There are two photography museums in central Amsterdam – Huis Marseille and Foam – both on the Keizersgracht. Huis Mareille is the longest established and is located in a couple of adjacent 17th Century canal houses. During our day in Amsterdam at the end of December we decided we’d visit to see the current exhibition of work by African photographers and also to have a look at the buildings. I’d have liked to have visited Foam as well, but time was limited. I’ll have to save that for another time.
Amsterdam’s first photography museum was opened in 1999 in the old canal house, Huis Marseille, at Keizersgracht 401. The house, which was built around 1665, was originally owned by a French merchant called Isaac Focquier, who named the house after the French port he must have known. In September 2013, the exhibition space was was extended by incorporating the house next door, at Keizersgracht 399. Although adapted as modern exhibition spaces, both houses still include original features, such as the ceiling stuccowork in the entrance hall and a painting on the ceiling of the Garden Room.
There’s a garden at the back of the house with an 18th Century “garden house” which has been renovated and also used as an exhibition space.
Until the last decade of the 20th century African photography was generally seen in the context of travel and ethnological photography, and usually done by Westerners.
but this exhibition reveals different aspects and interpretations of the continent by 15 African photographers, particularly
the influences that social, economic, and political developments are having on landscape, public space, architecture, and daily life, and what these developments mean for their own identity.
I didn’t have time to make any detailed notes or to take too many snaps of the images (always seems odd, photographing photographs!) However, my favourites were probably the photographs of buildings by Mame-Diarra Niang , who, although she was born in Lyon, and lives in Paris, was raised between Ivory Coast, Senegal and France. The photos were from her series Metropolis, shot in Johannesburg and At the Wall, taken during taxi journeys in Dakar. I really liked the way that some of the photos looked more like abstract paintings than images of real buildings.
Walking from the train station towards the Grote Markt in Haarlem, on the right on the Kruisstraat at the beginning of the busy shopping centre, it’s hard to miss, visible through a monumental wrought-iron gate, a pleasant green courtyard surrounded on three sides by houses. This is the Hofje van Oorschot . Hofjes were groups of alms houses founded to provide homes for elderly women.
As the wealthy merchants during the Dutch Golden Age were pious Calvinists who eschewed showing off their wealth (in principle, at least), who wanted to guarantee their place in paradise by performing a charitable act and show to the world just how godly they were (and also, no doubt as a way of showing of their wealth and leaving their mark on posterity) many of them would found Hofjes which would usually be named after them. Hofjes have continued to be built over the years. In the 18th century they were founded for commercial purposes with the inhabitants paying rent. The most recent one in Haarlem was built as recent as 2007.
The occupants were women only. Elderly men were considered incapable of looking after themselves. Instead, they were admitted to “old people’s homes” where they had a room in a communal building. One example is today occupied by the Frans Hals Museum which we visited back in February last year. The design of the home – surrounding a courtyard garden, – is essentially the same as that of the Hofjes.
There are Hofjes in a number of towns in the Netherlands, but Haarlem is particularly noted for them with more than 21 scattered around the old town centre. Not that they are all as immediately obvious as the Hofje van Oorschot – most of them are hidden away behind walls in the old lanes and streets.
We picked up a copy of the leaflet from the Tourist Information Office in the Town Hall on the Grote Markt which showed the location of many of the Hofjes and gives a suggested walking route around them.
The Hofjes are usually built in a U-shape with a yard or garden in the middle, and a gate as entrance. There’s often a community kitchen garden with a water pump. The houses are still occupied and the although many of the courtyards can be viewed, there are restrictions on visiting hours – they are closed during weekends and public holidays so were not accessible for most of the time we were in Haarlem. But we managed to see several of them, mainly on our last day in the town (our flight home was at 9:15 in the evening). It was a cold day, though, so we didn’t complete the route. But I expect we’ll be back in Haarlem before too long so we’ll have chance to see the rest at some stage!
