Amsterdam, for the booklover….

Book-hunting and bookshop browsing is always one of the most ‘looked forward to’ highlights for all my travels. As such, I had noted down some of the bookshops that I wanted to look out for (based on the suggestions gleaned from various sources), before setting off for my recent trip to the Netherlands and Paris. Special thanks to the helpful recommendations from Bundleofbooks for pointing me in the right direction.

Antiquariaat POLK – had the most friendly owner/person manning the shop. The bookshop is actually the one below ground level (notice the stairs going down?). Sorry for the rather misleading snapshot.

This little gem of a bookshop had some real treats hidden down those stairs! If not for having read about this bookshop on Bundleofbooks’ blog, I would surely have missed out on this one. And that means I would not have found my two copies of Monica Dickens (Mariana, One Pair of Hands) and Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Christopher and His Kind for 2 Euro each. Two other titles which caught my eye but had to be left behind due to luggage constraint issues (as both were in bulky hardcover tomes) were a volume of Isak Dinesen’s Letters From Africa and Boswell’s London Journal. Like I said, who would have thought that a hidden little nook like this could have such treasures within?

And then there are those that had looked so promising as you enter but in the end, you find yourself coming out empty handed.

A lovely looking bookshop with an attractive shopfront, but sadly the books were mostly in a language I couldn’t read.
This would have been an interesting fair to attend.
The largest used bookstore in Amsterdam. Each floor stocks tomes in various languages, across all genres, and covering many subjects. There’s also a large antiquarian book section in one of the floors.

The antiquarian books section.
There are some really interesting bookish decorative pieces that can be admired amongst the antiquarian tomes on display.
Do excuse the poor quality of this shot. But I think you can still catch a vague glimpse of the two adorable decorative items in there.
The arts and graphics section.
The literary section had quite a lot to offer as well (and these were all in English, too).
And this is part of the children’s books section. I never realised that the Dutch had such an attractive and appealing offering for their young ones. The book covers were all so lovely and delightful to look at!

As abundant though, as the offering was to be found here, somehow I didn’t manage to come away with anything. The ones I had spotted and really wanted (ie: Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art: Letters  and a couple of other literary biographies/ diaries) were either too bulky or too costly for my limited constraints. Sigh….

However, all is not lost, as I soon found my way to this :

I think that’s about as pretty as bookshops come by, don’t you agree? Somehow, having a bicycle in the picture always makes it look so much better!
A closer look at the bookshop on the left, the Straat Antiquaren.

When I entered the Straat Antiquaren, all I could see were shelves of books in languages that I wasn’t familiar with. As I made my way around the shop, skimming through the foreign titles on the rows of shelves thinking it’ll probably be another round of fruitless browsing, I came to the last row that was facing the walls on the right side of the shop. And voila! I found myself staring at shelves that were packed and stacked with English literature! How thrilling it felt. Although I came away with just two books (Katherine Mansfield: Letters & Journals, and  D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book), it was not for the lack of choice but rather due to  budget and luggage contraints, as mentioned earlier. Otherwise, I would definitely have taken home with me the complete set of Virginia Woolf’s volumes of letters that were in almost pristine condition…..

Still, I have to say that I am pretty satisfied with the bounty from this trip, which had actually exceeded my expectations, as believe or not, I really wasn’t planning on buying that many books. Just a couple to serve as mementos for this trip, I had thought, would have been good enough. Really.

But I ended up with all these instead.

Books, glorious books!
These includes the bounty from Paris as well (the ones lying horizontal). I am especially happy with the Folio Society copy of Dicken’s London, which I got from a little bookshop that had everything going at half price. It was beside a bakery where my mum and I had stopped for an ice-cream and cranberry pie. Am also very happy with the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary which I found most unexpectedly in a branch of the De Slegte bookshop in Rotterdam. I hadn’t even known they had a branch there.

And oh, I think there’s just a couple more which are not in the picture. But no worries, we’ll come to that when we get to Paris.

Soon. 😉

Amsterdam in Pictures

Strolling the streets of Amsterdam.

In case you were wanting to take a closer look at those figurines on the window ledge.
The friendly neighbourhood cat, who always seemed to come out to say hello. Or maybe it just loves having its picture taken (which I did take quite liberally!)
For those who love to keep their animals looking good. (Click the photo for a clearer view)
For those who love to keep their compounds looking good. :p
I love this one! A picture really does speak a thousand words…..
Exquisite Delft art.
Reading between the trees.
There’s just something about looking at bicycles glistening in the sunlight by the canals in Amsterdam, that I find very appealing. Such a pleasant sight.

