Tag Archives: Amsterdam

A lazy Amsterdam weekend

Ferries dodge around the larger traffic

The weather cleared a wee bit on Saturday, so we mooched around enjoying the city. We’d spent quite a bit of time up on the eleventh floor admiring the efficiency of Amsterdam’s transport system. From up there you can watch the trains filtering in to the central station via the dozen or so lines and the myriad of points. Trams shuttle people along the tracks beside the Ij, and ferries dart backwards and forwards across the waterway to North Amsterdam. They have to be sharp, those ferry captains. The trip takes all of five minutes, but the waterway is busy with traffic – barges, pleasure boats, work boats and the occasional small liner headed for the cruise ship berths. And the ferries are always packed, both ways.

Standing room only

So we wandered down through the central station’s central thoroughfare – filled with shops catering for working people, offering pre-packaged meals, flowers, coffee, bread and the like. Queues of people, quite a few with bikes and scooters, waited at the ferry landing. We joined them and shuffled on board with everybody else as soon as the boat cleared of the passengers coming this way. It’s standing room only, pack ‘em in but without shoving. Then you’re off for the short trip, where you shuffle off again. We never did find out where all those people were going, but we wanted a look at the artsy looking building we’d seen from the room. It was the film museum, part of the university of arts. Not our thing, so we used the loo, then went back to the central station.

Wandering around Amsterdam is always fun. The canals provide a sense of space and air and brightness you don’t often find in European cities. We went down to the Singel Gracht to the flower markets where you can get T shirts, drank some coffee, took some pictures.

That evening we found the Mexican restaurant Vicky and Bruce told us about, just across the canal from the hotel. It wasn’t the greatest Mexican I’ve ever had, but Pete enjoyed his steak – and both of us enjoyed talking to the waiter. He was a Syrian refugee, hoping to be accepted for Dutch citizenship. He has a Christian background and it was interesting listening to his take on the refugees who come to European countries expecting that the host nation will change to suit them. This sort of man – willing to work hard, learn the language and so on – would be welcome anywhere. He spoke excellent English, which he already knew before he left Syria, so I’d say he’s an educated man starting again from the ground up. Good for him. We never got round to asking him how he got out of Syria and into Amsterdam. But he did say that if you came from Syria you automatically had refugee status.

The next day we found out why we hadn’t been able to book rooms in Amsterdam for this weekend. Sunday was “Dam to Dam” day, a charity run between Amsterdam and Zaandam. We watched the riders, walkers, runners gathering down on the road along the front of the station until they were off, then we went down to transfer to the rivership.

The competitors congregate before the start

As it turned out, the Amaverde wasn’t berthed at the docks behind the hotel, she was over at the Westerdok, which meant a short taxi ride. We managed to fend off the touts trying to rob taxi drivers of their fares, handed over our luggage to the APT crew, and went off for a well-earned glass of something.

Zandvoort aan zee and an unexpected trip

The beach

Seeing as how we live near the seaside in Australia, a trip to Amsterdam’s local beach at Zandvoort seemed like a nice little expedition. I remember a little Dutch song about going to the beach in summer. Here it is. Sorry, no subtitles but I’m sure you can rock along with the melody. Maybe I even went there with the family in my very young days. Be that as it may, there’s an F1 track there (I was astonished to discover F1 fan Pete didn’t know that) and I’d seen pictures of Theo Jansen’s marvellous beach walkers, animated by the ever-present wind. That would have been a treat, but they’re not a permanent fixture.

Zandvoort aan zee

So we jumped on a train at the central station. We’d been sitting there only a few minutes when a gaggle of rowdy young men grabbed seats very close to us. We exchanged a glance and debunked to another carriage – only to find another bunch of rowdy Germans taking up position at least a reasonable distance away. What were these folks doing, going to Zandvoort on a dreary Friday lunchtime?  They weren’t regulars – they’d checked with others on the train that this one went to Zandvoort before they took seats. Judging by volume and coherence, they’d been on the singing syrup for quite some time already.

Never mind. They didn’t bother us during the short run to the coast, rolling through Harlem (where Jeronimus Cornelisz lived before heading for the Indies in 1629). When we got off the train we saw a large bus with FC Utrecht emblazoned on the side, which explained the rowdy Germans. A football match! I tried to find out, without success, who Utrecht were playing. Judging by the fans, it would have been a well-oiled audience.