Two of the Hofjes – the oldest and the newest – were between the canal and the Wijde Appelaarsteeg, only a short walk from the Dutch house we were staying in.
Hidden behind a gate on the Bakenessergracht
was an alley (or ginnel as we would say in Northern England)
Another ginnel connect this, the oldest Hofje, with the newest – the Johan Enschedé Hof.
Here’s a few more photos I took during our tour on our last day. Not all of the courtyards were accessible and I could only photograph the doorways, but we certainly got a good feel of what they were about. You had to seek them out – the entrances weren’t always obvious – but it was worth the effort. As it was a cold, grey, winter’s day, my photos don’t do justice to the Hofjes – the gardens were relatively bare and the light wasn’t great for showing off the buildings. It would be good to revisit during the Spring or Summer when there would be more colour.
Our daughter, who is currently living and working in Haarlem in the Netherlands, wasn’t able to get enough time off over Christmas to come back home this year. So, as Mohammed wasn’t able to come to the mountain, the mountain went to Mohammed.
This was the first time we’d ever stayed away for Christmas. In recent years, since the children have grown up, Christmas has been a little underwhelming as we mainly stay in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. So this was going to be a bit of an adventure. In the Netherlands the main winter holiday is 5th December, ‘Sinterklaasavond’, the evening before St Nicholas’ day, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings Dutch children their presents! Consequently, Christmas is lower key than in the UK, although the claws of commercialism were still evident (but to a lesser degree than back home).
Early Saturday morning before Christmas we drove over to Manchester airport to catch an early flight to Schipol airport where, within a few minutes of leaving the airport terminal, we caught an express bus to Haarlem arriving 40 minutes later at about 1 p.m. local time.
We’d booked a cosy little Dutch house close to one of the canals in the centre of the city for a week and made our way there to drop our bags before popping out to get a bite to eat and do some shopping.
A short walk took us to the Grote Markt in the heart of the city centre where we called in to Tierney’s bar, the Irish pub where our daughter works to surprise her. After a drink and a bite to eat we set out to do some shopping, starting by looking round the market in the Grote Markt.
We bought some bread, cheese, dips and a Christmas decoration for our Dutch house and then made our way through the pleasant shopping streets (plenty of individual shops rather than just the big chains) to the supermarket to stock up with items for the cupboard and fridge. Then it was back to the house to settle in and unpack.
After a few hour’s rest we headed back to Tierney’s
where we were able to eat and have a few drinks (non alcoholic in my case😢 ) and, later, enjoy (!) the karaoke. Our daughter was working but took her break and joined us while we ate and also at the end of her shift. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, which is frequented by a group of Irish and British ex-pat regulars as well as Dutch locals.
The next day it was grey and rainy but after a lazy morning decided to venture out and visit the Molen de Adriaan.
We’d been before but our son hadn’t had the chance to look inside as when we were there back in February it wasn’t open. But this time it was and we were able to book on to one of the guided tours. As during our first visit, the guide was very good and as each guide has their own angle we picked up some new information about the windmill and the history of Haarlem. Afterwards we headed into the town centre for a mooch before returning to base.
Christmas Eve was a fine, sunny day
and I went out for a wander round the city with our son to take a few photos and to pick up some shopping.
My wife went out later with our daughter to pick up some more supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet.
Our daughter and her boyfriend came over for the meal and afterwards we set out for the Grote Markt. After a drink in Tierney’s
we joined the crowd that were packing into the large square. The Christmas service from St Bavo’s church had been relayed onto a large screen and afterwards, just after midnight, we joined in with the crowd singing Christmas carols and songs led by a singers and a band on a stage that had been erected in the square.
The square was packed for the communal singing, which lasted for a good hour and half, but we managed to find ourselves some space next to the Christmas tree.
There was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, at close to 2 a.m. (late for me these days!) we were back at base for a nightcap before turning in.
Christmas day itself and we were greeted by another bright and sunny morning.
