Sex Workers storm Amsterdam's International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA)

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

Amsterdam is a busy place all year round. November is no different. As the clocks change time, the weather drops in temperature and the trees lose their leaves, Amsterdammers scramble to get building projects finished before winter and the film buffs take over down town Amsterdam.

It is the month of IDFA: Amsterdam's International Documentary Film Festival. When in Amsterdam has been attending a two week festival in its 24th year and the largest of its kind in the world. Over 300 documentaries are screened attracting 200 000 visits and around 2600 international visitors.

The city and especially the Rembrandtplein (square) area is crawling with industry people and film fanatics. Talking, selling, networking or just enjoying, you can't get away from the enthusiasm for documentaries in November. As the festival comes to an end it is time to tell you the stars and the prize winners this year.

This year the talk and especially the Dutch chatter has been about Amsterdammers, the Fokkens. Two sweet old Amsterdam ladies in grey knit sweaters identical twin sisters Martine and Louise.

At the age of 69 they have been working in Amsterdam's famed Red Light District for 50 years. One of the sisters still works while the other does not because of problems with her hips. A Documentary Meet the Fokkens about their lives and adventures premiered this year. In time for Christmas the imaginative sisters have also released a book about their lives.

There has been no better example of Dutch honesty then to watch and hear the Fokkens on the television and radio talk show circuit over the past two weeks. Click on the link of an interview with the sisters by the National Broadcaster with English subtitles to watch the women talk about their profession.

With over 300 titles and many events and exhibitions running paralel to IDFA it is hard to list favorites. Below is a list of this years prize winners.

Prize Winners:

Best Feature Length Documentary:
Planet of the Snail (South Korea) is a story of a deaf and blind man and his beloved.

Special Jury Mention and the Audience Award:
5 Broken Cameras (Palastine/France/Netherlands) tells the story of a Palastinian village dealing with Jewish settlement and encroachment over a period of 5 years.

IDFA Award for Best Mid-Length Documentary:
Montenegro (Argentina) is about the hermit life of a man and a dog on a quiet island.

Dutch Cultural Media Fun Documentary Prize:
Floating Bodies (Netherlands) about an unidentified corps

IDFA Award for 1st Appearance: The Vanishing Spring Light (China/Canada) life of West Street citizens in Dujiangyan City.

Best Music Documentary Prize (inaugural):
Last Days Here about the crack cocaine addicted front man Bobby Liebling

Best Green Screen Documentary
Bitter Seeds about why an Indian farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes.

Student Award for Documentary
The Betrayal (England/Norway) making mistakes in the world of Norwegian squatters and seeking forgiveness.

Blackberry sponsored Youth Award
Last Days of Winter (Iran) is a portrait about the lives of 7 Iranian boys in a youth detention center.

For more information visit the Film Festival's page:

Amsterdam in the Winter: Food for thought and warmth

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

When in Amsterdam and the east wind blows in winter the city gets cold, very cold. It is that time of the year again, Winter. There are many good things about winter in Amsterdam. The city is not so busy, you can go ice skating and walking along the canals reveals the architecture of this great northern European capital.

Through shared struggle comes identity. Winter in Amsterdam at times can be a struggle and food brings people together and creates an identity, Dutch Cuisine. In Winter Dutch Food comes into its own.

photo taken from La buena vida a food store in the Hague

The Dutch are not known for their cuisine, something that their southern cousins in Belgium consistently remind them.

If you are in Amsterdam during winter don't lament the cold, embrace it. Food will be your savior. There is no better time of the year to enjoy good old fashioned Dutch food.

1. Stampot (stamp in a pot)

This is a winter classic. Everything is stamped/mashed together in a pot - makes sense, yes? Normally mashed vegetables with gravy and a boiled sausage.

There are many versions of this of Stamppot:
- Hutspot has onions, carrots and potatoes mashed together.
- Boerenkool, translated as farmers cabbage, but in English Kale. This is mixed into the mashed potato at the end of the cooking and mashing process.
- Zuurkool Mashed potato with sauerkraut
- Andivie stampot: the same as Boerenkool but instead of using Kale, endive is used.

Bacon bits are a popular addition but the dish is limited only by your imagination.

photo of Zuurkool by blog Kattebelletje

Karin Engelbrecht from Dutch Food made an Asian inspired Stamppot with bok choi (an Asian cabbage), cashew nuts and shitake mushrooms.

The secret is always in the sauce. Plenty of sauce is needed.

