Amsterdam – Discovering Museumplein

By FEDERICA ROMANIELLO

“I went to Amsterdam to visit the museums”. This is probably the least frequently pronounced sentence by young people who go to Amsterdam, unless it is meant ironically.

Amsterdam is known for its canals, the controversial Red Light District, and for the numerous coffee shops where people can legally consume cannabis. Certainly. Many foreign tourists are principally fascinated by the aforementioned attractions, but should Amsterdam really be known for just that?

Turns out, that after living in the Netherlands for three years, I am still not tired of the cultural sites Amsterdam has to offer.
In the South area of the city there is the so-called Museumplein (literally: Museum Square), an area where there are three major art museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum.

The Rijksmuseum
Currently located in a building designed by Pierre Cuypers, the architect who also designed Amsterdam Central Station, the Rijksmuseum (literally: State Museum) is an art and history gallery where one can discover an immense collection of paintings, sculptures, and artefacts of various kinds.

Among the 8,000 masterpieces that are currently displayed (out of a collection of over a million) there are Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which can be enjoyed in all its majestic splendour in a room where people are allowed to sit on the carpet, Vermeer’s Milkmaid, Brueghel’s Winter Landscape with Skaters, and many other paintings mainly by Dutch or Flemish artists.

There is also an entire section dedicated to dolls’ houses, the final proof that even toys can be considered pieces of art.
Tickets cost €15.00 (£12.50/$20.20) for adults, €7.50 (£12.30/$10.10) for ING or CJP card holders, and are completely free for minors, members of international cultural associations like UNESCO, and for people with special coupons or cards. The prices may not seem to be the most convenient, but the extent of the collection, its artistic value, and the pleasantness of the exhibition are certainly worth the ticket.

The Van Gogh Museum

Located right behind the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum is the home of a consistent collection of paintings by the celebrated Dutch painter who found inspiration in his country’s tradition and in France.

The permanent collection is organised in a way that the visitor is perfectly capable of reconstructing the artist’s psychological and artistic development from the early paintings to the year of his death.

The multimedia tour (€5.00/£4.20/$6.80) is different from the typical audio-guided explanations to the works of art, but it is rather a patchwork of artistic reading, historical facts concerning the life of the artist, and a psychological interpretation of the paintings.

In addition to the works by the Dutch painter, the museum hosts also pieces by other artists of the 19th and 20th century who either inspired the artist, or drew inspiration from his works, like Gauguin, Seurat, or Kokoschka.

Tickets cost €15.00 for adults, and are free for minors, and for people with special coupons or cards.

The Stedelijk Museum

The Stedelijk Museum (literally: Municipal Museum) of Amsterdam hosts a peculiar collection of both modern and contemporary art pieces.

From Kandinsky’s cryptic paintings, Pollock’s and Fontana’s unique creations, and Warhol’s prints, to Bakker’s design kitchenware, the museum is an interesting place to experience for both art experts who will appreciate the variety of the pieces, and for the ones whose knowledge of contemporary art history is equal to zero, who will definitely find more than one chance to look at the creations with an interrogative expression and eventually burst into laughter rather quickly.

Unfortunately, the entry prices are higher than in the other two museums (tickets for adults are €20.00/£16.80/$27.00), and there are only a couple of special cases that are qualified for free admittance.

If you are interested in visiting the museums, check the following websites:
– Rijksmuseum: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
– Van Gogh Museum: http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/
– Stedelijk Museum: http://www.stedelijk.nl/en

This article was published on The Global Panorama on October 20, 2013. Please find the original version here.

Budapest – A Colourful Messy Mix

By FEDERICA ROMANIELLO

Until a few years ago, Hungary was hardly ever addressed as a touristic destination. However the entrance of the country in the European Union in 2004 and the economic crisis that is affecting both Europe and North America since the second half of this decade, seem to have increased the touristic fluxes towards the Hungarian capital city.

In comparison to most European capital cities, Budapest results to be rather inexpensive, and with the Hungarian Forint being so weak (it is generally rated €0.0034 / £0.0029), it is rapidly becoming one of the most popular destinations for families, lonely travellers and young people. Budapest is not only a convenient destination for both luxurious holidays or backpacking but also is, what I consider, one of those rare gems that delight travellers with culture, entertainment and traditions.

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The name “Budapest” originated in 1873, when the cities of Buda and Pest were united. However it is still unknown what “Buda” and “Pest” stood for. Theories assume that those were the names of respective city conquerors but there is no real proof for that. The history of Budapest dates back to the first century with the first Roman instalments but never was the history of this place boring. Funded by the Romans, inhabited by the Celts, conquered by the Ottomans, occupied by the Turks, then by the Austrian Empire, then by the Germans, the Hungarian capital seems to be the melting pot for many people, languages and religions.

In 1949, Hungary was officially declared a Communist Republic and the People’s Republic of Hungary lasted for 40 years. During these decades, the communist regime not only affect the Hungarian political and economic spheres but also had a significant impact on Budapest’s culture and architecture.

1374626_10201226705363713_89588949_nTypical central European buildings from the 18th century can be found right next to rigid constructions from the 50s and the baroque shapes of some edifices are mixed to Arabic tones. It is a pure pleasure for architecture and art lovers to simply walk from Pest to Buda, crossing the Chain Bridge. As the sunset approaches, the Danube River reflects the lights of the two parts of the city in its waters, and the shadows remark even better the shapes and depth of the tongueless lion statues that ornate the Chain Bridge. One of the three most famous bridges, the Chain Bridge connects Buda to Pest and permits a clear fusion between the lively commercial side of the city Pest to the historic and relaxing Buda.

If you are looking for souvenirs or for more consistent and classy shopping, then spend some time in Váci Utca, a pedestrian street right in the middle of Pest. There you will find typical Hungarian products, among which chilli peppers, spicy powders and expensive handmade hats with real fox fur as well as many other things that are typically Russian such as vodka bottles and matryoshka dolls. When asked whether matryoshkas and vodka are part of the Hungarian tradition, shoppers generally shake their head and reply, “No, they are Russian but we sell them too”—  as if it is completely normal.

1388746_10201226697963528_1757016517_nPest is also the place to enjoy some typical dishes such as the Goulash soup in one of the many tiny and characteristic restaurants. Not to mention the wide variety of mouth-watering street food, among which lángos, a fried flat bread topped with sour cream and cheese, and my favourite, kürtős kalács, a pastry shaped as a chimney topped with melted sugar and rolled in cinnamon spices.

If you get tired of the active life, you can always move to Buda, relax by taking a steep walk to the Szabadság Szobor, the Liberty Statute on Gellert Hill and repay the physical effort with a stunning view of the entire city. There are also some of the most renewed thermal baths, Gellert Spa and Baths, in Buda. The entrance fee varies depending whether it is a weekday or a weekend, on the age of the guest and on the preference between renting a locker or a cabin. In any case, adult tickets range from 4,900 HUF (€16.60 / £14.05) to 5,500 HUF (€18.60 / £15.75), a true bargain for how relaxed you will feel after a day spent there.

Although the travel guides recommend visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, I strongly advise you not to spend those 900 HUF and invest them in a guided tour of the Parliament or, even better, a full visit to the Sziklakórház (Hospital in the Rock), a hospital transformed into a secret nuclear bunker during the Cold War.

The biggest rip-off of all times is the entrance to the Rumbach Synagogue: the biggest in Europe and the second largest in the world. The synagogue is currently being renewed, and there is absolutely nothing to do but wonder around a mass of debris and paint buckets. Save those 500 HUF!

Maybe because of its history or because of its people, Budapest is a city that is difficult not to love. Even if the crazy bus drivers will be reluctant to drive safely and even if you will be able to breathe that post-communist atmosphere in the shops and in the museums, the Hungarian capital city will win a place in your heart as the city that fuses cultures, languages and religions in a colourful messy mixture called Budapest.

This article was published on The Global Panorama on October 20, 2013. Please find the original version here.

The Impossible (2012) – movie review

By FEDERICA ROMANIELLO

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“One family’s true story of survival”. The Impossible (2012) is the brutally realistic theatrical representation of Marìa Belòn and her family’s experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

During the tsunami Maria (Naomi Watts) and her older son Lucas (Tom Holland) are separated from her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and her two younger sons, Tomas and Simon. All of them will have to face numerous challenges to survive and find the others.

Juan Antonio Bayona’s strategic use of filters and lights demarcate a drastic rupture between the festive, carefree images of the couple of days before the event, and the post-tsunami despair.

The spectators are at the same time in the cinema and there in Khao Lak. We all suffer when Oscar-nominated Naomi Watts is hurt in the flood, or when Henry decides to leave his two children with a group of survivors to look for his wife and son.

Desolation, death, tragedy. With a budget of $ 45 million Bayona gave birth to a cruel movie able to move even the most impassible audiences.

A must-watch – if not for personal curiosity, as a moral tribute to the victims and the survivors.

Madonna in Malawi: famous “Material Girl” gives great material help

By FEDERICA ROMANIELLO

April 3, 2013

Last Tuesday Madonna (54) visited the 10 schools she helped to construct in the central Kasungu district, Malawi.

The singer arrived in the African country on Monday after flying in her private jet together with her two adopted Malawian children, David and Mercy (both 8).

Upon adopting the pair, Madonna promised the Malawian authorities to preserve David and Mercy’s connection with their native land, and to bring them back to Malawi every few years.

Being an active member of BuildOn, a non-governmental charitable organization partner of Raising Malawi, the eminent American pop-star was said to have provided funds for new schools ready to welcome more than 4,000 children.

Pictures released by AFP show the celebrity attending classes together with her two children, and being entertained with a dancing celebration organized by the students in her honor.

Thanks to her economic support and the release of the documentary I Am Because We Are (2009), Madonna was a crucial figure in integrating formal education in the country.

Madonna was defined as the “biggest global philanthropist” Malawi ever had by Trevor Neilson, president of the Global Philanthropy Group.

Understanding The “Fifty Shades” Phenomenon

Rotterdam Booksellers Share Their Opinions On The Erotic Best-seller By E. L. James

By FEDERICA ROMANIELLO

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I bet it’s probably impossible for you not to have heard of or seen laying around in any bookstore the Fifty Shades Trilogy. The three erotic books that trace the story of Anastasia Steele, a naïve college graduate, and Christian Grey, young and attractive business magnate with BDSM tendencies, were written by Erika Leonard with the pseudonym of E. L. James in 2011.

According to Publishers Weekly, as of November 2012 the trilogy had sold over 65 million copies worldwide, with book rights having been sold in 37 different countries. Not a single Harry Potter paperback book was sold as quickly as the Fifty Shades Trilogy, and certainly not a single Harry Potter paperback book received such a wide variety of opinions about the content.

Loved by some, criticized by many others, and certainly ridiculed by a consistent part of the literary audience, the series that started as a fan-fiction of Twilight had certainly the right characteristics to almost monopolize the first places of the international sales rankings, rarely being surpassed by other recent popular books such as Winter Of The World by Ken Follett. What are then the ingredients that allowed these three books of arguable literary value to become so popular also in the Netherlands?

Yasmine, young bookseller at the Bijenkorf in Rotterdam Beursplein, is currently reading the last book of the trilogy, and is proud to say that the books were “beautiful and very interesting”. Despite of the writing-style not being the most refined ever, “the story offers a lot of thrill” to the readers who may even take the books as “part of a learning experience”. Women of almost all ages are, just like Yasmine, happy to say that they buy the books for themselves. “When everyone has something, everyone wants to have the same thing too: here at Bijenkorf happens the same, and it’s been a few months women want to have the Fifty Shades Trilogy”, said Yasmine.

The importance of the word of mouth mechanism is also what Rick, charming bookseller of Selexyz Donner in Rotterdam Lijnbaan, believes to be the underlying mechanism that brought – and keeps bringing – the trilogy in the top-ten most sold books. With more than 6,500 copies sold of the Dutch version of the first chapter of the Fifty Shades Trilogy, 1,500 of which sold only during December 2012, Selexyz Donner booksellers see women in their late thirties, and up to the late fifties buy what Rick defined “trashy but new piece of literature”. Everyone in Selexyz Donner has read the book, and everyone was shocked by the poor quality of the writings, however “the readers [of the Trilogy] are usually people who never buy books, but every couple of years it happens that there is a book that is not even good but that is on the mouth of everyone. It happened with The Da Vinci Code and with Harry Potter, now is its turn!” almost shouted Rick.

John, owner of the Boekhandel v/h Van Gennep, a small bookshop in Oude Binnenweg, Rotterdam, showed me the only two copies of Fifty Shades of Grey they have in the shop. “We have a couple of copies of the first book, but we focus more on literature, and Fifty Shades of Grey is not what I call literature!” remarked John. On the contrary of what happens in big shopping malls and commercial bookshops, at the Boekhandel v/h Van Gennep they usually sell only about ten copies of the first book of the Trilogy each month. The ones who buy the book are mainly women who want it for themselves, who “don’t usually read that much, and just hear and buy”. John, passionate booklover, even read a piece of the first part of the Trilogy together with his wife and another friend, but the only thing he could focus on was the terrible writing-style. “Maybe people buy it because of the subject that it’s in the book, in the end it’s a soft-erotic book. But I’ve read a lot, and in the past years I read this kind of books many other times. The trilogy is nothing new, moreover it’s written really badly!”.

Maybe because of the target-readership, or maybe because of the soft-erotic storyline, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is still up in many international book-sales rankings. Probably, just like it happened with Stephanie Meyer’s saga and with Dan Brown’s controversial thrillers, E. L. James’ trilogy will be soon replaced by another low-quality book, but in the meanwhile the only thing left to do is give a big ‘bravo’ to the author, who bewitched millions of maybe not-so-experienced readers.

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