A very happy New Year to you all! I’m afraid this is going to be a ‘what I did on my holidays’ post although there will be a mention of books. H and I took off from Bristol on Christmas Eve for Amsterdam after a slight delay, blissfully unaware of the mayhem that was playing out at Gatwick – many commiserations to anyone caught up in that misery or in the floods that struck some parts of the UK. This was our seventh visit to Amsterdam so you can tell we like it a lot. Our first was in our early twenties, spent under canvas with one night in a dirt cheap dormitory, as part of a hitching around Europe trip. This one was a bit more comfortable. It’s a gorgeous city to wander around: beautiful canals lined with houses whose occupants obligingly keep their curtains open, their houses lit up like jewel boxes at night and often lined with bookshelves. We walked our socks off.
The catalyst for this particular visit was Andrew Graham Dixon’s BBC documentary on the newly restored Rijksmuseum which looked stunning on TV, and indeed it was in reality. The building is a piece of art in itself, setting off its contents beautifully. We sampled rather than crammed enjoying dolls’ houses – recreation for moneyed ladies rather than little girls – ship models and, of course, the lovely seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings filled with clean Northern light. Two other museums we particularly enjoyed were the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam’s ethnographic museum, and the Tassenmuseum, the Museum of Bags and Purses. The Tropenmuseum had a fascinating exhibition on Escher’s work and its relationship with the mathematical aspects of Islamic art, plus one on how the Dutch view immigration and their colonial past. The Tassenmuseum is one of those niche museums which turns out to be much more interesting that you might expect – I should know, I’ve been to a nail museum in Slovenia, and enjoyed it. It was particularly welcoming with an attention to detail that extended to green marzipan handbags decorating the cupcakes in their wonderfully elegant café. Some of the exhibits were quite stunning, from highly decorated gaming purses to bags spun out of steel to beautiful raffia clutch bags.
And, of course, there were a few visits to bookshops the best of which was The American Book Center: three floors of cleverly arranged shelves full of interesting stock – even on Christmas Eve when it must have been severely depleted – staffed by friendly, knowledgeable booksellers. Just one book was bought – English language imports were expensive – but it was entirely appropriate: Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City. H raced through it while we were there – I’m a few chapters in and very much enjoying it. It’s a very readable account which although chronological relates the city’s history back to the present day. It’s also an enjoyable way of prolonging the holiday for me. We’ll be back, no doubt about it.
So, back to reality although I was met with a nice surprise as my submission for the Guardian readers’ books of the year had been accepted. Lots of interesting choices here, if you’re not already up to your eyes in ‘best of’s. I do hope your holiday was as enjoyable as mine. Happy reading in 2014!