Amsterdam – Part I

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I really want to return to Amsterdam for a long weekend. I went there in December 2014 and had a marvellous time. Here’s the post from that trip –

I found Amsterdam to be a romantic city with its canals, old-fashioned street lamps, picturesque shops and cozy coffee houses. Night fell swiftly at 4:30 pm and the decorative lamps cast a golden glow over the canals and cobbled streets. It’s a compact, walkable city, however a word of warning – beware when crossing the street! Squadrons of cyclists advance at a fast clip. I nearly got myself run over more than once.

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Christmas wreaths hung in windows and adorned doors. As I walked along admiring them, I thought to myself – in France, they’d be stolen overnight, along with the bicycles.

There’s a sense of virtuousness about the Dutch which I find deeply appealing. They look virtuous as they cycle energetically along (whole families sometimes, the children in a little cart attached to the bicycle or riding on the crossbar), fresh-faced and smiling, their bodies lean and fit. They also employ a no-nonsense pragmatism in their politics. A progressive city, Amsterdam has the most liberal and tolerant policies with regards to prostitution and soft drugs. Prostitution is legalized. There’s a common sense to this. By working in a controlled environment, prostitutes are protected from violence and exploitation. As for health issues, they must undergo regular medical examinations to prevent the spread of STDs. This sounds safer and saner than what one sees in Paris – male and female prostitutes lurking behind trees in the Bois de Boulogne.

As for legalized hash and marijuana, the benefits are a safer product, elimination of dealers and illicit revenue going towards criminal organizations and drug cartels.

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As is the custom in all northern European countries, coffee and cake (koffie en gebak) is a morning and afternoon ritual in which to enjoy almond and butter cookies, apple turnovers, gingerbread, streusel, different cakes and fruit-filled pies. Coffee shops and tea salons abound.

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My hotel (link below) was perfectly located at number 15 Keizersgracht, a long road that runs parallel to a canal and winds around the city. A 10-minute walk from the train station, the hotel has soundproofed rooms equipped with comfortable beds and a deluxe espresso machine. Small shopping streets, lined on either side with boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants are just up the road. I was charmed the whole time I was there. (If you book your train tickets well in advance, you benefit from a considerable discount.)

Don’t expect sunny weather. Although fairly mild, it’s generally overcast during the winter months and even blustery as winds gust in from the North Sea.

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MORE TO COME – the canal houses, more photos, and the famous Rijksmuseum.

http://www.hotelsebastians.nl/en/

the Rijksmuseum

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My birthday gift to myself was a day at the magnificent Rijksmuseum.  And it wasn’t just the art that was the gift.  It was the time – the luxury of free time – to wander leisurely from room to room, stopping in front of a painting, a tapestry or an exquisite silver goblet and gazing at it for as long as I desired, studying every detail and reading the information notice beside it.  Antiques show us where we come from.

Museums are, of course, an education.  But it’s usually not until adulthood that we appreciate the treasures held within.  I visited the best of them as a child and teenager.  In an effort to instill aesthetic values in their children, my English parents, bless them, took my sister and me all over Europe.  We attended operas and visited museums and galleries.  I was bored stiff.  Opera perplexed me and museums were old and dusty.  I remember gazing at gigantic tableaux of naked people, usually cowering before a snarling beast or something ominous from heaven, and all I could wonder was….where were their clothes?  Perhaps if the symbolism of the painting had been explained to me, I would have understood something.  Symbolism, though, is a concept not easily grasped by children.

Below is a portrait painted in 1652 by Johannes Verspronck. The sitter’s name is Maria van Strijp.  As you can see by her jewellery and the finery of her clothing, she was an affluent woman.  She lived in Haarlem, North Holland and was the wife of a wealthy cloth merchant. Verspronck‘s painting style shows attention to the depiction of clothing and jewellery. His precision is not stiff but beautiful and quiet.

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Cartwheel ruffs.  What an odd accoutrement this was (photos below).  Ruffs were highly luxurious garments, a potent symbol of status and wealth.  Anyone who could afford to wear and maintain a ruff was clearly not doing any manual labor.  They were made from starched linen and edged with lace.  The fabric was put into a figure 8 pattern, called goffering, and sewn with gossamer threads.

Portrait of a Woman by Frans Hals, 1635IMG_3989Portrait of Feyntje van Steenkiste by Frans Hals, 1635IMG_4020Look at this magnificent cabinet veneered with tortoiseshell and ivory.IMG_3977IMG_3978IMG_3979

Delftware is blue and white pottery made in and around Delft in the Netherlands from the 16th to the 18th century.

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From a distance I thought this painting was a Bruegel, but it wasn’t. It was painted by Hendrick Avercamp, a Dutchman born in Amsterdam in 1585.  As one of the first landscape painters of the 17th-century Dutch school, Avercamp is famous for his winterscapes. Many of his paintings feature people ice skating.

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Modern skaters today. This rink is in front of the museum.  Notice the chairs.  I don’t recall seeing that in other countries.  Ah, the ever-pragmatic Dutch!

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