I know this was well past summer’s best, but I don’t think I’ll be swapping my beach back home with Zandvoort. We admired some of the sand sculptures, and had a cup of coffee with apple tart and cream at a café in the town square, then we headed off back to town. They’ve got those rental bikes you see everywhere these days at the local station. Judging by the number of bikes and condition of the rental place, they’re doing as well here in the Netherlands as they are everywhere else (not).

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Double Tree’s executive rooms. I think we paid enough money to be provided with proper cups and saucers, not throw-away paper cups. And somebody else should have noticed the broken fittings in the bathroom. And when we’d used the two English Breakfast Tea bags, it would have been nice to have them replaced in the daily service without having to ask. However, they are issues we took up with the hotel. More minor irritations, you see.

That night we had dinner with cousin Irene at a lovely Indian restaurant in the Pijp area of South Amsterdam. Once again, we’d been there before and loved it, and although it was nice, it didn’t quite reach expectations. After a gezellig evening,  Irene gave me a little bag of goodies to take away with us, and we headed for the tram back to Amsterdam, which was standing at the stop, about to depart. The doors closed a whisker past my backside as I jumped on board. The train system requires you to swipe your card when you get on, so I had that in my right hand, and my bag of goodies tucked under my left. I was off balance and both hands were full when the tram took off as though the driver was aiming for qualifying in the next GP. For me, it was as if the tram tilted around me. One moment I was looking along the length of the carriage, and then it rotated slowly around me so I was looking at the ceiling, while the contents rose out of my bag and departed for destinations unknown. About then I landed on my elbow and hip, and jolted the back of my head. Everybody on the tram immediately jumped in to help, to the extent they were a hindrance. I managed to stand up by myself, while somebody gathered up my scattered belongings. A couple of passengers insisted we take their seats for the rest of the trip to Amsterdam Central.

Everyone’s concern was touching. I (of course) felt like a prize twit. Pete (who had lost a few more of his remaining hairs watching my performance) was angry with the driver’s lack of concern for the passengers, many of whom were standing. S/he continued to drive like a hoon. To my surprise I had no bruises (at least not for a couple of days) although I had a sore elbow and hip and a bit of a bump on my head.

I was lucky. It could have been much, much worse. Just another unfortunate event, really.

View across the Ij at dawn

Europe 2017 – a series of unfortunate events

The view from the hotel

Well… we’re back. From Europe, that is. Amsterdam, Rhine cruise and a coach tour of parts of Eastern Europe. Pretty much a month on the other side of the world. It wasn’t the most wonderful trip, on account of happenings. Oh, not horrible, major happenings. No cars jumping the kerb to run people down. No young men shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they lunged long knives at ordinary people going about their business. No bombs in airports or railway stations. And no evil white man pouring automatic gunfire down on a crowd of people at a concert. But even so, our little adventure was marred by a series of unfortunate events.

Let’s start at the beginning, a few days in Amsterdam before we embarked on our river cruise. We had some trouble finding accommodation in Amsterdam for the four nights before the cruise, even when trying to book months in advance. Our first option was out, APT’s option (the Marriot) was out, so we decided on the Double Tree by Hilton, next door to the central station. From there, we expected a short doddle down to the pier where the river boats park.

APT declined to organise a transfer for us from Schipol, so we were on our own on a dank, drizzly Amsterdam evening. Since it was after 9pm the hotel shuttles had stopped for the evening, and the queue for taxis disappeared around a corner or several. The lady at the information counter suggested we take the train – a ten-minute trip for a couple of Euros, then no more than two hundred metres to the hotel. Just go down the escalator, platform 1 or 2. There’s a train every few minutes.

It sounded like a plan. We bought tickets, hurried down to the platform and jumped on the train standing there. And away we went.

After we’d passed through a couple of stations, Pete turned to me and said, “This feels wrong. We seem to be headed out into the country. There aren’t any more big buildings.”

