"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.)
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!|
|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.|
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 "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.|
|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|
|Entrance to the Amsterdam Museum - an old converted Abbey|
|Palace on the Dam. It could use a good scrubbing, I think.|
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.
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|
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!|
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.|
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|
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|
|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.|