Hermitage Museum, the largest satellite of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. This simple symmetrical building is located on a beautiful setting right on the Amstel River.
The museum houses two permanent exhibitions, the first of which describes Netherlands–Russia relations. There were close ties between the Dutch and Russian Royal families over the centuries. However, we can thank Catherine the Great for starting the huge Hermitage collection.
The other exhibition details the very interesting history of the building. Located in the former Amstelhof, it is a classical style building that opened in 1682 as a retirement home for elderly women. It was called the Deanery Home for Old Women. If you were aged 50 or older and had lived in Amsterdam for the previous 15 years and a member of the church for 10 years you were eligible to live here.
The ladies ate three times a day in the magnificent church hall at long tables with assigned seating. Much of the food was donated. Apparently the women ate lots of grain, vegetables and fruit, with meat only once every two weeks. It sounds like a healthy diet.
The kitchen beside the church hall soon proved too small and around 1725 a new kitchen was set up in a cellar. It was fascinating to see how meals were cooked for the hundreds of residents each day in huge brick-lined pots. The cooks had to stand on wooden steps and stir with gigantic wooden spoons.
In 1817 the facility opened to elderly men. If you were able you did some work. Central heating was installed in the 1860s. There were changes to accommodate couples and the sick and eventually the building was used as a nursing home. In fact the last inhabitants left in 2007. The building was offered to the city and in June 2009 the museum was opened by Dutch Queen Beatrix and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Every six months an exhibition comes from Russia. We were fortunate to see two art exhibits, one focusing on Gauguin and another highlighting the Russians taste for French Art.
Making the most of our museum pass we made our way in the chilly air, walking alongside canals, to the Maritime museum. The museum building dates from 1656. At the time it was an architectural wonder, built on an artificial island made by driving 1800 wooden piles deep into the muddy ground. It was here that the war ships of the Dutch Republic were equipped. During the recent renovation the building's vast inner courtyard was covered by a glass roof.
It took hours to see all the exhibits. We wandered about inside a life-sized whale, where we could feel it's heartbeat and touch it's skin. There was a huge interactive model of the port, where you could go on a virtual tour of warehouses and transportation networks. We particularly liked all the paintings of ancient sea battles, many between the Dutch and Spanish navies.
It had been another day full of museums but now we headed off to enjoy a movie, Philomena, on a big screen and in English, a treat for us. Our day ended with a late dinner of a lovely piece of cod in a light tarragon sauce and once back at the hotel, a piece of the Battenburg cake.