Europe 24.06.16

Friday the 24th

Would it be ambitious to say that today has been the most productive day yet? It is nearing 10:00 pm and the sun is still high, but we have just returned to a state of a hotel room which we left this morning in a rush. Although it is late, the street goers have not yet retired as I have. The hubbub of the neighbourhood can be heard from my room, and I expect they will disturb our peace until the hours of the morning. My last trip to Amsterdam was very different from the experience I have had thus far. In the company of my Contiki Group, we made the most of our nights in this living city as I imagine those below me will tonight. Needless to say, my mother won’t be partaking on any benders or cafe crawls, hence I will be the good daughter I am and keep her company.

We followed the directions of our trustee hotel clerk Peter who sent us down Warmoesstraat where an indistinct bakery hid as a local hotspot. Nothing in the display window was made to appeal to passersby to the extent that we almost overlooked our destination. Only our imparted knowledge of its general location and name, De Bakkerswinkel, which was printed on the glass in statement gold lettering, prevented the near miss. This venue featured a basement level and raised seating area that allowed the kitchen and its baking processes to be the focal point of view from any of the upholstered settees. Like any good bakery, a variety of fresh loaves and delicate pastries lined the shelves behind the service counter and an arrangement of jams added a colourful feature to this display. The cafe specialised in a Dutch Breakfast: a collection of breads and condiments that can be selected between or betwixt at the discretion of the diner. A basket of rusk, sourdough, bischuitje and peperkoek was accompanied with a plate of sliced cheeses and a tray of homemade jams including passionfruit, strawberry, lemon curd and also a pot of hagelslag! For me, this was reminiscent of the communal breakfasts which I shared with my extended family in Belgium and with my parents at home in Australia, what was becoming an increasingly rare occurrence. When you remove a Belg or a Dutch from their natural habitat, you can imagine they suffer of separation anxiety from the many delicacies belonging to their homeland. After fifteen years estranged, this was the exact experience of my mother and I, hence we did not skimp on the chocolate sprinkles yet, out of politeness, did leave a finger or two remaining in the bottom of the jar.

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We retraced our steps to the hotel, pausing to examine the Beurs van Berlage, the stock exchange of Central Amsterdam. It was a red bricked structure of eight conjoined apartments ended by clocktowers that rose above the body of the building. Large iron bells were visible hanging within the high rise and the clock face underneath looked as if it were painted onto the wall. A golden sticker with a red circle centre surrounded by blue ciphers that seemed to flower from its outline was plastered onto either tower, the only three-dimensional component being the timekeeping hands. No longer operational, the Beurs van Berlage was occupied by a restaurant and hosting an exhibition for the street artist Banksy. That is something I would like to visit, hopefully later today.

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We also stuck our heads in a shop retailing traditional cheeses such as Old Amsterdam and Farmers Cheese before we made our way to Amsterdam Central. Casting a rich ambience over the Grand Place, this castle demanded the attention of the bustling crowds that swarmed around it. It was the single station that connected each train line, hence drew locals and tourists alike to its vicinity in large numbers. The red brick that constructed the train station was more vibrant than the previous attraction, the Beurs. Its top was lined with sandstone bricks used to frame mosaic tiles and colourful crests in alternating order. A crest of lions and crowns was arranged at the peak of the building to represent bravery and hierarchy such as in the national emblem. The final touch, an iron skirting, rimmed the spires at the top of Amsterdam Central Station which doubled as a decorative detail and security measure, further emphasising the importance of this establishment. We purchased metro tickets in the office next door and boarded the line to the Museum Quarter.

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In the shadow of one year prior, we were revitalising many memories as we retraced our steps around the Museum Quarter. Mum was keen to revisit the Rijksmuseum which we had thoroughly circulated some twelve months ago, but the time constraints of the past year proved promising for a re-endeavour. We wandered through the years, beginning with a collection of sculptures from the 1200s on the lowest level, and up the revolving staircase to the 2000-painting-rich display resonant of the Dutch Golden Age. We gaped in awe of the artworks by Jacob van Ruisdael, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and the remarkable Rembrandt. Once having absorbed as much Baroque and the Hague School as our patience could bare, we progressed into the Asian Pavilion, a corner as distant in culture and painting style as in geographical distance. The top floor was host to a variety of portraits larger than life itself: i had to walk from one end of the frame to the other in order to get a full impression of a painting by Bartholomeus van der Helst which immortalised the guests of the aptly titled ‘Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guile in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster’. This particular painting featured two dozen men in feathered top hats with elaborately styled moustaches. Each character gave an exuberant show of class dressed in ruffled collars and heeled boots with embroidered detail. This was but one of the many masterpieces which claimed the room as an extension of its oil-painted event. It was made to compete for attention with the likes of Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Meagre Company by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde. The adjoining chambers bookending the featured exhibit held a collection complimenting a replica of the HMS Royal Charles, and in the opposite room, memorabilia post-dating the Second World War. This latter exhibit, and the New Giuseppe Penone Sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, were two sections we had not explored on our last visit. The bright and sunny weather made for a pleasant stroll amidst the pruned greenery and the sporadically placed complementary sculptures. We left the Rijksmuseum desperately craving a Stroopwaafel.

