{Netherlands} Het Scheepvartmuseum

October 7, 2016

Travel, Netherlands

I have a bit of a soft spot for Maritime Museums, so when I found myself with some extra time in Amsterdam, either side of a conference I attended last week, Het Scheepvartmuseum – which I had never been to before – was top of my list!

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It’s pretty stunning when you walk in to the glass covered courtyard!

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From there, three different wings lead off to the exhibitions: the North, East and West wings. I decided to start with the East Wing. On the first floor, there is a gallery with yacht models, with a fleet of 74 yachts representing “four centuries of pleasure trips and water sports”. After the yachts came a room full of beautiful maps and atlases, alongside touch screens that you to browse some of the atlases which had been digitised. Finally, a room with a banquet table set for a meal, showcased the museum’s collection of glass, silver and porcelain. Along the walls of the room were cupboards that could be opened, which revealed stories about individual objects. Some came with audio, in both Dutch and English.

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Level 2 of the East Wing started with a gallery full of ship decorations – the collection of nautical figureheads, from the prows of large ships, was particularly fun to see. Following on from this, was a gallery of navigational instruments. The design of this was just breathtakingly beautiful – I couldn’t really capture it in the photos. The walls all around the gallery were decorated in deep blue with stars, with twinkling lights showing up star constellations and large images of compasses on the floor. Touch screens allowed you to learn more about the instruments on display and how they worked, as well as about the constellations.

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Very much in contrast, in terms of design, was the room with photo albums. In the lounge setting, you could take a seat in one of the comfortable arm chairs, browse through replica photo albums of sea farers, and listen to their stories via the speakers built in to the chairs. Finally, on level 2, was a gallery of Dutch maritime paintings, from Old Masters through to contemporary art.

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After the East Wing, I crossed over to the other side of the building to the West Wing, and here I discovered my absolute favourite gallery: The Tale of the Whale. As well as taking you on a journey from wales being perceived as monsters, to being hunted and exploited, through to becoming beloved animals and popular motifs e.g. in toys, the design of this gallery was absolutely amazing. The highlight was a gigantic whale model, which you could go inside. Through a peep hole you could stare eye to eye at a hunter about to harpoon the whale, see and hear the whale’s beating heart, and discover how different parts of the whale were used.

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The rest of the gallery had lots of fun interactive elements too, such as a touch screen game that helped you to examine and engage closely with a painting, a digital painting that started talking about the objects on the table in front of it when you touched them (with English subtitles), and audio stations in Dutch and English where you could listen to stories and first person accounts. I really, really want to return to this museum just so I can show my kids this amazing gallery!

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The floor about the whale gallery is dedicated entirely to a gigantic board game set out on the floor. At the beginning, you pick up a bucket which has digital dice on it and gives you information about each stop of the game, but you yourself are the playing piece walking around the ‘board’ (see below). As you go around, you answer various quiz questions. The game is in Dutch and English, and there are three levels, for kids under 6, for kids aged 6-10, and for visitors over age 10. The versions for younger kids are a lot shorter, with simplified quiz questions.

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There was also another gallery in the West Wing, all about the Dutch Golden Age, but I didn’t take any photos as it was full of school children. Finally, after a quick visit to the exhibition on the upper level of the North Wing, about the Port of Amsterdam, I made my way to the outdoor area where a replica of the East Indiaman Amsterdam is moored.

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The original ship was wrecked off the English coast near Hastings, where it still lies today, with the replica being built in the late 1980s. The ship is 48 metres long, from stem to stern, and 56 metres high from keel to top. You can go aboard and see the different ships quarters, as well as stand on deck. The views over to Amsterdam are great.

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As well as the ship, there is also a small building outside housing the Royal Barge, which was built for King William I in the early 1800s. King William I didn’t actually use the barge in the end, but his successors did. It was last used for the silver wedding anniversary of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard in 1962, and moved to the museum in 1983. The barge is stunningly beautiful!

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Finally, so good museum visit would be complete without a stop at the museum cafe. Prices were pretty standard for museum cafes (i.e. a little high), but the food was absolutely amazing and I was impressed with the selection of gluten free options. My soup and generously filled open sandwich were the best thing I ate in Amsterdam all weekend!

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Het Scheepvaartmuseum is open daily, apart from a couple of public holidays throughout the year. Admission varies, with discounts available for children and students. Children age 3 and under go free. Full details on opening times and admission prices can be found on the museum website.

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