I landed in Amsterdam last Wednesday around 10am. I was exhausted but grateful to get off the plane. Schiphol Airport was buzzing, and in the middle of a confused crowd heading (hopefully) towards customs, I met Amy, an artist from Portland. Her first words to me succinctly summarized the situation: “I am so confused.”
By the time we made it to baggage claim, she had my basic back story, and I knew she was in Amsterdam to show her work at an art show that Friday. She described it as feminist, body-positive, sex-positive street art and a marked deviation from what she had done in the past. I said yes to all of that (@libidobidil on Instagram. See images of her art from the Friday show below).
Check in time at Hotel Van Gogh was 2pm, so I stored my bags and went exploring. I walked the canals but just didn’t have the energy to fully appreciate it. I had been up since 3am the day before with little sleep on the plane. I was tired, negative, sad, and grumpy. So, I made my way to Vondelpark and tried not to fall asleep on the bench. I mostly succeeded.
I checked in at 2pm and have very little memory of the rest of the afternoon or evening except meeting Matt, a guy from the UK with impressive tattoos who walked me to the grocery store after I mentioned that he had impressive tattoos.
I had four goals for Amsterdam – four must-sees:
- The Van Gogh Museum – pretty much the entire reason for my visit
- Walk the canals – I’d seen pictures
- Red Light District – because it just seemed interesting
- Anne Frank Museum – because Taylor said it was worth it
I had five days and checked off all four and the art show.
The Van Gogh Museum
I love Van Gogh’s work. I’ve read several books about his life, but the most interesting and most telling is the collection of his letters to his brother Theo. I read an English translation, and they’re beautiful. He was such an artist, body and soul. He felt color and technique and darkness. When I see his work in person, and at times in print, I feel it. My heart vibrates with energy from the paintings and sketches. I once skipped work in NYC to see one of his paintings displayed for auction. It was from a private collection and probably destined for another. The chance I would ever have the opportunity to see that work again were nil. It was breathtaking. Completely worth it.
Online advice suggested arriving after 4pm to avoid the worst crowds. I bought a ticket online for 4pm on Thursday and walked directly in – no lines. It was crowded but manageably so. It was an amazing experience.
I asked someone working whether pictures were allowed. I assumed not and he assured me I was correct. He said, however, that if neither he nor his colleagues are watching…and he shrugged and smiled. “What can we do?” he asked. “By the time we get over there, they took the picture.” Another shrug. Another grin. “You do what you want, but they’re technically not allowed.” So, I took one picture of the Almond Blossoms. It’s a cliché favorite, but it’s one of mine. He painted it for Vincent, his nephew, who he loved dearly.
“Which way to the canals?”
“You go that way,” he says, gesturing. “Then that way.” Gestures again.
Armed with these infallible directions, I headed out. Turns out, you do indeed go that way and then that way.
I wandered over the canals several times during my stay, as they were both beautiful and conveniently on the way to most everywhere I wanted to go. I even took the obligatory selfie…or two…or probably 17 to 20….
Visit the canals. Stroll along them. Find a peaceful spot and sit. Watch the boats and the ducks. Hang your legs over. There’s rarely a safety railing! This isn’t America! Cars park inches from disaster!
The Red Light District
I wanted a picture of an alleyway with the long red lights up and down the buildings on each side. But I completely forgot. Min, a hostel roommate and new friend, and I went to the Red Light District Saturday night.
We arrived at dusk, which saw lighter crowds and fewer…what do I say? “Girls” seems demeaning? “Ladies”? “Women”? “Prostitutes”, while factually accurate, seems harsh. “Workers” seems vague. I have no idea what to call the people working behind the glass doors, nor was I sure where to look. Obviously, their bodies are on display. They are working. They are advertising. But I was not a potential client. I felt like a leering tourist. I found it all interesting and fascinating, but I felt my presence as a non-patronizing onlooker awkward at best. Obviously, I didn’t take any direct pictures, as it wasn’t allowed. Even if it was, it would just seem terribly rude.
Min and I walked about as the night grew darker. The crowd grew noticeably larger, louder, and more drunk. We dipped in and out of sex shops (“TWO FOR ONE!!!”) and eventually into a quaint little Chinese restaurant for dinner. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a quiet meal in the Red Light District.
I had wanted to find the statue erected (see what I did there?) to sex workers, but my memory for that Wiki article and the statues’ location was lacking. Regardless, it was an interesting evening.
Anne Frank Museum
“See the Anne Frank House. It’s worth the wait.” That was the FB post from Taylor that added a fourth item to the must-see list. Someone else had mentioned a 3-hour wait, so…. The site suggests buying a timed ticket online two months before traveling to Amsterdam. I checked the site on Friday and was happy to find a few tickets were available for Sunday at 7:15pm. I bought one for 9€. There were two lines: one very long one for those buying tickets at the door and one with two people in it for those with timed tickets. I was there early and waited less than five minutes.
I haven’t read her diary. Always meant to and for a million reasons simply haven’t yet. Still, it was an interesting and somber look into an ugly and hate-filled past.
The Rebellious Muse | Feminist Art Fest
I met Amy at her hotel, a convenient two short blocks away, on Friday night, and we took a tram to KunstWest Amsterdam for the art show. The highlight of the evening for me was the absolute pure excitement of the young women at the entrance when they realized Amy was the artist behind a stack of stickers they were offering guests. They loved them and had already claimed several. Admittedly, there was one print I was especially drawn to. I now have that sticker on one of my journals and on my phone case.
We met Sophie, a young feminist exchange student from Copenhagen, when she asked to sit with us at dinner. Sophie was beautiful and energetic and excited to be in Amsterdam. She offered to help Amy plaster her prints around the city, which they certainly did not do because it’s not legal.
Late that evening, Amy and I left in search of more food. It felt like we walked miles and searched for days and asked a multitude of people for help before finding a group of Brits who led us to the section of Amsterdam that stays open after 10pm. And for 6.50€, that midnight pizza was amazing!
Land the Plane
I didn’t take a ferry over to the art district or take a canal cruise or eat at half the places friends recommended, but I did make it to my big four, work my way onto the guest list at an art show, stumble on the I Amsterdam sign, take several morning runs in Vondelpark, eat picnic lunches and dinners in Museumplein, make new friends, and give directions to tourists. And I was just blond enough to have a lot of Dutch spoken at me. I’m calling that a win.