Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport gallery opens winter exhibition (about winter!)

I love airport art galleries. They offer the delayed passenger something far more satisfying than eating fattening toxins in the food court. The gallery at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, is one of the best because it’s run by the world-famous Rijksmuseum.

The gallery has just opened Dutch Winters, a collection of winter scenes by Dutch artists. Interestingly, the curators didn’t go for the usual Dutch Masters and their depictions of the harsh winters of the 16th century, when Northern Europe shivered under the Mini Ice Age. Instead, they’re displaying works from the 19th century.

A January Evening in the Wood at The Hague, shown above, was painted by Louis Apol in 1875. A member of The Hague School, Apol made realistic images typical of that school’s style. Below is Charles Leickert’s Winter View, which he did in 1867. Leickert’s style harkens back to the Dutch masters with its rural scene, detailed architecture, and numerous lifelike figures.

Fans of the Dutch Masters of Holland’s Golden Age won’t be disappointed. The gallery has a permanent exhibit of some of their works.

Images courtesy Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam day trip: Van Brederode castle

Amsterdam has plenty of day trip opportunities. Smaller cities such as Delft are a short train ride away and the pretty countryside has many historic attractions.

Ruïne van Brederode is a castle in the town of Santpoort Zuid, about 25 minutes away by train from Centraal Station. From the Santpoort Zuid station, signs lead through quiet, tree-lined streets to the castle. The fifteen-minute walk is relaxing after the craziness of the big city.

Soon the castle comes into view. Ruïne van Brederode has a long history and has been through a lot over the years. The earliest known castle on this spot was built by William I, Lord of Brederode, starting around 1282. It guarded a narrow strip of land that connected the Dutch mainland to West Friesland. A map in the gallery to this post shows the site’s strategic importance.

The castle was besieged, taken, and destroyed in 1351 but was soon rebuilt, only to be set on fire by Spanish troops in 1573. By then the age of artillery was well underway and this type of castle was no longer militarily useful. The ruins were allowed to slowly crumble until they were restored in the nineteenth century.

%Gallery-140254%I was shown around by the caretaker, who lives in a small cottage next door. The castle grounds were quiet and we had the place almost to ourselves. There’s much to explore, including a large central tower that provides a splendid view of the rest of the castle and some of the countryside beyond. A small museum shows some of the artifacts dug up on the site, including some early stone cannonballs, perhaps from the siege of 1351, and a bit of stained glass with the boar’s-head crest of the Brederode family. You can even see wax figures of the former lord and lady of the castle, their faces reconstructed from their actual skulls.

The castle was quite modern for its time, with bathrooms in every room and an innovate square design for the main tower. It’s a shame it got so banged up by various armies. Parts of it are only foundations and the caretaker was quick to point out some errors in the nineteenth century reconstruction. Still, it makes for a relaxing and enjoyable day trip from Amsterdam and gets you out a countryside that most visitors miss.

If van Brederode whets your appetite for Dutch castles, also check out Muiderslot.

As I left, the caretaker presented me with bottles of Brederode Blond and Brederode Bruin, a traditional Dutch made in honor of the castle and bearing the boar’s head symbol of the Brederode family. The beer was as enjoyable as the castle and I heartily recommend both!

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: One luxury and two budget hotels in Amsterdam!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

One luxury and two budget hotels in Amsterdam

Visitors to Amsterdam are spoiled for choice when it comes to hotels. From flea-bitten junky flophouses all the way up to five-star luxury accommodation, hotels in Amsterdam offer something for everyone. Picking one can be tricky, though. Here are three places I’ve stayed at.

The four-star Hotel Estheréa is a good choice if you want to splash out. Its location on a broad canal in Amsterdam’s historic district is perfect. The immediate neighborhood is packed with restaurants, bookshops, antique stores, the flower market, and a few laid-back coffeeshops. It’s much quieter than the neighborhood closer to Centraal Station but only a short tram ride away.

The interior of the hotel is brightly decorated and there’s a huge (and very trippy) fish tank in the lobby. The rooms are spacious by Amsterdam standards and many offer a beautiful canal view plus lots of amenities like a safe and voice mail. Service is excellent and there’s a hearty breakfast every morning in the dining room shown above. Rates run from 185 euros on up.

My only complaint about this place is that you have to pay for Internet.I don’t mind so much for hotels catering to business travelers since they’re just going to put it on expenses anyway. As far as I could see, though, the Hotel Estheréa mostly caters to tourists. There are two free computers in the lobby, but chances are you’ll have to wait to use them.On the cheaper end is the Hotel Hermitage Amsterdam at Nieuwe Keizersgracht 16. As the name suggests, it’s within sight of the Hermitage Museum Amsterdam, a wonderful art gallery with world-class exhibitions. The hotel–a converted old canal house–offers singles to quadruples and family rooms too. The rooms are on the small side as is common with in Amsterdam and there’s no elevator. Climbing steep Dutch stairs with a heavy suitcase is a bit of a journey! Prices range from 49 euros on up.