Amsterdam is truly a picturesque city. It’s a place where one can find equal pleasure in exploring the nooks and corners of the city, or just sitting down to behold the beauty and serenity that seems to flow quietly by, along the canals.

And if you happen to be a booklover as well, you will be happy to know that Amsterdam has also quite a generous supply of booksellers that may very likely surprise you with some real ‘bookish goodness’ moments.

Will be sharing some of my bookish delights encountered in the city, in the next post. So, stay tuned if you are into that sort of a thing. 😉

Venice of the Netherlands: Giethoorn

Giethoorn, a village in the Dutch province of Overijssel, is also called the Venice of the Netherlands, as there are about 7.5 km of canals running through this little village. In the old part of the village, there were no roads (but nowadays one can find a cycling path), and all transport was done by water over one of the many canals. It took about an hour and 50 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central, and another 20 minutes by bus from the Steenwijk station, for us to get to this idyllic water village.

Pretty cottages can be seen all along the canal banks.
Plenty of arts and crafts/ gift shops as well as eateries for visitors to pop into as they go exploring the village on foot.
And for those who prefer the nature side of things, one can enjoy views of cows grazing by the banks…..
….. or ducks swimming across the canals.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if one were to wake up to a view like this every morning?

We found Giethoorn to be a great choice for taking a day trip out of Amsterdam, and it is definitely a place I don’t mind returning to if ever I find myself to be around that corner of the world again.

And this was where we would have headed to next, if only we had not miss our interchange on the way back to Amsterdam and ended up going all the way to Rotterdam instead! :p
Well, another time perhaps….


The Diary of a Young Girl

Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year old school girl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.

 Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Wasn’t it a good thing that young Anne decided to write just because she felt like writing? Otherwise, we would never have had the privilege to read these personal diaries of hers, which gives us a glimpse at one of the most moving and eloquent accounts of the Holocaust. One can’t help but be amazed at the level of profundity and insight that this thirteen year old was capable of penning down, amidst her struggles to come to terms with the turbulence that is taking place both in her inner and outer world.

I mean, how many other thirteen year olds have you come across, when found under similar circumstances as Anne, could come up with thoughts such as these:

 The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.

 How true Daddy’s words were when he said: all children must look after their own upbringing. Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.

 How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway… And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!

It is little wonder then to find that the Anne Frank Huis (house) in Amsterdam is  always thronged with scores of visitors from all over the world. Many who have either read or heard of the story of Anne Frank would drop in for a visit with the hope of being able to experience and share Anne’s story in a more vivid manner, in this house where Anne (together with seven others) went into hiding for more than two years.

The long queue of visitors going into the Anne Frank Huis (Museum entrance).
To avoid the long queues, make sure you book your tickets online. Then all you need to do is just to ring a bell and a separate entrance will be opened for you.
No. 267 Prinsengracht (the Secret Annex where Anne and her family hid).
View from across the Prinsengracht canal.
We were actually sitting on this bench across the canal while taking a break after a stroll at the nearby morning market, when we noticed the long line of people queing up in front of the building. At that point, we didn’t realise that it was the Anne Frank House we were looking at.

The Anne Frank House is described as a museum with a story.

And what a story it is.

A voice within me is sobbing, “You see that’s what’s become of you. You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.” Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be sick, stuff me with aspirins and setatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, an finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.

Friday Feature: Van Gogh, the Reader (1)

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (June 1889)

For his painting, however, Vincent reduced the bustling town of six thousand to a sleepy village of no more than a few hundred souls—no bigger than Zundert or Helvoirt. The twelfth-century church of Saint Martin, which dominated the town with its fearsomely spiked stone bell tower, became a simple country chapel with a needlelike spire that barely pierced the horizon. Finally, he moved the town from the valley floor north of the asylum and placed it to the east, directly between his bedroom window and the familiar serrated line of the Alpilles—a spot from which it, too, could witness the celestial spectacle about to begin.

