necessary darkness, Rona Lee chose to invert the norm by projecting a lighthouse beaming out darkness onto NEMO’s wall.

Claudia Reh created a large projection, It was once drifting on the water, on the façade of the Hermitage Museum in collaboration with local primary school children. Myth by Ben Zamora is a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines which light up in different combinations at different speeds.

Eye to eye by Driton Selmani represents a giant nazar amulet that protects people, animals, and objects from the evil eye. If you’ve been to Turkey, you are probably familiar with it – we have one hanging in our bathroom. Whole hole, by Wendel & de Wolf, was probably my favourite installation: it was exciting to be drawn through it into the tunnel.

Lifeline by Claes Meijer was interesting: it showed the waves of sound which a boat engine makes underwater, so changed as we passed it. Lynne Leegte’s Windows are probably self-explanatory!

Floating on a thousand memories (Lighting Design Academy) achieved its effect by reflecting small lights in the water and in mirrors on the water’s edge. The next sculpture is prettier than its title – The life of a slime mold. it’s an enlargement of the mucus fungus by Nicole Banowetz. Nice!

The final pairing is Citygazing: Amsterdam (VOUW) and Be the change that you want to see in the world by Bagus Pandega. The former is a giant light map of the city. The latter scrolls one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes – I think you can just make out see in the passing by. A good motto to live by.

My goodness, were we shivering when we got to this point! We were happy to find a cosy pizza restaurant and then head back to the warmth of our apartment.

This is my last post about Amsterdam itself – for the moment: we’ll be back again later in the year. However, we took a couple of day trips out of the city, so stay tuned for tours of Haarlem and Utrecht.

A stroll round Lanark

Wellgate, Lanark

After our recent visit to the textiles exhibition at New Lanark, we walked up to the original town of Lanark and onwards to Lanark Loch.

Below are the clock tower of St Nicholas Church (1774) and the Provost’s Lamp (1890s). At one time, this ceremonial lamp-post would have stood outside the house of the current Provost (Mayor), but these days it is a permanent fixture outside the Tollbooth. The dog sits on the roof of a house in Castlegate. Sometime in the 1800s, a Miss Inglis lived opposite. She complained so much about her neighbour’s dog that it had to be put down, and in revenge its owner erected this statue so that she would see it every time she looked out her window! It’s called the “Girnin’ Dug” (the “Crying Dog”).

Lanark is one of the few Scottish towns with direct links to William Wallace, whom you possibly know from the film Braveheart in which he was played by Mel Gibson. St Kentigern’s Church (pre-1140s) at the entrance to the cemetery is where Wallace married Marion Braidfute – unfortunately, it’s fenced off so you can’t get inside. I loved the little skull and crossbones on this gravestone next to it – sweet rather than scary.

Nearby is the Murray Chapel, bequeathed to the community in 1912 by Helen Martin Murray in memory of her parents and siblings. It’s not possible to go in here either. The doorway is finely carved – if you can’t read it, the inscription says Thou wilt not leave us in the dust : Thou hast made us, thou art just.

Finally, we had a walk round Lanark Loch. The sculpture at the entrance, Spirit of Flight, commemorates the Lanark Airshow of 1910.

We made our way back to New Lanark along a lovely path called The Beeches – all downhill. What goes down, of course, must come up so we climbed the very steep steps to the carpark and headed for home.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – this week, she’s camellia hunting. As for me, next week I’ll be back to writing about Amsterdam – there’s still more to tell!

Artist Textiles at New Lanark

Horrockses Fashions c1949

Horrockses Fashions epitomised the traditional cotton summer frock in the 1940s and 50s. They were considered affordable, but were also worn by celebrities including the Queen, Princess Margaret and Margot Fonteyn, and the fabric was often designed by well-known artists. The dress on the left uses fabric by Alastair Morton and the other two are by Graham Sutherland.

Aztec by Patrick Heron 1946

The dresses and fabrics in this post are part of the exhibition Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol which began life at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in 2014. Since then, it has been to the Netherlands, the USA and Canada, and now it has arrived in Scotland where you can see it at New Lanark until 29th April. Follow the link for details – I highly recommend it. Three things amazed me – how many of the artists I had never associated with textiles, how different their designs were to their other work, and how many of the garments could be worn today without looking out of place. See what you think!

