Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam Part II

To see my album of Amsterdam pictures, click on the first picture.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam
canals, Amsterdam, houseboats, culture, the Netherlands

One of Amsterdam's many canals

Amsterdam is one of the uber culture spots of Europe, thronging with people getting away for a weekend, going some place to party, or checking out the art. Through the couchsurfing site I realized how immersed gay culture is there (most of the hosts listed on the site were gay). But oddly I didn’t see a lot of gay men. You might wonder how I would know but I’ve been around a lot of gay people all my life, have friends of various persuasions and as a result have developed fairly good “gaydar.” But they were there somewhere.

There were a lot of people; those hanging out in the coffee shops, where you can smoke pot (but only in the shops, not on the streets), those there to see the historic sites, and those shopping. Shopping also includes the infamous, but shrinking red light district. Some cleanup action of Amsterdam’s council has shrunk the area over the years. I stumbled upon the edge of it and ironically, one side of the street was the oude kerk (old church) while the other held the large picture windows where the scantily clad girls all work. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see one white woman but then I might have been in the wrong “section.” I have no pictures of the windows because I believe it rude to gawk and photograph these women.

Amsterdam also has oodles of museums, such as a doorknob museum, maritime museum and an eyeglass museum. Because I’m one of those people who stick my nose close to a painting to figure out the uses of color and the type of brushstrokes, as well as reading all the details about the artist’s life or the history of the time, it takes me a lot longer to go through a museum or art gallery than your average Joe. I really look. It’s a combo of my art college background and my eye for details and textures.  So when those guidebooks say you can do three museums in a day, they’re not talking to me.

 

Amsterdam, art, sculpture, travel, Rijksmuseum

An exterior detail of the Rijksmuseum.

I did hit the Rijksmuseum, a monster in and of itself. Almost all of it was surrounded by fencing and undergoing massive renovations. Only the section on the Dutch Masters was open, yet that took me three-four hours. Very few museums allow pictures, so that huge influx of historical art is only stored (somewhere) in my memory. I also took in the Van Gogh museum and this was one of the top three of my trip. I should also mention that getting Holland’s heritage pass (for about 44 Euros for a year) is well worth it for visiting museums and galleries. After three venues it saved me money.

The museum was extensive and detailed. There were write-ups on Van Gogh’s life, his influences, his work and his travels. We sometimes only know of the few oft-published paintings and that he was mad and cut off his ear, but he was much much more than that. He experimented in numerous styles including Chinese and Japanese. He studied art and kept trying different visions; landscapes, still lifes, people.  He copied the old masters and delved into the new ones, and he did it all in ten years. Ten years for a body of work that fills a museum. The show also included artworks by those who had influenced him and those he influenced. A truly amazing, well thought out homage to one of Holland’s more recent greats.

Stedelijk Museum, art, sculpture, Amsterdam, architecture

Exterior detail of the Stedelijk.

I also went into the Stedelijk Museum, which has modern art and an interesting show on font design. I kind of zipped through it because I was more interested in the older styles of art, but it was quite extensive with everything from mixed media, film to functional design forms and poster art.

I also went to the oude and nieuwe kerks (old and new churches) each built over several centuries and gothic in design. The oude kerk was begun in 1250 and finished in the 1500s. The no-fun Protestants came along at some point and tore down statues and broke stained glassed, making the cathedrals very austere and cavernous. However, at the new church there was a retrospective art show of wedding gowns. Some were just historical gowns through the decades and others involved twirling dresses (with the figure blacked out) on TVs, a giant roll of white fabric representing a wedding train and a suspended gown with one wing torn off , in front of a tomb of a war hero (somehow I’ve lost these pictures). It actually worked because where do wedding dresses fit but in a church?

There is a street market that sells everything from cheese to cheesy hooker style clothes. Since my suitcase decided to die at the beginning of my trip I had to buy another and found a cheap one at the market, but being cheap it barely lasted the three weeks of my vacation. Old cities, like Amsterdam have enough going on that you could just walk around for three days and look at the architecture and design. For me the mass of people had me happy to leave after two days but I’d probably go back again, especially since the crowds were so long I couldn’t get into Anne Franck House.

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Filed under art, Culture, fashion, history, travel

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