Well, I am down and out with a cold and I did a marathon to get caught up on all my marking. So, being basically stuck on the couch, I figure I might as well write up the rest of the trip to Amsterdam before I blow the memories out of my nose along with all the goo I am producing. So, where was I….
February 7th, 2018 – I got up early and made a sandwich down at the breakfast buffet this morning. With all the meats and cheeses and fabulous fresh baked breads it seemed like a no-brainer. I grabbed an apple danish and a banana and was set for the day. I walked with Kirk to Rai, where the ISE show was on, and said goodbye outside the massive buildings housing the trade show. He’d registered me, but one look at the crowds and I opted for “uh-uh, I’d rather wander the city and its environs“.
The sky was clear and blue, but the morning was a nippy -4C with a pretty good wind to make it feel even colder. There weren’t many people about since it was still early and the shops weren’t yet open. Everywhere that there are people here though, there is the pervasive sound of luggage wheels on cobble streets. And I mean everywhere. It is probably the most common sound I heard on this trip.
In the square, the sun was just making its way to the ground between the buildings and the pigeons were puffed up and retaining their warmth before people showed up with seed to feed them.
A well dressed man stopped me as I walked across the square and asked if I would take a photo of him with the palace in the backdrop. I’ve taken a lot of photos of a lot of people while I’ve been here. I have to assume that it’s because I am solo and carrying a large camera slung over my shoulder and so I appear willing, which I certainly am. After a couple of shots for him I handed his phone back and we chatted for a moment. He asked where I was from, and then he pointed to my somewhat worn and battered looking camera and asked if I was a photographer. Oh no, just a tourist exploring the city while my husband worked at a trade show. He smiled and said “ISE?, that’s why I am here too! But you are the smart one, being a tourist while he works!” I couldn’t disagree with him 🙂
My first stop wasn’t really a museum, although it did have a museum in the basement, a small one. The shop was the Amsterdam Cheese Museum and walking through the door was a feast for the nose. But I’d been foolish in the order of my visits today. The shop had over 40 different cheeses for tasting, but it was so early that I couldn’t make my palate play along. I visited the little museum in the basement and it was actually interesting and informative. It told the story of the dairy industry in the Netherlands, and of cheesemaking.
It even had a selection of new and old clogs and an explanation that they were, and still are, a very safe shoe for working around cattle as a well placed hoof can break a person’s foot, but not if they are wearing wooden shoes!
Not a museum in any sense of the word, but a shop that I had come across somewhere in some literature was “The Otherist”, a curiosity shop in the real sense of the word. The shop was filled with amazing things and I don’t know how I didn’t walk out with something. Oh, wait, yes I do…most of what I fell in love with wasn’t remotely inexpensive.
Beautiful butterfly and beetle specimens. Cast skulls. Cast bird’s feet. Prosthetic eyes – yes, real prosthetic eyes!
I was very tempted to buy one of the framed beetle collections, this one…. was fantastic with its iridescent blue beetles.
But the most amazing were the mechanical insects. Bees, beetles, and other bugs that had had their insides removed and replaced with watch parts and other mechanical bits. They were simply incredible and impossible to photograph because they were safely housed inside glass bell jars. They were also not inexpensive, really nothing in this shop is, but it was an incredible visit.
I looked the artist up and found his webpage, some of his works are listed, the bee I looked at in The Otherist looked similar to the one below, but even more elaborate. Just not like anything I’ve ever seen before. Amazing work.
Next door to The Otherist was another interesting shop, the Cow Museum. Filled with porcelain cows decorated in every style imaginable. I particularly liked the two below, one decorated in the Mondrian style, and aptly called “Moo’ndrian Cow”. The other seemed to be a nod to Whoopi Goldberg.
My next stop was Anne Frank House. There are no photos because none were allowed, and I wouldn’t have taken the camera out anyway, it would have seemed disrespectful to have done so. The image of the bookcase below was taken from online.
Visitors must book their visit online and book a time, only a set number of visitors are permitted each day. I arrived shortly before my time and waited until the 11:00am slot was available, and then lined up with the others visiting at the same time.
On entry security checked anyone with large bags or backpacks, there are no lockers here so they will not store anything. Each visitor received an audiotour headset and proceeded through the building, beginning in the warehouse and offices before making our way, via the secret passage behind the bookcase, into the cramped quarters where Anne’s family, and four other people, found themselves hiding for two years.
