Tag Archives: Amsterdam

…writing, art at home…

I am forever lost in the world of Art. In so many ways. And I love it. Just like Dante’s alter ego in The Divine Comedy’s opening lines of Purgatory, I find myself lost. He found himself lost among the tall, dark trees, lost in his middle age. I, on the other hand, find myself lost among paintings, ink sketches, water colours, reference books, auction house catalogues, antiques, artist biographies. It is a fantastic way of being lost, since the feeling makes me search and explore. I want to learn more, see more, find more. Ponder on what art and beauty gives us. On what it means. Revel in being adrift on the sea of fine arts.

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A small part of the reference library in my study. I can’t function without these books.

Having spent a fair amount of time writing a two-part article on art for a recently started magazine, I got thinking on what kind of art I surround myself with. What am I looking at when I’m at home? When walking through a corridor, walking out of the bedroom, sitting at my desk? What am I dreaming of acquiring to hang on my walls? To someone like myself even, who spends his life in the fine arts, it can easily become just a fascination. The hunt for another object or more knowledge on art becomes a way of life. It is easy to forget what’s around you.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

When working, I don’t have any big paintings hanging around me. Just the books on the shelves in the study. They supply me with over 100,000 pictures if needed. Whichever period of art, whichever architectural movement, I can find something on most topics among all the books. But as a reminder of previous periods in life, I have two small postcards stuck to the window-frame. One of Paris, by van Gogh, and one of Amsterdam painted by Monet. The postcard over London, what feels like my second home town, has disappeared in a recent move.

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At times the personal has to come before professional pride. Also for an antiques dealer and art historian.

One of my favourite periods of art is Early Romanticism. It’s stretching from about 1790 until the late 1830s. It was a great period for Northern European artists travelling to the southern parts of Europe. There they learnt to handle light, shades, and got the oportunity to learn from the old masters visiting museums. The water colour became a medium for professional artists as well as for amateurs. Up until now it had not been an accepted medium for professionals. This makes the late Regency period, also called Empire and Biedermeier style in interior design and pictorial arts, very interesting. It is today possible to buy high quality water colours from the years around 1800 for almost nothing. Quite incredible really, but the style isn’t very fashionable for the moment. It was up until ten years ago. And will soon be again. For sure.

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Another favourite is this little adorable cherub by Johan Gustaf Köhler, painted in Munich in 1836. He was Carl Larsson’s teacher in sketching at the Academy.

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Water colour from 1806, painted by Sophie Tersmeden, hanging in the bedroom.

So what is someone like me dreaming of? Oh, a lot of things. But a few weeks ago I found a painting I felt I could not live without. But I forgot about the auction, and I guess that was just as well. The painting didn’t sell cheap. It was a beautiful oil painting of a passage under Colosseum in Rome, painted around 1815 by the father of the Danish “Golden Age”, C. W. Eckersberg. It sold for €24,000 which meant it almost doubled the asking-price. If I’d only had the money, and remembered the auction,  the painting would be hanging in my dining room now. I know the perfect wall! But until I have the oportunity to buy that kind of art, I will carry on leafing through my books for more knowledge and constant inspiration.

The latest in a pile of inspirational reads, "Ann Getty: Interior Style"

The latest book in the huge pile of inspirational reads, “Ann Getty: Interior Style”

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Culture

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 11

A tiny place bang in the middle of central Amsterdam, I end up here a lot when book-browsing amongst all the international book stores by Het Spui. Consistent with high quality coffee and great service I can always trust the guys and girls behind the machines at Coffee Company: Het Spui. It is found behind Singel, or just off the big touristy Kalverstraat. If anyone is touristing in Amsterdam this place is impossible to miss, though small.


