04 April 2012

Buying (or not) in Brussels and Amsterdam

Brussels is certainly full of Grand buildings.  The Grand Square is indeed Very Grand, and throughout the city there is no shortage of other Grand buildings - there was clearly a large amount of major construction work going on in this city in the 1690s.  That’s about it for Brussels.  Except, my goodness there is an awful lot of dog poo on the pavements – the worst we’ve ever seen in any city we’ve visited - and you’ve really got to watch where you walk. 

We visited the Vossenplein flea market early in the morning, though it was really more like a trash and treasure than what we’ve come to expect from (French) flea markets.  We did buy two pieces of seriously good, high quality French 1960s glass, and a few pieces of Art Deco glass, but for the most part it was a very down-market flea market.  Not to mention that when you asked how much something was it was always an outrageously high price until you said no thanks and walked away, and then the prices came down to about a sixth of the original asking price.  I hate being sized up to see how much someone thinks they can rip me off for, and I tend to get pretty grumpy, pretty quickly. 

Then we went for a walk along the road that is described as having “warehouses full of bric-a-brac”.   Hmm, must have been a translation breakdown there – since when have ancient Egyptian statuary (genuine!) and ancient Greek urns (genuine!) been considered “bric-a-brac”?  Yessiree, there were some really great things in the “bric-a-brac” warehouses, but this strip of antiques shops was even more expensive than the high end shops in Paris.  I’m afraid my idea of bric-a-brac doesn’t extend to hugely expensive, hugely old antiquities.  Maybe I should rethink that position, but not until I win Lotto.

So anyway, even though we ended up getting some very good glass (and seriously good Belgian chocolate, of course), Brussels isn’t somewhere worth visiting on a buying trip.  Not to mention, we reckon we’ve seen pretty well everything we might want to see there, so in all probability we won’t be back.  We like Brugges a lot more.

Then it was on to Amsterdam.  What a lovely city.  There are a basquillion bicycles here – I’ve never seen so many bicycles in one place, but it’s got to be better than that many cars.  Lots of the roads in the older part of town are closed to traffic in any case, so it’s by foot or bike for everyone.  

Parking could have been a major issue, especially in a van, but right next door to our hotel was secure parking and we even got a good discount for being hotel clients.  So with parking sorted, we headed out immediately to see the Waterlooplein flea market.  Not as crappy as the Vossenplein flea market, and in fact we ended up with some lovely French enamelware and a good little Dutch bucket.  I also bought a selection of very cool t-shirts which featured appliqued robots and gangsta mickey mouse and cranky koala, etc, and I’ve never seen anything like them so they will be a nice souvenir of Amsterdam. 

Other than that, the buying has been pretty slim pickings.  I did get very excited upon finding a heap of excellent French 1920s/30s magazine covers and images, but then I became suspicious because they were individually wrapped in cardboard and plastic and you couldn’t see the backs.  A genuine magazine cover or image will of course have advertisements or articles on the reverse side, and not only were these wrapped so you couldn’t see the back, it was also odd to find such a large number of really good pictures in one place.  Sure enough, with sufficient questioning it was eventually admitted that they were all copies.  It was such a pity because they were great pictures, but I will only buy genuine covers or images.

We visited the Hells Angels’ support shop (no, I don’t know what that means either) because they featured an extremely fabo poster of a nude tattooed Dutch girl in their window, to see if they sold copies of this poster, or indeed would sell that poster.  But no on both fronts.  It took ages for their shop to open, so the Hells Angels clearly have a cushy lifestyle that involves big sleep-ins.  I recall seeing a bunch of them once riding through Noosa, and we laughed at how incongruous it looked and called them Hells Lattes.  But not to their faces.

On our first day in Amsterdam we walked for bloody miles – it’s not such a small city when you walk from one side to the other, so on our second day we decided the train and trams were the way to go.  Plus we toured the canals on a boat, ate pancakes, and generally got all touristy.  We decided against a visit to the Rijksmuseum on the basis that Dutch Old Masters isn’t our favourite genre and instead visited the Amsterdam Annexe of the Hermitage Museum (the main body of which is in St Petersburg, and we figured this was easier than visiting Russia).  But guess what was on loan from St Petersburg?  Old Masters.  So there was no avoiding a bit of culture, and I must say I did particularly like a painting by Frans Snyder of a cook telling off a moggie that was trying to drag off something from the larder.  A nice painting that also had a familiar feel to it – you could almost hear the cook yelling Just what do you think you’re doing? and the cat was entirely ignoring him, of course.  Just like at home.

We also did a quick tour of the giant Flower Market, and saw that they sold Cannabis Starter Kits.  I took a photo, as evidence.  An American gel standing next to me got all excited and bought one, but I expect it will be bad news for her when she reaches American Customs upon her return home. 

I did turn on the TV here but saw no bosoms.  However, there was a quiz show in Dutch called The Pain Game that involved blokes getting their bare bums smacked with planks of wood really hard – they had quite red cheeks by the end of it – but for reasons we could not quite fathom.  It also featured sequences of balloon animals having sex, which were quite eyebrow raising in the middle of a game show, however bizarre the show, and again we could not figure out the connection between these sequences and the rest of the show.  Cultural breakdown, no doubt.  This was a prime time show, not something on late night telly, and we could just imagine the conniptions it would cause if shown in prim old Australia. 

The buying in Amsterdam hasn’t been good enough to include this city on future buying trips, which is a pity because we really like it here.  The few pieces of enamelware we bought were in unusual shapes and nice colours, but they were French.  Many Dutch and Belgian antiques are very heavy in design – pretty stodgy and old fashioned I guess I would say – and horribly expensive.  In the end, the verdict was that we didn’t like it or couldn’t afford it for almost everything we saw.  Oh well, I’m still glad we came here because we’ve had a great time.

Tomorrow back to the UK for the first of the biggest antiques Fairs in the world, and the business end of the trip.

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