Canal boat tour
The last time we were in Amsterdam, we stumbled on a canal-tour company with a small-scale personal touch.
No surprise, the canals are famous. They’re filled with tour boats of all sizes. Many are very large glass-covered types. Head sets with narratives in a dozen languages. That was the first type we had tried. Nothing wrong with them: you see and learn a lot — with a lot of other visitors.
On the last day of our visit in 2019, after walking and museum-ing and exploring all day, we just wanted a little relaxation while still soaking in the Amsterdam atmosphere. Mike noticed a small canal tour boat, open air, with a few people sipping glasses of rosé. He spotted their name, Googled, and we had a reservation in 30 minutes. Perhaps because it was the last tour of the day, or that it was a chilly afternoon, we were the only passengers. The small boat could navigate smaller canals; the captain / tour guide was full of humor and gave us lots of attention; and the rosé tasted good after a 20,000-steps day.
Now it’s 2022. We and our friend Wendy have just arrived in Amsterdam after a 3-hour drive from Bruges. What better way to jump back into the city than an hour on the canals.
This time, we had to share the boat with a dozen other visitors — who were all in good spirits. More glasses of rosé.
Two passengers, a man and a woman, lay stretched out on the raised deck at the bow of the boat. They embodied one of the top stereotypes of Amsterdam: they were stoned out of their minds. Funny stoned, not difficult stoned. They giggled. They popped up with observations that amused them immensely. They had a great time.
And they amused us too.
A few more post-card Amsterdam views:
The Rijksmuseum is like the Louvre, the British Museum or New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: Vast, eclectic, demanding. As the years go by, our museum stamina has diminished. We have learned to focus on an interesting section for an hour or two, and then go have lunch!
This time, we explored the galleries with paintings, drawings and artifacts related to the years of Dutch exploration, exploitation, and colonization. The Netherlands’ golden age was the 17th century, but influence and colonies continued after. The exhibits included paintings of far-flung territories, such as Brazil and what is now Indonesia. There were also works depicting life, activities and celebrities abroad and at home.
Discreet dark-gray signage accompanied each object, with the standard information about author, provenance, year. But, in some cases, above these signs, white signs had been added. In each of these cases, the notes illuminated some aspect of the work that related to enslaved people and relationships between the Dutch and indigenous people.
For example, this little domestic scene seems innocuous enough. But when you read the sign, you see great darkness behind the traveler’s smoke break.
In case you can’t read the sign in the photo, here is the text:
Tobacco & Slavery. The man on the bench smokes a pipe. In the 17th century, smoking was so common in the Netherlands that it was widely reported by foreign travellers: the smell of the Dutch Republic was the smell of tobacco. By far the most and best tobacco was cultivated in the Americas by enslaved people. Virtually the entire harvest was shipped to the Netherlands and then sold on to other countries. Such as system of forced labour thus
We found some background about these signs that help round out the history of these art works.
INVISIBLE BONDS: Many of the works in the Rijksmuseum’s permanent collection have links with the Netherlands’ slavery past. It’s a relationship you probably won’t notice at first glance, and one you won’t read about on the museum label next to the object: from the nutmeg harvested by enslaved people, to an enslaved woman shipped off to the Netherlands; from the image of a dance party on a Surinamese plantation that hides critical messages about the slaveholder, to the pulpit from which an 18th-century legal philosopher made the case for abolishing slavery.
EXTRA MUSEUM LABELS : Rijksmuseum & Slavery is adding 77 museum labels to paintings and objects in the permanent collection. The new labels will remain in place for a year, until February 2022. All of them focus on the colonial power of the Netherlands, which from the 17th century onwards was inextricably bound up with a system that included slavery. Some of the labels tell the stories of people who, under Dutch rule, were enslaved and put to work, and had their status reduced to that of objects, while others highlight people who profited from slavery, or spoke out against it.
When the Slavery exhibition and Rijksmuseum & Slavery have ended, we are going to evaluate both the pre-existing museum labels and the new ones. Wherever possible, the new information will be integrated into our museum in order to do greater justice to the Netherlands’ complicated history.
Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam
We didn’t stay in this hotel, but we walked by the building at least once a day. It’s robust art-deco-like forms caught our eyes. (photo from internet)
Despite it’s being a self-proclaimed “grand hotel,” we ventured inside to see what was what. We found a density of celebratory design that was stunning. What clients the building owners must have been: full of themselves and intent on expressing their worldliness and wealth.
Here’s some of the history of what was originally called the Scheepvaarthuis, or Shippinghouse:
In the early 20th century, six shipping companies decided to join forces to build a shared head office, from where they could sell tickets for voyages by sea to the Dutch East Indies, Africa and other destinations. [The location was perfect, being adjacent to] the quay from where the trading ships docked and departed. Belief in shipping was sky-high at the time, since controlling the seas means controlling trade. The envisaged building was required to exude splendour and strength. In 1912 architect Van der Meij is appointed to design this symbolic structure.
Van der Meij draws inspiration from the Art Nouveau movement and gives it a distinctly Dutch twist. Expressive dynamism, lavish ornamentation and colourful embellishments characterise this style, later known as the Amsterdam School. Van der Meij invites colleagues to work on the project, turning it into a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, or total work of art. The team of young artists applied maritime motifs liberally, even in the smallest details. Waves, sea creatures and ships appear almost everywhere: not only in stained-glass windows, sculpture work and marble but also in furniture and fittings such as carpets, chairs and wallpaper….
By 1916, … [travelers] could come here to book their voyage in suitably stylish surroundings. The most popular destinations were the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Africa, but ships also sailed from Java to New York, China, Japan and South America. (source)
Crossing the street
You probably know that the Dutch love their bikes. And in a city like Amsterdam, it looks far easier to get around by bike than by car. (The immense bike-parking garage near the main train station is famous.) Although tram, buses and subway are pretty good too.
All those vehicles (except the subway!) come at you from all directions whenever you want to cross the street. It seemed to us that the cyclists felt very entitled; they stopped for no one. Indeed, online research confirms that cyclists — not pedestrians — have the right-of-way.
Here’s an example:
Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that means “rice table.” This now-traditional meal comes from the Netherlands’ many years of presence in what is now Indonesia. It is customary to be served tens of small dishes with a delightful range of ingredients and spices. Most of the dishes, at least in our experience, are hot-spicy (although some are!), but all are flavorful.
We chose two different rijsttafel restaurants.
The first, Tujuh Maret, is a small, family-run casual restaurant. Friendly service, and ample food: 18 different dishes including chicken satay, yellow rice, pandan rice, sweet sour salad, prawncrackers.
The second, Restaurant Blauw, looks more upscale and contemporary. Another full table of dishes: beef rendag, chicken rica rica, lamb gulai, goat satay, chicken satay, makerel pepesan, codfish mentega, shrimp satay, shrimp belado, egg kuning, sayur lodeh, gado gado, sambal goreng potato, serundeng, cucumber acar, steamed rice, fried rice! Slightly crisper and fresher flavors.
Nomads is a fun, contemporary restaurant, tucked in an aggressively contemporary neighborhood.
The conceit of the restaurant is a culinary tour of the world. The creative chef, from Czechia, uses dishes from far-flung cultures as inspiration for her menu. She also creates with the mantra of “waste nothing.” For example, fish roe and shrimp-shell stock take the place of salt and spices. Our server introduced herself as our tour guide — who wanted to play a game with us. If we agreed, when each plate arrived, we would guess where its inspiration comes from. At first blush, I worried that the game would be hokey and distracting. But our server was so animated and enthusiastic that she made our evening a delight.