Amsterdam for Art Lovers

After Paris and London, we continued on to Amsterdam, ready to see the Van Gogh Museum, works by the Dutch Golden Age masters, and the famous canals. I’d never been to this city before, and I was excited to scope it out for the first time with Rebecca!


Day 1: Museum Van Loon & the Van Gogh Museum

We left Hotel Esmeralda bright and early, and ended up getting to the train station rather earlier than we needed to. In the meantime we had a quick breakfast of pain au chocolat. The security line actually didn’t start until 20 minutes before we were going to leave — so if you are traveling with Thalys, don’t trouble yourself to get there too early! On the train we had croque-monsieurs and a sort of waffle snack, which was the first sign that we were entering a new country. Before long, we were pulling up at the train station in Amsterdam.

We took a cab to Hotel Euphemia and were delighted to see that our room was on the first floor and literally as close to the front door as we could be… Our feet hurt from our full day in Paris the day before, and we thought it was perfect since we had mainly wanted Amsterdam to be relaxing. 😉 Therefore we chilled out for a while before we decided what to do with our afternoon/evening.

Museum Van Loon, which was only a short walk from our hotel, ended up being our first stop. We bought Museumkaart passes there, and the desk attendant said that we were smart to do so, since it could save us quite a bit of money. Then we explored the house… it was really pretty, with nice furniture. There were some really cool patterns on the wallpaper and on different fabrics throughout the house. The family actually still lives there, in the upstairs, and uses the downstairs for special occasions, but the rest of the time opens it up for people to see. 🙂

Behind the house was a beautiful rose garden, and behind there was the coachhouse, which still had the family’s old carriage in it. There’s also a little cafe back there, so we were able to have some lemonade in the garden before the house closed for the day.

We saw the famous Prinsengracht canal on the way there, and on the way back as well. We loved how laid back Amsterdam is, especially compared to Paris, and were astonished at how many bicycles were everywhere! I mean, I know the city is known for it, but we even saw a parking garage stuffed with them on the cab ride to our hotel. And bicycles actually have the right-of-way on the road, over both pedestrians and cars!

After a brief break at the hotel, we decided to head out to the Van Gogh Museum. Since it was Friday night, they were open and actually had all kinds of extra activities. We got there around 6:30 or 7pm, and had a couple of ciders in the bar area to start. Then we moved to the workshop area, where they had us do a printmaking activity. It was actually a lot of fun–they had you trace your face with marker on a mirror, then lay paper over it and get it wet with a sponge so that the marker would transfer. It was fun and a cool way to demonstrate how printmaking works!

Next we went up through the actual Van Gogh Museum. The information about Van Gogh was really good–the museum basically started with his first paintings and went through his whole life. We got to see some really good ones along the way, like “The Potato Eaters”, “Almond Blossom”, and “Sunflowers”. There were also some nice ones that aren’t as famous, like “Great Peacock Moth”. The museum was good overall, although it did get quite crowded and hot! I’m not sure if it’s always like that, or only during the Friday night activities. It does make you wonder what Van Gogh would think if he knew that so many people were connecting with his art, even over a hundred years later! You also weren’t allowed to take pictures of the artwork, although they had several “selfie spots” (including a replica of “Sunflowers” that you could touch!) around the museum. We actually noticed this at a lot of places in Amsterdam – they seem to have caught on that you can’t stop people from taking selfies, and the designated “selfie spot” system seems to work. 🙂

Finally we moved over to the other half of the museum, where there was another bar and live music! We went over there, however, to see the Paris 1900 printmaking display. They had quite a large collection of prints from the era, which were cool to see. The well-known Chat Noir was represented, and many works by Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, as well as a strange (and somewhat sexist) series that represented ‘all the possible dramatic moments in a woman’s life’! Before leaving we stopped by the gift shop, were you could find almost any item you could think of printed with paintings by Van Gogh!

Once done at the museum, we sat on the Museumplein grass for a while before heading back to the hotel. The Museumplein is a wide open area between some of the city’s most famous museums, like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum, and it’s close to the Concertgebouw as well. So we ended up spending a lot of time at this park-like place, and grew pretty fond of it. 🙂 Luckily, it was close to our hotel too, so we didn’t have to walk far to get home that night.


Day 2: Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum & Concertgebouw

Since our goal was to relax in Amsterdam, the next day we slept in and took our time getting ready–I even did yoga for the first time all trip. We ended up not even leaving our hotel room until noon! On our way out the reception guy smiled to himself as he said “Good afternoon”–I assume he thought we’d spent the night partying somewhere… shall we say, unlike the Van Gogh Museum!

