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Amsterdam p2

April 1st, 2009

Some festivals must be highlighted, and here they are: National Museum Weekend (April) opens all Netherlands’ museums to the public for free or with major discounts; World Press Photo (April-June) is the largest international competition among photojournalists, where press photos from the previous year are displayed; Over ‘t IJ Festival (July) gathers artists, dancers and musicians for performances in festival tents—an opera, theater and visual arts extravaganza; Robeco Summer Concerts (July & August) offers variety through two months of performance lineups at Concertbebow; Parade Mobile Arts (2 weeks between July & August) is the only traveling theater festival in the world; Gay Pride (August) highlights Amsterdam’s gay culture, sports and parties, with a Canal Parade like no other boat regatta; classical music lovers, look for the Grachtenfestival & Prinsengrachtconcert (August) that brings concert music to monuments, gardens and a floating stage; International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) (November) premiers documentary films as well as provides platforms for film discussion, debate and looking at new documentary trends; The Feast of St. Nicholas (November-December) celebrates the mythic bishop with a steamship tour from Spain to the Netherlands, where on his birthday, December 5, St Nick visits all the children with a bag of presents.


Amsterdam Museums
Too many to list, but here are my “most fun” or “best-for-collections” list:

The Allard Pierson Museum displays archaeological artifacts from Egypt, the near east, the Greek & Hellenic world, Eturia and Roman Empire. Art objects and home-use utensils dating from 4000 B.C. through 500 A.D. offer a spectrum of everyday life through the ages. (Oude Turfmarkt 127)

The Amsterdam Historical Museum gives details on all things Amsterdam, and uses art, photographs, architectural renderings, and audiovisual and interactive exhibits to bring the city’s history to life. (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 357)

Anne Frank House shows through photographs, letters, Anne’s diary, and a route through the house and hidden attic rooms how eight people lived for more than two years in hiding from Nazi’s—only to be betrayed by neighbors just weeks before the city was liberated by the Allies. (Prinsengracht 267)

Bijbels Museum (Biblical Museum)
The Judeo-Christian Bible and its origins are explored through historical artifacts, models of temples, religious objects, manuscripts, and even aromas. Housed in two buildings on the canal that were built in 1662, the collection is pretty cool by any perspective. (Herengracht 366-368)

If you’re a film student, professional, or just a couch potato director, you’ll find this museum fascinating. Sorry, no popcorn allowed! Gems from film history exhibit everything from the silent film era (live music often accompanies these screenings) to newly conserved films saved from natural deterioration. Lots of Dutch films but also worldwide collection (shown in Dutch or English with either/or subtitles). A great little outdoor café on the front balcony overlooks Vondelpark (Vondelpark 3)

Van Gogh Museum
Great building, enormous exhibit, intimate spaces to commune with the master’s work and, for artists, peer into the brushstrokes to find inspiration. The Van Gogh collection holds more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters. Lots of other 19th-century painters & sculptors are also exhibited. (Paulus Potterstraat 7)

Opened in February 2004, there are but six exhibition rooms open at the moment, but they have thus far shown a rich collection of tsarist art from The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. While travel to Russia would be great for all, this is a good substitute. When the Amstelhof is completed by the end of 2008, more than 14,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of space will show exhibitions themes of anthropology, history and art. (Nieuwe Herengracht 14)

While undergoing a five-year renovation, the Philips Wing gathers more than 400 pieces for “The Masterpieces” exhibit. All the Dutch buddies are here, including Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Alongside these you’ll find an array of Delftware, doll houses, a model ship (very impressive), and silverware. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed with the renovation closing down the building—but you don’t want chunks of ceiling falling on you, either. The extant exhibit is a nice rounded collection. Look in your visitors guide for other Rembrandt-collection exhibits, as the loan program is still getting his works out for public viewing. (Jan Luijkenstraat 1)

Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House)
I thought this was the best of AmDam’s museums, but since I have a passion for this Master, perhaps I’m showing bias. Too bad. Visit this house/museum anyway, because you’ll see some fine etchings & paintings, and also how the master lived (man, those people were short back then—they slept in these box beds that are like dressed-up dog kennels), his studio, his storeroom of objects d’art, and a demonstration of his etching process. If you’re an artist or love to learn about art, don’t miss this exhibit.

Amsterdam Neighborhoods
Walk around any street, down along the canals, or take a boat ride, but get out into the air in between your museum hopping to discover Amsterdam’s neighborhoods.

Jordaan is famous for its cafés, restaurants, shops, and the Westertoren tower, completed in 1631. Jordaan is now a dense warren of streets popular with students, artists and young professionals. Anne Frank house is here, at Prinsengracht 267. Down the canal you’ll also find a houseboat museum—naturally contained in a real houseboat—across from Prinsengracht 296.

amsterdam_4Oud-Zuid is home to Amsterdam’s major shopping street, P.C. Hooftstraat. Designer shops of Gucci, Armani, and Louis Vuitton draw famous (and rich) fashionistas. Oud-Zuid also has the Rijksmusem, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Vondelpark is here, too, Amsterdam’s largest park.

De Pijp is a former working class quarter, and now sports a cornucopia of cultures and people. Cafés, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars brim from each side of the streets. The Albert Cuyp outdoor market is open daily, and has more than 200 stalls that sell mostly food and clothing along Albert Cuypstraat.

Zeeburg is an artificial island east of Amsterdam’s central train station. Zeeburg is a new district and holds Amsterdam’s most modern architecture. Handelskade offers music, theater, and dining venues.

Amsterdam has a Chinatown that is unique for its international population. This is the best place for Chinese cuisine, supermarkets, and curios.

Amsterdam Restaurants and Bars
If you’re looking for traditional Dutch cuisine, try the Albert Cuyp area of De Pijp. It has dozens of international eating houses nestled on its streets. Many of Amsterdam’s restaurants and cafés have outdoor seating, which on a warm spring or summer day are perfect for people watching. For outdoor dining along a canal, try the Regulierdwaarsstraat and the Herengracht.

Pub drinking in Amsterdam is flavored internationally nowadays, with spacious interiors and long drinks lists. These Grand Cafés also have reading tables, where you will find Dutch and international newspapers and magazines. For the true Dutch experience, there are still Brown Cafés, small, dusky places with faded walls and no music.

Amsterdam Nightlife
Amsterdam has a rich musical and performance heritage, and is displayed today in its two symphony orchestras, the National Ballet, Netherlands Opera, various theater venues and cinemas.

The Royal Concert Hall Orchestra focuses on the 19th and 20th century symphonic tradition, but also performs baroque and contemporary music. The Royal performs in the Concertgebouw, home also to The Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra.

amsterdam red light district_1The best place for improvised Jazz is in the BIM-huis, while traditional jazz can be found in the Café Alto, Bourbon Street Rhythm & Blues Club, Casablanca, and Heeren van Aemstel.

Theatre venues include the Stadsschouwburg, De Brakke Grond, and De Kleine Komedie. One of Amsterdam’s 45 art cinemas shows international films in their original language with Dutch subtitles.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is of course famous for its prostitutes displaying their semi-clothed bodies in neon-lighted windows. This district is a fun atmosphere, actually, regardless of your views on the flesh trade. If you into prostitutes, AmDam has what you’re looking for. I’ve seen octogenarian couples having the best laughs (and oddest expressions) as they walked the canal street for a “decorative” evening.

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