2. Erwtensoep (pea soup)

Similar to the English pea and ham soup the Dutch have been at lengths to explain the difference. First a traditional Erwtensoup must be cooked slowly over night on a very low heat. Vegetarian versions can be found but normally there is pork hock and sausage in this thick soup. It is perfect after ice skating.

3. Gehaktbal (meat ball)

 A good Dutch meatball will quickly make you forget the cold. Normally served with potatoes and gravy you can also have a sandwich of meatball. If your into meat, this is a show stopper. Dutch meatball is 5 times the size of a Swedish meatball normally around 100grams. Every house has its own recipe but normally there is mixed spice and a toasted bread mixed into the ball.Wednesday is traditionally meatball day. Yes, that's right a whole day attributed to a meatball.

Picture taken from an Australian Food Blog

4.Oliebollen (oil balls)

It doesn't sound healthy and it isn't. The Oliebollen is a Dutch donut without the hole. Amsterdam's squares and train stations are filled with Oliebollen stands during winter. If your waiting for the train or tram because it is to cold to bike this is a perfect treat. Freshly cooked and sprinkled with icing sugar a perfect snack to ward off the east wind.

These also come in many varieties some are stuffed with currents (krentenbollen) or apple.

5. Chocomelk (chocolate milk)

A warm cup of chocomelk goes a long way in winter. The famous brand chocomel originating out of Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands, is distributed widely in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. This Dutch favourite is served in almost every business from Cannabis Coffeeshop to high end restaurant.
photo taken from blog: Almost barefoot farm girls

5. Mullwijn (mull wine)

Similar to the German and Scandinavian versions. Although a Swedish friend said the Dutch version was nothing like the 'great' Swedish winter wine. Warmed red wine with herbs, warms you to your very toes. Rembrandtplein, the Dam and Leidseplein are popular places to grab a warm red wine.

Here is a list of highly recommended Authentic Dutch restaurants in Amsterdam to enjoy. Click on the links to their websites.

When In Amsterdam....rug up and enjoy!

A Taste of Dutch Music: Amsterdam influence

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

When in Amsterdam and it comes to music the Dutch surprise many. Today they are known for their DJs and electronic music. Over the last few years DJ Magazine Top 10 list has been dominated by Dutch names such as DJ Tiesto. The music is not limited to electronic. With Amsterdam as the center for culture and music many but not all of the artists listed started their careers in Amsterdam's music halls. Provided is a list for different tastes.

Enjoy the list of Dutch music and if you have any additions let us know.

A classic one hit wonder to start things.

Putting on the Ritz - Taco 1980s

One from the old colonies. Indonesian born and growing up in the Netherlands Taco's one hit wonder is hard to get out of your head.

If it's classic rock you want then Golden Earring is the most famous Dutch export.
Although not from Amsterdam but rather from the Hague, people are always amazed this group is Dutch. Formed in 1961 they are still going today. Their biggest hit was the rock classic Radar Love.

Maybe something harder? Also not from Amsterdam but they did a track called Amsterdam.

Van halen - Eddie and Alex are from Nijmegen

Not a rock lover but want to pop away your day? You won't be able to get this Dutch track out of your head.
Venga Boys formed in Amsterdam in 1997 and sold 15 million albums worldwide. One of the most influential Eurodance pop groups of the 20th century. 

Maybe some harder dutch pop with some Belgian producers. The Rapper, Ray Slijngaard, is born and breed Amsterdammer.

2 Unlimited

If rap is your thing Amsterdam has no shortage of rappers and budding MCs. 
Osdorp Posse
One of the first to start recording rap in Dutch. It's hard to get more Amsterdam than this group.

Are you a fan of Punk?
The Ex
Founded in 1979 and lasting 30 years the Ex pushed the punk music to the extremes developing post punk experimental music before disbanding in 2009.

Mr. Review
Formed in 1983 in Amsterdam this Ska revival band dissolved in 1998 but reformed three years later and is still ska-ing today. 

Happy Hardcore (Gabber)
Party Animals - hava naquila
Established in 1995 they were the first dutch group to see their first three hits go straight to number 1. Height of their success was in 2000 when their hit Atomic hit number one in Hong Kong of all places.

For all those pysodelic trance music lovers...
1200 micrograms
This is what happens when you combine an Australian, an American, Dutch and a lot of drugs.

Last but not least Amsterdam Folk.
Andre Hazes, known for his hard drinking and smoking lifestyle he is possibly the Elvis of the Netherlands and of course Amsterdammer.