We ate breakfast/lunch at a cafe around the corner called Rogh. I had pancakes with baked apples and bacon, which was delicious, and fresh-squeezed orange juice!

Then we headed back to the Museumplein area, so that we could visit the Netherlands’ oldest art museum: the Rijksmuseum. There was tons of good stuff to see there! I really liked seeing the Dutch Impressionists and the Van Gogh self-portrait. The room with Javanese paintings and artifacts was really interesting, and I liked that they didn’t sugarcoat the sometimes-harsh aspects of colonialism that made those artifacts possible.

The highlight, however, is definitely the Gallery of Honour, where there are works by many Dutch masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, etc.). That’s also where the museum’s crown jewel, Rembrandt’s Night Watch, is located. That painting was amazing to see; it had so much presence! It was eye-catching even from the far end of the Gallery of Honour. My other favorite part was definitely the amazing Research Library! I love libraries as it is, and this one was gorgeous.

Lastly, we saw some modern art on the top floor (including a pretty cool Yves Saint-Laurent / Piet Mondrian dress). Then we finished up with carrot cake and apple juice at the cafe, using the free wi fi for a little bit. I forgot to mention that before–apple juice was an option at a lot of the restaurants we went to in Amsterdam , and it was always really delicious, so we drank it often while there. 🙂

After seeing the Rijksmuseum and our little break at the cafe, we moved on to the modern art museum–the Stedelijk. The pre-1970 section had some really interesting works, such as “Odalisque” by Henri Matisse and “The Fiddler” by Marc Chagall. I also loved the “100 Years of DeStijl” galleries, which showed the development of the movement from its influences to the art it influenced. There were lots of Piet Mondrian works, and I finally got to see a Roy Lichtenstein (which I’d been waiting for all trip), so that was pretty cool.

However, after that we saw a gallery featuring works by Nalini Malani which was just weird and creepy… And then there was a pretty cool exhibition called “Solution or Utopia?” that displays and discusses products that have been developed to help the worldwide refugee crisis. That one was pretty thought-provoking as well.

After the museum, we didn’t want to stray too far since we had tickets to an orchestra concert at Concertgebouw that evening. So we did a little shopping for souvenirs in the stalls near the museum, then sat at the edge of the water feature/reflecting pool in Museumplein (not too far from the I amsterdam sign). We enjoyed relaxing, people-watching, soaking our feet, sketching (Rebecca), and writing postcards (me) until it was time to head to the Concertgebouw for the evening.

Concertgebouw was beautiful! At the front was a huge pipe organ, and there were names of famous composers in gold lettering around the walls, mixed in with the intricate architectural details. Because we were under 30, our tickets were quite cheap (€15 each). I had assumed this meant we would get crappy seats, but (possibly because we booked pretty far in advance) they were actually some of the best seats there! We were in the center and just a few rows back. I actually felt as if we were breathing in the music, we were so close!

The concert was Andrey Boreyko conducting a short piece by Messiaen, then Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No. 4 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. The pianist, Lucas Debargue, was super young and seemed really nerdy, but in a likable way. The facial expressions he made while playing were hilarious, but he was really good–I guess it’s good to play with passion! The symphony was my favorite, though, and I’m now a big fan of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. The whole experience was a lot of fun, and more than worth what we paid for those cheap tickets!

We walked back to our hotel, enjoying how the Museumplein’s buildings were all lit up for the night. We had a quick dinner at the “Snack Bar” near our hotel and then went to bed so we would be well-rested for our last full day in Amsterdam!


Day 3: Koninklijk Palace, Rembrandt House, Hermitage Museum & Anne Frank House

Our third day began quite a bit earlier than the previous one, and with a really nice walk along the Prinsengracht canal. The bridges over the canal were so pretty, with their boxes of flowers, and the rowhouses and moored boats along the canals made the scene especially picturesque. We stopped for breakfast along the way, having croissants, tea, and fresh orange juice.

When we got to the Anne Frank House, however, we found out that if you go between 9am and 3:30pm you have to have pre-booked tickets in advance. After 3:30pm you can go, but you have to wait in line and may not get in. We stopped at a cafe with wifi briefly to see if we could get tickets for that day, but they were sold out so we figured we would just go back around 4pm that afternoon.

