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Irene's Adventures

Amsterdam

NETHERLANDS | Monday, 26 January 2015 | Views [240]

We arrived in Amsterdam late in the afternoon. By the time we caught the train to Centraal Station, it was dark.

Our very first impression of Amsterdam was the number of bicycles. We had to walk past the bide parkade, that held 2500 bicycles and it is not enough. The city is planning on expanding it. There were bicycles parked and chained to seemingly every lamp post or railing. One third of all commuters ride bicycles. Even the mayor rides a bicycle. 

bicycles, bicycles, bicycles   bicycles, bicycles, bicycles

There are even special street lights for bicycles.

bicycles street lights

Owning a car is more of a status thing. It takes 2 years to get a permit to buy a car. Parking is difficult to find and very expensive; 6 Euro per hour! We saw some  cars that were smaller than Smart Cars.

small car  limited parking

The second impression was the canals. There are 165 canals covering 100 kilometers within the city. We had to cross a small bridge from the train station and we could see many other small bridges in either direction. There are 1281 bridges throughout Amsterdam.

canal by night  bridges

The third impression was the tram, electric trains that are a very efficient way to navigate the city. All day tickets are 7.50 Euro.

Tram

The fourth impression was what most people think of when they hear Amsterdam. Where the “coffee” shops have very unique names that clearly let you know the serve more than coffee. Many had cannabis and mushroom pictures in the window, in case the name escaped you.

Magic Mushroom shop  Happy Mushroom

We knew it was not a long walk to the Die Port van Cleve Hotel, a lovely old (1870) hotel situated across from the Royal Palace. We checked in, then did a little wander down the street to a small restaurant for a bit of dinner.

Die Port van Cleve Hotel  Die Port van Cleve Hotel

The next morning we headed for the Anne Frank House and museum. We got there early, so it wasn't too crowded. Anne Frank was the young Jewish girl who's diary has captured the world's heart about her 2 years of hiding in an attic with her family and some other people. We got to go behind the famous bookshelf that covered the stairs that led into the attic where they hid, with black out curtains so no one would know they were there. The rooms were very tiny and dark. Anne's room still had the magazine cutouts pasted to the walls. She was a normal girl, admiring movie stars, fashion and had wish lists. There were videos of interviews with some of the people who knew her. Some of them were those who helped her family by hiding them and bringing them food - no easy task considering there was food rationing. It is amazing the could find food to feed 8 extra people without being discovered. The original diary is on display as well as photos of all the people who hid. It was heart wrenching to walk through, to get a tiny tiny idea of what she lived through, only to be captured in the end.

Anne Frank House

After the Anne Frank House we wandered around the Jordaan district. Originally built to house immigrants and the labor class and was pretty much a slum district in former times. In an area that now houses 20,000 people, 100 years ago it held 4 times that. Today the area has been refurbished to maintain its original character and is occupied by students, artists and young entrepreneurs. It is a labyrinth of narrow streets and little canals, nice for strolling around and discovering the little shops and galleries.

 Tulip Museum in the Jordaan  Jordann

It was there that we saw a barge pulling bicycles out of the canal. 12,000-15,000 bikes per year get fished out! On average 500 boats, 35 cars, 100 people also fall in - some by accident, some by vandals.

dredging for bicycles

We went to the Amsterdam Museum. Constructed in1580 as an orphanage, the museum shows the history of Amsterdam from the Middles Ages to present time. There are about 70,00 items on display including and original “white car” - a 1960's version of a Car-To-Go. An odd thing for me to be impressed over, considering there were a few Rembrandt's on display.

Children's courtyard of original orphanage

That evening we went for a walk through the famous Red Light district. The main area flanks either side of a canal, which makes nice reflections of all the multi colored signs. There are countless sex shops, selling every conceivable sex toy and apparel imaginable. There are live sex shows and a sex museum. There are girls on display in their tiny glass doored cubicles. All are very scantily dressed, some sexily enticing their next client, while some are talking on their mobile phones while munching crisps, yet others sit on a chair looking very bored. No pictures were allowed of the working girls.  In one of the museums there was a taped interview with some polititians discussing the Red Light District.  Apparently there was talk of shutting it down, but the idea was not passed due to the fact that so much tourist money flows into the city through it.  Money talks....

Red Light District  Prostitute cubicles  Queen's Head pub

The next day it was very cold and raining so we jumped the tram and went to Rijks Museum. This is the Netherlands's National Museum and boasts Rembrandt's famous “Night Watch”.  There are life size statues forming the Night Watch, with a statue of Rembrandt overlooking them, in a park.

Night Watch  Night Watch Statues

Interestingly, I was allowed to take pictures of the pictures, as long as I didn't use the flash. Some of the bigger, more popular pieces had laminated sheets, highlighting specific parts of the paintings to emphasize details that might normally be missed and therefore unappreciated.

detail of a painting

The Asian section had 2 large warrior statues. In their hands they held, not swords, but what looked like a baton, which was the most powerful weapon known ---Wisdom. Cool!

 Temple Guardian holding baton of wisdom

We had lunch in the museum restaurant amid statues of Mercury and Dionysus. The lunch was delicious, the ambiance was exceptional.

