Free Music in Amsterdam

One of the neat things about the classical music scene in Amsterdam is that every week there are two free lunchtime concerts put on by their professional institutions, the Concertgebouw and the Nationale Opera & Ballet. (This is not to mention all the pretty decent buskers you can hear playing outside the Rijksmuseum at all hours of the day.)

I was able to catch one performance at the Nationale and two at the Concertgebouw on this trip. The Nationale performed the one-act opera in the video above, The Telephone by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was performed in Dutch, and if you think English sounds awkward in an operatic context, well… Dutch. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it! I especially liked the soprano who played Lucy. They all did a very good job at conveying the humor even to someone who had no idea what they were talking about.

I was unfamiliar with the The Telephone, and upon seeing the title, was wondering if it was an opera I had seen in Aspen fifteen years ago. All I could remember was that it was a woman on the phone, she’s really depressed, and at the end she strangled herself with the phone cord. I looked it up later, and that one is The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc, and it is super-not a comic opera. However, both are sometimes performed together, linked by the telephone theme (and the fact that they’re both one-acts and can’t sustain an entire evening program alone).

The performances at the Nationale are at Tuesday lunchtime, and you can basically walk in and get a seat. The Concertgebouw’s lunchtime concerts on Wednesdays require more planning. There is vastly more demand. People start lining up around 11am, tickets are distributed to the line at 11:30am, and then the concert is at 12:30pm.

The first concert I saw was a piano, clarinet, and oud trio performing traditional music from Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. This was sadly plagued by technical issues. I felt so bad for the poor oud player. His amp kept cutting out. They tried to fix it, but it remained on the fritz throughout their performance.

The second concert I brought Zed along with me. It was a performance of the first and last movements of the Brahms Piano Quintet, which is one of my favorite pieces of chamber music (that the oboe doesn’t feature in). Now, I hate to be That Person who is all “You’re Not Enjoying Music Right!” but damn it people, please put your damn cameras and phones away. It’s incredibly distracting! Not to mention against the rules of the venue! Three people sitting in front of us had their phones up the entire time. Someone sitting in our row was taking very loud photos with an SLR and changing lenses. It was all very annoying.

Anyway! This wasn’t one of the movements they played, but it’s my favorite.

Miffy and Mints

[image: a postcard featuring Dick Bruna's character Miffy]
[image: a postcard featuring Dick Bruna’s character Miffy]

The Corgi Sisters always bring me back souvenirs when they go traveling. I am a terrible friend and usually forget to buy stuff. This time, I made sure I remembered. While visiting Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, I picked up some Dick Bruna-illustrated postcards with our initials.

Miffy, or Nijntje in Dutch, is Dick Bruna’s cartoon bunny creation. She is beloved throughout the Netherlands. Uniqlo had a children’s collection featuring Miffy for her 60th birthday last year. On my last visit, the first thing Zed and I did was take a photo in front of the big Miffy statue at the train station:


Sorry it’s so blurry. I was coming off a 9 hour flight and my selfie game was not strong.

The other trinket I got the Sisters was Wilhemina mints.

[image: stock image of wilhemina pepermunt]
[image: stock image of wilhemina pepermunt]

Wilhemina was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1938. In 1892, a candy company started making these mints with her profile on them. You can’t leave a restaurant in Amsterdam without being offered one of these. I think I still have one or two in my purse.

Belgian Fries

[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]
[image: french fries in a paper cone, topped with yellow curry sauce]

There was a lot of quick street food to grab while walking around Amsterdam (herring, for instance). Fries + sauce counted as lunch a few days. These were from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, the best Belgian fries from Amsterdam.

This place is basically just a hole in the wall with a walk up line (which is always full). They make the fries as the customers order. Zed and I ordered some with Belgian mayo (not sure how that’s different than “the classic mayo,” but it was delicious) and Andalouse sauce, which was more tomato-y. I saw it described somewhere as “kind of like thousand island.” A few days later I went back by myself and got the yellow curry sauce, as seen in the photo up top. It reminded me of the chicken curry ‘n fries I used to get at St. Stephen’s Green in Mountain View.

Fries for lunch today. I was oddly drawn to yet repulsed by the idea of Hannibal sauce.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

Their menu doesn’t really go into what makes each sauce, unfortunately. What is Hannibal sauce? WHAT IS IT.

Complaining about the Nice Weather in Amsterdam

The weather this trip (so far) has been astonishingly nice. #Amsterdam #rijksmuseum #museumplein

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

I was in Amsterdam for two weeks. It was gorgeous. I went in expecting the weather to be like my 2015 trip (which had taken place earlier in September than this trip). During that trip, there were about two days of nice weather, and then it turned into dreary dreariness. It was cold. I didn’t have enough rain-appropriate clothing. I had to take my umbrella and windbreaker everywhere. I always felt damp.

This time? I was READY. I bought a new rain jacket. I had layers. I had scarves. I had puddle-appropriate shoes. And then… it sort of drizzled twice. And when it did, I was like, “Well, this is it for summer. It’s been nice, but now it’s turning to crap.” But no. It persisted in being the nicest weather I could possibly imagine. If I’d known, I could have packed a hell of a lot lighter.

That jacket’s hella cute too. I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t get to wear it. Now I have to wait until California gets wet and wintery.

Netherlandish Proverbs in Action

What are you doing you massive weirdo

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

This bizarre little carving adorns the choir screen at the Church of Saint Bavo in Haarlem (not to be confused with Saint Bavo Cathedral, also in Haarlem). I thought it was just an artist’s whimsy. Nope! There’s more meaning than that.

