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.


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.


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?)


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…



Me and my Museumkaart

Settling in to our life in Amsterdam felt a bit like filling out a Bingo card. Instead of B-12 and O-22, the Amsterdam Bingo card includes things like “residency permit” and “BSN number” and “OVChipkaart”. These are the basic credentials and administrative things you need in order to be a legal, functioning Amsterdammer. At the fringes of the Bingo card are the slightly less essential elements, including, but not limited to, a Bonuskaart at the local grocery store and a membership (with 10% discount) at the neighboring liquor store. I am proudly in possession of all of these things.

But the star of my Bingo card is my Museumkaart. The card costs €59.90 for one year and gives me FREE access to at least 32 museums in Amsterdam, and, apparently, over 400 museums throughout the Netherlands. I have made it my personal mission to visit ALL 32 of the participating Amsterdam museums. To date, I have been to nine, so I’ll need to ramp up the summer and fall museum-visiting plans if I’m to meet my goal.

What I love best about the Museumkaart – which also gives you access to a priority entrance line at most museums! – is that it has totally released me from Museum Overload Anxiety and Guilt. You know the feeling: you visit a major city and queue up at its major art museum to see its most famous exhibit and by the time you get inside you’re already overwhelmed and exhausted but you’ve come all this way and waited all this time so you should really just power through and push past all these tourists and get your money’s worth and see what you’ve come to see and then make a quick pass through the gift shop before collapsing, defeated, in the museum cafe.

The Museumkaart absolves me of those feelings. One day I visited de Hortus Botanicus  (annoyingly, not included in my Museumkaart), and then went directly to the Tropenmuseum. The Tropenmuseum is a beautiful space with a series of highly detailed – some might say “exhaustive” – exhibits about the Dutch colonial experience and the cultures that have, in turn, influenced the Dutch. While I loved the building and the exhibit in the central courtyard, the minutia of the permanent exhibits was more than I could absorb. I wandered around a bit longer and left happy, and guilt-free.

Recently, on a day-long visit to Haarlem, we stopped in at the Frans Hals Museum, with little more than an hour to go before closing time. Would we pay €15 each to spend an hour in a museum dedicated to a Dutch portrait painter about whom we knew nothing? The Museumkaart answers that question for us: admission is free! Come on in!

It is very freeing to be able to enjoy a museum on your own terms, and not feel constrained by obligation. Especially for someone like me, who often struggles with art and my own understanding of it. The Museumkaart has changed the terms by which I engage with the art, history, and information on offer at Amsterdam’s cultural institutions. It provides an invitation of sorts, to come late, come early, spend the day, stay for a half an hour, or visit every week and see a little at a time. Just come!