As the post-Christmas indulgence blues of January merge with the cold and gloom of February, thoughts turn to the glow of a warm holiday. For those of us not too adversely affected by the country’s economic woes, the glossy brochures or internet sites showing sun-soaked faraway places, adventure-filled or just relaxing, hold great appeal. But there are destinations far closer to home, albeit without the sun-soaked factor that offer the possibility of a highly enjoyable and memorable holiday. One such place is an all-time favourite city of mine, Amsterdam.
With a population of around 800,000 it’s such a welcoming, relaxing place. Criss-crossed by romantic canals, its picturesque buildings are adorned with a wealth of flowers. And culturally, it has a wealth of treasures to offer.
The year 2015 is significant for a number of reasons. First, the 50th anniversary of Provo is marked by the documentary film The Rebellious City. Provo was the radical political movement that was also a fore-runner of the hippy movement of West coast US and also a major influence on the ‘evenements’ in Paris throughout France 3 years later in 1968. It’s worth remembering that for centuries Amsterdam has been a centre for free speech and thinking and a refuge for those seeking a safe haven from religious persecution, notably Jews from Spain and Portugal and Protestants from France and Belgium.
From 20 March to 17 May, the celebrated tulips from Amsterdam, along with an abundance of other flora, bloom in the Keukenhof, the renowned flower park about 30 minutes from the city. 2015 marks the 65th anniversary of the project, which gives new meaning to the phrase ‘say it with flowers’.
One of the city’s most famous museums, the Van Gogh, honours this year the untimely death by suicide of the artist. The museum has just undergone a stunning makeover to mark the event and it will also host a remarkable exhibition featuring the works of Van Gogh and that other troubled northern artist, the Norwegian Edvard Munch. With 40 paintings from each artist on show, visitors will have the opportunity to compare and contrast the works and to perceive how both strove to convey the human condition. The exhibition runs from 24 September to 17 January 2016.
There are so many other reasons to head for Amsterdam this year. The Stedelijk Museum is celebrating its 120th birthday and is putting on a landmark exhibition of the works of Henri Matisse entitled Oasis, complementing the hugely successful exhibition of the artist’s cut-outs at London’s Tate Modern last year. Oasis runs from 4 April to 16 August. And the late works of Rembrandt, drawing on the exhibition recently seen at London’s National Gallery will be on show at the world-famous Rijksmuseum from 12 February to 17 May. While there, it’s a must to contemplate the artist’s Night Watch, perhaps one of the world’s greatest works of art.
Unusually, in June and July, the Beach Volleyball World Cup will be staged in the iconic Dam Square, Amsterdam being one of the four Dutch cities to build temporary stadia for the event. London did, of course, showcase the same sport on Horse Guards’ Parade for the 2012 Olympics – beach volleyball can clearly make itself at home anywhere!
As in so many European cities these days, a wide, sandy beach will appear for visitors and residents alike to ‘be beside the seaside.’ And to continue the water theme, from 19 to 24 August, the biggest maritime event in Europe will happen, as it does every 5 years, when a parade of 5000 of the world’s finest sailing vessels are moored for the millions of visitors to the city to contemplate and wonder at.
Finally, looking forward to 2016 when Holland holds the presidency of the EU, it will showcase its most famous city as one of great international diversity. And so this year, next year and any year will be a great time to visit Amsterdam.
Arts & Travel correspondent