I had an opportunity to spend a week in Amsterdam recently.
I was in town for a conference on how to maximize my use of air miles and elite status to get travel benefits, and I decided to stay a few more days to check the place out.
It was my first visit to this city, and I want to share a few highlights with you.
We rented an apartment in the Western Islands, and it proved to be the perfect location. We had the upper floor of a small wooden house that was spacious and airy, with big windows looking out onto a quiet canal.
The area is made up of three little man-made islands, created in the 17th century to house warehouses and shipping companies associated with the West India Company and their trade with the Levant and the Baltic region.
They once held goods like herring, grain, tobacco, wine, salt, and anchovies, but today these tall, slender brick buildings have been turned into apartments, and the area is popular with actors, musicians, artists and furniture makers.
It’s so close to the bustle of Central Station, but this little island world of small village-neighbourhoods is a world away from the backpackers, coffee shops and marijuana-haze of the centre. It was a wonderful place to come back to at the end of each day. And a wonderful place to sit and write.
I didn’t have any real plans in Amsterdam, apart from seeing some art, getting inspiration for my work, and walking around.
Traveling in Europe doesn’t feel like “travel” to me anymore. The entire place feels like my backyard, and because there are no borders I have a sense of visiting different regions of the same big country, each with their own culture and foods and history — all those things that serve to create the Spirit of Place.
As my own personal map of Europe takes shape in my mind, I seek to discover new regions or cities that serve different parts of my character, or that feed my creativity in some way.
When I visit a new place, I’m checking to see if it meets these inner needs, and deciding whether it will become one of those places like Berlin, where I return again and again as I create a curiosity-driven lifestyle to fit my work.
The first thing I wanted to do in Amsterdam was to spend some peaceful time checking out the city’s collection of art. And so our first stop was the massive Rijksmuseum.
While tour groups were rushing upstairs to be photographed and seen next to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, we headed for an excellent current exhibit called “Modern Times: Photography in the 20th Century”.
I saw rare photos by a few familiar favourites, like Brassai, and discovered a few new artists like Sanne Sannes, whose images are drawing me to deeper investigation.
The Van Gogh Museum was another highlight for me. Yeah, it’s touristy, but at this time of year it was actually pretty peaceful. And they had an excellent new audio guide, unveiled just the day before my visit.
I like museums devoted to the work of a single artist. It puts their life in context, gives a sense of their struggles and the world of their associations with other artists and creators, and it gives me much deeper insights into the problems they grappled with in their art, and the ideas they hoped to express.
Another aspect of the art world that I find really interesting is exhibits from private collections.
This was an eclectic assembly of modern art from the collection of Martijn and Jeannette Sanders, one of the most important private collections in the Netherlands. You never know what you’ll find at such an exhibit, and I love the insights it gives into the interests and drives of the collector. It’s almost like a puzzle, and I try to find patterns or themes to shed some light on the secret motivations of the buyers, and to understand what drove them to acquire these particular pieces.
This exhibit included paintings, sculptures, assemblages, and some very interesting works that merged text and visual art to create narrative.
I find myself increasingly drawn to contemporary art. I think this started when I first began visiting Berlin. It gives me ideas for my own work, and presents new and unusual ways of approaching emotion or expressing personal experience.
I was also happy to discover several paintings by artists of the German Brucke movement on the upper floors. I had recently read a book about their work, and so it was a pleasant surprise to come face to face with a few of the original paintings I had seen only in photographs.
Amsterdam is a city that’s definitely on my list of places to go back to for extended stays. It has all the right elements of atmosphere, art, history and culture to inspire my work.
I loved the mood of tolerance in the city, the ambience created by all those trees and narrow streets of brick buildings, and the gentle watery world of canals.
My Malta days are drawing to a close. It’s been nearly 4 years now, and I’m looking forward to relocating to the continent in the Spring for new adventures. And a few of them might just end up including the Netherlands.
But I’ve got a couple of trips to do first, including a big Sahara expedition at the start of the year. Stay tuned for that, and for new expat adventures from a totally new base…
Have you been to Amsterdam? Got a favourite hangout in the city? Any tips to share? Please post them in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.
Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2014