Henry Moore

Salvador Dalí

Pablo Picasso

Joan Miró

Andy Warhol

A final selection

As with all the images, clicking to enlarge will reveal artist, title and date.

Do you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments. I would love to have that very first dress by Alastair Morton – and the waistline to carry it off!

Glasgow Gallivanting: February 2018

Celtic Connections

Glasgow’s traditional music festival, Celtic Connections, runs from late January into February. As usual, we booked several gigs – Friday 1st February saw us at Òran Mór to see Kathryn Williams, a singer from the North of England. I first came across her many years ago in a documentary about Leonard Cohen in which she covered Hallelujah, and I’ve been a fan ever since. She didn’t sing that, but she closed with Bird on the Wire which brought a tear to my eye and sent me home happy (if that’s not contradictory).

Equally enjoyable was the support – not often I say that! The Brother Brothers, from Brooklyn via Illinois, had such delightful folk / bluegrass harmonies that I bought their CD on the spot. Charming young men too – real brothers, twins in fact, whose surname is Moss. I didn’t bother asking why they hadn’t called themselves Moss Bros, they’ve probably heard it before (might be a British only joke though).

What about the women?

“With” Jessie Stephen

I mentioned last month that I had two women’s history talks coming up in February – I’m pleased to report that they both went really well. The first one took place the day after the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, through which the first women in Britain got the vote, hence I’m proudly wearing my Suffragette rosette. Jessie Stephen, on the screen, is one of the women I feature – she’s one of the few working-class Scottish Suffragettes whose history we know. I recently nominated her for a scheme called Suffrage Pioneers and was delighted that she was accepted – now I just have to think of ways to celebrate her all year! As a start, I’ve guest-posted on The History Girls Frae Scotland where you can read more about Jessie if interested.

Another Suffrage Pioneer is Helen Crawfurd, and Glasgow Women’s Library currently has an exhibition, Our Red Aunt, by New Zealand artist Fiona Jack, Helen’s Great-grand-niece.

Some of the banners on the table read The world is ours, let us go in and possess it and What a debt we owe these women. Very true!

Mystical Gardens

Oo-err – strange goings on in the park! It’s part of an evening light show, Mystical Gardens, which we didn’t go to. These figures are scary enough for me …

A few days later (yesterday) the figures had gone and the slope they stood on was a winter wonderland.

A wintry Glasgow Botanic Gardens

And today, these are the views from my window.

Going nowhere!

Artist Textiles

Who do you think designed these silk squares? The first one is by Henry Moore, whom I usually associate with large sculptures, and the other is by Salvador Dali. They are from a wonderful exhibition we attended called Artist Textiles, so good that I think I’ll give it its own post later. I had no idea that at one time you could buy Picasso, for example, by the yard. Not only were the fabrics on display, but also dresses made from some of them. I loved it!

The last bit

It’s been a busy month, but not a very exciting one in terms of things to write about. As well as my talks, I’ve been up to my oxters in revisions and rewrites before the guided walk season begins.

What is an oxter, I hear you ask? It’s my Scottish word of the month, of course! It means armpit. It’s also possible to be oxtered up the road by your pals, maybe when a little the worse for wear. That has never happened to me, I can assure you, but it does make me think that some day I should run through all the Scottish words I can think of for drunk. That would certainly add colour to your vocabulary!

I hope you’ve all had a good February too. Onwards to Spring at last!


This is not real – but we’ll get to something almost as scary that is!

We’d never before had cause to visit Amsterdam-Noord, the area across the IJ River from the centre of the city, but since our last visit we had read about new attractions opening up there. And it’s so easy to get to – a free ferry from behind Central Station only takes about 5 minutes. Off we set!

First port of call was the EYE Film Institute. I confess we didn’t look at any of the exhibits or see any films, but it was a great coffee stop.

Our main purpose for visiting was the A’DAM Tower, seen in the background of the last photo above. Formerly the offices for Shell Oil, which has since moved elsewhere, the 22-storey building now houses electronic dance music companies. However, it has a café and a restaurant near the top and a Lookout on the roof with Europe’s highest swing, Over The Edge. We had to try that.

