How I Spent My Winter 2019 Pt. 12 – Winter Days in Amsterdam: The Trip Comes to an End
Ah, home sweet second home. I arrived in Amsterdam, to spend the last few days of this long winter trip. The weather forecast for the second Amsterdam leg of the trip did not look promising. As is typical in Amsterdam, it was rain, rain, and more rain. I would have liked sunny weather, but I didn’t really care. In my mind, Thailand and kidney stones were forever linked, and I was happy to be gone from there. People often say, at the tail end of a trip, that they miss sleeping in their own bed. Well, having had the Amsterdam apartment for just over a year now, and having slept in that bedroom for about 12 weeks in total, it qualifies for “my own bed”, and it was great to get back to it.
Amsterdam is a biking city, but it’s no fun biking in the rain. So, for the last week of the trip, I got around by walking, by tram, and in one instance, by ferry. The best way to spend a rainy day in Amsterdam is to visit a museum, and my Museum Card got a real workout. On the first day, I walked all of 45 seconds from the apartment to Dam Square and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). It’s amusing that it’s called the New Church, because it was founded in 1409! But hey, it’s newer than the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which is the oldest building in Amsterdam, dating back to (wait for it…)
Is that incredible?! The New Church is no longer used as for church services. The church is now the site of art exhibits and organ recitals. The church sponsors a masterworks series in which they obtain an acclaimed artwork and exhibit it for a few weeks. The artworks they obtain are often rarely loaned out, so getting to see it can be a unique and exciting prospect. When I was there, they featured Luca Giordano’s masterpiece, The Archangel Michael.
The painting features Michael (symbolizing the Catholic Church) brutally defeating rebellious angels (the Protestant Church). The painting is graphic and very striking, and with the exhibit not crowded that day, I got to see the painting up very close, undisturbed. As you can see, it was very nicely displayed.
It’s such a graphic, terrifying image!
I got in close and took a close-up of the victim, crying in agony. Amazing painting. Brutal!
There was a lot of info about the painting and the artist in a nice display.
The church itself is stunning, with sculptures and paintings of angels throughout. An audio tour discussing Giordano’s painting as well as the other angels in the church was specially prepared for this exhibit, and it was great. You really feel the history of old Amsterdam when you’re in this amazing church.
My next stop, a mere 30 seconds away, was the Royal Palace.
Despite having visited Amsterdam probably a dozen or more times, I somehow managed to miss touring the Royal Palace. A rainy day and a Museum Card quickly remedied that. The rooms in the palace were relatively modestly decorated compared to some other palaces I’ve toured (for example, Versailles), but the artwork and sculptures were amazing. Excellent audio tour.
The main hall was very impressive.
These banquet rooms reminded me of Downton Abbey.
I liked that the furnishings were fairly modest.
The artwork in the hallways, corridors, and on the ceiling, though, was amazing.
There’s the king, William, and his wife, Beatrix. They say that they’re pretty cool people. The king was born on April 27th. That’s my birthday, too. So he has to be cool.
The following day, I checked out the Allard Pierson Museum. This is an archaeological museum.
The initial items on display weren’t that exciting, but it got better as it went on.
As I was looking at one of the exhibits, I could hear some conversation (in Dutch) taking place in the vicinity. As I moved along, I saw a room in the distance, with three older gentlemen who I assumed were staff members sitting at a long table covered with shards of pottery.
I peeked into the room, and they invited me in. They weren’t staff, per se. They were volunteers who spent at least one or two days a week trying to piece together bowls and cups from the fragments laid out before them. These guys were retired, and this was one of the ways they liked to spend their time. In watching them, clearly the focus was on shooting the breeze. They said hello and started explaining what they were doing, in Dutch. I said to them, in Dutch, that I don’t speak Dutch very well and that I’ve been taking lessons, and they were amazed and impressed, and that broke the ice even further. They invited me to sit down and try my hand at piecing these plates and bowls back together.
One guy was fairly adept at it, the others conceded. The other two said that they had very little luck. I didn’t even know where to begin. It really seemed an impossible task. But I enjoyed chatting and hanging out with these guys, and I could definitely see the appeal of doing this. If I were a retired guy in Amsterdam and had other retired friends there, I would definitely do this.
I continued my walk through the museum. Through the thick glass windows, I could hear some type of commotion outside. I looked out the window and saw what I initially thought was a parade, but on further inspection, I could see that it was a demonstration. The signs they were holding indicated a protest about climate change. I was heartened to see this.
Also, the view from the window was pretty nice, and with very few others in the museum, it was nice to just stand there by myself and take it all in.
I viewed the remaining exhibits, grabbed some tea and cake in the quiet museum cafe, and then made a pilgrimage of sorts to the hotel where Chet Baker’s body was found crumpled on the street below, his death either a suicide or an accidental fall. My friend Nick introduced me to Baker’s music about 22 years ago, and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. His entire discography is more than 260 albums, if you can believe it.
To my dismay, there was construction work being done on the exterior of the hotel, and a temporary shed was constructed that blocked the commemorative plaque.
But no one was present when I got there, and I spotted the plaque, so I just went in and took a photo.
When I travel, I live by the rule that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. If you ask if it’s okay to go in and take a photo, you risk them saying “no”. If you just do it, and you get reprimanded, you just say, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t realize”, and that’s that. Nine times out of ten, no one says anything. I got a nice photo of the plaque.
I strolled back home by way of Zeedijk, a fun street to walk down. Midway down the street, I spotted a cat in a store window, and decided to take a photo.
Unfortunately, the reflection in the glass made it difficult to get a clear shot.
Then, I noticed how nice the buildings in the reflection appeared, and it dawned on me that the cat superimposed on the reflection looked beautiful. I got my best photograph of the trip.