After the church, we went to the Frans Hals Museum. One of the non-Frans Hals (and non-pickled-herring-related) things we saw there was this painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. It was a copy of his father’s work, Netherlandish Proverbs.

28019-Pieter Brueghel-Spreekwoorden


There are about a billion different adages illustrated in the painting (check the Wikipedia page). The bit we’re interested is down in the lower left. Comparing it to the toothy fellow up top chewing on the church, we can see that he is a “pillar biter,” or religious hypocrite. Probably not a concept you’d see showcased in a Catholic church at the time, but certainly in a Protestant one.

Looking at that list, I’m pretty amused by “the herring does not fry here,” meaning “this is not going according to plan.” And “He who eats fire, craps sparks” is so much more evocative than simply “playing with fire.” Which is your favorite?

Pickled Herring

By Judith Leyster -, Public Domain,
By Judith Leyster –, Public Domain,

During my trip to Amsterdam, Zed and I visited the Frans Hals Museum in the nearby town of Haarlem. (Haarlem, by the way, super cute place.) This painting is not by Hals, but was originally attributed to him. It’s by Judith Leyster, a contemporary. The audio tour had this kind of adorable drinking song playing in the background for this painting.

It’s about how pickled herring is so good and salty and makes you drink a lot. So a few days later we had to get some.

The Dutchiest of lunches: pickled herring.

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

It was pretty damn good.

Trapani Salt

[image: dish of trapani salt]
[image: dish of trapani salt]

I made something new tonight, but it didn’t really turn out the way I’d hoped, so hey! Let’s talk about salt.

My parents and I took a trip to Italy back in April/May. We visited the southern part of the country as well as Sicily. While in Sicily, we spent a night in Trapani. Trapani has a salt museum. We had to go there.

[image: windmill atop the salt museum in trapani]
[image: windmill atop the salt museum in trapani]

It’s not a very big museum, but the guides there give a very thorough tour of the machinery they have on display. Plus they will tell you all the manymany reasons why Trapani salt is so much better than French or Hawaiian or any other kind of sea salt. It has to do with the salinity of the water, their salt just tastes way saltier. They are very proud of their product.

[image: pile of salt covered with clay tiles]
[image: pile of salt covered with clay tiles]

We bought a bag (and that was a source of worry, bringing back a kilogram of white granulated substance back into the states), and we keep it out on the counter as our fancy finishing salt (see top photo). Although honestly, I think it’s best eaten straight. Little salt crystal candy. I think I must have once been a deer, I just can’t pass up a good salt lick.

[image: the salt museum's cat]
[image: the salt museum’s cat]

Also the museum had a cat, which automatically shoots them up to the top of my list of favorite museums. (I assume the cat’s name is Sal.)

Dutch National Opera & Ballet

[image: "Emeralds" ballet costume from Balanchine's Jewels]
[image: “Emeralds” ballet costume from Balanchine’s Jewels]

I took a tour of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet while I was in Amsterdam. They offer free lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays (and if you’re going to be in Amsterdam on the 27th [MARK], I highly recommend it—there’s a freaking theramin and harp duo performing, how lovely and peculiar that will be!).

After the concert, they offer a tour of the building. It was somewhere between 5 and 10 euros for a really comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into putting on their productions. Our two group was three people large. Just me and two Australians. It was great! We saw them setting up the stage for the premiere of Il Trovatore, saw the opera’s current set for Der Rosenkavalier (which was ending soon) (and since they share the stage with the ballet, the various sets get shifted around constantly and therefore have to be pretty mobile), peeped on a ballet rehearsal, and got to visit their costume departments.

They had this green beauty featured among some other costumes. It was so gorgeous! It’s from Balanchine’s Jewels ballet, the “Emeralds” movement. You can see it in action here:

Escher in Het Palais

[image: escher's staircase inspiration]
[image: escher’s staircase inspiration]

During my vacation in the Netherlands, we took a day trip to the Hague to go see (among other things) Escher in Het Palais. I loved seeing the art and the actual woodcut blocks he used and learning more about the artist. Usually I go for the older stuff (gosh I love Renaissance artwork of Catholic saints), but Escher’s use of impossibility, you can’t not love it. One of the things that I found really cool (and I guess was a fairly new fact, given that the article I’m about to link only came out last year) was that the staircases he drew in Relativity were inspired by the staircases in a school he attended in Arnhem as a teen. He hated the school, but was obsessed by its very, very weird staircase.

[image: escher's staircase inspiration]
[image: escher’s staircase inspiration]

Even if it didn’t hold a bunch of great art, Het Palais is a gorgeous building. Every room had a different bizarre chandelier. They were amazing! These were my favorites:

[image: skull & crossbones chandelier]
[image: skull & crossbones chandelier]

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp

Yes, I’m still talking about the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum has good information. They’ve got a free audioguide app for your phone (and free wifi in the museum for downloading it), or you can get a physical guide there if you’ve forgotten your headphones or whatever. There are also placards hanging alongside the artwork with information (not just the name or the work and artist). And then, as a third option, in case you didn’t have enough, they have large laminated sheets (like 11x17s, except whatever size is equivalent in Europe) with details about the most famous works in the room—pointing out the minutia you might otherwise miss.

So, the Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp. What did the Rijksmuseum think was one of the most important aspects of this work to focus on?