Amsterdam’s Attractions

Outside of Rijksmuseum

February 13 – 16, 2013

Photo set on Flickr

Rijksmuseum

I would have liked to visit the Rijksmuseum in its fully renovated state (the museum reopened on April 13, 2013 after a ten-year renovation), though even in its reduced form I still found the offered experience memorable.

I am quite passionate about museum, because when on the road there are not too many guarantees; flight can be delayed, food might not match your palate, the weather does not cooperate. But famous museums in the West always deliver because of this unbeatable formula: spaciousness + superior display + logical layout + celebrated artists + loots from across the globe. Actually the content isn’t even the most critical – I would rather revisit the low-key Museum Ludwig (Yes, the museum displays a few Picassos and Warhols but those are hardly the main draw) than the cumbersome Egyptian Museum any day of the week.

But I digress. My exposure to Dutch artists not named Van Gogh (the Impressionist artist has his own museum nearby) was limited to a Rembrandt here and a Vermeer there, which obviously the Rijksmuseum do possess like The Night Watch and The Milkmaid. More exciting is to discover works from artists who are no doubt well-known yet I wasn’t aware of, such as Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, Still Life with Oysters by Willem Claeszoon Heda and Jan Steen’s The Merry Family, just to name three among the museum’s Dutch Golden Age collection.

I came away highly impressed. Far-fetched by today’s geopolitical and economic reality, Amsterdam was once the wealthiest city on earth, a major centre of finance, military and trading. That status is now a footnote in mankind’s long and ever-evolving history, but the art pieces in the Rijksmuseum are unmistakable proof of an apex which only a handful of civilizations have ever achieved.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank. Her name is so ingrained with her diary, now a regular staple of the education curriculum, that she seems less like a real breathing teenage girl than a tragic literary figure in the form of Juliet or Daphne. But of course she did once live on this earth, having endured through and ultimately died as one of more than six-million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The forever-teenage girl and her story also won’t be forgotten any time soon; we had to queue up for an hour to get into her former hiding place turned museum.

The hiding area for the Frank family and four other Jews consisted of the rear extension of the building where the spice and gelling companies ran by Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was located. Cramped as it might be inside the hiding area (~500 sq ft over two floors and attic), its habitats lived relatively comfortably, with a steady supply of food and occasional source of entertainment like weekly magazine and even birthday present.

Every Holocaust victim had their own backstory, dream, aspiration and fear, but almost all have become lost with the passage of time. Anne Frank stands out as one of the faces of Nazi prosecution because beyond her confinement, her thirst for freedom has a timeless appeal. Being at her home and seeing her living condition further humanized the girl who wrote in her Feb 23, 1944 entry, “Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.”

Leaving the museum I felt I could relate to the teenage girl’s struggle and longing for the outside world, unconstrained by our incomparable time and surrounding.

Albert Cuyp Market

Albert Cuyp Market

Photography has greatly altered my travel pattern. My tripod is now a necessity I can’t do without even though I only get to use it for a dozen or so shots on most trips. And I always work my schedule to fit in visits to local markets, mostly for the opportunity to shoot some candid portrait and street photograph.

Compared to Borough or Maltby in London, Albert Cuyp Market was lacking in both attention-grabbing subjects and overall atmosphere. Fortunately the snow storm that caused us so much hassle otherwise did provide a beneficial side effect of giving the place a nice white wrinkle.

That said, not everything revolves around photography. Albert Cuyp might be absent of cooked food stalls, but we still had a filling lunch of Rochefort (one of the world-renowned Belgian Trappist Breweries) and burger. To cap our productive visit we bought some fresh vegetable and seafood for our Valentine’s dinner at home later that night.

De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets)

De Negen Straatjes

Trendiness usually comes with a high price tag, which I can attest is true for De Negen Straatjes and the adjacent Jordaan, two of the more fashionable neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Our aim was Pancakes!, a pancake-focused eatery with good online review that only opened its door at 10:00. I didn’t bother to check its opening hour since I had always associated pancake with breakfast – we arrived at 8:30 eager for food.

One and half hour was 89 minutes too many to be in the cold with empty stomach. The Nine Streets’ main attraction, the independent shops and boutiques that stood side-by-side along the narrow canals, had their doors closely shut in this early hour. Not that it mattered since their products were as expensive as the Guccis and Pradas of the world.

But it was hard to stay unmotivated in the presence of Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. In this early morning the waterways were especially calm in the absence of boat, allowing the formation of illusory reflections of the above cityscape. Just when I had enough of still shots, a few cyclists sped towards my direction, giving me the opportunity to shoot some subjects in motion for a change.

Creativity, even at my not-very-original level, demands much energy to sustain, which further drove up my already considerable level of hunger and anticipation. When eventually came the time to order, we struggled a bit with the long list of choices on the menu. My wife settled with the spinach and cheese crepe while my choice was the American pancake with maple syrup and bacon. The sample size for comparison is limited since we rarely have pancakes, but we both thought my dish was the best pancake we had ever tried.

The Red Light District

Red Light District at Night

Last but not least is the epicenter of the “anything goes” image of its capital, the Red Light District. Over the past few years Amsterdam’s traditionally liberal municipal authority is attempting to curb the exorbitant sex industry. Some ongoing developments: cutting brothel licenses and upping the legal age for prostitution from 18 to 21. Coupled with being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, Amsterdam is justifiably promoting itself as a destination that goes beyond the sex and drug scene.

The effect could be noticed on the street. 7 pm might not be the prime time of action, but it was surprising to see most of the brothels had their lights turned off. Only a few girls were on duty. Probably those looking for hardcore action would require some insider know-how. As for me, this soaped up version of fleshy display fell solidly on the negative end of the excitement spectrum.

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