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.


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.

2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.


Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!


Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.


So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.


I can’t believe it’s now over two months since our trip to Amsterdam and I still have some pictures to post! We took a day trip to Delft – here’s a word of warning about travel first. Transport within Amsterdam is well integrated, but we came a cropper with train tickets. Instead of getting the tram to Central Station and catching the train there, we believed an app which told us the quickest journey was to get a tram to a suburban station. It probably would have been quicker, but unfortunately, when we arrived at that station the ticket office only dealt with the trams, not the trains, the ticket machine wouldn’t accept any card we had, debit or credit, and cash seemed to be coins only. So off we headed to Central Station, where we found buying a ticket was actually much cheaper. The supermarket we used also accepted a limited range of cards (Maestro), so be prepared! And don’t believe everything the travel apps tell you.

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Delft and had a lovely day. Head for the Tourist Information if you go there – staff were very helpful, and we bought a map with a walking tour of the town. We had been once before, about 20 years ago, but not much has changed. It’s beautiful. Yarn-bombing included!


The orchids of Keukenhof

Keukenhof is a park amongst the bulb fields near Amsterdam which puts on a lovely display each Spring – well, except this one! We have been before at this time of year, and it has been beautiful, but this year’s cold weather has certainly inhibited growth, and I really worry for the fate of some of the bulb farmers because I couldn’t even see shoots in some of the fields. Despite the bitter cold, we decided to visit anyway because the hothouses wouldn’t be affected, and we still had a wonderful day, coming away with about 200 photos, so there will be several posts. This one covers the Beatrix Pavilion which housed the orchid show – absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy the photos!

NB The best way to get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam is to buy an all-inclusive ticket from the Tourist Office (there was one in Leidseplein near where we were staying) which covers the entrance fee plus fares for a bus to Schipol and then one directly to the park.

Prinx Apartments, Amsterdam

In March 1981, two young people went to Amsterdam for their honeymoon on what was known as a British Rail Stardust Holiday – train, overnight ferry, two nights in a hotel, overnight ferry, train. Exhausting. However, we, for it was indeed us, fell in love with the city and have been back several times – last week was our sixth visit. These days, we travel more comfortably, and the last twice we have forsaken hotels for the wonderful Prinx Studio Apartments which I heartily recommend. Beautifully run by Ton and Hector, the house is on a quiet canal near the Rijksmuseum and not far from the myriad restaurants in the small streets round Leidseplein. In the six nights we were there, we ate Italian, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Indonesian and Dutch, all within a few hundred yards of Prinx.

On our last visit, we used the I Amsterdam card for discounted access to museums – it’s a great idea, but this time, we didn’t bother because the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are not open until later this month after extensive refurbishments, and we planned to make a couple of trips out of the city. I’ll  blog about them later – in the meantime, here is a flavour of the lovely area in which we stayed.

2011: the best bits

I started this blog mid-way through 2011, really as a travel diary for myself which I hoped to complete retrospectively, so that I had a record of the great holidays we have had. We have thousands of photographs which we never look at and I think if I blog the edited highlights I am much more likely to revisit past travels. It hasn’t really happened that way – I’ve only done one retrospective post! However, as well as blogging my main holiday, I have been writing up the days out we have had in Glasgow and around, which wasn’t my original intention, but it’s still travel, even if not very far, and I also hope that if other people stumble on this it might show them what a great place Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, is to visit. Although, I hope of course that many of them know that already!

So here are my highlights of 2011.

Travel: We spent three weeks in the summer touring Georgia, the Carolinas and a wee bit of Tennessee. That has all been chronicled here but, pre-blog, we also had a week in Amsterdam in the spring. Amsterdam is a very special place for us as we first went there on honeymoon in 1981. It doesn’t therefore take a mathematical genius to work out that we were back this time for our 30th anniversary. Instead of going to a hotel, as we have done in the past, we stayed in the Prinx Apartments which was an excellent decision – a lovely place and very handy for the Rijksmuseum. You can read my review on Trip Advisor if interested. Prinx is the middle building below and our apartment was behind the three windows on the first floor:


We had four short UK breaks as well – I’ve written about the more recent ones, to Grasmere in the Lake District and to Fife, but Kelso and Moffat pre-dated the blog. The latter was lovely, the former less so – but that’s a whole other story! So what was my favourite travel destination for 2011? Has to be Amsterdam, I just love it.

Glasgow restaurants: As well as eating out on our travels, we also eat out in our home city A LOT! I’ve calculated that in 2011 we ate in 35 different Glasgow restaurants, some more than once. Of those, seven were Indian, seven were Italian and six were Chinese or oriental fusion. My favourite foods are therefore quite obvious, although the fact that all are veggie friendly probably influences the choices. As for favourite restaurants, that’s really hard. Glasgow has an excellent reputation for curries and has been UK Curry Capital several times, so it’s difficult to get a bad Indian meal. My favourite always seems to be the last one I visited, which at the moment is the Shish Mahal in Kelvinbridge where we had a delicious banquet to send off a friend who was emigrating. The Shish has been a legend since the 60s and was where, allegedly, chicken tikka masala was invented. For Italian, I like Amarone which is part of a chain, but doesn’t feel like it. We often go for a pre-theatre before the concert hall and their menu changes regularly which is good for veggies – it means I’m not stuck with the same choice all the time. The Chinese-style restaurant we go to most is Dragon-I, and for similar reasons – it’s very handy for the Theatre Royal. They don’t change their menu quite so often, but the food is delicious, the restaurant is extremely stylish and the staff are lovely. I’m going to leave it at that; I can’t possibly choose one favourite restaurant.

Concerts and gigs: We went to six classical concerts and sixteen gigs (four as part of Celtic Connections). Of the former, my top choice would be the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus performing Mozart’s Requiem, which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I think my favourite gig was Jools Holland in Amsterdam – we’ve seen him at the Armadillo in Glasgow, which is quite a formal setting. The Paradiso (just round the corner from our apartment, another plus point for it) is much more intimate and we were able to stand very near the stage. All the usual suspects were with him, including the fabulous Ruby Turner, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems you either love Jools or hate him – I think he’s great, and that the rather bumbling persona he has on TV is a front. He seems much more in command live. Looking over the list of artists we saw at home, I am struck by how many strong, female performers are around just now. John’s highlight would undoubtedly be Tori Amos or PJ Harvey, but I can’t choose between Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Anna Calvi and Lisa Hannigan. All great. The venue we went to most often was Oran Mor, a converted church on Byres Road, which is small but perfectly formed – and best of all, about 10 minutes’ walk from our house! So I’m not picking a favourite artist, but I’ll make Oran Mor my favourite venue.

Other culture: What else can I think of? Many visits to museums and galleries, six ballet or dance events, three plays, three Aye Write! events. Not everything was in Glasgow – I think my favourite thing (whispers) was actually in Edinburgh: the Blackadder exhibition I wrote about three or four posts ago.

So that was my year. I have never done a review like this before, so it will be interesting to look back in future years and compare and contrast what we have been up to. And it’s all about to start up again – the Celtic Connections and Aye Write! Festivals are not too far off and, as I am writing this, John is attempting, not terribly successfully, to book flights for our summer holidays. Those pesky Olympics getting in the way!

Watch this space.