My trip to Amsterdam was a fantastic experience. Originally I was unsure where I would end up going on vacation but after reading some articles and seeing a few spots on TV about tourism in Amsterdam I was hooked. To be fair I was not very familiar with what to expect from Amsterdam, often you only hear about the Red Light District but I found that was only a small fraction to what Amsterdam has to offer and in fact not even the best parts to the city.
The trip itself was full of my usual; trips to museums, great food, wonderful sight seeing, hundreds of photos, and lots and lots of walking.
I can’t say this enough but Amsterdam really is a walking city, with everything about a 15-20 min walk away from the next and every angle of the city nothing but postcard moments this city can only be described as a treasure. There were also several parks in and around the city perfect for relaxing, thinking and or people watching. Not to mention the number of bikes, and bikers in and around the city you could easily rent a bike and go from one end of the city to the other with relative easy, get a little exercise.
Now let’s talk museums. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is the national art museum of the Netherlands, and this is home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, among countless other masterpieces, while the museum was going through extensive renovations they had a good portion of the museum closed off. This was a little bittersweet because not everything was on display, but they made sure that the major pieces were on display. So when visiting you didn’t miss out on the pieces the museum is known for.
Though I am not a huge fan of Van Gogh I really walked away with a greater appreciation of him after visiting The Van Gogh Museum. I was always a fan of his earlier work so it was nice to be able to see The Potato Eaters and some of his still life shoe paintings; I was really impressed by his copies of Japanese Woodblock paintings. In fact they had an incredible collection of Japanese woodblock prints which inspired him throughout his entire career. For those interested in going to this museum I recommend that you get in line early as the crowds and especially tour buses show up right before it opens.
The Stedelijk Museum specializes in modern art; my experience in this museum was once in a life time. This museum was also being renovated, so the museum decided to allow artists to come in and use the space for installation pieces. Specifically one artist took eight empty rooms and showcased the different varieties of museum room finishing available, so floors where finished with a high sheen, to dull finish, there were also opportunities where floor/wall molding was used in a variety of pairing showcasing the thought that goes into finishing a room. I know this sounds a little odd, and I have to admit the rooms lit by a single colored bulb is odd, but these artists were given carte blanche to do as they wished using the entire museum, and as an artist that is exciting to see. Definitely gave me some interesting visual ideas to play with and start to think about how to incorporate depth into my work.
The Rembrandt House Museum, originally Rembrandts actual home converted into a museum this was another surprise in Amsterdam. His print making studio was astounding as they had a guy doing presentations and demonstrations of various techniques he employed. I knew Rembrandt was a gifted print maker but seeing the tools he worked with and how innovative he was with the techniques, I didn’t realize he was that good. The man was hundreds of years ahead of his time! The top floor was divided into two rooms, one was his prop room which he had all sorts of props from armor, stuffed animals to print reproductions of famous works of art; the other room was his studio. His studio was very bare and only housed the essentials, a simple but sturdy easel, a flat stone for making and mixing his oil paint, a stool for sitting and his pallet. Amazing to think so many breathtaking works of art were made in this room. Definitely gives you as an artist a different perspective on priorities and realize what’s needed to create. The museum also had a significant collection of prints created by Rembrandt, the collection seemed to be split between finished pieces and works in progress. What was nice was to see how certain pieces or areas took shape from a few scratches to something fully rendered.
When I visited the Hermitage Amsterdam, I lucked out as they were having a special exhibit Matisse to Malevich, with one of the many highlights of the exhibit being Matisse’s Red Room. This was one of those fantastic moments where I would have never expected to see this piece. In fact I have always heard that the Hermitage had one of those collections, where you know every piece but did not realize that it was all in one location, so when the Hermitage Amsterdam had these pieces travel through I could not believe it. The Red Room however was so consuming, thought I had read that there is a bluish green under painting and that the red was painted over top, it was not until I saw it did I really come to understand how gifted Matisse was with color and pattern. Another perk of this exhibit was seeing groups of school children go through and hearing the teacher explain the pieces in Dutch, I doubt I picked up on most of what was said but it for me personally is always a great opportunity to hear pieces described in other languages. But it was nice to see other works by Picasso, Braque, Matisse but it was a joy to see works by Kandinsky, Soutine and Gris.
The Veretzmuseum, was the Amsterdam resistance museum, and this was a difficult museum. It’s hard to express excitement about a museum with the subject being what it was. However I really did enjoy this museum. It told the story of the Resistance starting first by introducing you to the banker to helped fund the resistance and then moving you though the timeline of the invasion to day to day life to the liberation. The museum had when every possible the actual items discussed, from the fake passports, actual prison uniforms, spy gadgets, and hand written letters. The photos covered the whole gamut of human emotion but as I said, I did enjoy this museum despite the subject matter. Also as a point of interest there was a fantastic restaurant next door so while you might need a little time to decompress after the museum you can grab a bite to eat do a little people watching and head across the street to the zoo.
The Artis, which was the Zoo in Amsterdam, is such a fun experience, though it was on the far edge of the city, the Zoo had a decent sized aquarium, a natural history museum, typical animal kingdom attractions the coolest part in my book was they had some monkeys out in the open. So you could walk around the park and monkeys would be hanging out on the guardrails sitting and relaxing in the sun. Often you’d be sitting down and then look to your side and see a monkey sitting right there next to you. If you are in town check it out and prepare to spend a few hours just enjoying all of the animals on display.
The Anne Frank House, a few weeks before my trip the famed tree that stood outside her window ended up falling down due to age. Lucky the tree did not fall on the house but there was certainly a distinctive vibe as the tree was missing.
I also took the opportunity to visit the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, Amsterdam's historical museum and the Allard Pierson Museum, which is the Archaeological Museum of the University of Amsterdam. Both of these were pretty interesting places to check out. I did not realize how much Amsterdam was such a hub of trading in commerce in the 1400-1500’s, there were also some incredible model ships on display as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Both museums were not large but if you are into history and want to see some one of a kind pieces check them out.
The Kattenkabinet, the Cat Museum was another pretty cool place worth checking out. The museum had cat related works of art from Ancient Egypt to present day. Though not displayed like a typical museum, in fact the museum was a large old townhouse just adorned with cat artwork. The best part was walking in you notice a few cats walking around the museum and for cat lovers its very welcoming.
The Red Light District was another interesting attraction, I understand that this area is probably most synonymous with Amsterdam but it was not as ‘out of control’ as many people claim. In fact the women you would see were dressed no different then mannequins from any lingerie storefront you would see here in the states. The biggest difference is they are real women in the windows. If you are unsure what to expect venture around during the day but if you are interesting in seeing the alleyways lit up at night with red lights really check it out at night as the neon red and black lights really do add to the risqué atmosphere.
All in all Amsterdam was a great trip and I would recommend visiting to anyone, thought it might be a while until I return I would definitely see myself going back. When I returned home I had a few more books (favorite book was Beckman’s Exile in Amsterdam) to add to the collection, a lot of photos, great memories and some solid sketches for new works to come.