This review is, in a way, an exception from my rule to not review, or even frequent, big coffee chains like Starbucks, Nero or Coffee Company. But this exception is justified by Coffee Company being miles better than any other chain of coffee places I have ever been to. And I’ve been to a few, as the regular reader will know. It is important to remember that this franchise can vary enormously in quality and service between two coffee places owned by Coffee Company but situated on the same street. A good example is the place closest to work, Coffee Company: Waterlooplein, which serves great coffee but the earlier mentioned confusion between an espresso macchiato and a cortado is rife here. The service is also, in general, appalling and so slow I have more than once walked off. This since, in my view, waiting in a queue of four people it should not take over ten minutes to be served. But it does if the staff stand talking to each other behind the till instead of actually serving customers doing the job they’re supposed to. This does not happen at Coffee Company: Het Spui, but it does at the one at Waterlooplein. A lot.

My short macchiato has always been top notch here at CC Het Spui. This is a really small place, just some bar stool seating by the window overlooking the square, so if you want a sit down coffee you have to stick to the summer months when they have a small outside seating area. But even here it is very crammed, so I would opt for the take-away alternative if you’re not there in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. Or possibly Sunday. Then it might be possible to sit down for your coffee.

Due to its central location close to the main tourist streets it is one of the best places to pick up your coffee on-the-go, so aim for this little anonymous looking place when you’re close to Het Spui next time. I always do.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, Coffee Company Het Spui

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 9

In November 2010 this coffee house, De Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat 130, was voted “Best coffee in Amsterdam” by Time Out Amsterdam Magazine. Nice for them, but I don’t agree. It’s not that it is not a nice place, cause it realy is. Great feel, relaxed, chilled out but not overly Americanized cum brushed steel and concret á la New York interior that’s now so popular, homey feeling with the big sofas on the first floor and the buzzing, great table in the middle of each floor for lap-top users. Brilliant idea. But the coffee? It was pretty bland. And that’s why I came there in the first place.

Since my first espresso macchiato was a dissapointment the other week, I decided to go again a few days later to see if it might just have been bad luck from the barista’s side. But that wasn’t the case here. The second time I went the macchiato was still bland, a bit watery and with no pull in the taste. Is the settings on the machine wrong perhaps? Need to have the bar pressure set according to how the coffee is ground? Or is it just that they have had bad luck with the last few batches of coffee beans from Buscaglione, the italian roaster. Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.
The froth on my first macchiato was very good (it sais in my notes) but the last time it was too hard, almost like an unbaked meringue before it hits the oven. I also had a normal black coffee to see if that was any better. And it was. They might be using these hellishly popular pods (the Wrath of the Gods for coffee connoisseurs, in my view) which are so loved here in the Netherlands, but it was still not bad at all. Not as clean in taste as it would have been had it been a proper pour over, but I shan’t be too picky.

What I want to applaude De Koffie Salon for is their effort to keep a consistently high level concerning their pastries, sandwiches and sweet buns. I have had different things every time, and they have been very good. The little almond bake with three whole almonds on top are divine. And not least, the staff has been very nice too. Service minded and smiley which is nice in a country where customer service is as sparse as a snowman in Hell.

So all in all I would recommend this coffee house for all but their coffee. If that is your prime concern, go somewhere else. If it is  simply a nice café experience you’re after, De Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat is a good place to go in one of my favourite, up-and-comming art trendy and design aware areas of Amsterdam.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, De Koffie Salon, Food and Drink, The Netherlands

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 8

After a few bummers on the coffee front over the last few days in the capital of cloggs and tulips, I found my way to Hartenstraat 12 and Screaming Beans. Just the name is enough to make you want to go there, but what coffee! It is a place well worthy being called a coffee fanatics mecca in Amsterdam. An easy five minute walk from the Dam Square, past the Royal Palace, and you’ll find this little gem of a place on one of the short, busy sidestreets off Keizersgracht.

Screaming Beans uses beans from Bocca, a small roastery situated in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. Mainly sourcing their beans from organic farmers in Ethiopia and Kenya, they buy small exclusive batches of beans to keep the quality high. Just how I like it. It is also possible to buy their beans at Screaming Beans for you to take home. I mean, if you hadn’t had enough of coffeey goodiness for one day. Have to do that next time I’m around.