When In Amsterdam....enjoy!

The Worst Hotel in the World Does It Again

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

A traveller's worst nightmare on entering a hotel maybe finding filthy bedding, no heating, air conditioning or incessant noise. Almost everyone has had an experience where the room booked just didn't look like the pictures.  When in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this city takes this to a new level. The city of canals and bikes had four of the 2011 top ten dirtiest hotels in Europe as listed by Tripadvisor.

One hotel that did not make the list and pride's itself on being the world's worst hotel, yes you read it correctly is the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel. This small hotel located in the middle of the the city's famed Red Light District has turned the worst hotel in the world into their byline.

It maybe the Dutch straight forwardness or their brutal honesty but this hotel has been advertising that it is the Worst Hotel in the World for decades. So effective has the advertising campaign been that they made an entire book out of their approach.

The "Worst Hotel in the World" campaign was launched in the 1990s and was geared toward keeping complaints to a minimum. The campaign seems to have worked looking at the media coverage and the subsequent travellers' comments:

"Not as bad as I expected"
"Can't think of anything positive"
"Basic, cheap, does what is says on the Tin"
"You get what you pay for"
"So bad its great!"

Yesterday the Hans Brinker launched the latest episode in the Worst Hotel in the World campaign.

A blind cleaner details the benefits of the Hotel. Search Youtube for other Brinker classics or just check out their website for a laugh.

It is a shame that the World's Worst Hotel no longer makes the list of the world's worst. The power of advertising is finally revealed.

When in Amsterdam....enjoy.

Diary: Amsterdam’s Museum Night

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged

When people ask what is so great about Amsterdam? This blog entry is one I will direct them to first. This is why Amsterdam is the cultural capital of the Netherlands. Long live museum night!

The 12th annual Amsterdam museum night was held on Saturday night. Every year a much anticipated event and definitely a top 5 night of my Amsterdam calendar. The night was sold out by Saturday afternoon, 25 000 tickets. 42 of Amsterdam’s 52 museums were open to 2 am with after parties at Amsterdam’s prominent clubs through to the early morning.  

Late start to the evening as had to do the regular Saturday night Red Light District Tour. A great bunch of people who had planned on joining for the museums but couldn’t get hold of tickets.

2115hrs: The Meeting Point
Group meets at a central location at Café t’Nes in the city centre. The boys pre-roll their joints and a run to the super market is made for traveling beers. Everyone in the group prioritises 3 museums they would like to see. 

Like Amsterdam the group is a mix: born and breed Amsterdammers, Swedish, French, Solomon Islander and the obligatory Australian.

The Zoo and the newly renovated maritime museum were prioritised.   The Amsterdammer pulled rank and said a family member needed to be supported at one of Amsterdam’s smaller museums.

Bikes lights in hand we left Café t’Nes and headed to our bikes.

2130hrs: Museum 1: Willet Holthuysen House
Entering the house is like stepping back in time. The marble entrance, cloak room to one side, we de-robed and each purchased a glass of champagne.

Sipping bubbles in this museum was the perfect start our museum night.  The museum is small and not as popular as others in Amsterdam. There was no line up and the crowd was dressed to impress and sophisticated just like the interior of the house.

The Willet Holthuysen house was left to the city of Amsterdam by Mrs Louisa Willet Holthuysen in 1895. She was the last resident of the house. The splendid 17th century canal house was a centre for Amsterdam’s cultural elite. Louisa and her husband Abraham were collectors of art and regularly entertained in their day showing off new additions to their collection.

The House for the night had been handed over to fashion. A guest curator and designer Alexander van Slobbe showed elements from the workshop, Shanghai Gesture. Beautiful woven textiles and fashion were displayed. There was a boutique shop full of up and coming Dutch and Belgian designers. 

The amazing 18th century garden had been turned into a fashion shoot with large lights and fashionable types filling the terrace. The group’s Amsterdammer introduced us to smartly dressed man who was one of the judges of the fashion competition. We sipped bubbles in the garden’s courtyard as they talked in Dutch about family and fashion.

After our bubbles we walked around the Grand Canal house imagining what it would be like to be a lord or lady of the 19th century. Louisa’s last will and testament has been faithfully observed by the city. The house is a testament to the elite of Amsterdam in a bygone era.

On exiting we ran into a friend who was an accredited photographer for the night. He said that the line for the Zoo was ridiculously long. Passing on the information to the group we decided head for the nearby botanical gardens.

