My most recent trip to Amsterdam was in spring of this year, as the Netherlands began to enter its world renowned tulip season and its celebration of King’s Day. If you have read my other posts on this subject then you’ll probably know that we travelled there, shock, on the ferry once again with P&O. This time however, because we decided to mix it up and rather than our classic bunk beds and tiny cabin we chose to push the boat out (yes, that was a ferry pun don’t judge me) and upgrade to a double bed luxury cabin with a TV. Considering the upgrade was only an additional £25 each each way, you get a lot for your money and the increased level of comfort is so worth it! There are only a few of these upgrades available and it is on a first come first served basis so it may be worth calling ahead of time and trying to arrange it then rather than trying to run off the ferry and through border security to get there first. It is also worth mentioning that in these cabins there were 4 miniature bottles of wine, 2 bottles of beer, some soft drinks, biscuits and crisps- which I’d have paid the £25 for alone.
You know the drill by now, we woke up early the next morning and got on the coach from Rotterdam into the centre of Amsterdam. Once again we had booked for an extra night there so had to check into our hotel. We chose to stay in Sloterdjik again, this was partly because of the cost (it is quite a bit cheaper to stay outside of the city centre, and only about 10 minutes on the incredibly frequent trams), and partly because the hotel had been so beautiful and accommodating the first time- and because breakfast was included. Next on our incredibly long list of things to do was eat lunch. We chose the Hard Rock Cafe near the Vondelpark because it is custom now on our travels to visit the Hard Rock franchises in the area and collect a new piece of clothing or souvenir from them all. No, we aren’t creatures of habit at all? The food was beautiful as per, and were it not for the fact I didn’t trust us to try and carry around glass for two days then I would have bought a super fancy cocktail in a super fancy glass (that you got to keep).
After lunch I took James to the Moco Museum. This is something I mentioned very briefly in the second instalment in this little trilogy because I wanted to cover it in more detail in this instalment because I felt I got more out of it this time, having gone with someone as interested and eager to take it all in as I was. The Moco Museum is situated close to the Diamond Museum, near the Rijksmuseum and VondelPark and stands out as a large, stately house like building. Unique in its architecture amongst Amsterdam’s continuous terraces, this singular building looks quirky and out of place which is perfectly suited to the content within its walls. Focused primarily on the work of Banksy there are also pieces by icons like Haring, Warhol, and Dali as well as one of my favourites Koons and his stainless steel mirror finished sculptures. They also had the Connecting Time exhibit by David Arsham when we visited, on show between 18th January 2019 and 30th September 2019 (so there is still time to catch it!!). There is a wonderful flow to the house, you are recommended to start at the top and work your way down, through the other exhibits, around all of the Banksy Art; and there is a lot of it, and finishing in the grounds of the museum where there is yet more art.
A sculpture from his 2015 Weston- super- Mare Theme Park “Dismaland”, his “Di-Faced Tenner”, “Balloon Girl” and a “Cardinal Sin” are amongst the very wide array of Banksy’s art exhibited here. My personal favourite is the “Barcode” piece. This simple piece shows a jaguar walking majestically free of its “cage” made up of a barcode. The piece dates back to 2004 and has a number of interpretations. These differ from the comparison of the unique barcodes we find in technology our day to day life, and the uniqueness of the jaguar- a creation of the natural world and the comparison between the two. Another common interpretation is that it is aiming to highlight the consumerism that engulfs the zoo and sadly circus industry- and that we are keeping these unique animals captive for our own capital gain, and that only when free of this exploit do they return to their majestic natures. However you choose to view the piece, it is reflective and impactful. The same goes for all of the other pieces of art within the walls of the Moco Museum.
The temporary “Connecting Time”, Arsham exhibition in basement section of the museum is encapsulating, there is so much to see and take in and in the Amethyst Ball Cavern especially it is easy to feel as though you are “stepping into an alternate reality” as the Moco Museum so accurately phrases it. Last but not least is, what has always been one of my favourite parts of a visit to a place like this, the souvenir shop. Needless to say, as with the rest of the museum, I was impressed with this addition too, the vast quantity of Banksy printed merchandise left me spoilt for choice. Did my mum need a Girl with Balloon phone case, magnet, key ring, poster AND water bottle? Who am I kidding, of course she did! This dent to my bank balance was dramatically lessened thanks to the vouchers in the backs of many Amsterdam guides/ maps and on display in most hotels. Offering a wide array of discounts on experiences, or spends in gift shops, as in this case. The 10% off allowing me to buy yet another trinket.
The grounds of the Moco Museum are almost as captivating as the artwork within its walls. On a ground of pink wood chipping is an array of chairs, a gigantic metal toy rocking horse; large enough for an adult to sit on, a Mickey Mouse sculpture and one of those old favourites- the boards with a funny design on the front but with holes for you to poke your head through so you fit into the scene. My favourite is the giant gummy bear sculpture, holding a placard as if having his mugshot taken after being arrested. This comically large, bright red, simple but effective sculpture can be seen from the surrounding parkland and a photograph with it was almost obligatory- especially with the cherry blossoms growing overhead.