A short walk away on Prinsengracht 1051 is the ITC Hotel. This is slightly closer to the center of town and slightly older and more cramped than the Hotel Hermitage. If you’re not looking for luxury accommodation and don’t mind climbing some pretty steep stairs, this is a perfectly good hotel. It’s housed in a historic canal house and has a variety of rooms, not all of them en suite. The free internet is a nice plus. Prices range from 49 euros on up.

All of these hotels are close to tram lines and are on canals. I suggest you get a canal-side room because the views are lovely. If you do this, ask for a room on an upper floor because the canal side is the noisier side.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

Amsterdam’s Torture Museum

Like many travelers, I have a soft spot in my heart for tourist traps. Whether it’s the politically incorrect cheesiness of South of the Border or the shabby weirdness of The Thing, nothing brings a smile to my face better than some cheap, gaudy attempt to capture my attention.

Amsterdam’s Torture Museum fits the bill perfectly. Behind a pseudo-spooky facade are reproductions of torture instruments from the Bad Old Days. You’ve got famous nasties such as the rack and the stocks, as well as lesser-known evils like the Flute of Shame. Pictured here is the Inquisition Chair. The victim was strapped in and the weight of his own body caused him to sink onto the spikes. Check out the gallery for more photos and descriptions.

The whole place is lit by weird red, orange, and blue lights and is a maze of stairs and hallways that makes you feel like you’re in a medieval dungeon. Signs in several languages (including English) give basic descriptions of what you’re seeing, and images pulled from old books show the torture instruments in action.

It’s all very garish and exploitative. No attempt is made to be socially redeeming by discussing modern torture. For example, there’s no display about waterboarding, used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Khmer Rouge, and the U.S. government. Of course there shouldn’t be because the U.S. government says waterboarding isn’t torture and they only use it on the guilty anyway. I know they’re speaking the truth because the U.S. government never lies and never makes mistakes.

The Torture Museum’s garish displays and Wikipedia-style descriptions are mere low-brow titillation. It’s when you think of what these objects really mean, and how similar instruments of cruelty are still in common use today, that this horror show becomes truly frightening.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam day trip: Van Brederode castle!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.


Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum

Amsterdam owes its wealth to the sea. In the Golden Age of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dutch sailed around the world looking for rare products to bring back to Europe. They were one of the great maritime powers and are still important in shipping today.

Amsterdam is a city made for the sea. Its canals are laid out like a spider’s web, where every family that could afford it built a narrow house on one of the canals, complete with a private warehouse and crane on the upper floor. This maximization of seafront property allowed a large section of society to share in the nation’s wealth.

To really understand Amsterdam and The Netherlands, you need to visit the National Maritime Museum, called Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Dutch. This museum, reopened earlier this year after a major remodel, offers a history of Holland’s maritime adventures from the past 500 years.

Just a short walk from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, the museum is housed in a large 17th century arsenal. Inside are modern interactive displays explaining how early mariners found their way by the stars, how ships were built, and where and for what they traded.

One of my favorite displays is a set of reproductions of sailors’ photo albums from the past century. You sit in an easy chair flipping through the pages while listening to an audio commentary explaining the photos. It was like sitting with some old Jack Tar as he spun tales of the sea. There’s also a large collection of ship’s ornaments, nautical equipment, and an art gallery of maritime paintings.

%Gallery-139729%Another big draw is the Amsterdam, a beautiful full-sized replica of an East Indiaman from the Age of Sail. This is a big hit with Dutch kids, if the squealing school groups crawling all over it were anything to judge by.

Some locals have complained that the remodeled museum has been “dumbed down”, and while I applaud the many exhibitions specifically directed at children, I have to agree the museum lacks a certain something. There’s a large amount of wasted space and as I finished every floor I was left with the feeling “that’s it?” Yes, the displays are artistically lit and well labeled, and the whole execution is well conceived, yet I was left feeling I’d missed out on something.

Another problem is the price–a tooth-grinding 15 euros ($20.23) for adults and 7.50 ($10.12) for kids and seniors. Thankfully I had the I amsterdam City Card, which got me in for free. If you don’t have the card, I’m sad to say that unless you’re a serious history or nautical buff, the price simply isn’t worth it. It’s a shame the high entrance fee will drive people away, because there are some really beautiful artifacts and works of art here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Tasting gourmet Dutch cheese in Amsterdam!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.