Huis Marseille

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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.

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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.

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The exhibition, Recent Histories, features images by African photographers from the museum’s own collection and also works from the Walther Collection (New York/Neu-Ulm).

The museum website tells us that

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.

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Haarlem’s hidden gardens

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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.

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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

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was an alley (or ginnel as we would say in Northern England)

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which led to the Hofje van Bakenes the oldest in the Netherlands, founded in 1395.

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Another ginnel connect this, the oldest Hofje, with the newest – the Johan Enschedé Hof.

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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.

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Christmas in Haarlem

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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.

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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).

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We’d visited Haarlem a couple of times previously on day trips from Amsterdam, but this time we’d be staying almost a full week there. We did venture out to Amsterdam for a day but mainly spent our time in the pleasant little city.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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and I went out for a wander round the city with our son to take a few photos and to pick up some shopping.

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My wife went out later with our daughter to pick up some more supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After opening our presents (which we’d brought over with us)

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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.

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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!

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After that a couple of their friends came round and it was time for a game of Taskmaster!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A day in Delft

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The third day of our recent trip to Amsterdam we took the train to the old city of Delft, the home of Vermeer, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Delft Blue pottery, which is just outside Den Haag. On the fast train the journey took less than an hour.

We made our way to the old Market square, which is dominated by the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church – well it was new in 1381!),

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and old Town Hall. It was market day so the square was full with market stalls and shoppers.

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After a look round the market we headed over to the Vermeer Centre, which is in a rebuilt version of the old local Guild of Saint Luke (during the Golden Age this was the Guild that artists were required to join if they wanted to sell their work). The Centre doesn’t own any works by the Vermeer but has life sized e copies of all his known paintings with information about them, as well as multi-media exhibition displays about the life of Johannes Vermeer. It was well worth the visit.

Afterwards we went for a wander around the city, taking in some of the sights on the “Vermeer Trail” map we’d purchased for a few Euros.

It’s a small, picturesque city centre and looked particularly beautiful on a hot, sunny day.

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This is the Oostpoort (Eastern gate), built around 1400. It was from near here where Vermeer painted his View of Delft

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and this is allegedly the location of his painting, the Little Street

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The original buildings are long gone, however.

The day was soon over and we didn’t have time to visit the two old churches. And we didn’t bump into Colin Firth or Scarlett Johansson!

A picinic in the Amstelpark

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After our visit to NDSM we caught the tram back to base to freshen up then picked up some supplies. On a hot sunny summer evening when it would be light until late, what would be better than a picnic in the park?

The Vondel Park in the centre of Amsterdam is well known and frequented by tourists. However, we hopped on a tram headed for the Amstelpark in the south of the city. As the name implies, it’s located by the Amstel river and was originally created for the 1972 Floriade gardening exhibition.

After enjoying our meal, we went for a wander around the park in the evening sunshine.

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This is a rather moving Monument Rozenoord, commemorating an atrocity committed towards the end of WW2 when one hundred and forty men were executed by the German occupying forces at Rozenoord on the Amsteldijk in Amsterdam. Many of the victims were involved in the resistance .

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a large installation consisting of a hundred chairs. The chairs seem to have spread randomly across the field, as if they were still in use a few minutes ago. The chairs are arranged according to the eight dates on which the victims were executed. There is a plaque for the unknown suspects.

Each chair is mounted on an elegant concrete base in which the name and date of birth and death date of each victim is recorded. The Rozenoord monument aims to bring us back to a one-to-one relationship. Each of the hundred chairs represents an individual with their own personality and their own story.

Walking through the park on a warm, sunny evening reminded me of our evening walks through the park in Melbourne last December. The nature of the two parks was very similar as was the weather. But I didn’t expect to see this!

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(There’s a small petting zoo in the park).

We left the park for a short while to walk along the banks of the Amstel

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Rembrandt used to walk along here out of Amsterdam and used to sketch the landscape. Some of his prints included views of Amstel river he based on these drawings.

Just by the south entrance to the park, there’s the Riekermolen windmill. It’s a 1961 reconstruction of an older windmill that stood here from 1636 to 1956 and was active until 1932.

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We went back into the park and almost got locked in when we popped back to have a look at this reconstruction of a DeStil type house

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NDSM

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The second day of our recent trip to Amsterdam we decided to do something different and cross the Ij to the north side of the city. We took of the free ferries from Centraal Station across the water over to NDSM ( Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij – the Dutch Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company), a former ship yard that is now being redeveloped as a “cultural area”. I’d seen a post by Anabel, the Glasgow Gallivanter who’d visited it with her husband earlier this year, so we thought we’d follow their example. We were lucky and despite a cloudy morning during our visit after midday we were blessed with a hot, sunny day with bright blue skies.

In 1937, the NDSM was the largest ship-building company in the world, but like many European shipyards facing competition from the Far East it declined after the Second World War and went bankrupt and closed in 1984.  Initially it lay derelict but in the 90’s artistic and creative types moved in, squatting and taking advantage of the space offered by the massive buildings.  As is often the case, developers have now started to move in and we’ve seen the construction of hotels, restaurants, offices and housing. One of the cranes has even been converted into an expensive hotel.

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Arriving at the ferry terminal we passed an old submarine moored in the Ij

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and a ship hotel

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Despite this, there’s still a large creative community occupying the old shipbuilding facilities. And like in many such places, the buildings and anything else that isn’t moving is covered with street art.

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We even saw some of the artists at work.

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The main former shipyard building is still used by creatives who’ve built themselves a complex of workshops and studios in part of the massive space. We had a mooch around inside.

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Afterwards feeling hot and thirsty, we wandered over to the “funky” Nooderlicht cafe built to serve the artistic community

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Refreshed, we made our way back to the ferry terminal to take the boat back to Centraal Station. We had plans for the evening.

Back in Amsterdam

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We hadn’t been home long after our stay in Cheshire with Anne and Steve before we were off again. An early start on Tuesday morning setting off at 5 a.m to catch the plane from Manchester to Amsterdam for a short break to see our daughter who is living over there. (Is there a more unpleasant airport than Manchester? If there is I haven’t found it yet!!). We stopped for two night but as we took an early flight out and late flight home, we had more or less four full days to look around. Like Britain, the Netherlands have been having a prolonged period of good weather and we were blessed with long hot days and blue skies which meant that Amsterdam looked particularly pretty.

At the moment my daughter is living on a houseboat on the Prisengracht canal, just by the junction with the Amstel. It’s not a boat as such but what’s known as an “Ark” and it’s effectively a floating caravan!

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There’s loads of them in the canals and river in Amsterdam. Some of them really large and luxurious (particularly those on the larger Amstel waterway).

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As usual we kept ourselves busy, making the most of our time in the city – and unlike our last trip in February when it was freezing cold, like back home in the UK, Amsterdam was experiencing something of a heatwave.

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