Damn it, he was right. Th carriage didn’t have one of those graphics showing the stations on the line we were travelling along, so we weren’t sure where we were, or where we were going. The next stop was announced in the usual echoing train voice, hard to understand even if you’re a native. But he said something about ‘Centrum” so we jumped off. A nice little lady explained that this was Almere Centrum, and that if we wanted to go to Amsterdam Central we needed to be over on that platform over there, going that way. Okay. We dragged our suitcases through the system of lifts and underpasses. The rail system in the Netherlands is efficient. We waited a few minutes on the platform for the train and then we were off back to Amsterdam. A bit more trundling of suitcases over cobbles and we were booked into the eleventh (and top) floor of the Double Tree with a view over the myriad rail lines in and out of the central station, across the busy Ij waterway to North Amsterdam. So our ten-minute train trip ended up taking around an hour. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

The Rijksmuseum

Next morning we took advantage of a drizzly, miserable day to visit the Rijks Museum (the Dutch National Museum). Re-opened a couple of years ago after several years of extensive renovation, it’s an impressive piece of Golden Age architecture in its own right. The collections include art work from what had been Dutch colonies in Asia, as well as the wonderful paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the master being Rembrandt and the iconic Night Watch. You’ll also find a fine exhibition of model sailing ships and their weapons, and if you want more of that, a visit to the Maritime Museum is a must.

The art galleries are the thing here. The paintings show life as it was back then, sometimes with stiff formal portraits of ‘important’ men, others showing life in the raw. I know which I prefer, but it’s all part of the history. Paintings were an important part of my research into life in 1629 for my historical ficition novel, To Die a Dry Death.

The great hall in the museum, with the Nightwatch exhibition at the end

Peasants enjoying life

Ship battles were a favourite subject

A model Eastindianman

Chinese horses

Buddha and a pair of temple guardians

Jousting knights

That evening we dined at a Chinese we’d thought wonderful the last time we were here. It didn’t quite measure up to expectations, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Evening over Amsterdam

 

 

On the road again – or should I say the river

TulipsWe’re back in Amsterdam recovering from jet lag before we catch a riverboat tomorrow for a cruise up the Rhine to Switzerland. It’s amazing, really. We’ve flown 16,200km to take a journey that’s less than 750km by car. But the river meanders, we take side trips and we stop a lot.

Long distance travel isn’t a picnic, ever. In this case it’s an eight hour plus flight to Singapore, a three hour wait, then twelve and a half hours from Singapore to Amsterdam. We got some sleep on the second leg, but even so, the body clock was a mess by the time we arrived. To try and get the body into some sort of sync we resisted sleeping and took a train trip to Leiden. The nearby Keukenhof gardens would have been nice, but we decided it was all going to be too much for us, so we restricted our flower viewing to the rows of tulips in the fields along the track. We did do a little canal tour of Leiden, though. That was fun. Some of the bridges there are very, very low.

Canal boat in Leiden

Canal boat in Leiden

The roof descends so the boat can fit under the lowest bridges

The roof descends so the boat can fit under the lowest bridges

Down the spiral staircase in th new leather jacket

Down the spiral staircase in th new leather jacket

Two more days in Amsterdam

IMG_2240IMG_2253After the Budapest – Amsterdam cruise finished, we stayed in Amsterdam for two more nights before the long trek back to Australia. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Those canals really raise it above more of the same, with reflections and views and history around every corner. It’s not an old city, though. Not like Budapest and Koln and Bratsilava with their links to Roman times. And its real Golden Age was the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company ruled the waves, Dutch painting was at its height and Dutch inventors like Christian Huygens had the freedom to practice science.

We stayed at a hotel near the fashionable Vondel Park, where I managed to take a few nice pictures of the grand houses. The hotel probably used to be a grand house once. As a hotel it left a lot to be desired. But that’s another story.

This visit I wanted to go back to the street I was born in, just to see if I had even a glimmer of recognition. Nope. But then, as I’ve said before, you can’t really go back.

We also visited the WWII Resistance Museum, which is just over the road from Artis, Amsterdam’s zoo. My parents lived through the war years in Amsterdam. My oldest brother was born in 1940, just a couple of months after the occupation started. He was the youngest of five children, and the only boy. The oldest was seven.

