June 2 – 5
I’ve been to Amsterdam six times and Joanna has made four visits including the ten nights we spent there in 2014, so, we didn’t feel compelled to hit every tourist site in town, indeed we had to do some searching to find one that we hadn’t been to. And that turned out to be a visit to the Rembrandt House Museum.
But first we walked over to our now favorite street for a coffee and snack and Black Gold, an independent vinyl record and coffee shop. We really liked the vibe here and although we are not coffee snobs, they pay close attention to creating each cup and they were fine pieces of work. Along with our two coffees, we ordered a small cake for a snack and proceeded to spend about an hour in that friendly environment, savoring the coffee and the cake all the while watching the barista doing his thing while the customers filed in and out.
Caffeinated and carbo loaded, we headed out to the museum, a simple five-minute walk down Krom Bloomssloot to its location at number 4 Jodenbreestraat. The entrance sits in a modern building next door, and we entered to pay the admission fee of 15-Euros ($16) and were handed an audio guide for each of us, with narrative in English. The house was occupied between 1639 and 1658 by Rembrandt van Rijn, who also had his studio and art dealership there.
It was built around 1606 and renovated around 1627, when it was given an extra floor and a new facade. Rembrandt bought it on January 5, 1639, for thirteen thousand guilders. After his bankruptcy it was auctioned in 1658 and sold for eleven thousand guilders. In the following centuries it was used as a residence and was renovated several times.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the building was in poor condition, and it was purchased in 1907 by the municipality of Amsterdam, which donated it to the Rembrandthuis foundation. Between 1907 and 1911 the house was restored by Karel de Bazel and the museum opened on June 10, 1911.
The current museum shows Rembrandt’s living and working quarters, including his living room, art room and the studio where he created his masterpieces. The building was redesigned based on the inventory that was drawn up during Rembrandt’s bankruptcy in 1656, thus providing an idea of Rembrandt’s daily life, his studio practice and what a private house and artist’s studio looked like in the 17th century.
The Museum owns an almost complete collection of etchings by Rembrandt which are regularly displayed in the etching cabinet and in temporary exhibitions in the modern museum wing. In the old house there are also works of art from the 17th century, including by Rembrandt’s teacher Pieter Lastman and his pupils Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck.
After touring the lower quarters, I arrived at the floor containing Rembrandt’s studio and while there observed a demonstration of paint making. During Rembrandt’s time, paint as we know it didn’t exist, that is an artist couldn’t just pop into their local art store and buy whatever they needed. Almost all paint was made by the artist using common materials known to produce the color and texture required for the type of painting, or art, being created. It was a fascinating glimpse in a time gone by.
Joanna and I finished up around the same time and after a brief stop in the gift shop, we walked just a couple of blocks to the Waterlooplein Market, Amsterdam’s oldest flea market and reputed to be the oldest in the Netherlands. A Jewish market was created here in 1893, the biggest and the most important market of its kind in Amsterdam. It ended in 1941 with the persecution of Jews by the Nazi’s but after World War II, it was reborn, first as a general bazaar, then in the 60s and 70s as a trading place connected with the youth culture.
It was indeed a big, colorful marketplace with something like 300 booths featuring a cornucopia of merchandise, including but not limited to, new and second-hand clothes, old military uniforms, old books, videos and DVD’s, electronics, and all types of other curiosities. We perused the stalls for quite some time, eventually picking up a t-shirt for Gemma and then feeling peckish, stopped at a Vietnamese food trailer for an order of two Loempia, tasty springs rolls (one each of pork and shrimp) and a Coke Zero.
Finished with the market and heading into the afternoon it seemed to be the right time to take a dive into Amsterdam’s non-Heineken/Amstel/Grolsch brewery scene. Using our transit passes we hopped on the number 24 Tram to quench our thirst at Brouwerij ‘t IJ, located in a former bath house named Funen, next to the De Gooyer windmill (the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands at 87.3 feet high. It is registered as a National Monument).
The brewery was founded by Kaspar Peterson, a former musician, in 1985 and was one of several small breweries that opened in cities around the Netherlands in response to consumers’ dissatisfaction with beer brewed by the larger companies. They brew twelve standard beers and three seasonal beers, besides limited-edition beers. We ordered one apiece and settled into a picnic type table in a side room and watched those around us drinking and consuming what appeared to be good looking food.
We drained the last of our beers and repeated our route on the tram until we reached Dam Square, where we departed and began to wander the side streets adjacent to Amsterdam’s main street, the Damrak. This is a place rich in memories; In 1977, Rendy, Evan, and I, having discovered in Brussels that three men with large packs would not find great success hitchhiking, took the train to Amsterdam and on advice we’d received through savvy travelers, found the main American Express Office on the Damrak.
During this period, The Amex offices in the major cities were known to be ground zero for black market used car sales. And sure enough, we hung out there, across the street from a parking lot (now a park) and would eventually purchase a used late 1960’s VW van from an American couple leaving for the states for the ridiculous sum of under $400. It came equipped with a double bed on a platform, a two burner gas stove, cooking gas, pots, pans, dishes and best of all, a box of books, all in English.
Evan would stay with us for two weeks after hitting Bitburg, Germany and then Paris and Rendy and I would soldier on, driving south to Barcelona, then across the south of France and back up to Germany to eventually hit Oktoberfest, then return to Amsterdam to sell the van for $150 and separately head for home. I would land in Seattle with Tom and Kathy for a month and the journey would continue until Rendy and I returned to Europe in 1979.
Dam Square is the beating heart of Amsterdam and is anchored by the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, one of three palaces in the Netherlands which are at the disposal of the monarch by Act of Parliament. It is situated on the west side of Dam Square, opposite the War Memorial and next to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The palace was built as a city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century and became the royal palace of King Louis Napoleon and later of the Dutch Royal House.
Before returning to the houseboat, we went in search of the Gray Area, our favorite dispensary in Amsterdam. Until our discovery of this shop 25 years ago, we were left to our own devices when searching for the semi-legal products available in town with which one could smoke and alter their consciousness. It is heartening to be able to return to these places of memory and still find them operating. And we’ll discover new memories in the next post.
Rembrandt House Museum: https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/
Black Gold: http://blackgoldamsterdam.com/
Waterlooplein Market: https://waterlooplein.amsterdam/en/
Brouwerij ‘t IJ: https://www.brouwerijhetij.nl/
Royal Palace of Amsterdam: https://www.paleisamsterdam.nl/en/
Gray Area: http://www.greyarea.nl/