On arrival, we were asked to sit on the beam at the top of this post – safely set on the ground, of course! I think we made quite a good job of pretending to fall off. Then we took the lift to the roof – unfortunately, another dull, misty day, so the views weren’t great as you can see.

So – onto the swing then! This is the couple before us. I was a bit nervous at this point …

Over The Edge

Then it was our turn to get strapped in before the swing moved upwards and outwards to leave us dangling over the edge and moving gently back and forwards. Eep!

It wasn’t too bad! I felt quite secure, except that I didn’t like the sensation of slipping forward on the shiny metal seat when the swing went backwards, so I gripped the side bars very firmly all the way through. I’m glad I did it, but I felt I definitely deserved my beer and frites in the café downstairs. Spot the selfie in the model tower!

After lunch, we walked up river to NDSM-werf, a derelict shipyard turned arts community. If we thought we’d found quirky areas before, this time we surpassed ourselves! Graffiti everywhere:

We had coffee in Pllek, made out of old shipping containers. A lot nicer inside than out!

We decided that, given the frequent ferry service, this wouldn’t be a bad place to stay. There are choices! There’s a Doubletree and a Botel.

Or – there’s a crane! Yes, really – the Faralda Crane Hotel has just three rooms, so make sure you book well in advance 😉

Lots of other boats were berthed, mostly not functioning because it was out of season – I fancy the pancake boat next time, but maybe not the rusting submarine.

By this time, the light was fading and it was bitterly cold. Time to get the ferry back – it had been an absolutely brilliant day!

Ferry ride into the sunset

Amsterdam: walking East

Bikes at Central Station

Most days, we began with a walk either to or, in this case, beyond Amsterdam’s Central Station. I trotted happily behind the one with a sense of direction, looking out all the time for more interesting details to photograph. We particularly liked this blue angel which we passed several times.

On this particular day, we were heading for Oosterdok (East Dock) to visit the library. I had already spotted it in my guidebook and Greet, our landlady, also recommended the views from the terrace. She obviously thought we might think a library was a weird place to visit on holiday, but I soon put her right on that!

I’m not sure we ever did find out what the little building outside with the strange creatures on top was, but we fell in love with the library.

There was an exhibition of political cartoons which, knowing little about Dutch politics, I thought might not be very interesting. Turns out, there were two main topics, both of which I knew lots about – try to guess …

After the exhibition, we made our way slowly up through several floors to the terrace. The views were, indeed fine, but would have been better on a less misty day. We could see both Het Scheepvaartmuseum (maritime museum) and NEMO (science and technology museum – the green building). Finally, we went to the café for lunch – some of our libraries have cafés, but they are much more basic than this. My sandwich was one of the simplest dishes on offer.

After lunch, we headed across the pedestrian bridge you can see in the gallery above, passing NEMO and the maritime museum.

We then crossed the road to Kadijksplein in the Plantage district where we watched a boat and tug passing under two swing bridges.

From here we walked along Hoogte Kadijk, a residential street with enough quirks to keep us happy: more carvings, street art, a block of flats built on the site of a former brewery, and an 18th-century wharf where ships are still repaired. The latter is also a museum, although it’s only open on Tuesdays – which this wasn’t, otherwise I’d have had to drag John away.

At the end of the street, we crossed over to view the De Gooyer Windmill, the last of five grain mills in the area and now a private home, before making our way back along Entrepot Dock – former warehouses of the Dutch East India Company now also converted into homes.

This brought us out opposite the Dutch Resistance Museum which we decided to visit – it’s very good but, of course, very disturbing. We’d been to the Anne Frank House the day before and the combined effect was profound. (NB, if visiting the Anne Frank House it’s essential to book online in advance for a specific time slot. Even then, we queued outside for 20-30 minutes so plan carefully.)

Finally, after a warming, and cheering, coffee, we set off for home. It was getting dark by this time, always interesting in Amsterdam.

My next Amsterdam post will take us to the highest swing in Europe. And I wasn’t scared, honestly. Well, only a little bit.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk which today is Portuguese and sunny, so pop over there for a warm-up.

