A Trip to Amsterdam

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One day I might learn to take photographs of the interesting places I travel to. Sadly, it didn’t happen in time for the short trip Taru and I made to Amsterdam in late November — thus, prepare yourself for another travelogue that is almost completely void of images. I say almost, because of course I have documented the results of our book hoarding. You’ll see.

Hey look, a picture from the trip that isn't of the books we bought! Hooray! Here, look at the most hellishly manly cup of coffee I've ever had.

Hey look, a picture from the trip that isn’t of the books we bought! Hooray! Here, look at the most hellishly manly cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

Overall the trip went really well. The weather was very windy and it rained a lot, but we didn’t let that discourage us. Our hotel was okay, but it had some weak points.  The room was in the basement, and the walls were thin as paper and all the ruckus from upstairs, outside and from the hallway could be clearly heard. The strange noises from upstairs gave reason to suspect that there was a night-time bowling alley for elephants right above our room. Still, no further complaints about the hotel. It was in a good location at the Museum Quarter, and it was easy and quick to get to interesting places from there. We didn’t waste time just staying inside the hotel room, either — despite the lousy November weather we walked some 50 kilometres during the whole journey, about 10 kilometres each day. And our walks took us to interesting and wonderful places, indeed!

One of the most memorable place for me was the hauntingly beautiful Vrolik Museum. The museum holds a curious and wonderful collection of human deformities and other anatomical and medical marvels. I felt quite at home among the strange specimens. At one point I stood there, my head tilted back, before a massive display holding dozens of deformed human skeletons, thinking: “Have I died and gone to heaven?”, before my brain felt it was necessary to remind me that a) “I don’t believe in heaven” and b) “even if heaven existed, it probably wouldn’t be filled with skeletons”. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this museum. The only thing I regret about the visit is that I didn’t defy the sign that implied that taking photographs was forbidden…

We also ventured outside Amsterdam by train, first to Leiden and right after to Utrecht. In Leiden we visited the Museum Boerhaave, a museum dedicated to history of science and medicine. Later that day, when we were walking around in Utrecht, we incidentally came by an antiques shop that was specialised in medical antiques! No price tags were visible from the window, and on their website they simply request to “ask for price” for most objects. Alas, due to the miserable state of my bank account and the fact that I have no firstborn child to exchange, my shopping sprees in this particular place will have to wait for the better times.

The Rijksmuseum wasn’t originally in our list of places to visit, but as we found ourselves with some spare time on Saturday, we ended up going anyway. The place was packed full of people, as could be expected, and Taru and I fled after we had spent only a bit over an hour looking at the paintings and items. I think we would probably had stayed longer if it wasn’t for the crowd. What I found strange was how people seemed to be more interested in taking really close-up photographs of the paintings, rather than truly looking at the artworks. Seems really absurd to focus on something like that, when the classic masterworks are right in front of their noses! Is it really nicer to look at the photographs back at home than to view the actual thing when its right there? But then again, I am strangely inept in the field of taking photographs from my journeys, so what do I know.

The fourth museum we visited was a tiny museum dedicated to CHEESE. This museum is situated somewhere near the Anne Frank House, and it was more like a cheese shop than a traditional museum. The place did have a room downstairs displaying equipment used in the making of cheese, though. The room wasn’t much to see, but oh gosh, the cheeses! There were so many of different kinds, and you could have a free taste sample of every one of them! There was a mysterious cheese that had lavender in it, another one that was made with nettles, and one that had been kept, out of all the possible places, in an underground World War II bunker. We bought some chunks of cheese to take back home with us, of course.

One of the places I really wanted to visit was a shop called Stenelux, so one day we headed our way there. Stenelux is a wonderful place that sells items such as fossils, skulls, articulated skeletons of animals and other curious and delightful things that make my heart flutter! My small cabinet of curiosities already has several items from this place, and I was determined to find something new this time as well. I didn’t have to leave empty handed, for I found a lovely skull of a dog and a seashell that has been cut to show the inner structure. Pictured here are both of them back at home, safely in my curiosity cabinet, accompanied by a century-old voodoo doll and a venetian carnival mask.

As always, we also raided the local bookshops as we hoarded for books. Amsterdam turned out to be a wonderful city for this purpose as well. There were two large bookshops focused solely on English books (Waterstones and the American Book Center), and most of the other bookshops that we visited had a section reserved for books in English as well. The harvest was plentiful, as you can see:

As a result of this trip our bookshelf has grown with the following eleven books, one of which is not pictured above:

  • Stephen Fry: More Fool Me
  • Zachary Thomas Dodson: Bats of the Republic
  • Edmund de Waal: The Hare With Amber Eyes
  • Jan van Aken: Het Fluwelen Labyrint
  • Geraldine Brooks: A Year of Wonders (*
  • Emma Healey: Elizabeth Is Missing
  • Sophie Hannah: The Visitors Book
  • Erika Swyler: The Book of Speculation
  • Haruki Murakami: Wind / Pinball
  • Baedeker’s Norway and Sweden
  • J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated Edition)
"This is how an owl must look to a mouse in that last second before the talons sink into the flesh."

“This is how an owl must look to a mouse in that last second before the talons sink into the flesh.”

*) A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks was bought as mystery book — when we bought it, we had no idea what book it actually was. The American Book Center had a intriguing shelf of mystery books for sale, all wrapped in paper with only a few words taped on them as a clue of what might me inside. Taru and I were immediately drawn to the one that was suitably sinister and mentioned owls. Because, OWLS. And SINISTER THEMES. What could go wrong?

We unwrapped the package once we got back to the hotel, and at first I ogled suspiciously at what appeared to be a cheesy romance novel: “Love, like death, often comes unbidden”, it said on the cover. But then…

I turned the book over to look at the back cover, and the mention of the plague soothed my soul a bit. It gave me hope that maybe this would not, in fact, be a novel about some distressed damsel being saved by some handsome Fabio after all. Or if it was, at least there would be death and decay all around. I haven’t yet read the book and it’s not on the top of my list of books to read, so the answer shall remain a mystery for me for the time being.

Finally, as this entry seems to be getting way out of hand length-wise, let me conclude this travelogue with the following: This was my second visit to Amsterdam, and the city is a truly lovely place that I will definitely want to visit again in the future.

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