2230hrs: Museum 2: De Hortus Botanicus
Five minutes bike ride and we were at the world’s oldest Botanical Gardens. 1960s surf rock n roll from a live band could be heard spilling out of the giant green houses as we locked up our bikes. At the entrance was a mechanical surf board with a throng of people vying for a turn. 

As we walked through the 300 year old gates to the gardens, Amsterdam was left behind .

The Palm Greenhouse at the gardens is celebrating its centennial so the theme for the night was everything tropical. The Australian showed us a eucalyptus tree and took a leaf and started blowing on it. Two elderly Dutch women who had a good seat among the 7 500 visitors shared a cheeky can of Amstel beer with us that the boys had smuggled into the gardens. After a dance and look at some of the 4000 plant specimens  it was time for the next museum.

2345hrs: Museum 3: Amsterdam’s Tattoo Museum
Another five minutes by bicycle we were in front of the new Tattoo Museum. Established by Henk Schiffmacher, the founder of Amsterdam’s famous Hank Panky tattoo parlour and has tattooed the likes of the Red Hot Chile Peppers, the line was long. This is where the supermarket beer came into its own. Each of the group opened a beer and what seemed like no time we were at the front of the line and refreshed.

The new museum addressed everything tattooing. The night was also the museum’s grand opening. The place was full of the who’s who of the tattoo world. The Solomon Islander in the group was enormously proud that there was a sizable exhibition on tattooing in the South Pacific. Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and the Maori of the New Zealand were all mentioned for their tattooing culture.

The museum was filling up so after a visit to the rest room we headed for the exit.

As the group exited the Solomon Islander saw the owner Henk Schiffmacher. He thanked him for mentioning his little country on the other side of the world. The Amsterdam personality asked if he had any tattoos and on showing his tribal scarification the Solomon Islander was invited back at a later date to tell more of the Solomon Islands.

A brush with fame as we left, could the night get any better?

0045hrs Museum 4: Portuguese Synagogue
The decision was sudden as we cycled back towards the centre of town. The Synagogue was open! A rare treat. None of us were from a Jewish background but the 3 storey building is an Amsterdam Architectural wonder that survived Nazi occupation.

Before the WW II Amsterdam was the Jerusalem of the West. We were all interested to see what was left of Amsterdam’s once thriving Sephardic Jewish community.

What a delight. In the forecourt was a tent with falafel for sale. The vegetarian in the group yelped with excitement. We decided to check out the interior before taking a much needed food break.

Security was firm but understandable. All of the men received skull caps on entering. The Solomon Islander with his Jewish cap atop his afro was definitely a memorable image of the night but so was the synagogue. 

The room was impressive. Lit with over a thousand candles, warm and cheerful was the crowd. It was like a Jewish dating event with 20 and 30 somethings all talking to one another in their groups and checking each other out. 

The crowd was entertained by a jazz trio. The wonderful piano and double bass warmed the spirits of everyone.

With our warm jazz glow we exited for a tasty falafel in pita.

0115hrs: let’s make a run for it: Museum 5: Amsterdam’s Maritime museum
Amsterdam’s Maritime museum was recently reopened after 7 years of closure for refurbishment. Amsterdam has a rich maritime history. The city was home to the famous Dutch East Indies Company, the largest transportation company in the world for 200 years. One of the group had been before and we were all keen to see what work had been done.

As we arrived at the impressive building many people were leaving. We entered the great inner court and were surprised to see it full of people dancingto a local DJ.

The night at this museum had been dedicated to Sonic Architecture and the courtyard was a kaleidoscope of lasers lights and a 360 degree soundscape controlled by the DJ. We quickly tackled two of the four wings and were enthralled by model ships hundreds of years old and globes depicting the known world 400 years ago.

At this time of the morning the highlight was the trippy room dedicated to the sea. Fluorescent neon lights, warped mirrors and sea like vegetation presented a surreal aquatic experience. The group adorned hats of sea creatures and danced around the room as sting rays, sea horses and tropical fish.

0200hrs Museums closed

After a few minutes of searching we found our bikes. After a discussion about which after party to go to we all decided to head our different ways. No use spoiling a great night with lining up at a club. Experience told us the lines would be long. East, west and south members of the group pedalled their bicycles.

As I put my head down to sleep images from the night swirled in my head: Jazz, tattoos, ships, tropical rainforest, fashion, canal houses, art, music and my trusty bike. Thank you Amsterdam.

photo link of national newspaper