Amsterdam: Jordaan and the West

Jordaan at dusk

Back in November, we spent a week in Amsterdam staying in the Jordaan, a former workers’ quarter which is now given over to shops, cafés and galleries. We spent a lot of time just wandering around it, and the nearby Western Islands, enjoying the quirky sights – we’ve been to Amsterdam six times before so we don’t feel the need to visit all the major museums again. We’re almost locals!

Those sites include quirky house carvings:

Quirky cats and other animals (one is actually real!):

Quirky street art, shop-fronts, museums:

And of course, the buildings and the canals in general, which are, as ever, gorgeous:

The last picture in the gallery above is Het Stuivertje, our favourite restaurant. There are many good places to eat in the Jordaan, but we went back to this one twice. Not only was the food excellent, the staff were absolutely lovely and some of the friendliest we have come across on our travels. Highly recommended if you are ever in the area.

Also wonderful was the landlady, Greet, of Amphora Apartment where we stayed – she and her husband live upstairs. Greet is an artist and the kitchen and bathroom areas were decorated with her mosaics.

We had breakfast in the apartment every day, but only ate dinner there once. We got so wet during the day that we didn’t want to go out again, so stopped off at one of the local supermarkets, Albert Heijn, on our way home. A word of warning – we queued at a “No cash” check-out only to discover that, despite having several different cards between us, none of them was any use. I think the only thing they accept is MasterCard Debit which neither of us has. In the end, the lady behind us in the queue paid for us and we paid her back in cash. The welcoming bottle of wine left by Greet was an added bonus that night!

In the next instalment, we go out east for more slightly-off-the-beaten-track sights. In the meantime, a reminder, or a heads-up if you don’t know, that Wednesday 14th February is a special day. No, not that one – it’s International Book Giving Day. Follow the link for ideas to get books into the hands of as many children as possible, either through personal gifts or by supporting a charity. Much better than a Valentine’s card!

All the same, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day AND a Happy International Book Giving Day on Wednesday.

The Zombie Ward

I seem to have had no time for blogging recently – so here’s one I prepared earlier. In my July Gallivanting post I said:

Over the last few months, I’ve been taking part in a project at Glasgow Women’s Library to research the women associated with the Belvidere Fever Hospital in the East End of Glasgow around the time of the First World War. There isn’t much detail in the records, so the idea was to use our imaginations to create a series of dramatic monologues around our chosen women. On the 4th of July, this came to fruition with a performance and a book, both called Voices from the Belvidere, bringing to life fascinating stories of laundry maids who ran away, nurses who caught fever after fever, and the rare women doctors who followed their calling against all odds. My contribution was called The Zombie Ward: some day, with more time, I might tell you its story. 

Now is the time! Here’s my introduction and monologue as it appears in the book.


At the first meeting of the Belvidere group, my eye was drawn to a picture from the Alice Bauchop collection showing a group of nurses and a young male doctor on a set of ward steps. In particular, I liked the woman in the middle with her arms crossed nonchalantly and a friendly smile on her face, so I was really lucky to find her again in a photograph in the Mitchell Library. Even better: her name, the name of the ward, which disease it treated and the year were all identified. After that it was just a case of using a little imagination – and Wikipedia! I was worried that the term zombie might be an anachronism, but it was first recorded in 1819 and films featuring zombies have been a part of cinema since the 1930s. The former Nurse Watt is talking to her grandson sometime in the 1960s.

The Zombie Ward

Och, Jimmy! You’re not watching zombie films again, are you? I hate that kind of film. Why? They remind me too much of my worst days at the Belvidere. Look, this is me here – your Granny was Nurse Watt in those days. I was an innocent young lassie, just up from Kilcreggan. I’d never even been to Glasgow before, so it was a big shock – so busy! But I loved my work, most of the time. I’d always wanted to be a nurse.

We look happy here, don’t we? That must have been, oh, 1923 I think. Sour-faced Dr Smith left in 1922 and we had the new young doctor. We all liked him. He was much more easy-going. And handsome! Look at his lovely hair. And if it had been 1924, I don’t think we’d have looked so cheerful. If I remember right, that was our worst year ever on Ward 14W.

