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A Weekend in Amsterdam…Is it On Your Bucket List?

12-18-23_MAIN-Amsterdam

It’s easy to be spoiled. For 99€ each my friend, Dale, and I hopped a TGV from Gare du Nord early on Friday morning to land smoothly and safely in Amsterdam just 3.5 hours later. It couldn’t have been easier, simpler or more pleasant. With a plug and WiFi on the train, a lot of work got done, meaning even though it was considered a long weekend, not a beat was missed.

The ability to travel easily, quickly and inexpensively is one of the big reasons for living in Europe, particularly Paris from which all roads lead. I hadn’t been to Amsterdam in a few years—way too long considering how close it is to Paris. Amsterdam is one of my favorite destinations, in spite of its crummy weather (much like Paris), because of its never-ending beauty, its long list of fabulous museums and all the other amazing things there are to do, including just taking a cruise along the canals. The French must agree because there was almost more French heard on the streets than Dutch. They were everywhere.

Amsterdam architecture

We chose a hotel near “Museumplein,” a square just south of the Singelgracht which is the canal that borders the entire Amsterdam Center and once formed the ramparts defending the city. It’s part of the “Museumkwartier” neighborhood of the “Amsterdam-Zuid” borough where situated are three major museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum…as well as the concert hall Concertgebouw. We chose the hotel for price and location as we booked tickets for two of the museums. The staff were very nice and it was clean, but more minimal and basic than I would have liked. It was missing a lot. For two nights, it wasn’t going to be very important. There are many both large and small hotels in this immediate vicinity that are nicer.

If you’re not doing as many museums, then you might want to stay in another part of town. The other neighborhood that I have enjoyed staying in is the area around Haarlemmerstraat. It’s a busy shopping street with a few famous buildings and in 2012 it and the Haarlemmedijk combination was voted the “nicest shopping street in the Netherlands.” It’s not very far from the Central Station so it’s walkable from your train, and just north of the area of the city called the Jordaan.

Either around Haarlemmerstraat or in the Jordaan is where I’d want to live if I lived in Amsterdam. The Jordaan was built in the 17th-century for working class immigrants and was a poor district…but, not any more. Much like Le Marais in Paris, it is here I had planned to spend all afternoon perusing the little boutiques, wandering through the galleries and taking in a simple lunch at a little bistrot.

But, first things first. The Rijksmuseum was the top of the list for things to do once settled at the hotel, but lunch came first. The hotel desk clerk recommended The Seafood Bar not far from the hotel en route to the Rijksmuseum. She said if we liked seafood, we would enjoy it’s variety and freshness. She was right.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum

Dale, who is an old friend from New Orleans, understands my natural appreciation for both raw and cooked seafood. Any kind of seafood will do. The joke is that I will eat anything that swims. She did not object. The restaurant has a good contemporary, clean, but not sterile vibe. The fresh seafood on display at the entry immediately makes a mouth water, especially the bowl of bright red crawfish for a Louisianian like me.

The Seafood Bar in Amsterdam

Their seafood platter was a feast to behold and as fresh as it gets. It was tough to decide what delicacy to eat first, but I circled it until the only thing left was the half Dungeness crab in the center. On it other than the crab were shrimp (in their shells), oysters, clams, mussels, razor clams, surimi salad, little gray shrimp, bigorneaux (periwinkles), bulots (whelks) and my number one favorite, crawfish, with three different dipping sauces.

The seafood platter served at The Seafood Bar in Amsterdam

The waitress got the “hint” that I loved crawfish and she generously brought us a bowl of them as “un petit cadeau.” Dale was wide-eyed as I scarfed it all down, morsel by morsel, loving every minute. It could not have been more delicious.

What a good start to our Amsterdam adventure! Now you know next time you are in Amsterdam and head to one of the major Amsterdam museums, make a stop at the Seafood Bar first (or after) for a “swimmingly” wonderful meal.

A visit to the Rijks brought tears to my eyes. Seeing Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” (1660) literally brought tears to my eyes, I was so overwhelmed with emotion…even though this wasn’t the first time I’d seen it in that very spot. The other one I love there is “View of Houses in Delft,” AKA “The Little Street.” These are in one small inset of the grand gallery where Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” (1642) is displayed behind a wall of glass. The Rijksmuseum is certainly not Le Louvre (although nothing is!), but it’s a one of the world’s most important collections of Dutch art and history and not to be missed.

