Sunday, August 18, 2013
Amsterdam’s Alter Ego
Amsterdam, as the well-known Dutch capital, is almost always tantamount to its equally famous Red Light District. In fact, when I met a Filipino couple there from the US one Saturday evening last April, their European cruise company highlighted that place. I guess it’s in the fascination on how the girls sell their wares legally like waffles, in a set-up that pretty much appears like a downtown shopping window. Since my friends’ time is limited to just three hours or so in that evening, I didn’t get a chance to bring them to some of the city’s alter ego. Or to any place that is totally opposite to what Amsterdam is known for. There’s a mouthful of options actually and I’ve been to four of them. In case ladies on tight leather become boring, here are some alternatives:
Begijnhof, simply put, is an enclosed neighborhood right in the heart of the city. It’s very close to Spui and it is so confined that you can’t easily find the entrance (or entrances). There’s one close to the American bookshop and there’s another one heading to the Amsterdam Museum. The wooden door is always open to the public (at certain hours, of course) and from there and some meters more, you can see a small square of decrepit houses that include the oldest in the whole city. There’s a warning upfront that it’s a real neighborhood and privacy is therefore reinforced. The Protestant church is the most welcoming piece in the lot and it’s a must to visit its interior. There’s also a Catholic church in front of it but it’s not that obvious as it was built during the Alteration. It would be best to spend the early morning there when it is quiet and not too touristy. The rest of the pictures here.
Based on the number of visitors, Museum van Loon (more pictures here) is the perfect museum to just kill time and enjoy the display (from paintings to gigantic, old coins) at your own pace. It has three floors and the entrance is along Keizergracht. Just beside the house is a small garden where you can have tea or coffee.
Museum Obs’ Lieve Heer op Solder (translated as “Our Lord in the Attic”) is so far my favorite spot in the whole Amsterdam (check out more pictures here). It is even right in the middle of the Red Light District. The idea alone is very significant. There was a nobleman who opened a part of his property so that Catholics (still during the Alteration) can continue their worship away from the public eye. Regardless of religion, it’s fascinating how people strive to keep their faith. Then the architecture. Imagine a tiny floor that serves as a kitchen for the parishioners and the floor above it, a sleeping quarter for the priest. All the Catholics then had to climb up the attic just to attend mass. Though the whole building now serves as a museum, it remains a place for me to pause and reflect on life.
Lastly, there’s Oude Kerk which is pretty much on the same busy street where Museum Obs’ Lieve Heer op Solder is located. It’s a church, a big one, and still operates as it is if I’m not mistaken. But I went there not for the mass or any religious event. Inside it, the church looks like it’s about to collapse anytime and the effect magnifies the artwork being housed there with the use of natural light. The experience of browsing through the ancient sculptures and even contemporary pieces is both stunning and calming. The rest of the pictures here.