Amsterdam: museums

Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam’s most famous museum, and the only one of the major museums we visited on our most recent trip, is the Rijksmuseum. How can I review that? I’m not sure I can – it’s so huge and varied – so I shall pick out one part that has special resonance for me. The library! Isn’t it magnificent?

The library was completed in 1881, when the design was considered innovative – the cast-iron and glass roof construction made it possible to read by daylight. It hasn’t changed much since, and now holds one kilometre of books on art history over four storeys, with another five kilometres in underground storage. I’m glad I don’t have to keep them tidy!

Museum of Bags and Purses

The Museum of Bags and Purses (Tassenmuseum Hendrikje) has a collection of over 5,000 items dating from the 16th century to the present day. A bonus – it’s housed in a building constructed in 1664 as the home of the Mayor of Amsterdam, and restored for the museum in 2007. Two of the rooms still have period features.

Kattenkabinet

This museum dedicated to cats in art is also housed in a grand canal house, though not as fabulously renovated as the Tassenmusuem. It was founded by wealthy financier Bob Meijer in memory of his cat John Pierpoint Morgan III. (I wonder what name the cat answered to?)

On our last visit, I don’t remember the collection extending into the garden. Maybe it wasn’t open because the weather wasn’t suitable. This time, it was my favourite part and I amused myself finding as many black cats as I could (because our last cat, Sally, was black).

The bonus here was that we shared the museum with some real, live cats (one more alert than the other).

House of Bols

Before dinner one evening, we decided that our aperitif would be the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience. An interactive, self-guided tour takes you through the history of this Dutch spirit and gives you information about how it is blended, including the chance to test your own nose. We met again the blue and white KLM canal houses (you might recall the large models on Museumplein from a previous post) of which our own collection numbers 56!

And finally, of course, it was cocktail time. Cheers!

This was my final thematic post about Amsterdam – the others were Canals; Parks and Gardens; and Decorative Buildings. And now for something completely different …

Amsterdam: decorative buildings

The decorative buildings of Amsterdam could be a huge list, but don’t worry – this is quite a short post with just a few of the things that caught my eye during our May visit.

The yellow building above is the Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum). We didn’t actually visit it this time – we’d been there in November, but late in the day when it was hard to get a good photograph, so I wanted a better picture of it in the sun. It dates from 1876 and served for several decades as a Jewish cultural centre and synagogue before refurbishment as the museum in 1999.

Café Hans en Grietje, above, is, perhaps, our favourite bar, and the magnificent red door is part of the Waag, the old weigh station, which is now also a café bar.

Speaking of magnificent doors, the building below appealed because of the two green doors at different levels on the turret. Then I noticed the other details such as the cat climbing the wall.

As on our previous visit, it certainly pays to keep your eyes upwards to spot such quirks. Here are a few more of my favourites.

So there you are – short and sweet! This is one of four thematic posts about our latest visit to Amsterdam. The others are about the canals, the parks and gardens and the museums.

Amsterdam: parks and gardens

Rijksmuseum and I Amsterdam sign from Museumplein

Amsterdam might be most famous for its canals, but it also has some very attractive parks, gardens and other open spaces.

Museumplein

At the head of Museumplein lies the Rijksmusuem and the iconic I Amsterdam sign which everyone wants to be photographed with – except us,  we didn’t bother waiting! Down the side are Amsterdam’s other top art museums (Van Gogh Museum and Stedlijk Musuem) with the Concertgebouw at the far end of its grassy expanse.

When we visited, there was also an exhibition of model canal houses. One of the examples below is the KLM building, significant because that airline gives out small blue and white china houses filled with Dutch gin to its business class passengers. As John often uses KLM to fly to China we have an excellent collection at home. The other example is Coster Diamonds, the only model where the real building can be seen behind it (on the right).

Vondelpark

Vondelpark is very close to Museumplein, and is a great place to relax by its ponds, have a meal on a pretty terrace, or admire this proud Mama Duck and her brood of eight.

Hortus Botanicus

The Botanical Garden dates from 1638 and is the only space in this post that you have to pay to get into (9.50 Euros). NB, the flamingos are not in the garden but on the nearby Artisplein.

Begijnhof

Begijnhof

Begijnhof is  an enclosed 14th century courtyard of tiny houses and gardens. It was originally home to the Beguines, a Roman Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who lived a religious vows without taking monastic vows. The last one died in 1971.

Westerpark

Westerpark is slightly out of the centre so maybe more popular with locals than tourists. We enjoyed a wander round – it has some quirky sculptures.

This is the second of four thematic posts about Amsterdam – see also Canals, Decorative Buildings and Museums.

Amsterdam: the canals

I’m sure in any game of word association, the first thing to spring to mind for Amsterdam would be “canals”. Here are a few of my favourite canal scenes, offered without commentary, from our most recent visit in May.