With all these elements—cypress tree, townscape, hills, horizon—secured in his imagination, Vincent’s brush launched into the sky. Unconstrained by sketches, unschooled by a subject in front of him, unbounded by perspective frame, unbiased by ardor, his eye was free to meditate on the light — the fathomless, ever-comforting light he always saw in the night sky. He saw that light refracted — curved, magnified, scattered — through all the prisms of his past: from Andersen’s tales to Verne’s journeys, from Symbolist poetry to astronomical discoveries. The hero of his youth, Dickens, had written of “a whole world with all its greatnesses and littlenesses” visible “in a twinkling star.” The hero of his age, Zola, described the sky of a summer night as “powdered with the glittering dust of almost invisible stars”.

Behind these thousands of stars, thousands more were appearing, and so it went on ceaselessly in the infinite depths of the sky. It was a continuous blossoming, a showering of sparks from fanned embers, innumerable worlds glowing with the calm fire of gems. The Milky Way was whitening already, flinging wide its tiny suns, so countless and so distant that they seem like a sash of light thrown over the roundness of the firmament.

In his reading, in his thinking, in his seeing, Vincent had long looked past the “real” night sky—the tiny, static specks and sallow light of the night paintings he detested—in search of something truer to the vision of limitless possibility and inextinguishable light—the ultimate serenity—that he found in Zola’s blossoming, showering, glittering night.

Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh: The Life (2011)


The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

We all know that Van Gogh was a passionate painter, but I wonder how many of us realize that he was a most ardent reader too? My recent trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has renewed my interest in reading more about this gifted yet tormented painter. I knew he had written letters quite extensively to his brother Theo and I did manage to get a copy of his letters some time ago, though yet to read them (as usual). But it is only now that I realize that Van Gogh was a lover of books, too! And this has certainly sealed the deal in me wanting to read not just his letters, but also to attempt his biography (and this is no small feat!), which comes in the form of a 900+ pages chunkster of a book, Van Gogh: The Life, by Pulitzer Prize winning writers Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith.

This definitive biography has been described as a “….. tour de force — an exquisitely detailed, compellingly readable, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of creative genius Vincent van Gogh.”

Doesn’t that sound simply irresistible? 😉

Has anyone read this yet? Or his letters, by any chance? If so, would love to hear what you think about them.

Off to a good start in Amsterdam….

You know you are in for some real bookish serendipity in Amsterdam when the first thing that greets you upon disembarking from the plane, while making your way to collect your luggage, is this stylish yet very functional Airport Library at Schiphol.

The library offers translated Dutch fiction in thirty languages, photo books, photo shows and videos that reflect Dutch culture. One can also listen to the music of Dutch musicians if one is in the mood for it.

Coming across this unique little library so unexpectedly right at the start of the trip was indeed a most welcomed and refreshing sight, especially after a 12 hour long haul flight.

After safely checking into our B&B, it was time to stroll the streets of Amsterdam and savour the pleasing sights of endless canals, bridges, boathouses and bicycles in the city.

Having had the day started at the Airport Library in the morning, it was not unbefitting to decide to end it at the largest public library in Amsterdam (and Europe, for that matter), the Centrale Bibliotheek which is conveniently located just about 5 minutes walk from the Central Station.

The children’s section.
The graphic novels section.
This was one of those moments when I wished I could read Dutch.

All in all, not bad for a first day, wouldn’t you say? 😉

Outward bound….

As you may have noticed, it has been rather quiet around here on the blog lately. This is because I have been struggling to keep afloat with work demands and other personal commitments, in preparation for my travel plans. It has been a crazy, busy past couple of weeks, as I suppose is the case for everyone too, when one is supposed to tie up everything as neatly as one can (both at home and at work) before one finally gets to kick off one’s shoes and take off for ‘blue skies and everything nice’!

And so, after a long few weeks in which a flurry of activities flew by, I am glad to be finally headed out for a week in Amsterdam (and Rotterdam), followed by another week in Paris, with my mum. As this is the first time I am taking my mum with me on a ‘free and easy’ all on our own, here’s hoping that everything will really fall into place fairly easily!

Seeing that I am not one of those savvy bloggers who can still blog while on the go, I guess things will continue being a little quiet around here for the next couple of weeks (unless I can still manage to squeeze in a couple of posts to pop up here and there while I am away). Keep your fingers crossed, though. :p

Anyhow, hope to come back with lots of good photos to share, and while I don’t expect to bring back a suitcase full of books (as in the picture above), I certainly wish to make a few good finds at some of the bookshops (recommended by Bundleofbooks) in Amsterdam, and maybe even a little something from the illustrious Shakespeare & Co. in Paris itself!

Here’s keeping my fingers crossed. 😉