I kicked off with a macchiato which was a smooth concoction, well balanced espresso versus milk froth. No bitterness in the aftertaste. Perfect. When I asked for something more “original” I was served a cup of pour over on a freshly ground Ethiopian blend called HailesLassie. It was one of the last cups since the blend is now finished (it was created for a barista championship in Maastricht, the nice barista informed me, but in the last minute the barista competing changed his mind and created another blend whereby this came on the market for Screaming Beans to grab. For that feat I can only congratulate them) but they have plenty others which I’m sure are equally as good. This blend had a very deep fruity tone, some surprising papaya tint to it, and though not overly strong and dark, which is usually how I like it, it was a great pour.


Good coffee is hard to come by in the Netherlands. Even in the multi international capital. It is said to be getting better, but I guess I haven’t been here long enough to really tell. At times I am still chocked over the quality at some places who gives them self out to be “the real thing”. I can only say beware and be warned. Screaming Beans though is a place to visit when you’re around in Amsterdam as a coffee connoisseur.  Or coffee junkie for that matter. It is good. Very good. Can’t put it any simpler than that. My only critique would be that they close very early, at 5pm every day (which is a shame) so check the opening hours before you go. To their defense they are open on Sundays, which is rare over here. Maybe there’s a good reason for it all, I didn’t ask, but hopefully they’ll do something about that soon and stay open longer for us all to enjoy.

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European governments try suffocating the Arts

As the wave of new liberal governments are blowing strong over Europe certain areas seems to be harder hit than others. The Arts are not appreciated, artists are expected to work more and more for free or look on their profession as a “normal business”, opera houses and orchestras are being forced to close down and hundreds upon hundreds of top class performers are facing a dire future with unemployment and no pensions. The Swedish government, until a few years ago a forerunner of social equality and blind support of the Arts, will be presented with a research paper, put together by the in Scandinavia important Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, proposing that the student funding and student loans for Art educations should be heavily cut or scrapped altogether for some courses due to artists struggle later in life to get work.
This is mild compared to the Netherlands where, late last year, the influential leader of The Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, proposed a cut in the culture budget from current €800m to €200m starting as early as 2012/2013. This has created an outrage among artists and intellectuals in the BeNeLux countries with protest marches and group actions on social networking sites. What the result will be is not yet totally clear, but the cuts seems to go through, if not as heavy as initially suggested. There is still some voting to be done, but it does not look promising. The government in the Netherlands has also decided to go their own way in how the cuts will effect the major art institutions. Bigger and, it has to be said, more important world class institutions like De Nederlandse Opera and The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will hardly feel the hit with minimal cuts while smaller, still top class, institutions like the Nationale Reisopera, the foremost touring opera company in the Netherlands, and some provincial orchestras will face cuts of up to 60% percent in their budgets. That activities could go on like before is hardly possible. Theaters and orchestras employing hundreds of singers, instrumentalists, administrative and other staff will have to change their company strategy and let most people in full-time positions go and then heavily rely on freelancers. But where will the freelancers come from in ten years if there are no smaller companies where to start a carreer? As Guus Mostart, current Intendant at Nationale Reisopera put it in an article in the Guardian UK the other day, “the loss of smaller companies who support younger artists and young composers is even more worrying than what’s happening at the bigger companies. They are the breeding ground for the future of music.” This is something we have to bare in mind.


So why this tendency? Why does the Arts scare governments like never before? Nothing major has changed in how it is performed, nothing is significantly different from, say, 1993. It looks more like the general political climate has changed, and thereby the way political parties and governments look at the Arts and how it should be funded. The last ten years or so governments have started to talk about theaters, opera houses and orchestras in terms of “businesses” and that they have to start re-evaluating their “company and corporate structures”. But these are not terms applicable to major Art institutions. They never have been and never will be. Would anyone pay €1800 for a night at the opera? Probably not. €985 for a concert of Adés and Stravinsky? Hardly anyone. Not even three hundred years ago was it possible. That’s why there were private patrons, supporting the Arts and its artists. The system of private and corporate sponsors is well developed in the USA (with numerous downsides to it too, it has to be said, but more on that in another post) and the UK has done a pretty good job at introducing it to their art institutions with tax relief etc. The rest of Europe seems helplessly behind, fumbling in the dark simply applying the cuts without having a complementary system in place.

