What we’ve been up to…

January is normally a slow, lazy month for us. The short days are grey and uninspiring, and our instinct is to cozy up in our apartment, watch too much television, and (in the evenings) work our way through the international liquor collection we built up from last year’s travels.

img_2832

Mid-day, mid-January, from the north side of the IJ River

We did manage to drag ourselves out a few times last month, twice to the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. This is one of my favorite local events. Last year we did the walking route and this year we managed to also do the boat route.

Having experienced both, I have to admit I like the walking route better, in spite of the cold. You go at your own pace, get closer to the art, and have the chance to stop along the way to warm up with some gluhwein. What could be better?

The glass-topped boat tours are a staple of the Amsterdam tourist scene, and we’ve done enough of them to last us a lifetime. When friends come to visit and the weather is good, we opt instead for the Friendship cruises, which offer smaller, open-air boat and on-board cocktails.

img_2793

BUT, for the Light Festival we made an exception and boarded our evening cruise with 50-some tourists and locals. We put on the headphones and listened to the guide, and even laughed at some of the jokes made by our “Captain”. Many of the installations I had already seen, at least from a canal-side view. One of the best things about the Light Festival is the first day or two, when the art work is being installed but I don’t know exactly what or where they are. I’ll be on my bike and turn a corner and suddenly there’s a giant bunch of tulips in the canal, changing color and lighting up the water.

img_2819As for the boat cruise, it was nice to see the light installations from the water, as several are meant to be seen, but I think we could have lived without the tourists taking selfies out every window, and the humid, greenhouse-like environment of a glass boat in January. Lesson learned.

We’ve not been great about using our Museumkaarts this year, so in an effort to remedy that, we headed to the Nieuwe Kerk last weekend to see an exhibit about Marilyn Monroe, who would have been 90 years old this year. Neither of us are big fans of Ms. Monroe; we both admitted that we’ve never seen one of her movies from start to finish.

The exhibit was an odd one. I’ve seen a few other exhibits in the Nieuwe Kerk and it’s not my favorite setting. The “new” church was built in the 15th century and it is cold and cavernous. There were costumes from Monroe’s films – the famous dress from the “The Seven Year Itch” making its Netherlands debut – and many of her personal items, including some that I found strange to have kept for so long. (An eyeliner pencil from 1956?)

img_2839

The juxtaposition of this sombre space with the sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe didn’t quite work for me. The exhibit seemed to whitewash her difficulties with substance abuse and mental health issues. Still, it was interesting to learn more about her early life and about the many ways she tried to control her own career and image – not an easy thing for a woman of that time to do, especially in Hollywood.

The other thing we’ve been up to is finding a new apartment! Just after we returned from our Christmas holidays, the owners of our current rental confirmed that they planned to sell the apartment this year. So…on the move again! The good news is that we’ve become experts in the Amsterdam expat rental market, and were able to find a new place in about a week. We have already gotten the keys and will be moving over the next few weeks. The new place does have a guest room, of course, and visitors are welcome!

The end of the month brought the launch of my company’s new website, a project I was working on for a long time (you can check it out at http://www.idafoundation.org), and the booking of our first weekend getaway in 2017: Sicily!

As the days get longer, we’ll be settling in to our new neighborhood and looking forward to the brightening spring that can’t be far off…

 

Making the most of it

Winter in Amsterdam is not for the faint of heart. The days are short and grey; I leave the house in the dark and make my way home in the dark. There are long stretches of rain. Then wind. Then wind-driven rain. We’ve had some unseasonably “warm” days but this week the cold has set in. Even for someone who has spent most of her life in New England – which is, currently, colder than Amsterdam – the winter has been a bit of a slog.

image

“Strangers In the Light” – the Walk and Don’t Walk men finally meet…

The Dutch, of course, are completely at ease with the weather. I don’t think they like it – though it gives them something to talk and complain about – but they have learned, out of necessity, how to deal with it. And maybe even how to enjoy it.

This weekend wraps up the Amsterdam Light Festival, which, since late November, has brought some much-needed beauty, light, and art to the dark nights. The Festival offers a staffed and well-marked walking route, as well as a number of canal boat trips to see some of the art up close. We did the walking route a few weeks ago, but it’s been more fun to stumble on some of the light installations as we biked or walked around the city. The Festival ends tomorrow I know I will miss seeing those giant red and green men a few streets away, or the lovely Northern Lights that spans the Amstel. The city will be a little darker without them.

But the days are slowly getting longer and you can start to believe that Spring may actually be a reality, if a distant one. The promise of spring was clear today, as we kicked off the tulip season on National Tulip Day.

image

Tulpendag – National Tulip Day!

Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace was transformed into a public display and garden of over 200,000 tulips, and crowds lined the square to “pluk ze zelf”, or pick their tulips – for free!

After windmills and wooden clogs, tulips are what most people think about when they think about the Netherlands. (Ok, some people also think about pot and prostitution, but you’re not one of those people, right?) The history of the tulip in Holland is fascinating – fortunes were made and lost during the Tulip Mania of 1637-38. Thankfully, speculation ended but the tulips remained, and today, at least, they were a hopeful and bright sign of warmer days and sunnier skies.

Until those warmer days arrive, we’re doing our best to learn from the Dutch, and find ways to embrace the cold and the grey, instead of just surviving it. Enjoying a crisp December night strolling through the Botanical Gardens to see the Light Festival (and stopping for a cup of gluhwein to warm us up).  Investing in a warm, rainproof coat or a new hat to make biking a bit easier and more comfortable. Using the still-dark morning commute to really notice and absorb things that I may have missed. Doing our best to make the most of it all.