Exploring Amsterdam

£35 Eurostar tickets? Stroopwaffles? Amazing museums? I’m there. No, literally.

Amsterdam had been on my list of cities to travel to for just about the two years that I’ve been living in London. In mid-August, I set my “out of office” and set off to explore the Venice of the North. I was instantly charmed by the canal living - houseboats and all, as well as Dutch culture and all of the friendly smiles that go with it. I knew I wasn’t in London anymore when my smiles were met and returned by passersby.

On the first day of our visit, we decided not to have an agenda and to explore the city instead. We ended up popping into some charming shops like Spiegel Amsterdam where they stock 100% Dutch designed objects. We then wandered the red light district once the sun went down and revelled in the blatant irreverance before us. The night ended with a great meal at De Vrouw met de Bard which translates to, “The Lady with the Beard.”

The pace was quickened on our second day in Amsterdam as we decided to tackle the momentous Rijksmuseum. It was love at first sight for me from the gorgeous architecture and scultpture outside, to the detailed craftsmanship of the mosaic floors and intricate windows. It’s important for me to feel connected to the architecture of a museum as well as the collection and this Dutch masterpiece had me head over heels.

We started with the Asian collection which was housed in a stunning contemporary addition to the museum. We then ventured on to see the ship models where I may or may not have used the pun “Holy Ship” way too many times. After that, we were overcome by the Dutch masterpieces including works by Vermeer and Rembrandt in the museums, “Gallery of Honour.” However, my favourite thing in this gallery wasn’t a painting, not really, it was how the Rijksmuseum brought to light the process of research and restoration. “Operation Nightwach” is the largest research and restoration project ever on Rembrandt’s 'the Night Watch'. The Rijksmuseum invites members of the public to watch the entire process at the museum and online with dedicated articles, videos and livestreams to open up their reserach methods to the public. In the gallery itself, there is a giant clear box protecting the painting and scanning equipment. When we visited, there were adults and children standing around the box sharing in this unique experience. There is explanatory wall text which informs visitors what is happening and why this type of research is necessary. Major kudos to Rijksmuseum for being delightfully inventive once again (the flash mob is another standout initiative from them) and using this opportunity to inform and engage.

For the average visitor one museum per day might be enough - but not me! We dipped into the Moco Museum that evening to explore contemporary art from artists like Banksy, Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, Koons and Kusama. While the outside (a huge old house) was inviting, colour me unimpressed with the interiors which needed a fresh coat of paint and some crowd-control. The museum seemed to be packed with tourists which didn’t leave a lot of breathing room or space to full enjoy the works and exhibitions. There were some interesting pieces however, and we did really enjoy the Daniel Arsham exhibition which was aptly named, “Connecting Time.”

That evening, we also popped into The Sex Museum where they sadly didn’t accept my ICOM card, but we were curious, so we agreed to pay anyway. Inside was filled with everything from the lewd to the kitsch. It was quite fun to learn more about how sex was perceived in various ages and cultures. The exhibition interpretation left a lot ot be desired, but it was a fun stop while we were wandering round the red light district.

Fast forward to our third day in Amsterdam… We woke up early on that Wednesday morning to go on a private tour of Amsterdam’s canals. It was my first forray into Airbnb Experiences and I must say, it exceeded my expectations. Captain Dave plied us with hot coffee and fresh pastries as he expertly guided us around the canals and told us about the history of Amsterdam as well as contemporary culture. His insider knowledge (and the heated seat cushions) really made it a unique and special experience.

We then took a nap - because hey, we were on holiday after all! After a leisurely lunch at a nearby pub, we ventured out to visit more museums…

The last two museums we went to were similar in some ways, and very different in others. We visited FOAM, a museum of photography in a converted canal house. It was there that I was introduced to the stunning works of Alex Prager, a self-taught photographer whose aesthetic was reminiscent of Wes Anderson and Cindy Sherman. Dominic Hawgood’s exhibition “Casting Out the Self” was a zen entrance to the multi-story museum that presented new and captivating works with every twist and turn.

With two hours left in Amsterdam and our luggage safely (we hoped!) stored at the train station, we set off to visit one last museum, “Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder” or in English, “Our Lord in the Attic Museum”. This site has been home to a secret attic church since the 1663 when it was forbidden to publically celebrate mass. However, due to the transient and diverse nature of this trading city, the authorities turned a blind eye. This museum boasts the title of the second oldest museum in Amsterdam (only the Rijksmuseum is older!) There were renovations done in 2015 that make the space very comfortable and visitor-friendly including a cafe, shop, and added visuals (like house model pictured above). I would highly recommend this beautiful space with so much history to share.

All in all, it was a great trip and I would HIGHLY recommend visiting Amsterdam to anyone who is looking for a fun city break with plenty of culture. I’ll leave off with the advice I always give to my little sister - “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” - but with that being said, in Amsterdam, live a little :)

Devon Turner