Instead, we headed over to Dam Square to see the Amsterdam Royal Palace (also known as the Koninklijk Palace). Since the Netherlands have always been more egalitarian than France or the UK, the palace wasn’t as opulent as other ones we had seen on the trip, but it was pretty and tastefully decorated, with some really nice color palettes. We noticed many different kinds of chandeliers… and while walking around Amsterdam we actually saw several stores filled with different chandeliers, so it must be a good place for them!

After the palace, we got a little lost, but not in a bad way at all–we ended up wandering into a cheese store! We got to sample some of Amsterdam’s famous gouda cheese, and even were able to take some back with us. It was vacuum-sealed and good to go for flying. [Note: we actually had no problem whatsoever bringing it back into the country–the customs people seemed like they could not care less… so apparently I should always buy cheese on my trips!]

We soon found our way again, and made it to the Rembrandt House. This was the house where Rembrandt actually lived, and it has been restored to be pretty much as it was when he lived there, which was fascinating. There was a short video at the beginning, and a map showing where pigments for his paints came from. Then upstairs were the family living areas, and above that was a room of props and his studios. It was interesting to see the props (busts, armor and weapons, preserved butterflies, different fabrics, taxidermy animals, and more) and think about how lucky we are now that we can look up any visual reference at any time!

The studio was divided into his large studio, and then a smaller studio partitioned into three spaces for his students. Rebecca said they were bigger than the studio she had at school! They also had a really large collection of Rembrandt’s prints and an exhibition on his friendship with Jan Six, who was mayor of Amsterdam at one point during the Dutch Golden Age.

We continued our walk through Amsterdam until we reached the Hermitage Amsterdam museum. We had lunch in the pleasant courtyard there, eating gouda cheese sandwiches that were surprisingly good. We had delicious apple tart as well.

The Hermitage Amsterdam had three different exhibitions going on, and we visited two of them. The third was a collection of Dutch Golden Age portraits, and we figured we had seen enough of that at the Rijksmuseum (and museums in London and Paris), so we skipped that one.

The first we visited was the “Romanovs and Revolution” exhibit, which had various artwork and artifacts from the life of the last tsar of Russia. It was a really interesting exhibition, and I definitely learned a lot more about the Romanov family (including that Rasputin was basically a faith-healer and that the Tsar and Tsarina had a really cute relationship) than I knew before. (Okay, maybe most of my prior knowledge came from the historically inaccurate Anastasia movie from 1997… don’t judge!)

The second exhibition we went to was the one of “Outsider Art”, which I had certainly never heard of before. Outsider Art is basically art created by people who have no connection to or experience with the “mainstream art world”. The artists are usually self-taught and sometimes mentally ill. The collection at the Hermitage Amsterdam had outsider art from Dutch and Chinese artists. Some pieces were good, and I liked seeing the artists’ fantastical inner worlds expressed… but others were not much more than doodles (on notebook paper even!). Either way they were interesting to see.

Finally, we walked back across Amsterdam so we could try again at the Anne Frank House. The line was quite long, but we ended up only waiting in it for about half an hour, so we had plenty of time to go through the museum (that took us about an hour). The first part is an audio tour, which gives background information about the Holocaust in the Netherlands, the Frank family, and Anne Frank’s diary. Then you walked through the secret rooms where the family hid for a little over two years. At the end were pages from her actual diary and photos of the family on display. There was also a video with a friend of Anne’s who was the last known person to see Anne Frank alive, and clips of Otto Frank (the only family member who survived Auschwitz) as well. The whole museum was very poignant and moving, and I definitely think it’s worth the wait in line (or buying tickets in advance) to be able to go.

After the museum we had a quick dinner at a cafe, then took a long, leisurely walk back to our hotel. Along the way we stopped once to buy postcard stamps, then again because a gelato shop just looked too enticing. We found some pretty cool street art of Van Gogh along the way as well, and the city looked so beautiful with the bridges all lit up for the evening. It was a really nice way to spend our last evening in Amsterdam.


The next morning, we took a cab to the airport and then flew home! All in all, we had an excellent trip! We went to no less than 19 museums, five different palaces, numerous parks and landmarks, and saw countless masterpieces. Each city was special for different reasons… London has some of the best museums and palaces, and was a nice “introduction” to Europe; Paris is a beautiful city, with wonderful architecture and so many art museums. Amsterdam, at the end, was a lot of fun because it’s so laid-back but still has amazing history and art to explore. I’m so glad I was able to take this trip with my sister, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it as well. 🙂

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