Spending ten days in Europe feels like a dream. It was a truly magical experience and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to go. As a self-proclaimed country mouse, being inundated with different languages, currencies, and public transportation (the last of which was the most challenging,) everything was overwhelming but in the best way. I was pleased with my decision to go alone because I could conquer as much or as little as I wanted each day, and in eliminating distractions, found the opportunity to observe even the smallest details. In an effort to document all the art, food, culture and people during my travels, I kept a record of each day’s itinerary, and there is so much to share so I’m breaking it down in a few posts. Here’s what I did during the first part of my stay in Amsterdam….
Day One | I’m usually an early riser and thought the schedule of my overnight flight would put me in a good position to hit the ground running upon arriving in Amsterdam. I was wrong. I didn’t sleep well on the plane and once I crashed at my hotel, I ended up sleeping well past morning. When I finally got moving, I trekked it over to Museumplein, an open public space where several of the city’s most popular museums are located. The weather was beautiful and the walk felt great. Before going in the Stedelijk Museum, I walked the open lawn where people were laid out on blankets, observed the gaggle of tourists swarming the IAMSTERDAM sign, and soaked in the sunshine and unavoidable smell of weed from passersby. (Spoiler alert: I did not go in any coffeehouses during my stay. It’s not my thing, but no judgment on those who dig it. It’s definitely part of the culture and a highlight for a lot of tourists.)
If you haven’t already noticed, I love a good museum, so the Stedelijk Museum, the modern art museum, was just my jam. The minimalism, pop art, graphic prints, and Russian Constructivist posters especially inspired and energized me. After resisting the urge to buy out the whole gift shop, I took a leisurely stroll toward Centraal Station, stopping on occasion to snap photos of canals and a dog that was too adorable for words.
That evening I met professional photographer and Amsterdam local Chris for a guided tour of the city at dusk. Since I have no experience shooting at night, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take photos in low light while learning about the city from a local. I purposely scheduled this tour early in my trip, and highly recommend doing this when traveling because Chris was able to share places to go and things to see I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. I was especially grateful he walked me through parts of the city I had no intention of seeing, like the Red Light District. I wouldn’t find myself there on a Saturday night, but got a few good shots, like the one below. You can see more from my tour here, if you’d like.
Day Two | The next morning, I woke up early and walked back to Museumplein to snap a shot of the IAMSTERDAM sign before it was overrun by tourists. Speaking of tourists, I embraced my label and brought a selfie stick for this specific occasion. I know. Ordinarily, I would never use one and felt so uncomfortable assembling and testing various shots, but others were too and I was traveling alone, so I had a valid excuse. I ended up asking a stranger to take my photo, and that was incredibly uncomfortable. I’m 70 percent certain he didn’t speak English or hated me because I’m American, or just didn’t like my face…or all of the above. Either way, I have the photo and it’s tucked away for safekeeping. Also, someone vomitted right behind the ‘M’ and it’s all I can think about when I see the sign now. You’re welcome.
With that photo op checked off the list, I made my way to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s fine art museum, located directly behind the sign. I arrived at opening and comparing it to the Louvre, dedicated a whole day to roaming the vast halls and hidden rooms of each collection. Although impressive and definitely worth a visit, it didn’t take me as long as I had anticipated. I was sure to download the audio tour and bring it with, which really improved the experience. I was impressed with the extensive collection of Dutch painters (go figure!) but I found watching the museum patrons just as fascinating.
Before traveling to Europe, I read “How to Visit an Art Museum” which is a quick and fun read about the museum-going experience. It opened my eyes to the sometimes challenging environment of the museum. For instance, it’s interesting that many works are to be enjoyed over an extended amount of time; the viewer can reflect on the physical piece in front of him/her while understanding the context of the time period in which it was created, etc. But, museums like the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre contradict that concept by shoving a TON of art under one roof and giving the patron eight hours to digest all of it. (I once read that if you spent one minute viewing each piece at the Louvre, it would take you over two months to see everything.) Moreover, comfortable seating, or any seating for that matter, is rarely found in the rooms in which the art is hung. The environment lends itself to movement, to brief review, and urges patrons to pass by. And, should you find a popular work, like the Mona Lisa, you practically have to sucker punch another tourist to see it because it’s so crowded.
The book also discourages taking photos, which I had never done until my then boyfriend snapped a photo of a Picasso at the Tate Modern in London. I thought it odd at the time but people go nuts with their cameras at museums now. I too am completely guilty of it and had the urge to grab my phone every time I saw something pleasing. I like to scroll through the photos on my phone when looking for inspiration. I think it’s a common desire to keep what we like, even if it’s a photo of a painting. Oddly enough, I felt uncomfortable when I found myself in a gallery that prohibited photography. It was like trying to kick a bad habit and I found myself staring closer at the work, trying to memorize every detail before walking away.
That evening, I had dinner at SNKBR, a small restaurant that boasts healthy eats and has the cutest interior. I climbed the narrow stairs from the ground floor to a dimly lit loft and sat at a bar that overlooked the entire restaurant. I enjoyed the group of friends laughing at a nearby table and discreetly ogled my neighbors’ dishes before ordering the poke bowl. It was HUGE but so, so good. Up until then, I had been frequenting the grocery store for prepared foods so a fresh meal in a cozy setting hit the spot. That, and catching up on American news via Twitter.