Thursday, April 24, 2014

Arkansas Can Wait - Part 1: Amsterdam

"We should travel in Europe before we get too decrepit to move." says Patti the wife.  She's seen me play tennis.  Good point.

"You should go to Amsterdam", says the Anna the daughter, who's been there.  "Actually, you should go to Spain, but not without me!"  She's been there, too.

So, we decide to visit Amsterdam.  Not Arkansas.  Arkansas would make all 50 for me, but it will have to wait.


Gotta leverage that airfare, so we make it two weeks and add on Brussels and Paris.

So, here we go.  Ready for a long, winding travelogue?  Good. First stop, Amsterdam.

Land at Schiphol, get some Euros from the ATM, find the rail line to Amsterdam is out for maintenance for the weekend, schlep to a shuttle bus, to a transit line to the hotel out in the southern suburbs of Amstelveen.

It's too early to check in, so we drop the bags, grab breakfast at their breakfast buffet that was still open, get some orientation and maps from the staff and head out for the day.

(BTW - the Holiday Inn Express - Amsterdam South has the most fiendly and helpful staff of anywhere we've ever stayed.)

Getting around.

In Amsterdam, you ride trams a.k.a. streetcars or trolleys to us Americans.  They are everywhere and take you anywhere in the city you need or want to go.

On the south side of Amsterdam

The stop by our hotel - Van Boshuizenstraat.  It took me 5 days to learn how to say it.  Then we left.

We spent a lot of time catching a 1, 2 or 5 route tram.

Near Museumplein  (Museum Plaza)

Staging at Centraal Station

Serving the nightlife 

Koningsplein (Kings Plaza) at night

Or bikes.  They are also everywhere and can take you where you want to go, but they are not for the faint of heart, or tourists!
Sea of bikes at Amsterdam Centraal Station

We stuck to trams.  The real trick to navigating Amsterdam is not getting run over by a bicyclist.

What is Amsterdam known for?  No, before THAT...and THAT.  Yes, that's right, canals!  So first thing, we booked a canal tour with on a small, open boat.

The super-crowded and confusing, but pretty Visitor's Center

Originally part of a city gate/defensive position

Typical scene along the canals

The weather our first day was great!

Nice boat!

Decoration on building indicated what owner does.  Used to be common before street numbers.  Not sure what having a St. Micheal slaying a Dragon held up by an elephant really means, though....

Canal bridges stacked up

Old canal boat refitted as dwelling

The Dutch like this drawbridge design with the overhead counter weights.  You see these a lot.

Small canal.  Big church!

What is Holland known for?  Windmills, of course.  So, off to Zaanse Schans where there are a handful of reconstructed, working mills.  We grabbed a regional train out of Centraal Station in Amsterdam, missed our stop, doubled back, and walked a mile to the site.

17th or 18th Century view

This one turns at the base and is typical Dutch green color

This one is a saw mill.  Mill drive powers several devices including reciprocating saw and log skidder.

Grinding wheels for spice or grain.

Village on Zaanse Schanns site

Typical shop from windmill era

Shops.  All with typical Dutch architecture and color from the era.
Fascinating stuff, particularly how they controlled the power generated by the mill to run grinding wheels, saws, whatever.  A typical windmill might have a power output of roughly 25 HP.  Not too shabby but easy to see how steam power wiped them out in pretty short order.

Working windmills

And shoes, wooden, of course!

There was a shoe factory/shop/museum on the Zaanse Schans where they demstrated how wooden shoes are made.  Apparently, they last a long time and are comfortable if you wear a thick pair of socks.  I'll take their word for it.
Maybe a size or two smaller?

Shoes for all occasions!

Zaanse Schans is also the home to a couple large cocoa processing plants, making the town smell a bit like Hershey PA.

We had lunch in a nice place overlooking the river with a view of the windmills and then headed back to Amsterdam on the train after a quick detour to a "windmill museum" in the town.  It was okay, but nothing compares to seeing ones actually work.

Amsterdam also has museums.  Lots of them. Wikipedia lists over 75 including museums covering things like glasses, marijuana, chess, cocktails, sex, bags and purses and, of course, a wax museum.  We went to four.  Two art and two history.


Think of this as the Louvre or British Museum of the Netherlands.  It is a huge place jam-packed with art and artifacts of the Netherlands.  Way too much to take in and digest in one dose.  Here's a smattering.

Windmill painting by Gabriel

Rembrandt's "Night Watch" with explanatory information card

Rembrandt "Dutch Masters"

Vermeer "Milkmaid"

Vermeer "Merry Family" with explanation

...even the building was fascinating.

A model ship

A "Hogwarts-esque" Library

Doll houses as a hobby for the ruling class

...with miniature Delft Blue china.

Actual china.

Stained glass commemorating Holland's greats.

...and even a full size WW I plane.

The Van Gogh Museum

Much, much smaller than Rijksmuseum, but that didn't make it less interesting.  The museum covered Van Gogh's development as an artist and had everything from his equipment and materials he used to analysis of his technique and it's evolution.  Best of all, they had a lot of his work on display.  You couldn't take pictures in the gallery, but you could in the hyper-merchandising gift shop.

Van Gogh lunchbox, anyone?

Bedroom puzzle in a paint can?

Sunflowers water bottle?

The Amsterdam Museum

Amsterdam is has this famous IAMSTERDAM sign/slogan.
IAMSTERDAM in back of Rijksmuseum complete with windblown Patti
The place to find out the question to the answer "IAMSTERDAM" is in the Amsterdam Museum.  It covers the history of the city in fact as well as how that history shaped the city and it's people.