Vermeer's Milkmaid on exhibit at the Rijks in Amsterdam

Vermeer's painting of houses in Delft on exhibit at the Rijks in Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum-Rembrandts-Night-Watch

Dinner the first night had been planned in advance because Amsterdam is the best place to find Indonesian food outside of Indonesia. Indonesia was at one time a trading post for the Dutch East Indies Company and then a Dutch Colony, largely created for economic reasons. Sampurna is one of the city’s institutions, located right on the flower market on the Singel for decades. It’s touristy, but it’s still one of the best. The decor is cozy and intimate and the “rijsttafel” is copious and insanely delicious. Go with an enormous appetite, because you will need it!

The restaurant Sampurna in Amsterdam

Just to give you an idea, here are the 14 (!!) courses served to us as part of the rijsttafel we had:

1) Nasi Putih (steamed rice), 2) Ayam paniki (chicken in a mild curry sauce), 3) Daging Smoor (tenderly stewed beef in a sweet soya sauce), 4) Ayam madu (fried chicken in a honey sauce), 5) Sate Ayam (skewer of chicken served with peanut sauce), 6) Sate kambing (skewer of goat served in soya sauce), 7) Acar Ketimun (cucumber salad) 8) Gado Gado (blanched vegetables in peanut sauce), 9) Serundeng (spiced grated coconut) 10) Sayur Lodeh (vegetables in coconut milk) 11) Krupuk Udang (shrimp crackers, 12) Sambal Goreng Tempeh (fried sweet and sour soyabeancake, 13) Sambal Goreng Udang (spicy shrimps in a light spicy coconut sauce, and 14) Urap sayur (mixed vegetables with flavored coconut). We walked home in a stupor having pigged out beyond reason.

The rijsttafel assortment served at Sapurna in Amsterdam

FOAM Fotografiemuseum was on the agenda for Saturday morning. Walking from the hotel in dark gray skies and an atmosphere that felt you were immersed in a big misty cloud in typical Amsterdam fashion, we admired the beautiful red brick architecture and the elegant canals. Amsterdam is total eye-candy, where the right-angles and symmetry without repetition is so pleasing to behold. It really is one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

The FOAM museum

The 17th-century homes are not always so right-angled, so look closely and you may find a few that do a bit of leaning. I found one particularly sweet in the Jordaan neighborhood where one window was decidedly askew.

The house in Jordaan with a crooked window

When walking, however, you take your life into your hands if you don’t pay serious attention to the bikers’ patterns. It is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. As you might guess, there are more bikes in Amsterdam than residents (with about 780,500 inhabitants compared to an estimated 881,000 bikes). I got on a bike once in Amsterdam many years ago, but that will be the last time for sure.

My daughter and I had been to FOAM before and found it to be an avant-garde view on photography, not only supporting Dutch artists, but important international artists as well. Beyond featuring extensive displays of renowned photographers’ works, FOAM is dedicated to exploring contemporary themes in photography and promoting the creations of emerging talents…which it manages to do successfully.

The museum is a maze of rooms on many levels and many corners. One follows a path up and down stairs and down corridors ending in confusion as to where you are at any one point and questioning how big the space really is. Just as one might think, it is a fusion of three distinct structures interconnected by air bridges, covered courtyards, and staircases. It also houses a small bookshop, a library, and quite a nice little café. The museum also boasts of its own English-language publication, FOAM Magazine, released thrice annually.

FOAM interior

As we wandered through the museum and took in the extraordinary work on the walls by several different artists, both contemporary (Carlijn Jacobs) and vintage (Tina Modotti), we noticed that in almost every room there was a table at which sat two people—usually one younger than the other who looked like perhaps a student to a teacher.

Ssleeping Beauty by Carlijn Jacobs

Ssleeping Beauty by Carlijn Jacobs

As it turns out, that day was “FOAM Portfolio Review Day“—a one day chance for a budding artist to receive professional feedback and advice from a member of their artistic team. Impressive to say the least!

Our aim was to get to the Jordaan for an afternoon of shopping and just hanging out, passing the flower market along the way. If you want tulip bulbs, this is the place where the choice is overwhelming, along with bonsai kits, tiny cacti and a host of other plants and flowers.