This was our eighth stay in the city, but it was different from the others in two ways. One, we had never been at this time of year so hadn’t experienced Amsterdam in warm sunshine before, and two, we weren’t alone – we were accompanied by our friends Valerie and Kenn. They had only made one half-day visit to Amsterdam many years ago, so naturally we were pleased it was looking its best for them.

As it doesn’t seem that long since I wrote up our last trip, I’ve decided to do shorter, thematic posts this time, of which this is the first. The others are:

Glasgow Gallivanting: May 2018

Yes, we’ve been to Amsterdam again! I wrote extensively about the city after we were there in November, so when I get round to posting about this visit I’ll try to be briefer. It’s the first time we’ve been in warm sunshine and, wow, it looks good that way!

Inchmahome Priory

We actually had sunshine at home too – though not all the time. A visit to Inchmahome Priory at the beginning of the month was a bit grey. The priory (c. 1238) is on a small island on the Lake of Menteith, so you arrive by boat which is exciting. The island’s main claim to fame is as a haven for Mary Queen of Scots – she spent a few weeks here, aged 4, after Scotland lost a battle with the English in 1547.

Edinburgh

We had a sunnier day in Edinburgh. I wanted to visit the exhibition at the National Library to celebrate the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth, and we caught it just before it closed. It was excellent. No photography was allowed inside for copyright reasons, but we took a few pictures in the entrance hall. I loved what they had done to their staircase.

We also managed to fit in two more exhibitions, and a wander through some of Edinburgh’s pretty streets.

Cairnhill Woods

If you go down to the woods today …

… you’re sure of a big surprise!

Surprise one was that I didn’t know about Cairnhill Woods, despite having lived within half an hour’s walk for thirty years, until a friend posted pictures on Facebook of his kids playing near some of the chainsaw carvings. Surprise two was that as I left the woods after my first visit, who should I run into but that same friend and his son? The carvings are the work of Iain Chalmers of Chainsaw Creations and have only been there since 2014, but even without them the woods are a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll, especially at this time of year when the bluebells and primroses are in full bloom.

River Kelvin

On a walk through Kelvingrove Park, two of the West End’s most iconic buildings can be seen peeking at each other from opposite sides of the river (Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and University of Glasgow).

I was pleased that George Wylie’s sculpture was in a complimentary mood, and even more pleased to discover small signs of growth on the storm-damaged Suffrage Oak. It’s hard to see against surrounding trees, but some of those leaves are definitely attached to the oak. There is hope!

Another day, I walked in the opposite direction along the Kelvin to the Garscube Estate, formerly the site of a country mansion and now home to parts of Glasgow University including the Vet School. Coming home via the canal I felt very lucky to have these two waterways almost on my doorstep.

John in China

For the third month in a row, John has spent time in China. This time, to make the travelling even more difficult for himself, he went to a conference in California first! It was a long journey from San Francisco to Chengdu, but at least he had a day to sight-see before starting work again. On my only visit to Chengdu, many years ago, I remember visiting this museum to Du Fu (Tang dynasty poet) with its replica of the thatched cottage he built in 759.

The last bit

Just because I liked them – two windows with a similar theme: the one on the left spotted in Southampton, and the one on the right in Amsterdam.

You might remember I’ve been answering Kim’s Sunshine Blogger nomination questions two at a time each month. Questions five and six are Who inspires you? and Why do you blog? For inspiration I could give many answers, but I’m sticking with my current project, promoting Suffrage Pioneer Jessie Stephen. The more I read about this woman, the more awe-struck I am. Next month’s roundup might well have more news about her. As for why I blog – it started as a personal record for myself, but now it keeps me in touch with all you lovely people who are reading it!

On that very subject, are you an (ahem) older blogger like me? If so, perhaps you could help Rachel at Write into Life by completing her short survey on why you blog and the benefits (if any) you get from it.

Finally, my Scottish words of the month which I’ve chosen to put together because they rhyme. If I said to you “A wee girl chapped on my door and asked if she could clap the dog” you might be puzzled – not least because I don’t have a dog, but please imagine I do. Why is this child applauding it? Well, she isn’t – chap and clap are words which confused me when I arrived in Glasgow as they had extra meanings I hadn’t encountered before. To chap is to knock and to clap is to pat or stroke. So now you know! If you have a real dog, please pass on a few imaginary claps from me.

So those were some of my happiest moments in May – how was your month?

#RoofSquares 1: Amsterdam edition

Becky at The Life of B likes a square go, oops, I mean a square challenge. I’ve never joined in before, but the theme for June intrigues me: Roofs. If you want to join in too, tag your post #RoofSquares and link to Becky’s post each day. You can also see what other people are posting in the comments. Interpret the theme as you please: the only rule is that your main image must be square.

I don’t have time to post daily, so I’m going to post every Friday instead. The roof detail above is from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. The building in its full, non-square, glory is below.

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.

Amsterdam-Noord

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.