After opening our presents (which we’d brought over with us)
we took it easy for an hour or so before setting off to the house which my daughter and her boyfriend share with a couple of friends. (As their friends were away we had it to ourselves). It’s an old building on one of the old shopping streets in the city centre, not far from the Grote Markt, and they have 3 floors over a hairdresser’s salon.
They laid on a very delicious (and filling!) Christmas meal for us. Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs!
After that a couple of their friends came round and it was time for a game of Taskmaster!
Boxing day – ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day) in the Netherlands – is always something of an anti-climax after the big day. We took it easy during the morning and only went out for a couple of hours for a wander round the city centre before returning to base for a relaxing evening.
The Thursday was a busy day. We took the train into Amsterdam (just a 15 minute journey) with son going off with daughter and her boyfriend to the Games cafe in Haarlem, joining us later in the day. The city was hectic and packed with tourists – a bit of a shock after spending several days in a much more relaxed Haarlem.
We wandered down the canal ring, stopping off at a “brown bar” for a bite to eat – a traditional Dutch meal of a bowl of pea soup followed by apple tart. – before visiting the Huis Marseille, one of two photographic museums on the Keizersgracht .
Son, daughter and her boyfriend joined us and we had a wander up through the Jordaan before stopping for a drink in another nice Brown Bar. After that we carried on along the canals back to Centraal station as we wanted to book on a boat trip to see the Amsterdam Light Festival. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done our homework as it seemed just about every other tourist had the same idea. I managed to book us on a trip, but we had a 3 hour wait. What to do? we decided to head over to De Pijp (a 10 minute trip on the new Metro line) and get something to eat in one of our daughter’s favourite eateries. Then it was back on the Metro to catch our boat, stopping off at Dam Square to take a look at the Christmas Tree.
I expected the Light Festival to be a more upmarket version of Blackpool illuminations. It wasn’t quite that. 30 artworks were scattered around parts of the canal ring and could be viewed from the water or via a walking route.
We were returning home on the Friday, but our flight wasn’t until 9:15 p.m. so after we’d packed our bags we took them over to our daughter’s house and set out for wander around the streets Haarlem, taking in a number of the Hofjes – small groups of alms houses clustered around a garden courtyard – of which there are a considerable number in Haarlem.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to get ourselves on a tour of the Corrie Ten Boom house as they were all fully booked.
We managed to spend a few hours with our daughter and went out for a bite to eat with her before catching the bus to the airport for our flight back to Manchester.
We arrived back home close to midnight to a cold house, feeling tired. We’d had a very enjoyable break in Haarlem. It made a change to go away for a family Christmas somewhere different. It made a very refreshing change and, to be honest, it was the best Christmas we’d had since the children were little! We’ll have to go away again next year.
It seemed like every other building had a cafe or Taverna. The coffee was great (I became particularly fond of the freddo espresso) as was the food – seafood, mezze, souvlaki, gyros – and it wasn’t expensive.
There was an extensive market too. A real, everyday market selling everything from fruit and veg, meat, tripe, fish, olives, spices, flowers, household goods, religious icons and some tourist souvenirs. I love mooching around a good market! Here’s a few snaps.
As would be expected of the second largest city in Greece, there are several museums in Thessaloniki. As our time in the city was limited (and as the weather was nice we wanted to enjoy being outdoors in the sun) we only visited one of them. I would have liked to have had a look round the Macedonian and Archaeological Museums, but expected they would require a lot of time and concentration, so, on our last day, we decided on visiting the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s also a National Contemporary Art Museum, but that was a little way out of the centre whereas the Macedonian gallery was not far from the White Tower.
There were two exhibitions to see. On the ground floor there was a display that was part of the Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2018, which is spread over a number of venues across the city.
There was a really interesting selection of photographs. It’s not easy to photographs photos, especially when they’re in frames with reflective glass, but here’s a few of my favourites
This wetted my appetite to see more of the biennial, but time and energy were running out.