However, don’t miss the Tulip Museum and gift shop for the most beautiful tulip-related goodies on the planet. I came out with a bag of goodies, having been struck by tulip mania. Nestled within a canal house in the Jordaan, it is just a stone’s throw from the Anne Frank House and the Westerkerk—a Dutch Renaissance church featuring a tower adorned with a 48-bell carillon that is currently scaffolded and in repair, projected until mid 2024.

Tulip museum and gift shop in Amsterdam

A large Chanukah Menorah is positioned on the canal opposite the Anne Frank House which seems awfully fitting, although we saw them in other spots around the city, as well. The Jewish community in Amsterdam is small—approximately 15,000 with significant concentration residing in the neighborhoods of Buitenveldert, Oud-Zuid, and Rivierenbuurt where one might find numerous Kosher restaurants, two bakeries, Jewish-Israeli shops, a pizzeria, and some supermarkets that feature a dedicated Kosher department. Additionally, Buitenveldert is home to a Jewish elderly care facility, an Orthodox synagogue, and three Jewish schools. We didn’t have time to visit any of this, but for someone interested in Jewish lore, am sure it would be an added treat.

Around town you can’t help but run into the Rubber Ducky stores. There’s no way to not simply giggle at such absurdity, although they gave me no reason to buy one. The shopkeeper will tell you some cockamamy story about the Dutch and their affinity for the little creatures, but the truth is it’s rubbish. The proprietor of these stores cleverly launched them in response to a surging popularity of the ducks in her gift shop. Her gamble paid off handsomely as following her investment, these ducks have evolved into an iconic symbol of the city.

Famous rubber ducky's from Amsterdam

Saturday evening we took a 75-minute cruise on the canals to see the current Light Festival. The boat leaves from a dock at the Loetje restaurant in front of the Central Station and is easy to find. This year’s festival has chosen the theme “LOADING…Revealing Art, AI and Tech.” Centered around this theme, the cruise takes you on a journey through a myriad of light art installations along the canals. While we enjoyed installations, we might have preferred having a better view of the architecture itself, which would have been better seen during the day.

Before leaving for Amsterdam, we considered buying tram tickets in advance, but it’s a good thing we didn’t. We walked a lot more than we trammed anyway, however you can buy tickets at the back end of any tram without a hassle. One time, the ticket-seller told us his credit card machine wasn’t working and just let us on for free!

On the tram in Amsterdam

We left the Stedelijk Museum for our last hoorah on Sunday. It’s a museum for modern art, contemporary art, and design in a 19th-century building designed by Adriaan Willem Weissman. The new 21st-century wing with the current entrance was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects. The collection includes a mixed bag (what I’d call a hodge-podge) of art and design from the early 20th-century up to the 21st-century featuring artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Karel Appel, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Marlene Dumas, Lucio Fontana, and Gilbert & George.

The Stedelijk Center in Amsterdam

It’s as avant-garde as FOAM—and in all honesty I had a hard time making heads or tails of its mission and was wondering what the curators were thinking as they placed the art on the walls and on display in such random fashion. Maybe I was missing something, but it just didn’t resonate with me. Works of art that are at the top of fame are hung alongside others of much less importance, making one think they weren’t important at all. Does that make sense? In addition, the atmosphere inside the museum is a bit creepy—as if uttering a word would break the code of silence. It was not the “fun” experience I usually have with contemporary art.

Artwork at The Stedelijk Center in Amsterdam

There is a special Nan Goldin exhibit on at the Stedelijk we were looking forward to seeing—”This Will not end Well,” on until January 28th, 2024. Although we had tickets, we were told we were supposed to reserve a specific time, otherwise we couldn’t enter. That ended that as there were no time slots left. Also, upon entering the museum, a bag larger than a small envelope was not allowed in, so we had to check our purses and bags with all of our valuables inside. It wasn’t ideal to say the least and I didn’t feel comfortable about that. Lockers would have made more sense. Even the book/gift shop was disappointing. But c’est la vie…that’s how the cookie crumbled at the Stedelijk and it didn’t affect our good time in Amsterdam.

When we exited the museum, the clouds had lifted and the sky was blue-blue. The sun was pouring down on the city, making our last long walk around the canals perfectly delightful.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds enjoy dinner out at RijsttafelAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

P.S. We are already booking speakers for Après-Midi 2024 in both Paris and Nice. Take a look at our site for a preview and plan to attend as many as possible!

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