A Decadent Week in Amsterdam & Bruges

A Decadent Week in Amsterdam & Bruges

As we’re incredibly classy adults, our idea of decadence involves carbs for breakfast, purdy old buildings and alcoholic beverages with every meal!

Our first full day in Amsterdam coincided with a snowy Valentine’s Day, so we felt satisfied in our best decision to forego touristing in favour of hanging out with one of my best pals, who is currently studying down in Maastricht. She came up for the day and we wandered between cafes, catching up and staying warm. The centre of Amsterdam is formed of canal rings stretching out from Amsterdam central station. Here you’ll find most of the attractions, including the Red Light district. We stayed in a lovely apartment on Airbnb, which was just on the edge of the central rings but close enough to be accessible by the transit system, which is efficient and well connected. It’s a very walkable city, but the meandering narrow streets mean you can stray far from your destination if you’re not paying attention!

Amsterdam Begijnhof
Amsterdam Begijnhof
Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum

Luckily the weather improved over the next few days, with crisp clear days. The last time I was in Amsterdam it had been for a few days in the summer, as part of an extensive trip around Europe. We spent a full day in the Rijksmuseum, behind which is the famous ‘I Amsterdam’ sign. The Rijksmuseum was huge and fascinating, with three extensive floors of paintings, art objects and sculptures ranging historical eras and artistic movements.

 

Tiny dolls houses
Tiny dolls houses
Awkward Nazi chess set
Awkward Nazi chess set

 

We visited Anne Frank’s House which was, as we anticipated, a moving and sombre experience. You weren’t allowed to take photos, which made sense considering the cramped space and nature of the museum. The space is the preserved secret annex for the Franks, with quotes from Anne Frank’s diaries and information about the living conditions and atmosphere during the time of hiding. There are lots of interviews with people who knew Anne and her contemporaries, and more general discussions of persecution and discrimination. It’s a claustrophobic and humbling experience, but an absolutely essential one.

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Canals
Canals

On a much lighter note, we visited the Sex Museum. Apart from groups of giggling teenage boys, the museum was actually quite edifying and entertaining. There are lots of mannequins and animatronics, which I found terrifying, but it’s mostly photos and objects. There’s info about sex throughout different cultures and time periods, views on sexuality, promiscuity, contraception and fetishes. Phallic and yonic symbols abound! In general it’s pretty tame and there’s only one room with some hardcore kink, but it’s well sign posted for those who wish to skip it.

We took the free public ferry across to Noord Amsterdam, where we indulged in some local swing dancing in a beautiful building that overlooked the river.

 

Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum
Too many bloody people
Too many bloody people

My highlight was the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh has always been one of my favourite artists, and Impression and Post-Impressionism are some of my favourite artistic movements. In many ways Van Gogh’s life is the archetype of the tortured artist, and it’s poignant that he is so highly regarded now when he died unrecognised in his own lifetime. Anyone who needs a feels trip should watch “Vincent and the Doctor“. The relationship between depression and creation is a fascinating and complex one, but what I found most enlightening was the pivotal roles Vincent’s brother and art dealer Theo, and Theo’s wife Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger. Theo died within the same year of Vincent’s suicide, leaving Johanna to raise their young son (also named Vincent, who went on to established the Van Gogh Foundation and the Museum). Although Theo and Johanna worked tirelessly to help Vincent promote and sell his work during his lifetime, after the death of the brothers, Johanna was key in raising the artist’s profile. In general she was a bit of a boss, raising her son, translating stories and promoting Van Gogh’s art. She was also a founding member of the women’s socialist movement.

And of course, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without sampling the local delicacies…

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We spent a wee bit of time in Bruges – and the main influence in our deciding to go Bruges was Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy In Bruges. It was gloriously sunny as we biked around the cobbled streets. The architecture is gorgeous and it truly did look even better at night. We climbed the infamous Bell Tower with it’s 366 steps and geeked out over the mechanics. The view from the top is stunning and worth the narrow climb! We visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and indulged in some waffles and Belgian chocolate. I even found a beer I like! Yes it’s a froofy fruity beer but at least I’m trying. The whole town is very bicycle friendly, and there was something lovely to look at down every street. We definitely could have spent longer here – we didn’t get enough time to sample the local museums and galleries, but puttering about in itself was wonderful.

Bell Tower
Bell Tower
366 steps to go!
366 steps to go!
View from the top
View from the top
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Sacrisant

We parted ways in Brussels. There was an ongoing joke about how much I disliked Brussels, because last time I passed through I had a bloody awful experience. I hoped this time would change my opinion, but it didn’t. Sorry Brussels. We did look at some pretty buildings in the pissing rain, but I’m glad it was only the pit stop before heading home all travel weary.

Our next big adventure will be Iceland in a week’s time, so get ready for all of the beautiful snow-laden landscapes!

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Town square
Town square
Brussels Cathedral
Brussels Cathedral

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