Making the most while you can
After more than a year without travel, Aidan Hanratty looks forward to the possibility of revisiting Amsterdam
In my younger days, I visited Amsterdam for a music conference-slash-festival called Amsterdam Dance Event. Almost a week in length, it features industry panels, talks and product demonstrations during the day, with extensively packed club shows at night. The top DJs and producers in the world of house and techno and other forms of electronic music descend upon the city for that week in October, providing clubbers of every taste with a range of potential nights out.
This October, the city will play host to the 39th Congress of the ESCRS, a thoroughly different kind of conference. Industry and practitioners abound, once more, but instead of the electronics of music it’s the electronics behind ophthalmology that will be on display, as well as the cutting edge of science in one of the fastest-moving areas of medicine.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 38th Congress of the ESCRS was a virtual affair. That means we are all even more anxious for a face-to-face meeting, as well as being able to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of a city away from home. Amsterdam has so much to offer visitors, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
From the Dutch masters on show at the Rijksmuseum to modern and contemporary art at the Stedelijk Museum, there’s a world of art to be seen.
The Tropenmuseum houses a range of exhibitions, most notably Afterlives of Slavery, in which visitors are confronted with the legacies of slavery that still shape Dutch society in the here and now. Real-life artefacts and first-hand accounts lend weight to the exhibition, personalising the experience and forcing visitors to put enslaved people centre stage. https://www.tropenmuseum.nl/
The Foam museum celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, having opened in December 2001. The photography museum celebrates the work of established artists as well as calling for new blood with its annual Foam Talent Call. https://www.foam.org/
The KattenKabinet is, as the name suggests, a museum dedicated to cats, including works by Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and more, and as well as featuring cats on the walls, real-live cats are known to roam the building. https://www.kattenkabinet.nl/
A’DAM Toren is a multi-purpose building that houses hotels, office spaces, a “forbidden garden” and restaurants. There’s also a viewing platform offering a 360-degree panorama of the city, as well as a daring “sensational swing” that suspends viewers back and forth 100 meters above the ground. https://adamtoren.nl/
Readers of this publication may be familiar with the letters FEBO as meaning Fellow of the European Board of Ophthalmology. In Amsterdam, these letters mean something different. Named after Ferdinand Bolstraat, the site of the company’s original home, FEBO is an automat restaurant, with a counter for fries and a wall of vending machines serving potato croquettes, mince hot dog, hamburgers and similar hot food.
One thing Amsterdam natives love is mayonnaise. Buy a portion of the fries mentioned above, served in a paper sleeve, and you’ll be offered a healthy dollop of the condiment, with no regard for its calorific content.
After a meal one can enjoy a stroopwafel or two. These were born in the city of Gouda, and while the yellow cheese that takes its name from its birthplace may be more famous, these delectable waffles fused with caramel are nonetheless worth a bite, best enjoyed after sitting on top of a cup of tea or coffee, allowing the caramel to soften and melt.
There’s also the Heineken Experience, a tour of the brewery that’s been providing the world with the famous lager for more than 150 years. A combination ticket allows you to step straight from the brewery on to a barge that will give you a tour of the city’s canals. https://www.heinekenexperience.com/en/
If eating and drinking aren’t on your menu, it’s worth renting a bike. With more than 500km of bike lanes, it’s one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, second only to Copenhagen (a city that took its inspiration from its Dutch counterpart for its canalways, but that’s another story). If you’re walking, however, make sure you don’t step on to the cycle lane – you will be heckled.
For a variety of reasons, many of the sites I visited before will be gone by the time I see Amsterdam again. The large nightclub Trouw closed in 2015, for example, and the building now houses a co-working space. Some venues have closed due to bankruptcy, others have shut their doors temporarily during the pandemic.
Walking past these same spots, changed utterly, will nonetheless bring special moments to mind. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. So let’s make the most of them while we can.