Encephalitis Lethargica – that was the fancy name for what we treated. Sleepy sickness for short. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Sleepy; lethargic. But it attacks the brain and some of the patients were left like statues. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. It was an epidemic for about 10 years – they say 5 million people round the world got it, and a third of them died. In one year we had more than 150 patients. Men. Women. Bairns. 15 died – one of them a little baby, not even a year old. That one nearly finished me.

Mind you, maybe the dead were lucky. Some of the ones that lived were never really alive afterwards. Conscious maybe, but not awake. Like ghosts. Or zombies. No, Jimmy, I can never watch films with zombies.

Glasgow Gallivanting: January 2018

Mine Woods Walk

Hello, and welcome to Year 2 of my monthly Glasgow Gallivanting posts! January has been busy for various reasons, most of them not particularly photogenic, but we did get one lovely walk on a Sunday afternoon – even if it wasn’t the one we set out for. We wanted to climb a little hill called Dumyat in Stirlingshire (Doo-my-at and not, as I used to think, Dum-yat), but all roads leading there were closed. Instead, we walked through Mine Woods above the pretty little spa town of Bridge of Allan. Even though we weren’t as high up, the views were still great as you can see above.

25 years ago.

We had an anniversary this month: in January 1993 we moved into our current house. I’ve worked out that in my 60 years I’ve had 18 addresses in 10 different towns or cities, so this is quite a big deal. Once we’d unpacked, we took a lot of photos in our new house, and here are a couple with 2018 recreations.

So, I’m older, heavier, greyer and I can’t see without my glasses now, but there’s one thing that’s the same about me in these pictures. Enlarge, and you might spot what it is. Answer at the end!

The Suffragette Oak

I’ve posted several times about Glasgow’s Suffragette Oak, the last time in November (first picture) when I reported the sad news that it had been damaged by Storm Ophelia. The second picture shows what it looks like now. As well as the tear on the trunk, around 30% of the canopy was lost and to make the tree safe the council had to reduce its height and rebalance it. Its health will be closely monitored and some of the offcuts have been given to Glasgow Women’s Library to make commemorative items. We still hope it will survive in this, its centenary year. (The first women in the UK got the vote in February 1918.)

What about the women?

Maryhill Burgh Halls, where I volunteer as a Heritage Tour Guide, currently has an exhibition of old photographs of Glasgow accompanied by a series of events, one of which is me talking about women’s history in Glasgow. I’ve been busy this month working out what I want to say – then cutting it down drastically – and creating a slide-show. The tickets sold out a couple of weeks ago (only 40, but still) and so I’m repeating it two weeks later. Eep! No pressure, no pressure at all. I’ll let you know next month how it goes.

The last bit

Did you spot the common factor in the 1993 and 2018 pictures of me? It’s the ear-rings! This was entirely unintentional. Just after we moved into the house, John went to a conference in Freiburg and brought them back as a gift (I have a fine collection of ear-rings from all over the world as a result of his travels). On the day we took the new photos I chose them because they reflected the diamond shapes on my top, and I only realised when I looked at the old photos again that I was wearing the same pair!

Finally, here’s a short (1 minute) promotional video about Glasgow which I think sums it up really well. You might even recognise some of the places from my blog!

Isn’t Glasgow braw? That’s my Scottish word for this month – it means beautiful. I hope you agree.

So those were some of the things that have kept me busy in January. How has your month been?

Hidden histories

Victoria, Dolores and Isabella

There’s a lot going on round here at the moment, and I don’t have a blog post prepared for today, so it’s lucky that a few weeks ago the lovely Donna at Retirement_Reflections asked me to write something for her series of guest posts and it was published yesterday! So now I can quickly point you in her direction and hope I get caught up for next week.

Donna and her husband retired in June 2015 from their jobs in Beijing, China, where they had lived for fourteen years. They moved back to Canada, and Donna’s blog is about the adventures, discoveries, and reflections she has made since then. Every Sunday, she has a guest blogger – usually, but not always, someone who is, like me, of a certain age. In our primes, in other words. I chose to write about the hidden histories of women in Glasgow, and challenged readers to tell me how women are commemorated in their home towns. Who are Victoria, Dolores and Isabella? Pop over to Hidden Histories to find out, and maybe stay to acquaint yourself with Donna’s blog if you don’t know it already.