Letter from Amsterdam

Back in Amsterdam for August, after my longest stay back in the US since coming here in 1998, exactly six years ago. After nine (unplanned) months in California, it was surprising how easy it was to settle back into life here on the Berenstraat. After two days it seemed as if I’d never been away. The city itself doesn’t change much, and its seasonal rhythms repeat each year with familiar regularity.


August is a month to be avoided in many European cities, a time when locals leave for holiday, and hordes of tourists overwhelm. Amsterdam on the other hand, is a fine place in August. Most of the locals do not leave, preferring to stay and enjoy the possibility warm weather and saving their holidays for the colder months. There is a large influx of tourists, Americans, French and especially Italians, however not so many as to overwhelm this admittedly small city. Restaurants, bars, museums and the city itself remain relatively quiet and accessible. And August here is a succession of street fairs and festivals: The gay pride festival with its boat parade; the intimate Hartjes Dagen weekend on the Zeedijk; the Grachten Festival culminating in a large classical concert on the Prinsengracht; de Parade, a sort of performance art traveling show; and the Uitmarkt, where the upcoming cultural season is previewed and a variety of free concerts are offered.

I returned just in time for all of this, and in time too to catch the end of a three week long heat wave–the only trace of summer this year according to locals. As is the custom, everyone has been complaining bitterly of the August weather as well as the Spring and Summer generally–it has been cool and very stormy.

Mostly I have just been reconnecting with old friends and making a few new ones, enjoying the street parties, visiting museums, sitting in cafes, and attempting to finish my novel and bring this revised travel website some degree of interest, and adding to it a number of previously uncirculated travelogues.

The Stadelijk (modern art) Museum, whose building on the Museumplien will be closed for some years for a much needed renovation, has relocated to temporary quarters on two floors of a groovy 1960’s mini-hi rise near centraal station. The building was once the Railway Post Office, and now its stripped to the concrete interiors a housing a variety of arts institutions. It’s best feature, I must admit, is the eleventh floor rooftop cafe, a cavernous space offering spectacular 360º views over Amsterdam. The world-famous Rijksmuseum is also closed for a six year renovation, with the major works relocated to a small attached annex. Though I haven’t seen the installation, I’m told it is perfect for the quick tourist visit, as all the famous works, and only those, are displayed together in a compact space!

As for me, it is nice to be back, even if it means I am drinking perhaps too much Dutch beer. The city with its canals and 17th century brick houses is, as always, beautiful–even in a rainstorm.


Clay Doyle, Amsterdam August 2004