Once behind the bookcase, the audio tour stopped and the tour was silent. And silent it was. Hardly a person spoke, and several were moved to tears, I fought them several times. It was an overwhelming experience and one that left me, and obviously others, contemplative and reflective.
The windows were painted black, for two years they lived out of the light. Quietly moving above the warehouse, whispering, moving cautiously to avoid being heard, never flushing toilets or running water during the working hours. Anne wrote her diaries here, and was determined that they would be turned into a book. She did not survive the war, she and the others, save her father who was out of the building the day the Nazis found them, were taken to the concentration camps and murdered.
I would like to think that we, as a species, have learned from Anne’s diaries, but there are so many violences being visited upon people for having different skin colour, different believes, different genes, that I worry we will repeat our mistakes again.
The visit was an emotional one, but a necessary one. Though I certainly don’t “want” to, I feel a need to some day visit the concentration camps – Auschwitz, Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen. I think these are important places for people to make the effort to visit. I will never understand, but I think we all need to try to.
When I left Anne Frank House I wandered the canals for a bit. My intention was to visit a lighter museum afterwards; my target was the Museum of Bags and Purses. This clearly was a place that I needed to visit! But I was so disappointed to discover that the museum was shut for renovations from the 5th to the 11th of February – right across the dates I was in town!
HOW could that have been closed for me!?!?! But the day was fabulous and there was a bench across the narrow canal street, so I perched myself in the sunshine and ate my sandwich, with a pigeon worming between my feet for crumbs that fell, and a coot snapping his bill to get my attention in the water below. It was a good place to sit and think.
There were two more places on my list that were close by. FOAM and the Museum Van Loon.
FOAM is both an international photography magazine that I sometimes flip though, and a gallery, both based here in Amsterdam. I was thrilled to be able to visit, and that it was available on my Museumkaart. One of the exhibits was North American photographer Lucas Foglia; the current exhibit is from his recent collection titled Human Nature and it was a fabulous escape from the cold outside. I left knowing I need to own the book of the collected photos from this exhibit.
After Foam, I walked across the canal bridge and down a block to visit Museum van Loon, a canal house built in 1672 and was the home of artist Ferdinand Bol. From 1884 to 1945 the Van Loons lived in the house and the museum is named for them. Thora van Loon-Egidius, who lived in the house, was a lady-in-waiting for Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. It was an interesting place to wander for a bit, with its secret doors for servants, and massive art pieces, and even a stuffed peacock on the mantle. From the lower level one could enter the garden between the house and the coach house behind, where the horses and carriages were stored. It was easy to see that the outside space would be a peaceful oasis in the summer months, but now it was icy and cold, but still lovely.
I walked for a bit and then hopped on a tram since the afternoon was slipping away and I had one more museum to visit today. I changed trams in Rembrandt Square, which seemed appropriate since I was headed to see some of his works at Rijksmuseum.
Once I arrived at the museum I realized I’d not possibly left myself enough hours in the day to adequately pore over the treasures within the walls. I was going to have to come back again tomorrow afternoon. that was a given.
I made my way through a few of the exhibit halls, the place was like a maze, until I found what I was looking for.
I just stood in awe in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”, painted in 1642. No photo can do justice to the magnificence of this painting, or to his other works. The light is incredible, the painting had texture, not movement so much as motion. I could have sat there are looked at it for hours.
Another of Rembrandt’s works that held my attention for some time, and the attention of this fellow sketching one of the men in the painting, was “Syndics of the Draper’s Guild” painted in 1662. Again, the light and its action on the faces of the men int he image was mesmerizing. There is something about his paintings that makes you feel as if you, quite literally, just walked in on the characters in the scene. You feel a part of the stage they are on. As if you just interrupted something.
I remember feeling this same sort of awe when I stood in front of the Mona Lisa aver 30 years ago. And when I stood below Rodin’s “Thinker” in the gardens before it was encased for protection from the environment.
Art is a language all its own and I can easily become lost in it. Art tells us where we have been, what we looked like, and what we were thinking. This trip has been a fabulous gift by allowing me to immerse myself so totally in the wonders of some classic and modern artists.
What a fabulous day!