January in Amsterdam

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Monday, January 31, 2005

January was homebody month. In December we spent a week in Italy, were home less than 1 week, then went to the U.S. for the remainder of the month, returning for New Year's Eve. New Year's was much like last year. Our friends, Julie and Stephan, had a small party at their house (including the most amazing brie with a fig, date and raisin sauce!). At about 11:30 we all walked over to Dam Square to enjoy the mayhem of "bring your own fireworks". It was a really nice New Year's; we were home tucked in bed by 2:00.

Our New Year's resolution has been to do something fun every weekend. Even if we stay in Amsterdam, we've been getting out and doing things. So, we saw "Ocean's Twelve" - partially filmed in Amsterdam and went to a lot of museums. We have a museum pass that gives (mostly) free access to almost all the museums in the country, so it's easy to just go see a special exhibit for an hour or so and then move on to something else. We don't feel obligated to stay and see everything because there is no incremental investment. This month we've seen:

At the Van Gogh Museum: L'Art Nouveau, The Bing empire. Turns out that Vincent and his brother, Theo, both really loved Japanese prints and bought hundreds of them from Siegfried Bing, a Paris collector and gallery owner. Bing named his gallery L'Art Nouveau and began selling new artwork which was influenced by the Asian artwork. The movement adopted the name of his gallery. We saw beautiful furniture, glasswork, porcelain, and textiles. For more information and a few pictures:

At the Nieuwe Kerk: Morocco. Almost 300 treasures from Moroccan museums, showing artifacts from over 5000 years ago, during Roman rule (did you know the Roman empire made it all the way to the African continent?) and through the various religious rules (pre Islam and since). Beautiful mosaic tiles, wedding costumes, carved and inlaid wood and pottery.

At the Hermitage Museum: Nicholas & Alexandra, The last Tsar and Tsarina.

The Amsterdam annex of Russia's Hermitage Museum has been open less than a year and this was our first visit to it. The museum is quite small. It turns out that the special exhibit is the ONLY exhibit! Still, it was very interesting. We went with our friend Leeann, who was here on business, and she and Melanie marveled over the strength it would take just to walk around in the very heavy, ornate ball gowns. In addition to the gorgeous clothing there were several Faberge household items, such as picture frames and other "bric-a-brac" (as if anybody could really call anything Faberge bric-a-brac!). One highlight was a miniature of the coronation crowns - fully diamond and ruby studded - seated on a velvet cushions atop a jewel-studded pedestal. To read more about the last couple and the exhibit go to:

Another first for us was a visit to the Allard Pierson Museum, the University of Amsterdam's archaeological museum to see an exhibit on Malta Temples and Tombs. Did you know that Malta has stone temples ruins dating from 5200 BC? That's over 7000 years ago and older than the pyramids in Egypt! The exhibit was quite small and the rest of the museum is really only interesting if you're interested in mummies or ancient Greece, but it did make us want to visit Malta someday!

On another cultural front, there's finally been some great TV here. BBC has been running a series commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945. It has been a really well written and produced series exploring different facets of Auschwitz. Why did so many everyday Germans do the small things they did that allowed it to happen? How did the prisoner musicians that were forced to play music in the camp feel about it? How has it impacted their lives since? Why were 4000 children taken to the camp without their parents and immediately exterminated? Which country sold their Jews to the Germans in order for the Germans to take the whole families rather than just the men who were fit for slave labor? It's seldom a happy story, but it is very informative and is produced in a way that provides different perspectives than have been exposed (at least to me) before. If you get a chance to see this series locally, do make a point to do so.

The other good TV lately has been another BBC series commemorating the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity - you know, e=mc2 (superscript isn't possible in tpod, but you know what we mean). This show has managed to take extraordinarily complicated physics concepts and explain them in a way that (mostly) can be understood by ordinary humans - although there was one spot where we looked at each other and said "Huh?" But the point of the series is not the physics theories themselves, but the impact they had on Einstein's personal life. For instance, as a lifelong pacifist he regretted that e=mc2 was the formula that permitted the atom bomb to be produced. Again, a good series worth a look if it comes your way.

Other than that, we've been trying to catch up on past travelogues, getting our year-end records in order, planning for some springtime travel and otherwise living pretty normal lives not too much different than if we were still in the U.S. That is, if you discount the need to have care packages of GrapeNuts and Spoon Size Shredded Wheat brought over by visiting Americans!
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