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Amsterdam 2016: And Then The Rain Came

January 24, 2016

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After the glorious sunny weather yesterday, I woke to grey skies and drizzle. It had been forecast and fortunately the rain was light but I still needed an umbrella as I set off from the hotel this morning. It seemed a good day for visiting a museum or two. Staying in the Museum Quarter suddenly seemed fortuitous. Except I didn’t fancy the big major museums nearby  – the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh – that I’ve visited before. Thus I decided to head over to the Southern Canal Belt area to see something new: the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, a 17th century canal house on Herengracht that has been a museum since 1895 when Mrs Willet-Holthuysen bequeathed it to the city in her will. There is a more famous house, Van Loon, nearby but I visited that once before and my guide book promised this ‘new’ one was full of beautiful objects.

It was very quiet as I made my way through deserted streets, even though it was nearly 10am. I knew the museum didn’t open until 11am but thought I’d find it and then have a coffee in a cafe and read for a while. However, open cafes seemed thin on the ground this damp Sunday morning – or any I fancied going in. As I made my way along Herengracht I found another museum – and this one was open! The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje opened at 10.00. Now I’d seen this museum dedicated entirely to handbags listed in my guide, but it didn’t seem quite my thing. However, once found, it seemed an ideal way to escape the damp weather while I waited for the other museum to open. And it had a cafe!

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The lady in reception who greeted me was so elegant and enthusiastic that I immediately felt this might be a fun thing to do. And so it turned out to be the case. For a woman who tends to buy a new handbag, use it for every occasion until it falls apart, then buys another one … well, I was remarkably delighted by this collection. I was told to begin upstairs on the 3rd floor and work my way down, moving from 16th century bags to contemporary 21st century ones.

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Many of the handbags were exquisite. There was excellent information accompanying them too, charting the history of the handbag, through to the advent of the steam train in the 19th century making travel easier along with examples of suitcases and travel bags. There were the famous too, from a special bag made for Hillary Clinton in the image of her cat …

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… to Alexander McQueen:

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I really enjoyed the exhibition. Coming out, it was still grey and wet but fortunately only a short walk to the Willet-Holthuysen. This museum was about appreciating the house in its heyday and seeing the furniture and room layouts as they would have been.

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I was less impressed by this than all those beautiful handbags. There seemed something very soulless about this former home, now museum. Yes, there’s some historical interest, but there was nothing inspiring about it. I came back out into Herengracht.

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I was at the far, bottom end of the canal and a little further down was the Amstel, the wide river shrouded in mist. Nearby I found a cafe for lunch (it was in my guide book) and it looked typically Dutch and just the place for a bowl of soup as a light but warming lunch.

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Cafe Langereis turned out to be OK but not special. In a city where fabulous hearty bowls of homemade soup that fill you up at lunchtime can be easily found, theirs was pretty mediocre and served with a miserable piece of toast. I was left hungry enough to have to order some bread and cheese after. However, it was a pleasant enough place to relax for a time, reading and sipping some lovely draught Leffe, before the walk back to the hotel. I walked along Herengracht until it was time to turn down towards the Rijksmuseum. I love walking along these beautiful ‘grachts’, even in the rain: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizergracht. A ‘gracht’ is a city canal with houses on both sides. I left their peace for the busy shopping area around the Leidesplein and back to the Museum Quarter for a quiet time in the hotel before heading out this evening, my last night, in search of a good supper.

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