The next day, I decided to check out the EYE Institute. It’s across the IJ river, just north of Central Station. A free ferry takes you over there. It’s a five-minute crossing, but it’s still a nice thing to do.
Naturally, it was raining, which definitely diminishes the fun. The EYE shows several films every day, mostly artistic and independent films. I’d been there before, but only to eat at their beautiful restaurant. Now I figured I would use my Museum Card and check out the actual museum part. That turned out to be a waste of time, mostly. They had a few exhibits, but they were really geared for kids. The gift shop was nice, though, and I did have tea at the restaurant, but the rain made it so that you really couldn’t sit on the veranda overlooking the water, which normally offers a really nice view.
I took the ferry back, and then went to Huis Marseille, a really good photography gallery. It, too, is covered under the Museum Card. This gallery changes exhibits fairly frequently, so it was all new exhibits since the last time I visited a few months ago. The layout of the gallery can be challenging, as there are many rooms and many stairs. Huis Marseille and FOAM are the two biggest photography galleries in Amsterdam, and I think I prefer the latter, but they’re both pretty cool. FOAM is busier; Huis Marseille is calmer.
FOAM was exhibiting the works of two photographers, Esther Kroon and Helga Paris.
Helga Paris’s photos were striking, especially the portraits.
Huis Marseille is in a converted canal house, and the view from the front windows is striking. So many of Amsterdam’s museums have views like this. It’s great.
The following day, I re-visited the Hermitage Museum. They were exhibiting a multitude of items from their collection, in addition to their permanent exhibits. I breezed through the permanent exhibits, as I had seen them just a few months ago. This temporary exhibit of objects from their stored collection was pretty cool, though.
They put, side by side, objects that were from very different ages, but shared some sort of similarity. Very neat idea, and very enlightening.
Afterward, I stopped by my favorite cafe, Zuivere Koffie. I know the staff who work there now, and it’s always a nice feeling to be welcomed by them when I come in. Our mutual connection is Sammie, the cafe cat. A few months ago, I was walking down Utrechtsestraat and I saw a handsome orange and white cat in the window of a cafe. I went in and sat at the window table. Sammie sat on the ledge by the table, looking out at the street, and then looking over at me now and then. An offering of a small piece of turkey from my sandwich diverted his attention permanently to me. I asked the waitress about him, and told her that I was a cat veterinarian. One of the other workers overheard this and came over to chat. This was Ingrid. We chatted about Sammie, and about her own cats, one of whom had a stone in the ureter (ugh, I can really relate to that) that required a complex (and expensive) surgical bypass procedure. I was impressed that she pursued the procedure, and that her cat was doing so well. She clearly was a dedicated cat owner, and we hit if off well. Now, when I stop by the cafe, they recognize me right away, even if several months have passed, and give me a warm greeting. The place was crowded, but I only had to wait five minutes to get a small table to myself. Sammy tends to avoid the main dining area when it’s crowded like this, preferring to nap all nestled away in his little hiding spot in the rafters, accessible only by a small private stairway. I asked if Sammy was sleeping in his hiding spot, and they said yes, and invited me to poke my head in and say hi to him. I did, and got my cat fix for the day. I ordered my usual – a hot tea and their homemade apple pie – and relaxed after a day of museum hopping. I went home after that and relaxed, happy in the thought that my buddy Brad was coming into town the next day. The last time we were both in Amsterdam together was several years ago, when I first introduced him to the city. We had a great time then, but had been unable to coordinate things so that we overlapped on subsequent trips. Now, he stays regularly at my apartment here, and this time we arranged a day and a half overlap.
Brad arrived in the early afternoon the next day. The last time he was here, the apartment was minimally furnished, with just a bed, a table, and two big cushions that were to eventually become the upstairs bed/couch. Since then, I purchased a dresser and two nightstands for the bedroom, a couch, area rug, coffee table, and side table for the living room, as well as a console table and mirror for the foyer, and various pictures and objects for the walls. He loved the apartment before, and he liked it even more now, and was psyched about staying there for the next two and a half months. I’m okay with the apartment being empty, but I’d rather have someone looking after the apartment and enjoying its use, and it makes me feel good to be able to offer a place like this to Brad, as a change of pace from his life in Florida. We hung out and chatted a bit, then went outside and strolled around the city.
Over the next day and a half, I took him to Zuivere Koffie to meet Sammie and the staff, introduced him to our neighbor Sabine at Babassu Spa, and went to Betty Blue, another favorite cafe of mine.
We also went to Haesje Claes, a real authentic Dutch restaurant. The staff are always friendly, and the place is warm, dark, and welcoming. They have a huge selection of beers, and they have a lunch special of sautéed mushrooms, onions, and peppers with ham that is out of this world. We had the mushroom lunch deal and it was terrific.
We spent the rest of the time walking around the city, something that Brad has mastered much better than I. I tend to go out with some sort of destination in mind, but Brad goes out simply for the journey, and walks simply for the sake of it, observing and absorbing the city more and more with each journey. I quickly realized that his approach really is the best; he’s maintained his sense of wonder about the city more than I have.
The following morning, Brad walked me to Central Station, and we parted ways. I will return in July, and this stint is going to be very different from my previous trips, because this time I will be entertaining much of the time. A few days after I arrive, my good friend Robb arrives, for Amsterdam Pride week. I was here with Mark for Pride last year and it was loads of fun. Robb is fun to hang out with, and he’s going to love the street parties and the parade. About two weeks after Robb’s visit comes the event that I’m really looking forward to: several of my college buddies are coming to visit, and we’re going to celebrate 41 years of friendship together in Amsterdam. I’m counting the days.