Tag Archives: Amsterdam

London Slant: On track for Holland and the Teylers Museum

You might be surprised to hear that on a recent visit to Amsterdam I stayed at a hotel built on struts over the Central Station tracks. Now, I know I should really be telling you about some little gem of a place I unearthed on a hidden canal. But for a time-pressed train fan from London, it was spot on. Just a 17-minute shuttle from the airport and I was checking in.

Teylers Museum, Harlem

The Oval Room at the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Holland.

I awoke (yes, I slept soundly) to fantastic views of the harbour. Boats cruised back and forth, before a backdrop of the new Eye Film Museum. Best of all, I watched trains zooming off all over Europe below my feet.

Amsterdam Eye Film Museum

The new Eye Film Museum, Amsterdam, viewed from my hotel window.

One morning I leapt on one and sped back in time to the town of Haarlem. I wandered through narrow, cobbled lanes with gabled houses covered in flowers. Almost all had seats outside, where I could picture neighbours gathering of an evening to chat. The bells of St Bavo’s church chimed out the hour and I half expected to glimpse guildsmen from the paintings in the Frans Hals Museum strutting along in their ruffs and buckled shoes.

Teylers Museum, Harlem

Entrance to the Teylers Museum, Haarlem

My goal was the Holland’s oldest museum, the Teylers, where you feel the spirit of the Enlightenment the second you push open its giant door. Many of its displays remain untouched since it opened in 1784, in original wooden cases lit by daylight only and with captions in spidery handwriting. As I stepped from its fossil gallery, with its huge mammoth skulls, through to rooms with globes and armillary spheres, I was swept up in the 18th-century quest for knowledge and discovery.

Now, I know nothing about paleobiology, electromagnetism or mineralogy. But I quickly got into the spirit and felt like an early explorer poking around and coming up with ‘finds’. The curious jumble led from bones that showed the evolution of horses’ jaws to a piece of rock from the peak of Mont Blanc. Faded cases with obscure objects yielded fascinating stories when I found out what they were.

All this was in a wonderful architectural ensemble, purpose-designed to showcase the treasures at their best. It was made possible by the bequest of one Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, a merchant and financier whose portrait, complete with curly wig and quill pen, hangs on one of the walls. In addition to science and nature, Teyler was fond of art. He also financed a collection of paintings and an exceptional portfolio of drawings that includes works by Rembrandt and Italian masters. These are displayed in more modern, 19th-century style.

Teylers Museum, Harlem

The world’s first battery, the Voltaic Pile (1800).

Teylers' Museum

Giant ammonite, one of the Teylers’ fantastic fossils.

Teylers museum

Room of scientific instruments.

Bridge outside Teylers Musuem

View from the cafe outside the Teylers Museum.

I had planned to spend an hour or so at the Teylers but ended up staying half a day. Afterwards, I ordered a strong coffee at a cafe just outside the museum and watched boats cruising beneath a pretty bridge. It took me a second cup to come back to the 21st century again.

I stayed at the Ibis Amsterdam Centre Hotel. Trains run every 10 minutes or so between Amsterdam and Haarlem, with a journey time of around 15 minutes. The Teylers has a programme of regular exhibitions. Next up from 28 September to 19 January are Rembrandt drawings and etchings. An excellent audio guide in English relates the stories behind the objects in a really engaging way.

London Slant: Rush to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

While Britain dithers over whether to build Boris Island or expand Heathrow I hear that Holland’s Schipol is positioning itself as London’s major airport. If so, maybe the reopening of the Rijksmuseum can be considered London’s hottest new cultural event.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Henry Moore exhibition in the gardens of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

So hop on a plane and head to Amsterdam fast. Because the museum has reopened after a 12-year closure with a stunning temporary Henry Moore show. It’s the icing on the rich and delicious cake that’s the makeover of the museum itself.

I arrived at the Rijksmuseum entrance as a rush hour stream of cyclists pedalled past. Their campaign to stop the proposed blocking of this route through the heart of the building was partly why the museum remained closed so long. I’d been warned there were huge queues to enter, but when I arrived at 9.05 I walked straight in.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Gallery of Honour, with Rembrandt’s Night Watch at the far end.

I hot-footed it to the Gallery of Honour where Dutch old masters are arrayed. It’s a magnificent sight, with alcoves of Golden Age works leading up to Rembrandt’s Night Watch, dramatically displayed at the far end.

When the museum was built in 1885  the names of featured artists were inscribed high on this gallery’s walls. The rehang of this revered space reveals a fascinating change of tastes. Frans Hals and Jan Steen are still here, Hobbema has gone and Vermeer (who, unbelievably, was unrated) has now been brought in. It’s wonderful to see his milkmaid calmly pouring from her jug centre stage—especially since I’d pipped the heaving scrum and had her all to myself.

The entire museum gets my resounding thumbs up for its brilliant integration of fine and decorative arts. The story of the Netherlands, against the backdrop of the sea, is vividly conveyed through skilful juxtapositions of paintings and objets d’art. Showcases of vases, clocks and pieces of furniture are set among pictures of similar age and style. I thrilled to items that would never normally grip me, such as silverware and porcelain.

The building itself is a treat. I followed an architecture trail that led from the decorative neo-Gothic Great Hall, with its stained glass windows, to the new Asian Pavilion, where works are displayed in zen-like calm.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Holland’s ties to the sea are visible throughout the Rijksmuseum. Objects mirror paintings throughout.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Paintings are matched with fabulous drinking cups covered in swirling sea creatures emerging from the waves.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Shiva Nataraja (King of the Dance), part of the excellent Asian collection, now has a stylish, light-flooded home.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

A row of dazzling kimonos, ancient and modern.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The greenhouse supplies salads for the museum cafe.

When the Rijksmuseum closed for the evening I headed into its gardens, where the Moores were bathed in sun. I peeped into the greenhouse where vegetables for the lunches served in the museum cafe are grown. Then it was on to Sama Sebo, the Indonesian restaurant next door, for a first rate rijstafel. Fortunately I’d booked a table: it was shoulder-to-shoulder—just as the space in front of the Night Watch had become.

*Check out City Airport for an Amsterdam flight: save time and outrageous train fares to larger airports. Henry Moore is on until 29 September.