The streets of Amsterdam are not intimidating or chaotic like one might expect of a world famous city. The culture and commerce and bicycles are there, around every corner for sure. But so is this underlying calmness – almost like the city itself is coolheaded. I have been reading a lot of literature on Dutch history for class, including The Assault by Harry Mulisch, and Amsterdam is a city whose history you can feel even in the air. Maybe that’s where the calmness comes from, centuries of existence.
This isn’t to say that it is a static city. Minds, incomes, lifestyles, nationalities, ages of all kinds meet constantly everyday here, and they bring unrelenting change and variety to this ancient place. It’s a very beautiful harmony, I think, the busy crossings of people and ideas against the backdrop of 17th century canals.
The Museumkaart is my new mostmostmost favorite thing. Forty euros and you have free admission to over 400 museums in The Netherlands. (This country has the most museums per capita, by the way). I whip that thing out of my wallet and smile big. So Saturday was filled with a good number of museums, even ones we just stumbled upon, like The Bijbels Museum. Museumkaart = Gratis. There was a beautiful exhibit on St. Peter, which I loved for at least two special reasons. Here he is holding those keys. In person, the sculpture much taller than me and kind of renders you speechless.
A few curving streets over is The Museum het Rembrandthuis – literally a museum of Rembrandt van Rijn’s house. Like many artists, Rembrandt’s work was hardly appreciated while he was alive. His house, and all of its furniture, paintings, and odds & ends, were sold after he died at auction in order to repay his debts. This still astounds me, but every article on display in his house today is the original – as in, was Rembrandt’s. Somehow, the museum has relocated the inventory sold at auction (including his kitchen pottery) and has made a wonderful exhibit out of his home. The very top floor is where Rembrandt worked on his art and taught his apprentices. Today, a curator teaches visitors how paint was made in the 17th century. I want her job: We stumbled upon an open flower market… tulip bulbs for sale under every tent. Flowers I’ve never, ever seen before. It was a happy pop of bright color in September!
The Rijksmuseum was beautiful as well, even under construction. It is so excitingly grounding to see the work of Dutch artists while in The Netherlands. To walk past Rembrandt’s childhood Leiden home on my way to class, or the windmill where his father worked, or to see the paintings of Johannes Vermeer in real time in Holland. The other house we walked through was Anne Frank’s, and that is an experience of its own. It is at once sobering, humbling, hopeful and tender. I wish you the chance to go there. Upon leaving the house, you’ll hear the same church bells ring. And then the city feels a bit different; it’s quieter and you’re quieter, too. If it’s possible to respect an entity like a city, I think that’s what it is.