The upstairs gallery and some of the spaces downstairs were devoted to an exhibition of contemporary works from the Gallery’s own collection, that had been donated by Alexandros Iolas. Iolas had something of an interesting life. He was an ethnic Greek born in Alexandria in Egypt. He studied music in Berlin, became a ballet dancer and went to New York and when his dancing career was cut short due to injury, he became involved in dealing in contemporary art, founding galleries in New York and Europe.
Some of the exhibits were a little “fruity” and probably reflect his sexuality, but here are some of the works I liked
Still Life (1981) by Christos Tzivelos
Alexander the Great (1981) by Andy Warhol (unfortunately the photo is badly affected by reflections in the glass)
I didn’t note the name of the artist who created this one
Street Trombone by Novello Finotti
Palindrome 1 (1982) by Nikos Zoumboulis-Titsa Graikou
The collection included works by both well known International artists and others from Greece who I’d not come across before. It was particularly interesting to discover the latter.
We spent a couple of hours in the Gallery and both of us felt it had been a worthwhile visit and a good choice. Not too large so we became “arted out” but with enough interest.
Although Thessaloniki is predominantly a modern city, rebuilt in the 20th Century following the 1917 fire, as we walked around the streets we kept stumbling on old, stone churches, mainly from the Byzantine era.
Churches in Britain, and most of the European countries I’ve previously visited tend to be Mainly Gothic (including Gothic revival) and Romanesque, with some Neo-Classical and Modern buildings. So seeing these Byzantine buildings was a new experience. Their architecture is quite different – no Gothic style tall pointed arches, slender columns and flying buttresses in these churches.
The main architectural feature of Byzantine churches is usually a great central dome. The buildings tend to be constructed from brick, not stone and relatively plain on the outside. But the inside is very different with the walls and ceilings covered with mosaics and gold leaf.
One of the distinguishing features of the Greek Orthodox Church is the prominence of Icons. All the churches we saw had several in prominent positions inside the church and also outside in small outside chapels. Greek visitors to the churches would kiss the icons – something rather surprising to someone who was brought up a Protestant. Worshipping graven images being something of an anathema!
Two of the oldest churches in the city are the Hagios Demetrios (7th century) and Hagia Sophia (8th century. We managed to take a look inside both of these. They were both very sumptuously decorated with icons, frecoes, musrals, paintings and lots of gold leaf.
The Hagia Sophia was the ‘Great Church’ of Thessaloniki – that is, the city’s cathedral – until its conversion into a mosque in 1523/24. It was significantly damaged during the 1917 fire but has been gradually restored. The restoration of the dome only being finally completed in 1980.
We also visited the Hagios Demetrios which is dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. There’s been a church on the site since the early 4th century AD with the current structure built between 629 and 634. It was severely damaged during the 1917 fire, but has been restored, although this took many years to complete
At one time Thessaloniki was completely surrounded by massive city walls. They ran all along the northern side of the city, descending down the hills on the the eastern and western flanks down to the sea, and continuing along the seafront. They were constructed during the Byzantine era in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries AD, with later modifications by the Ottomans.
As the city grew and expanded, large sections were demolished as part of the Ottoman authorities restructuring of the city. The walls along the sea wall were the first to go at the end of the 19th century, followed by large sections in the lower, flat area of the city. However substantial sections remain along the top of the hill and on the east side of the old city.
We climbed the steep hill beside the walls up to the Trigonion Tower at the north east corner of the fortifications on a hot afternoon. There were great views down to the bay. I could just about make out the distant mountains, including Mount Olympus, but view was hazy and they don’t show up on my photos.
The tower was built in the 15th Century on the foundations of a previous, Byzantine structure.
The walls are constructed of stone with some horizontal bands of brickwork. I reckon that the stonework would have been whitewashed (I saw evidence of this along a more sheltered, less weathered, section) with the brick work forming contrasting bands like the old walls of Constantinople. Caernarfon Castle was constructed like this deliberately to mimic Constantinople.
There’s a substantial stretch at the top of the old city, which we followed before descending back down towards the sea front,