Mercury statue in restaurant

Most people simply walked past the best display of the museum.  It was a clock situated in a corridor connecting two galleries and near the access to the toilets.  It looks like a Grandfather Clock but is very plain, and almost ugly.  What made it so interesting is that there is a man inside who wipes away the old time and draws in the new time every minute.  I watched him for several minutes.  I think it is an allegory of how we hurry through life.  It reminded me of an ad I once saw for further education.  In the ad there is a person inside the coffee dispencing machine filling cups of coffee.

man clock

There were school groups at the museum.  It occured to me that this was part of their curriculum.  How fortunate they are to have easy access to such an amazing historical and artisic facility.  There are displays of paintings, carvings, glassware with delicate etchings cut into them, wooden furniture intricatly carved and many with mother of pearl inlay, tapestries.  There are excellent explanations of every piece.  History is explained in minute detail.  Most of the items on display are older than my home country of Canada.

15th century

The van Gogh museum was a short walk away, so we headed there next. Alas, no photos were permitted, except in one spot – to get a selfie. Van Gogh's story of his life is told throughout the galleries through his art, letters and drawings. The museum has works by other artists, who inspired van Gogh, such as Maurice de Vlaminck and Dees van Dongen. There are also works by his friends, Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. The audio guide was excellent in explaining how the various artists inspired different aspects of van Gogh's art, even as he deviated from the norm, as depicted in “The Potato Eaters”. The simple but elegant “Almond Blossoms” was painted for his nephew and namesake's birth. It was the young Vincent who first loaned his uncle's paintings to the Dutch government to display. Eventually The Vincent van Gogh Foundation was formed and built the existing museum. Overall, a greater appreciation is felt for van Gogh and his art.

Irene at Van Gogh Museum

Ed went back to the hotel but I carried on to look at a windmill. I caught a bus, not knowing where to get off exactly. It was not hard to figure out once I spotted the massive structure. I did not see any signs saying “Entrance” so I asked at a restaurant nearby. The waiter told me the windmill was a private residence. Amazing! What a unique home.

Windmill house

Speaking of unique homes, there are about 2500 house boats all through Amsterdam's canal. At one time you could just sail up, put down your anchor and there you were. No any more. The government has put a freeze on house boats. The only way you can live on one now is if you buy one from somebody who has a permit. And they are NOT cheap. They run from 20,000 – 250,000 Euro. Some look real shabby, too.

House Boat

That evening we went on a canal cruise. It was lovely to see the old bridges lit up and the reflections on the water from street lights and neon signs. We got a brief history of the canals and had many relevant buildings pointed out, either for their architecture or history. It was pretty, but we really could not see much because it was dark and raining. So we took another cruise the next day in the light.

bridges by night

NOTE: the cheaper cruise line went up the same canals and the driver was a better guide.

Many canal houses date back to the 1600's. As the name implies, they oversee a canal. They are slim, high and deep. Due to flooding, the entrance is usually up 7-9 steps from the street. Interestingly, they also have a basement which, if I remember correctly, was for the servants. Nice. Most houses have 2 windows facing the street. Wealthier homes had 3. The very rich had 5 (more on that later). Many homes doubled as warehouses, back when the canals truly were the transportation system for trading goods. These houses have shutters on the windows to protect the wares inside. Because the houses are so narrow and high, a special hoist beam with a pulley protruding from the apex are still in most attics, in olden days to hoist up wares and today to hoist furniture to the top floor.

hoist beam

The top floor actually leans forward from the rest of the building to help hoist things up.

house leaning forward

Although the interiors have been modernized, the gables has remained intact, many decorated with scrolls, crests or coats of arms.

crest on house  lions on gable

The age of the different gables can be distinguished by the style of the day.

different gables

Because the soil is so swampy all building had to be built on piles, some as much as 12-20 meters deep, to keep the building from sinking into the murk. One area has houses that began to wobble and sink, so they are now off kilter. They are called the Dancing Houses. It is an area popular with Gay people who jokingly comment that not even the houses are straight.

Dancing Houses

One wealthy woman wanted her opulent canal house to become a museum when she died. Today one can use an audio guide to wander through the Willet-Holthuyen Museum. This was the home of a very wealthy couple. They had 5 windows face the canal. They also had the lot in back of them for their horses and carriage. Today, the carriage house is gone and a beautiful garden replaces it.

garden

It is indeed beautiful and well worth the visit. Although the large museums were interesting, this preserved residence made history come alive better than any classical museum ever could.

conservatory  the Collection Room

Because the canals are in a semi circular fashion, some of the buildings that border the canals do not have right angle walls. Some are very pointed, triangular corners. I have no idea how it looks on the inside or how that would be utilized in a home or office.

odd shaped buildings

There are many old churches in Amsterdam. Each of them have a unique bell tower and a unique sound. Each plays a different tune on the hour.

Westerkerk (church)  church

The Royal Palace is not really a “Royal” Palace. Originally built in the 17th century as a city hall, it has been bounced back and forth from City Hall to Royal Palace, depending on the rulers of the era. It's current use is City Hall and an entertaining venue for royalty and diplomats.

Royal Palace

 

I got up early one morning and headed to the Flower Market.  OMG I have never seen so many different kinds of flowers in one place in my life.  I wanted to buy every bulb and starter root I could.  I settled for pictures.

flowers  flowers  tulips roots & tubers

The weather had been cold and rainy the entire time we were in Amsterdam. It hindered us from venturing through the parks and strolling along the canals as much as we wanted. Thankfully, it is a short flight from London, so I am sure we will return.

1st night dinner: Cafe Diep

Breakfasts: Cafe de Barones

2nd night dinner: Die Port van Cleve

3rd night: Ponte Vecchio

 

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