The rest of the day was spent wandering Amsterdam and taking in as many of the sights as possible and darting in and out of shops, high street and antique alike. That evening our meal was had at KFC before walking through the Dam Square, flocks of pigeons swarming us hoping for a chip, however there were none as we were aiming to line our stomachs before another visit to the IceBar. Yes, this was my third time here, and yes I could go another three if I got the chance, such was my enjoyment of the place. Every person I have taken here for this unique experience has loved it- although this might have been influenced by the amount of alcohol drank in the experience… regardless it was one I will infinitely recommend and talk more in my blog post Amsterdam Through the Seasons- Part 2. We then took the customary walk through the Red Light District, lit up in its traditional, recognisable fashion, every so often walking through a cloud of ambiguous smoke or making surprisingly casual awkward with the beautiful women in their windows.
It was surprisingly cold as it had transitioned into afternoon, and then into evening on that spring day. James and I had had to buy ourselves coats and hoodies as extra layers to keep warm, having overestimated just how warm it would be. As a result after the events of the evening rather than waiting for trams to take us home (still every 10 minutes until midnight, and then every hour after that- yes, 10 minutes was still too long to be outside in that cold) , we chose to duck into the Amsterdam Centraal Station for shelter, warmth and the possibility of a train to the hotel. This was not something we had looked into before given the regularity of the trams but Sloterdjik was the second largest station in in Amsterdam so it seemed likely that there would be a train running between the two. We were right, there were four Euro train tickets available, as regularly as every five minutes, almost as long as the train journey took itself. We were back, warm and in bed within 15 minutes. Amsterdam is nothing if not convenient.
Another good nights sleep at the Holiday Inn in Sloterdjik, was followed by another very large included breakfast in the morning and then another tram journey back to the centre. The plan for today was not a rushed one, we had to be back for the bus at 5pm and did not want to be tearing through as many activities as we could, when we knew we would be back again. We had booked in advance to go to the Heineken Museum. Yet another one of Amsterdam’s famous exports, Heineken beer’s largest brewery is no longer in the centre, but it’s museum and gift shop is. The tour itself was impressive, taking you through the full process, from the idea, the history, the evolution, the brewing and the bottling. There were plenty of fun facts (that I wont spoil for you), cool bits of memorabilia, immersive experiences in the bottling plant, and of course the wonderful free samples- one during the tour and two tokens for drinks at the Heineken Bar at the end of the tour. These were drunk swiftly (as my drinks often are) at the bar on high stools surrounded by plenty of other people with identical drinks in identical glasses to ours. A production line of glasses filled at the bar, collected, drank, refilled, drank again and then washed was seamless and mesmerising. A chalkboard wall covered the far side of the bar and was quirky little addition, as so many things in Amsterdam are, and was filled with declarations of love from couples on holiday, initials drawn in hearts, the classic crude drawings and the obligatory thanks and complimentary three word reviews.
Then came the gift shop (the aforementioned love of my life), I got the BIGGEST bottle of Heineken you have ever seen in your life, I think it was something like three litres, €3, yes THREE EUROS. I got some badges for my ever heavier denim jacket on my shoulders, a magnet for my mum’s ever heavier fridge and a beer glass for my Dad who’s third child is beer. They had a free engraving service, so of course I took advantage of this and got my dad’s glass engraved, knowing he would love it, and the bottle of beer even more so. Although I intended to save this for Eurovision as hotdogs and beer was our tradition- it’s a bigger deal in our house than Christmas; that isn’t even a joke.
As we didn’t want to rush the day we wandered back over to the VondelPark and the Rijksmuseum. The sun was blazing and had burnt off the fog of the morning, but was still not quite warm enough to go without a jacket or coat, but it is still a blue sky day. Blue sky days in Amsterdam are unlike anything else, the tulips around the statues, the tiny blossoms on all of the trees and the ever present chorus of the birds that hop between them. This is the memory that comes above all others in my mind when I think of Amsterdam in spring.
The rest of our time in Amsterdam followed the same track of the two previous times. We sauntered round, grazing on food and any other experiences we could sneak in while staying close enough to the bus stop so that I wouldn’t have an anxiety attack about missing it and being stuck in Amsterdam- although this definitely wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, I just didn’t have enough clean underwear.
There is so much left about Amsterdam to see, do and say. I just haven’t seen it yet, I haven’t done it yet and I can’t quite find the words for all that I did manage to say and do in the 9 days that I have spent there at various times throughout the year. I haven’t even been there in summer yet (“yet”, being the word). Amsterdam truly is the City of Freedom. Not only for it’s residents, their professions and their beliefs, but for everyone who passes through. I know this is most commonly associated with the Red Light District, and the Coffee Shops, but something you only appreciate once you have visited is that this Freedom is available to everyone, all the time. I have never felt most myself than in Amsterdam. No-one gives a shit, in fact difference is relished and appreciated. Never once did I feel looked down on. I have never felt safer in a city. It might be anticipated that because things that are criminalised here are legal there, that the city would be less safe. Incorrect. I don’t have any specific crime statistics to reel off for you, because what I am talking about is how safe I felt. In London I consciously looked over my shoulder, constantly, and I panic about using the tube on my own, or after dark- even in my own city it can be scary to be out in the dark. Yet in Amsterdam I felt at ease, the metro and trams accessible, easy and safe. Everywhere was clean, and nowhere did I feel intimidated.
If you are willing to accept everything and everyone, then everyone will accept you too. They would probably accept you even if you didn’t, but just don’t be a dick.