Of course the first thing I looked into when it was confirmed we’d be going to Europe was the natural history museums in the countries we were visiting. I knew Paris and London had huge, historic museums, but Amsterdam didn’t have a natural history museum. I noted the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in nearby Leiden and another museum a bit further away and moved on to booking other things. It was actually Nat who kept bringing up Naturalis and how in his searches he saw there was a new building just about to open. I don’t tend to love new natural history museums so I wasn’t as intrigued as he was, but I said sure, let’s do it. That’s where we went on our first full day in Amsterdam. Nat’s parents headed to Zaanse Schans and he and I took the train to Leiden. Walking the short distance from the station to the museum, we met the most incredible cat! It was so big and solid brown and had very dense fur and we loved it. It’s nuts but we seriously still think back on that cat meeting all the time. A special, perfect thing for New Year’s Day.

The museum building was so, so neat. And it was laid out in this very cool way. That first space, with the light green shelving, is called LiveScience. You get to be so close to specimens – no glass separating you – and the drawers beneath are filled with them. And then you go through galleries/floors – from life to the dinosaur age, to the earth, to the ice age, to early humans, to seduction, to death. (The spaces were designed so that on some floors you go up a level in the exhibit itself.) It feels like an experience that everyone goes through one after the other, like a ride, versus stations and rooms you can visit or skip. Plus the fact that there were whole floors dedicated to seduction and death! Seduction was like a carnival, and death was set up as a labyrinth. I learned so much and saw things I never would have seen in an American museum. It was just really cool! So well done. I left feeling like I really wished I was Dutch.

I also liked the gallery of life a lot. It had that atmospheric effect, with changing light and sound. I think it was in the dinosaur age that there was a big room that just housed a model of a landscape that you could walk around. Surrounding it were those big binoculars (scenic viewers?) that didn’t show you something magnified but instead played a really wonderful video of what could be going on in the scene. It was delightful.

I figured it was because this place had just gotten a huge makeover, but I noticed it was odd to see all individual taxidermy animals, close together and arranged in a minimalist way, instead of in painted dioramas. I saw the same in Paris and London, though! Never thought I’d miss a painted background so much.