Five Days in Amsterdam and One book

From iamsterdam 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 Amsterdam 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!

10 thoughts on “Five Days in Amsterdam and One book”

  1. We were walking our socks off in Paris, and while I didn’t get to even one bookshop (well apart from looking in the window of a BD bookshop – my daughter is really into graphic novels and loves to write/draws her own, mostly featuring her cat Noisette), I did manage to finish Le Grand Meaulnes. I dream of one day revisiting Paris and Amsterdam on a purely selfish agenda, but this trip was a first time visit for our 10 & 12 year old, though I do so love following them and seeing what they are attracted by, witnessing first impressions is as wonderful as revisiting favourite haunts.

    Congratulations too on the piece in the Guardian and for the plug for another French read, including the bookcover image! I am almost afraid to read this series of reader recommendations, so much to absorb and so dangerous for the TBR. I do love how open The Guardian is to reader participation, I am sure it must be of great help to them in keeping their content fresh, inspiring and open-minded.

    1. I like the idea of a graphic novel starring Noisette! Thanks for your congrats, and I’m pleased they included the jacket – a nice plug for a small publisher who deserve to do well.

  2. Congratulations from our household as well. I’m glad you managed to get away. So many of my friends got caught out. Pricy or not I think you were very disciplined to come away with only one book from The American Books Center. I am always fascinated by what overseas bookshops chose to stock in translation. It offers a fascinating insight into what a particular country thinks of us.

    1. Thank you, Alex. Always humbling visiting another country whose English language skills are sometimes better than our own, and that’s reflected in their bookshops. I went to a fabulous one in Helsinki – riding on the coat tails of H’s conference attendance – which had a vast Crime section, much of it in English. I’m sure you would have been impressed. Beautiful shop, too.

  3. This makes me want to go back to Amsterdam… have only been once and it must be a decade or more ago now but I do remember how lovely it was sitting in a beer garden in the sun drinking summery drinks and watching all the cyclists whizz by!

    Have you ever read David Park’s “The Light of Amsterdam” ? If you are familiar with the city there’s a lot in it you may like.

    1. Lovely at any time of the year, and only an hour away from the UK. Thanks for reminding me about the David Park – any excuse for reminders of the holiday.

  4. I’ve only been once to Amsterdam but I loved it – such a beautiful city. I am kicking myself, though, for not finding the American Book Centre which sounds fabulous. Many congratulations on the Guardian – how good is that? Many warm wishes for wonderful reading in 2014, too!

    1. Thanks so much, and a happy 2014 to you, too! Amsterdam’s such a laid back, gorgeous city and so many excellent museums to visit. I’ve just come across my Museumkaart which lasts for a year – tempting to go back!

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