Entrance to the Amsterdam Museum - an old converted Abbey
 The city was build by controlling the Amstel River and figuring out how to build on land that is mostly mud.  The name Amsterdam is based on Amstel-dam.  The main square in town is called The Dam because that's the site of the first river dam.
Palace on the Dam.  It could use a good scrubbing, I think.
The building issue was mostly solved by driving piles into the mud.  They was even an old kids nursery rhyme/song about Amsterdam built on piles.  Provided you drove enough piles deep enough and kept them from rotting at the waterline, you could get a sizable building erected. Those turned out to be pretty big "ifs".

The Museum identifies four core values of "Amsterdam's DNA".  They are the Spirit of  Enterprise, Freedom of Thought, Civic Virtue and Creativity.  They don't claim an exclusive franchise for these, but it's the combination that has made Amsterdam and it's people what they are today.

Some of these virtues are on display at the Anne Frank house.

The story is pretty well known, but there were a few important facts I learned.  One was that the Frank family was German and they were only in Amsterdam because they were trying to escape the rapidly organizing evil of the Third Reich.  They became the owner a company that produced fruit preserves in Amsterdam. Once Holland was occupied, Otto Frank signed his company over to his Dutch business partners and they hid the family in apartments in the back of the office/factory - at huge risk for everyone.  You get to tour the actual rooms the family occupied.  The saddest sight for me was seeing a small map on the wall where Otto Frank was plotting the progress of the Allied armies in Europe from radio news reports.  Hope was on the way!  The Allies just couldn't get there quite fast enough...  Very sobering.

What ELSE is Holland known for?  Yup. Right again.  Tulips.   So, we took a day trip out to Kuekenhof.  They have a few tulips there (and other assorted bulbs...and a few orchids).  See for yourself!

Tiptoe thought the _____.

One of the things that sticks out when you're touring Amsterdam is the buildings themselves. Some literally stick out - on purpose.  They are canted toward the street so that the cargo hook on the top of the building can keep things being hoisted up away from the building.

Not how the building at right is "tilted" toward the street - on purpose!
Red shutter building has slight cant toward street.  This is in the "newer" Jordaan area - from the 17th and 18th centuries
Another is how the buildings have swayed and racked as they settled.  Amsterdam's sub-soil is mud and many of the ancient buildings settled badly despite being built on piles.  If you own one of these, you probably don't need a level or square in your tool kit.

Yet another is the over all style of the building.  Many were built during Holland's "Golden Age" which was most of the 17th century and they have a distinct style with a tiered facade.

Throw in a few of these (I hesitate to call these cars...I have seen them in the bike lanes!)

and the overall effect is rather Suessian!

Eating in Amsterdam

The world is flat.  All kinds of food can be found Amsterdam.

What'll ya have!
There is one thing you won't find just anywhere.  The stroopwaffel or "syrup waffle".  A thin waffle sliced open with some tasty syrup poured inside.  Really good!


Our last day in Amsterdam is actually in Delft.  Amsterdam is wonderful, but it's "the big city".  In order to see "old Holland" we take a day trip to Delft.  Delft was an old port city that time passed by.  Now, its mostly a suburb or The Hague and Rotterdam.  It's a quick train trip.

The Netherland has a modern fleet of bi-level intercity trains.  We boarded at Amsterdam Zuid (South) near our hotel.
Along the way, you pass by fields and fields of...


Delft was a big-time port once-upon-a-time, and the seat of the early Dutch government after they pushed away the Spanish because it had good, defensible walls.  It was nice to see another side of the Netherlands.

Vermeer painting from 1660
Photo from same spot in 2014
Now, it's known mostly for the blue porcelain that's been in production there for centuries

Some scenes from around Delft

"New Church"  William the Orange, Holland's first leader was shot in Delft and is buryied here.

Old livestock market square is now all cafes and shops

Delft has small, quiet canals.  "Old Church" tower leans left. Turrets at the top are level.

One of the original city gates still standing

Peering through the gate

Market set up in city square between New Church and City Hall

Street organ. A Carousel without the Merry-go-round.

Top of tower of Old Church

Inside Old Church

Old Church stained glass

Great Crested Grebes in the canal

Old Armory

Crest on old armory

More of old Armory

Catching a train in Delft back to The Hague where we change trains for Amsterdam.

Odds and ends...and THAT and THAT.

Floating flower market.

The edge of one canal is lined with boats that are nearly all flower shops.  Most sell bulbs galore, but some have cut flowers at really reasonable prices - 50 flowers for 10 euro! - and all sorts of souvenirs.

Church of our Lord in the Attic

Interesting.  With politics and religion so deeply entwined in the history of Europe, as ruling governments changed, it often had a large effect on the churches.  After the reformation, when the Protestants gained control of Amsterdam and converted the Catholic churches - often destroying or damaging some iconic art along the way - it left the Catholics with no place to worship.  Amsterdam had a long history of tolerance, so they let the Catholics worship in private going as far as allowing a "hidden" church to be exist in the attic of a large house.  

It functioned for a couple centuries until Catholicism was completely tolerated and a new church could be built.  The old church is now a museum.

THAT and THAT...

Yup.  Amsterdam has THAT and THAT.  There appear to be lots of Bachelor and Bachelorette parties around on weekends - probably as a result.  You can smell the ...cough, cough, coffeeshops from time to time and there are, um..."people" in the windows and shops that sell all kinds of strange things.  Amsterdam tolerates all this sort of thing.  

A street where you can get THAT and THAT. (and pizza, too)

That's it for Amsterdam.  Next stop,  Brussels, on one of these beauties.

Thalys train sitting in Amtserdam Centraal Station.

1 comment:

  1. Don - Nice write-up. I especially like that the comments are innocently descriptive, without having any edge of judgement. Not sure if that's done on purpose or not but it is refreshing.


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