Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Wandering around Amsterdam

The city centre

It’s always nice to be shown around a city by a native. Irene van der Rol and I are distant cousins, having a common ancestor several generations back, but we’d met and corresponded through Facebook. The app does have its uses. I’ve re-connected with a number of people through FB – but that’s another story.

Irene lives in an apartment in South Amsterdam, a neighbourhood known as ‘de Pijp’. We walked there from the hotel, passing through a park and over a bridge. It’s a typical neighbourhood, with three-storey apartment blocks lining the roads. They still have corner shops in these parts. Irene’s local supermarket, run by people of Turkish descent, occupied one corner and a baker (I think) on the other. We had lunch with Irene, sitting out in the lovely little terrace garden she’d created behind her apartment building. We also had dinner with her in a nearby Indian restaurant, one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever had. Amsterdam is a very cosmopolitan place.

Amsterdam school art deco style sculpture

She took us to places in the city that we hadn’t seen before. One such was the Amsterdam School, its buildings constructed in a style of architecture popular in the 1920’s and 30’s. I thought it had similarities to art deco.

The oude kerk

We saw the neighbourhood around the Oude Kerk, where canals had been filled in after the war. There had also been quite a lot of rebuilding, not, apparently, up to the standard of the old city. Before the war many Jews lived in this area of Amsterdam. I mentioned in an earlier post that 5th May is Liberation day, but 4th May is Remembrance Day, when the Dutch commemorate those lost in war. Among those were the one hundred and seven thousand (approx.) Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. That’s around seventy-eight percentage of the Jewish population before the war. The Dutch commemorate that tragedy in many ways. One is the poster on this house, which reads that this was one of the houses where Jews had lived and were taken away. They were all over the city. I don’t think the Dutch will ever forget what happened to the Jews in those years.

Amsterdam has lots of museums. The Rijksmuseum was closed for renovations at the time and we’d been to the Maritime Museum, so we went to the Amsterdam Museum, a gem which shouldn’t be missed. It’s close to the main shopping district, so quite central. Its theme is (wait for it…) Amsterdam. It showcases the history of the city but it includes some wonderful ship models and art. Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the seventeenth century was based on trade, after all. It also has an impressive art gallery, including works by such luminaries as Rembrandt. What I liked about the paintings, though, was they showed the city as it was in the past before everybody had a camera in their pocket.

Rembrandt’s painting of an autopsy

Buildings under construction

A busy harbour scene

Amsterdam’s old city is relatively small. It’s wonderful to wander through the streets, having a look at whatever was around the next corner. Everywhere there are little shops with their goods displayed on the pavement, and we spent an hour or so browsing through a market where you could buy clothes, books, art, food – all sorts. Amsterdam is well known for its laid-back attitude to sex and sex work. We didn’t go to the Red Light district on this visit but you don’t have to go far to see the casual acceptance of sex as part of life. You don’t have to go far to experience the acceptance of cannabis, either. Walk past a coffee shop and you’ll smell it. But both drug sales and the sex industry are strictly controlled to prevent any influx of organised crime, and to ensure safe, healthy conditions for workers.

Narrow streets

A fish shop

Offerings at a market

fresh fruit and veg

 

High fashion

The Dutch love their flowers

We visited the famous flower markets which operate from barges moored in the Singelgracht. Here you can buy plants and bulbs from everywhere, particularly tulips. I did ask about taking bulbs back to Australia, but the shopkeeper shook his head. Not a chance. The import restrictions for Australia are so stringent it’s not even worth talking about.

A cannabis starter kit to grow your own

Bulbs, corms, seedlings

It’s also a good place to buy souvenirs such as Tee shirts, fridge magnets, heap Delft pottery, off-colour postcards. And, of course, coffee.

All sorts of souvenirs – and a casual acceptance of sex. You wouldn’t see something like this in Australia.

On our last night in Amsterdam we dined with friends from KLM at a French restaurant in the south of the city. The Dutch like to be outdoors whenever possible to the advantage of the good weather when it happens. Many restaurants offer tables outside on the pavement. It was a great meal – good food, good company.

Tomorrow we would be off to Copenhagen.

A few days in Amsterdam

We arrived at Schiphol around eleven in the morning and caught a taxi to our hotel. Banks Mansion is a boutique hotel on the edge of the Herrengracht in central Amsterdam. The usual check in time for hotels is 2pm, which is always a pain when you’ve just been en route for well over a day. The reception staff were great – friendly and welcoming. Yes, the room was ready. If we’d like to come this way?

As you might have guessed, the building used to be a bank converted into a bed and breakfast hotel. The room was comfortable, furnished in a style to suit the building, with an added en suite bathroom. And then there were the extras. There were decanters of liquor in the room and a mini-bar, all included with the tariff.

The breakfast buffet

A la carte

Breakfast was also included, of course. But what a breakfast. Each morning we went down into the cellar which was set up as a dining room. The Dutch tend to eat bread, cold meat, and cheese for breakfast, and they were there in abundance, taking me straight back to my childhood, remembering small goods I hadn’t tasted for years. Cereals, porridge, fruit toast, juices and the like were all on offer, laid out like a country kitchen. And there was also a chef, Portugese or Chilean if I remember right. He would cook bacon and eggs how you like them, and omelettes to your taste.

Every evening the hotel had a ‘happy hour’ in the lounge room opposite the reception desk. Guests could imbibe wine, beer, or spirits and nibble on a selection of finger food, all part of the deal. But guests had to venture elsewhere for lunch and dinner. Pete and I didn’t venture far on our first evening. It happened to be Liberation Day, when the Dutch commemorate the arrival of Canadian troops into Amsterdam on 5th May, 1945. It’s a festive day with celebrations throughout the city. Although we heard sounds from outside, we were too tired and jet-lagged to even go and look. We found a nearby Italian restaurant, ate early and went back to the hotel to bed.

Sculling

Amsterdam is one the world’s most picturesque cities. The water in the arch of canals provide light and reflections on even the dullest day. The seventeenth century buildings, the water, and trees create a play of light and reflections that is a photographer’s dream.

Reflections in still water

Architecture, people, bikes, bridges

The Oude Kerk tower, boats, cars, bikes

Those boats are houseboats, permenently moored

Boats and people everywhere

The Dutch love their water. You’ll see them everywhere, taking advantage of any glimpse of sun to go out boating on the canals. The rest ride their bikes, finger ready on the bell to warn off errant tourists. Bikes have right of way and you’d better not forget it.

Abandoned some time ago

Years ago, the first time Pete had been to Amsterdam, we were met at sparrowfart at the airport by a colleague from KLM. He took us for a walk around the canals. Pete gazed around, wide-eyed, as Gerton explained it was all fresh water, and the canals were ‘flushed’ every day into the Amstel River, which flows to the sea. There used to be hundreds of breweries in Amsterdam, all drawing water from the canals.

Pete asked, “How deep are the canals?”

“Three metres,” Gerton answered. “One metre of mud, one metre of bikes, and the rest water.”

Note that solid lock on the first bike

And it’s true that bikes end up in the canals. And the occasional car. And in the past, horses. In Australia, the powers-that-be would have insisted on fencing, but the best you’ll see is nudge bars to stop your car rolling into the water. As well as ending up in the canals, bikes are often abandoned, and also stolen. People grab a bike from the many bike parks, such as the one at Central Station, ride it somewhere and leave it. Nobody wears a helmet, but they do carry bike locks.

There’s nothing better than taking a tour on one of the many tourist boats that take visitors around the waterways, but we’d done that a couple of times before, so we strolled along beside the Herrengracht and had a look around. The Rembrandtsplein was not far away. It’s a garden square with a statue of Rembrandt and a group of bronze statues crafted from the figures in the famous painting, The Night Watch. We’d taken photos there before. This time, though, the rhododendrons were gone, as were the Night Watch statues. The square looked like a wasteland. So disappointing. It has been renovated since then, I’m glad to say, but back then, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

In the afternoon we met a distant relative of mine. I’ll cover that next time.

 

Around the world in a bit less than a month

Around the world in a bit less than a month

Introduction

Last week I re-created a blog post that I inadvertently deleted, one part of our 2013 Australian walkabout when we drove around the continent in about a month. That meant checking the website to see if I’d mislaid the item and one thing led to another, as these things do, and I found I’d deleted quite a lot of posts. I’ve moved my website a few times over the years, so I’ve ‘tidied up’. But really, sometimes that’s not a great idea. I’ve blogged about my travels for a long time now, going back to 2010. But since nobody had opened any of those posts for a number of years, I deleted them.