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The free-standing cart opposite the Rijksmuseum satisfied our hunger with a paper-thin waffle that sandwiched oozing warm caramel. Our craving appeased, mum and I turned our attention to our thirst in the direction of the House of Bols. A genever museum which utilised a self-guided tour through the creation and evolution this clear spirit, ending in a bar equipped with tenders from the renowned Bols Academy, was exactly what we were due for. Down a flight of dark stairs illuminated by a vivid purple strip at the edge of each platform into an acrylic-walled room with glass displays made to give the appearance of a library. The weathered books within these cabinets recounted the history of genever and were displayed alongside old casks and pipes once used in the distillery process. Of course, it was the ever-progressive Dutch whom invented the predecessor of gin. The aptly conned ‘Grandfather of Gin’, first distilled and distributed by Lucas Bols, is made of a triple-distilled malt blend artfully mixed with botanicals. The adjoining room displayed this process with interactive technology to create a four-dimensional hands-on experience which mimicked the origin of the spirit. Thereafter, the tour took us to a botanical lounge, wherein one could smell and guess the different ingredients involved in the process. And, finally, having slurred through the museum itself, we redeemed our included cocktail at the Mirror Bar staffed with students from the Bols Academy.

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Following our indulgent excuse for a museum, we moved onto something somewhat more cultured: the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MOCA occupied a peculiar building on the outskirts of the centre-circle of the Museum Quarter, standing across from the righteous Rijksmuseum as if to pose a challenge. It seemed a measly building in the shadow of its larger neighbour, like it housed the quarters of the groundskeeper, however its internal wealth was undisputed in the untarnished eyes of an amateur art appreciator. The exhibition on display featured the provocative and challenging art of the innovative modernists Banksy and Warhol. The latter, Andy Warhol, was a pop-artist who explored the images of modern culture in the likes of vibrantly coloured Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup. Celebrities and consumerism were his muses in the 1960s and he aimed to challenge the cookie-cutter capitalism which was sweeping his time. Andy Warhol was a clever man, however I could not be more infatuated with an artist than I am with Banksy. This anonymous artist captures the political realities of various current events, whilst challenging traditional art through the medium of spray paint. His works spontaneously appear across buildings, with only a short delay in following from the internet, to contest the idea that art must appear in a formal gallery. I feel myself aligned with his perspective and passion, but his medium is so daring and therefore powerful that I cannot look past his raw work. The result, curators cut his graffiti from brick buildings and direct films in his honour. Whilst viewing one of these films showcased at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I learnt of one of the stunts composed by Banksy in New York. An old street vendor in Central Park manned a booth throughout the working day, stocked with canvassed Banksy Art passed off as his own work. Although prices were advertised at $60, many passers-by did not give the paintings a second look. The first sale was made at 3:30pm by a woman who bargained two canvasses down to 50% for her two children. The next sale was made at 4:00pm by a New Zealand tourist, and the final sale, consisting of four paintings for a man who “just needed something for the walls”. USD$420 later, six pieces of Original Banksy Art worth more than $250 thousand dollars apiece had left the old-timers pop-up. This was used to demonstrate that value is subsequent of fame. Many other Banksy works revolve around the politically relevant topics of child soldiers, migrant domestic workers, social media and animal cruelty. I cannot say I have experienced an artist whom has made such a profound impression on me, such that I walked away from the exhibition with a coffee table book comprising of his famous artworks, compiled by an external curator who used another’s art to turn a profit.

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After an indisputably HUGE day, we finally returned to the Park Plaza Victoria to freshen up before dinner. We had made a reservation under the guidance of the kind concierge to a restaurant with a low-key fine dining repertoire. It was removed from the city but no longer than a short walk from our hotel, just long enough to stimulate our appetite for an indulgent dinner to commemorate the final night of our week alone. Unfamiliar with the restaurant and its unique dining style, I was somewhat apprehensive of the single set menu on offer, however having committed ourselves thus far, we decided to take chance upon the list of items of which little I could understand. It consisted of six elaborate courses which mum and I had mixed interested in, therefore we concluded on splitting the options to construct a more reasonably portioned three-course meal. The first meal of the degustation was an ensemble of pickled vegetables with garlic infused cheese, Belper Knolle, garnished with East Indian cherries. The next was Schol a la Picasso, a North Atlantic Plaice adorned in fresh verbena fruit and marinated in green curry. The third course was a fillet of bottom-dwelling coastal gurnard and cockles with orange essences. Thereafter, purple quail and mushrooms served with a mocha syrup. The degustation proceed with shawarma, a Middle Eastern pita roll seasoned with sumac and tahini and delicious dutch feta. Finally, our dinner was completed with a dish of fennel and tonic sprinkled with white chocolate woodruff. This dinner was definitely a choice worth chancing upon.

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