To call the place the “resistance” museum was in a way, something of a misnomer. Not everybody CAN resist. But that point is made in a short introductory film about how Holland was occupied, and the progression of Nazi occupation from a benevolent stance, where they hoped to win the Dutch to their cause, gradually becoming more and more oppressive after the strikes in the tram service, leading on to the ‘honger winter’ in 1944/5. (you can watch the film in that link to the museum) The choices for ordinary citizens in Holland were collaborate, live with it, or resist. The museum gives examples of each, illustrated in articles, photos and personal objects. Much of the exhibition is about the murder of the Jews. I don’t think the Dutch people will ever get over the massacre of the Jews. It seems to be ingrained in their consciousness. And that part of Eastern Amsterdam where my family lived was one of the Jewish ghettoes.

A great deal has been made ever since the war about the French resistance. People in other occupied countries did every bit as much as the French. It’s just not as well known. I believe I had an uncle who was in the resistance. I think he ended up in a camp in Germany and returned after the war stick-thin. And I recall stories of people jumping off trains taking them to labour camps in Germany. This museum is for Dutch people more than overseas visitors. I felt it addressed a feeling of guilt, why didn’t we do more? And the fact of life is, in many cases the choices were impossible.

My sisters were still children at the end of the war – the oldest was twelve. I was born 5 years later, and my sisters taught me all the rude songs they used to sing about the Germans. What little I know about those years I heard from my sisters. My mother and father never talked about it.

But on a more fun note – Pete and I learned how to use the tram system, moving from one line to another to get around. It was lots of fun, rather like tube hopping in London, except it’s above ground. A day pass is 7.50 Euros. The trams can take you to all of the major attractions in the city and you get to have a look at the suburbs, too. I recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam.

To round off the day we visited with a cousin in South Amsterdam and went to a marvellous Indian restaurant for dinner. And then, with news of the bombings in Paris reverberating through Europe, the next morning we went home to an Australian summer.

Day 14: The end is nigh

IMG_2231 (1)We cruised along the canal that connects the Rhine to the city of Amsterdam on the Ij. The overcast weather threatened rain and there wasn’t much to see, but it was very green and there were cows. We tied up at docks just behind Amsterdam’s central station, right in the heart of the old city. Back in the day this would have been the harbour, where the 17th century merchantmen would start and end their journeys. Four of them sank in Australian waters – but that’s another story. (Small plug – I wrote a book about the Batavia shipwreck – check it out here).

We’d been given three options for today

  • a canal tour and tour of the city
  • a visit to the outdoor museum at Zaanse Schans
  • a visit to the Van Gogh museum

Pete and I had done the canal tour several times, and the weather looked a bit bleak for Zaanse Schans so we opted for the van Gogh museum. We’ve been to Amsterdam several times before and never been to the van Gogh. I’m not a great art connoisseur. I do like the Dutch Golden Age painters – Rembrandt, Vermeer and the like – and their maritime painters were magnificent. I also like impressionists like Monet. But with a very few exceptions I’ve never been especially attracted to van Gogh’s work. Still, his work is prized by many. Maybe I was missing something.

The exhibition followed van Gogh’s journey as an artist, from the very early self portraits, paintings like the potato pickers and then on to Paris and the south of France. We each had head sets so we could listen to commentary on the various works. Sorry, but van Gogh doesn’t do it for me. It’s always a matter of choice, of course, but I think I probably should have gone to the nearby Rijksmuseum instead, and stared at Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

IMG_2249That evening a few of us popped out after dinner to take a look at the famous Red Light district. We weren’t very good at following directions, but when we reached the Royal Palace I knew we weren’t too far away. From there we just followed the groups of young men. It’s just as you expect. Near naked young women displaying their wares in windows. It’s even more fun watching the people looking at the girls. Prostitution isn’t going to go away. At least in Amsterdam it’s controlled, health checks are enforced and crooks who force girls into the trade are put in jail. In contrast cannabis is not ‘legal’, but it’s tolerated in ‘coffee houses’. You can get dizzy just walking past those places.

IMG_2248And then it was back to the boat to pack, ready for disembarkation the next day. 137 people would go their separate ways. We were spending two nights in Amsterdam. Some folk went to Paris, others for a stopover in Dubai before heading home. We’d made new friends we hope to meet again, and shared many experiences. The cruise is great, but you never stay anywhere long enough to get more than a glimpse. Highlights for me were the Wachau Vally, Durnstein, Miltenberg and the wonderful concert in Vienna.

I’m glad we went – and I want to single out APT’s Cherie Cooper, our head mistress/governess/cruise director. She did a fabulous job of making the whole thing run like clockwork. Cheers!