Simon Calder: A new encounter with Old Masters

The man who pays his way

Amsterdam in midwinter can feel dismal when the Arctic breeze sweeps down from northern Russia unimpeded by mountain ranges and proceeds to punish every excursion beyond the door of your hotel or café. The gentlest city in Europe seems unusually harsh. But bear with me, because in the course of researching today's 48 hours in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon what may prove the best city-break bargain of the year: two midwinter nights in Holland's biggest city for the appealing price of £97.97. That includes flights from the UK and a room in the agreeable Quentin England Hotel – an elegant 18th-century property which, in the 21st century, offers free Wi-Fi.

Terms and conditions, as the travel industry is all too prone to say, apply to this deal, which I tracked down at Expedia.co.uk. The first hurdle is that the price applies only when two people go Dutch together. Next, you can fly on any day you like, from any airport you like, so long as it is Christmas Eve morning from Southend. Other airports are available, though more expensive. Yet the timing, I promise, is excellent, for a new encounter with some Old Masters. As you know, the Rijksmuseum is fresh from the second-longest makeover in museum history (the longest being the RAF-assisted 68-year hiatus at the Neues Museum in Berlin). To compensate for the decade-long shut-down the Dutch national museum is to open 365 days a year.

On Christmas morning you can get from your hotel room to the front door in five minutes flat, and probably have the Gallery of Honour to yourself – appreciating Vermeer's dazzling Milkmaid rather than wilting mistletoe and revelling in the company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his pals in The Night Watch.

The neighbouring Van Gogh Museum has always opened on 25 December, so you can view the exhibition Van Gogh at Work while you're not. And as the Dutch public transport system recognises that people quite like to travel on Christmas Day, you can hop over to Haarlem to the Frans Hals Museum – which is opening on 25 December for the first time this year.

If it's Tuesday, it must be closing day

The British Museum and the National Gallery in London are not so festive in their outlook; these premier UK collections turn tourists away on four days a year, all in quick succession: 24, 25, 26 December and New Year's Day. They should take a lesson from Edinburgh's marvellous National Museum of Scotland, which closes only on Christmas Day. At least we're not French (well, I'm not; speak for yourself). Tourists in Paris are especially irritable on Mondays and Tuesdays. The reason: they try vainly to make sense of the bizarre opening hours – or rather, closing days – of the capital's great museums.

The Musée d'Orsay closes on Mondays, the Louvre on Tuesdays. A neat arrangement, you might imagine, to ensure that at least one world-class collection is open every day of the week. But because many visitors are on tight schedules, and may have fondly assumed that Europe's cultural treasures are surely on display every day at least in summer, the "if it's Tuesday it must be Paris" brigade will miss out on the Louvre. And the Musée d'Orsay warns that the queues and crowds on Tuesdays are worse than any other weekday, because its rival is closed.

At least another great city is correcting its decision to close on Mondays. From 1 July, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will reverse the policy adopted in 1971 and open seven days a week. That applies to both the Met itself and The Cloisters, the astonishing collection of medieval Mediterranean architecture purloined from the Pyrenees and transplanted to the northern tip of Manhattan.

The director, Thomas Campbell, says: "Art is a seven-day-a-week passion and we want the Met to be accessible whenever visitors have the urge to experience this great museum. Last year we had record-breaking attendance of 6.28 million visitors and yet were turning away many thousands more on Mondays." The move could see this year's visitor figure top 7 million – approaching the population of New York City.

No sign of the Guggenheim relenting from its insistence on closing each Thursday. The sister museum in Bilbao doesn't like Mondays, while the Venetian branch shuts on Tuesdays. As the franchise expands (Abu Dhabi is next for a Guggenheim), we could soon be at the stage where a globetrotting tourist could inadvertently be turned away from a different Guggenheim every day for a week.

Capital letters

Back in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam ... I am sure I can hear some whispering along the lines of "But isn't The Hague the capital of Holland," in the same way that Australia, Brazil and the US have capitals well apart from their largest cities. True, the Hague is the seat of government and home to the Netherlands supreme court. But despite these political and judicial attributes, it isn't the capital. Don't take my word for it: I wrote to Sandra Ishmael, director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism, and she wrote back: "The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent