Above and Around Amsterdam

Amsterdam Waag
First workshop day of the Urban Sketching Symposium! We got a big bag of goodies this year, loads of paints and pens and sketchbooks. I still have goodies from the first symposium in my art cupboard. This year symposium attendees all got bright red bags to carry our gear, which also made it easy to spot the other symposium people. The first thing I drew in the morning was the castle-like building called ‘Waag’, in the Niewmaarkt. I think everyone sketched this. It sits there nice and sketchable. I drew it from the most obvious angle. Perhaps I should have sat closer and made more of an effort, but I was in a hurry, I needed to get to my first workshop: “Amsterdam Rooftops” with the very nice Hugo Costa. I met Hugo in Porto, so was eager to take one of his workshops, and he really had an advantage over the other workshops, in that we were going to be looking out over the top of the city, but also sketching in a cool air-conditioned rooftop restaurant, “Blue”. I drew him introducing the workshop below.
Amsterdam Hugo Costa Workshop Demo
For the class we had to bring large sketchpads, like A3 size, which of course is not my usual thing but I wanted to give it a go. Definitely enjoy attacking something so big and detailed on a large piece of paper. I decided against adding colour, but just added a bit of shade. I took this photo of it. I submitted this into the end-of-symposium auction, and it sold! Most of all, I enjoyed observing Amsterdam from above. There is something so peaceful about sitting above a city, counting the spires, watching it stretch to the horizon. The Netherlands is a very flat country. When I was a kid I had a map of Amsterdam on my wall, and I loved how the canal rings curved around the city centre. It’s amazing I have not spent that much time in Amsterdam in my life, but I have never really spent much time in many of the places I used to read all about when I was a kid (I had a map of Sydney too, never been to Australia, as well as those little Berlitz books about Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway and the Rhine Valley, none of which I’ve been to. YET.).
Amsterdam Rooftops
This is one of my favourite photos from the symposium, the various workshop attendees from all over the world all huddled together in an elevator going up to Blue, all ready to sketch. I made some silly joke about “watch out for pickpockets!”. This was a really nice workshop experience, we had some nice conversations.
In elevator at Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Here is Hugo taking a look at some of the sketches.
Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Amsterdam from Blue
After the workshop many of us stayed for lunch. I caught up with Daniel Green, always nice to chat with him, and sketched the view looking down what I think is Regulierbreestraat. This is a city I would love to explore so much of, maybe in a slightly less busy time of year (whenever that is!).

After lunch I headed back to the hotel and then went out to see something I just had to see – the Ajax Arena. Well it’s called the Johan Cruijff arena now after the most famous footballing son of Holland. I wanted to go there because I love Dutch football (well, I like it) and have always admired Ajax, but maybe the real reason is that my team Tottenham knocked Ajax out of the Champions League semi-final in a most dramatic last-minute way in 2019, and I wanted to wear my emerald-green Spurs top there, just for a laugh. I got a few comments in the club shop, “oh you can’t wear that here.”

Amsterdam Ajax Stadium sm
I didn’t get to go inside the stadium but that is ok, I just sketched outside. I did meet one Ajax fan though who was not a fan of Tottenham, let’s say. I was standing outside a restaurant next to the stadium which was called “Burger Bitch” (one of the burgers was called “That’s a huge bitch”) and he came dashing out to tell me, no you cannot wear that Tottenham shirt here. Not so much for us beating them, which he blamed completely on Ajax, more for how he and other Ajax fans were treated by the police when they visited our new stadium in the first leg (he never got to see the game because some English hooligans attacked them, and so the police just took them away and sent them to Leicester Square, no game for them). I felt bad for the guy, we had a good chat about footy, but yeah at first I thought he might chase me away. He told me of his other stories about traveling with the Ajax, such as when they were in Turin and the Italian ultras of Juventus would attack them with knives, and a guy he knows got one of those infamous knives in the buttock that are popular with Italian calcio hooligans. I had heard of this being a thing. He told me that was the worst thing because they cannot sit. Actually he might have said “cannot shit”, it was hard to tell the way the Dutch sometimes say their “s”, but either way not a nice injury to have. I didn’t tell him about when my brother in law fought against Ajax fans in the early 80s on a canal boat in Amsterdam and he was attacked by a guy with a samurai sword and had to jump ship. I’ve always wondered about that story. Anyway after all this fun chat I went back into central Amsterdam, and decided I might not wear my Tottenham shirt out to the pub that evening.

A couple of photos. I was particularly proud of my quip when I saw the picture of Danny Blind holding hands with a young Daley Blind, two generations of Ajax player, when I said “D. Blind leading D. Blind”. But nobody was there to hear or care. And there it is, Burger Bitch, to prove it’s a real actual place.
Amsterdam Hertha Berlin Fan smAmsterdam passenger on Metro sm

I had to wait ages for the metro. The station at the Arena was absolutely packed, largely with people traveling home from work, but the heatwave was causing more delays I think. I sketched a little. When I got back, I rested for a while at the hotel before getting back to the sketching job. I drew the Zuiderkirk from the banks of the Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal canal…
Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal sm
…before drawing the sunset at the Amstelhoeck. I then spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and hanging out with sketching buddies, another very fun evening. A very hot but very productive day. The next day was even hotter…

Amstelhoek sunset sm

looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

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We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

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After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
Liege Hydrant OutremeuseIMG_3719

Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

IMG_3770(Edited)
After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

lisbon and her histories

Lisbon Street tiles sm
I intended on waking up early, as I like to do when I travel, and wander Lisbon’s streets in the dawn light, try to find a little bakery with amazing delicious pastries. However my bed was just too comfortable, so I stayed there. It was the last full day of my three-week trip before I would be flying back to America. I’d been to London, Warwick/Stratford-upon-Avon, Madrid, Toledo, Porto, and Lisbon. I was overdue a long lie-in. But I had a Lisbon to sketch, so eventually I dragged myself out from the comfy covers and headed towards Alfama. I walked through the long grid system of Baixa, which owes its layout to the massive rebuilding of Lisbon after its devastating earthquake in 1755. That earthquake really was devastating – it is estimated to have been between 8.5 and 9 on the Richter scale, and resulted in the deaths of anywhere between 30,000 to 40,000 people in Lisbon alone, most of whom died in the resulting firestorm and tsunami caused by the quake. Lisbon was rebuilt, but the Baixa area is sometimes called Baixa Pombalina, after the Marquis of Pombal who led the reconstruction and was responsible for a more earthquake resistant architecture. Now I didn’t end up do any sketching around here, except for the man above, a workman repairing some of the mosaic pavement tiles. So I also drew some of the various mosaic pavements I came across in Lisbon. This style is ubiquitously Portuguese, black and white square tiles, often laid out in intricate patterns, a feature especially common in Lisbon but also found in far-flung former Portuguese colonies, like Brazil and Macau.
Lisbon Se Cathedral sm
I passed into the Alfama district, which I did not visit back in 2011, and headed up to the cathedral, the Sé. You’ll remember that the cathedral in Porto was also called the Sé. IT is related to the English word ‘See’, as in the ‘Holy See’. Do you see? Anyway it shares some similarities (or “Sé-milarities”, eh) with the Sé in Porto, well I think they look alike, I don’t care what you sé. Anyway I sketched outside next to a statue of a famous actor (I’ve never heard of him) and walked around inside. It turns out the proper name is Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa and it dates back to 1147, when the city was retaken from the Moors. Actually the cathedral was built on the site of the city’s largest mosque. The doors were interesting, and as you can see from the inscription on the metal part, they date I think from 1933, made by a bloke called Vicent Esteves, aka Vince Stevens, old Vinnie Steves. I am assuming the doors are from 1933, that is, for all I know the cathedral was built then and the whole of Lisbon was built then too. In the post-truth era people might believe this. There was another symbol in the masonry on the wall, a circle with a greek cross, although it might be the view you see when being thrown down a well by four radishes.
Lisbon Se Cathedral details sm
Ok enough cathedral based silliness. So I started walking around Alfama, an old windy-street hilly part of town with red rooftops and twisty alleys. Then I stopped and ate some sardines for lunch, the classic Lisbon food, I had forgotten how many bones are in those. I found this post-box, next to a similar looking blue one. I only drew the red one. Speaking of the post, can I just point out that I sent a postcard home from Spain and thus far it has not arrived, but we received the postcard I sent from Porto already so that’s 1-0 to Portugal in the postcard wars. Well, last year we sent a card from the Vatican City State which got here super fast, but thirteen months later we are still waiting for the Italian postcard from Rome.
Lisbon Postbox in Alfama sm
I liked walking around Alfama. There’s so much history around here, it’s hard to believe Lisbon was only built in 1933. Only joking. Actually much of this neighbourhood was apparently spared widespread destruction in the 1755 quake. This was the stronghold of the Moors, but they don’t live there any moor. (Travels with me is an endless series of admittedly excellent puns) Alfama the name is itself Moorish deriving from the Arabic “al-hamma”, which means thermal baths or fountains. Before them, the Visigoths. Before the Visigoths, the Suebi, the Alans (“Ah-Ha!”) and the Vandals (such as our old pal Vinnie Stevens), and before them of course were the Romans, when Lisbon was known as ‘Olisipo’. And before the Romans, it was the Celts who lived here. The area around the Castelo de São Jorge was (it is thought) home to a Celtic fortification, and archaeological excavations even suggest a Phoenician trading post here dating back to around 1200 BC. And before the Phoenicians, there were the Oestrimni, and the Beaker people, the old Bell Beaker culture. And before them, the Neanderthals, living around the Tagus estuary 30,000 years ago or so. I could go on but I’m just not sure which dinosaurs exactly had nesting sites in the Alfama area so perhaps we’ll just carry on our story from here.
Lisbon Alfama Street sm
This scene was drawn near the Castelo, in the winding maze of streets around the castle hill. As I was drawing, I (again) bumped into fellow urban sketcher Genine Carvalheira, with her girlfriend. She may have thought I was just one of many Pete clones dotted around Lisbon with sketchbooks (I wish I had access to that sort of technology, can you imagine how many sketches I would get done?). It was a hot afternoon and I stood in the shade.
Lisbon Alfama View sm

And here is the view from the shady leafy gardens of the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Those red rooftops of Alfama, that blue Tagus river, it was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous – and very historic – city.

a return to lisbon

Lisbon view from Santa Justa sm
I left Porto on a fast train bound for Lisbon. I was last in Lisbon in 2011, when I remember a city with steep hills and amazing vistas. After Porto, Lisbon’s ‘hills’ felt like gentle mild inclines. Seriously, no more huffing and puffing, the flat streets of Baixa were a joy to walk along. I checked into my hotel (which was beautiful; I stopped into the incredible bar for a mojito before heading out to sketch and could have stayed all day), before heading towards Chiado, the area upon a hill which is where much of the 2011 Symposium took place. It took barely ten minutes to get up there, skipping up the hill effortlessly. I even found a couple of shortcuts (there’s a shop with an elevator from the Baixa level that opens up again at a higher-up street in Chiado). One way I could have gone up is the Elevador Santa Justa, a tall neo-gothic tower that provides easy access up the hill. Well, you have to wait in line, so I didn’t do that (I’m so impatient). It took me no time at all to reach the top level on foot by just walking up the hill, and when I did I walked out on to the top of the structure, paid a couple of euros to climb the narrow iron spiral staircase to the viewing platform (acrophobes may not like this bit), and then sketched the view from above. I did not do this in 2011, but remembered a panorama sketching workshop (Simo Capecchi held it) that was here. I didn’t draw a two-page spread, as there was no time with the slowly burning evening light, but I did sketch as many of the rooftops and the Castelo as I could. Lisbon is so lovely.

Lisbon P Camoes sm

I wandered about Chiado, not really heading into Bairro Alto this time, but stopped to sketch as daylight turned to night-time at the Largo de Camões. I took a workshop sketching here with Nina Johansson in 2011. While sketching, I bumped into Genine Carvalheira and Andy Reddout, who had been in Porto as well and were at the late dinner with us the evening before. I stopped sketching when it got a bit dark (and I was a bit hungry, and also getting a bit cold). Yep, the breeze was coming in so I dashed back down the hill to the hotel to get my jumper, stopping in H&M on the way to buy a shirt (shops stay open very late in Lisbon on a Sunday), then grabbing a bite to eat and coming right back up here. I’d never have done that in Porto, it was too steep. Pat on back to me for choosing a good hotel location in Lisbon (I was near Rossio).

Lisbon A Brasileira sm

I came back up the hill because I really wanted to sketch the Cafe A Brasileira. My enduring memory of this place was late on the Saturday night of the Lisbon Symposium, sketching in here after dinner with Paul Wang and Liz Steel and some other sketchers, while more USk folk came in and out, having a few portrait duels, before heading back to the hostel at around 1:30am to try and sleep before an early morning bus to the airport. I did sketch the interior back then as well – see below for the 2011 version!

cafe a brasileira

While I sketched I tried a Madeira wine, which was nice, bit sweet and dessert-y, and I switched to a cold beer after that before heading back to bed. I am going to do about two or three more posts about Lisbon, then post some Davis sketches, and then go back in time to the England sketches, and then back to more Davis sketches. Oh and there will be a lot of Lisbon fire hydrants in the next post.

keeping an eye on the world outside my window

shiado hostel window view

In Lisbon I stayed at the Shiado Hostel on Rua Anchietta, a stone’s throw away from the symposium location at FBAUL. It was a nice hostel, modern and inexpensive with free wireless internet access and breakfast included. It had been years since I stayed at hostel; I stayed at mnay both good and bad all over Europe in the 90s, and this was definitely up there in the good. The staff were very friendly too. I did get woken up a few times by people coming into the room in the wee hours; on my second night it seemed I had the room all to myself, but then at 2:00 am three people checked in, moving all their rucksacks and stuff in with them. They tried to be quiet, of course, but coming in and out for the next hour wasn’t easy to sleep through. Still it makes little difference to me – I couldn’t sleep well in a room by myself last year, so it wasn’t a huge issue. One of the best things were the views from the windows. the view at the top was from the lounge area, sketched one afternoon when I just needed to go back for some quiet time. Below, views from the hostel dorm room window. The location was pretty unbeatable, and quite a few other symposium participants (such as Jason, Paul, Rolf, Oona) were staying there.

hostel window viewhostel window view