When politicians complain that the Arts are expensive, they are right. Opera is one of the most expensive art forms in the world. Keeping a museum like the Louvre in Paris is an enormous burden on the state finances. But the art is what defines us as countries. The different styles, free ideas and creative minds is what have, and still in this moment are, making our society move forward. We need the Arts, in all its various forms and shapes. We need them to provoke us, to give us new ideas, to give us an alternative universe where we can taste another era, another time. Where we can escape. If the politicians aren’t prepared to take their responsibility, invested in them by us in democratic trust, we will have a very bleak future to look forward to.

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Filed under Arts Funding Cuts Europe, Arts Funding Cuts Netherlands, Culture

A year in Amsterdam

I have now been living in Amsterdam for almost a year. Time flies, and I would like to share some of my pictures from the last year with you. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, full of life, versatility, different cultures. Great buildings, beautiful parks, nice beer. If you are looking for a few days away: go! You’ll love it. I won’t write too much about my experience of the country as a whole, that’s for another post. But here we go, enjoy the photos and I hope you will buy a ticket to go to Amsterdam soon.


Almost by Nieuwmarkt

One of my favourite spots is Het Spui, a small square with loads of bookshops selling books in all languages imaginable.

ABC, Het Spui



Athenaeum, Het Spui


Church Towers


Pretty corner house on the Amstel



Similar, but different, corner house



There’s a lot of small, private boats in Amsterdam



The Amstel at dawn


Bikes, the first love of the citizens of Amsterdam

Small man-made canal in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam Zuid

Bridge between Blauwbrug and Eremitage

Cyclist

Bike theft is common…

XXX is the city crest of Amsterdam

Nice private house on Prinzengracht

If in Amsterdam a canal tour is a must!

Traditional gas lamp outside private house on Herengracht

Telecom Tower, Amsterdam Zuid

Dawn by Sotheby’s Auctioners, Amsterdam Zuid

Autumn morning in Amstel Park

New York and London are miles better at Christmas lights. Dissapointment…

Snow storm in December by Station RAI

They love their tulips over here

More Tulips

From the roof terrace of the Public Library in July and December respectively

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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, Art, The Netherlands

Where is home?

Constantly travelling. Always in new accommodation. Never your own furniture. Never sleep in your own bed. You know, the one you bought six years ago to suit your length, weight and your spine perfectly? It’s in storage somewhere with three complete homes shipped from different parts of the world.

You never know when to be able to move “home” again, all depend on where the work is. It is tiring sometimes, to never know for how long you’ll be staying in a particular place. Will it be for three months? Maybe two years? Or, maybe this is where “home” will actually be from now on? God only knows.


But still, a freelancer’s existence is exiting. It gives you experiences that hardly anyone else gets early on in their career. You see new places, get to travel far and wide, enjoy the hospitality of new colleagues and friends from the most diverse backgrounds, both ethnic and geographic.


The new cuisines you get to try, oh can they not be the most interesting? You try food you fall in love with immediately, some grows on you, and some are simply inedible. Not to forget: languages. You learn a phrase here and a word there and all of a sudden you’ve picked up another language.


I think for me though, what stays with me the longest is the beauty of a place. Sometimes the cities or towns you visit are appallingly boring and you can’t wait to get away. However, the times you spend in major cities and beautiful countryside settings can be enormously rewarding.


Being able to walk in the Cotswolds on your day off, or take a stroll along the Seine before you need to be at the theatre for an afternoon session is just incredible. It is such a grace to have the opportunity of seeing all these places and spend prolonged periods of time abroad. To get to know new countries and cultures, and still being payed to be there. Isn’t that just amazing?


Still, home is always home. The saying my home is my castle couldn’t be more accurate when you spend months, sometimes years, away from the warmth of your own home. But I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to unpack all those boxes and take out all the furniture of storage. To once again be able to create my own castle, wherever that might be.


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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, France, Gothenburg, London, Paris, Sweden