The reasoning is sound except for one rather large detail – essentially, I’d written them for us – Pete and me. They were memories of a journey for which the photos are illustrations. More than once I’ve read back through my travel posts, reliving the trips we’d done. Pete noticed the missing segment in the 2013 walkabout story because he was reading them, looking for a detail which should have been on that missing page. I’d started my ‘Travel’ page in 2013, a place where I’ve grouped posts into collections about individual trips. But anything earlier than 2013 was gone.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Now in July 2019, I’m going to re-create some of those journeys as best I can, starting with Around the World in a bit less than a month, which we did in May, 2011. We planned to fly to Amsterdam, where we would spend four nights. Then we’d fly to Copenhagen and join the Norwegian Star for a nine-day Baltic cruise, returning to Copenhagen. After two nights in Copenhagen we’d fly to New York for three nights. We’d catch a train to Washington and spend four nights there before flying across the country to San Francisco for three nights. From there, we were headed home via Los Angeles. Trains ‘n boats ‘n planes.

The journey begins

We flew Singapore Airlines to Singapore, relaxed in the lounge at Changi airport, then flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt, where we’d catch a flight to Amsterdam. Long distance travel has its ups and downs, and this one was no exception. Singapore Airlines is one of the world’s best, with great beds (we flew business class), good food, and good entertainment. Lufthansa’s business class wasn’t in the same class but it was better than being down the back.

Frankfurt airport has been upgraded since that flight and it sure needed it. The young man at immigration welcomed us to Europe and we passed through to find some coffee and kill several hours before our flight to Amsterdam. Where was the airport lounge? We eventually found somebody to ask and discovered that the lounges were in the International section, and we were now in Domestic. “But… but we’re going to Amsterdam. In the Netherlands. International.”

The woman refrained from rolling her eyes and explained, “Yes, but that’s part of the European Union, so you fly domestic.” She pointed at a closed-off area. “The cafeteria will be open soon. You can get coffee there.”

I would have thought a huge international airport like Frankfurt would have eating facilities open 24-7. But no. We kicked our heels until the place finally opened so we could grab a coffee.

From there it was off to the gates, via the security checks. The buzzer went off as I went through the scanner so I was called to once side. I know they’re just doing a job but I knew the only metal on my person were the underwires in my bra, a point I made to the security lady. At least she was pleasant. She asked me where I’d come from and when I said Australia, she sympathised. “That’s a long flight,” she said as she patted me down. Meanwhile, I noticed somebody apparently taking Pete off somewhere. I collected my carry-on bags and looked around for him. One of the security guards glared at me as if I was standing around in a suspicious way and I (probably foolishly) glared right back. No Pete. I gazed around, wondering wht to do next. I didn’t have a plan B. I was starting to get a bit panicky when he appeared from somewhere muttering about officious krauts, and we went on through to join everybody else in a crowded holding area. At Frankfurt many domestic flights use hard stands, parking bays away from the terminal where passengers access the aircraft via stairs. Buses take people to and from the plane. Eventually, a bus arrived for us and we all packed on for the short trip. Manners weren’t in the mix. Barge on, first in, best dressed. I didn’t get a seat. I was going to be really, really glad when we finally arrived in Amsterdam.

It was still only mid-morning local time when the flight took off for the short hop to Schiphol. I chucked my stuff in the overhead locker and tucked in to morning tea delivered by a pleasant middle-aged German gentleman, then stared out the window.

I wrote this back in 2010, one of the few pieces I kept, describing the flight from Frankfurt to Amsterdam.

The 737 thrusts up from the runway into an unmistakable atmospheric inversion. I look out the window onto a slightly blurred landscape, as if some entity had cast a gauzy grey veil across an alien landscape of low, green-forested hills interspersed with towns and villages, collections of little boxes set amongst the flowing lines and curves of nature. My camera is up there, in the overhead locker inside my carry-on bag. Should I take pictures? Nah. I’m tired, still grumpy about the crummy airport and facilities at Frankfurt. But I can’t stop looking. Steam rises into the turgid atmosphere, spewing from the flowerpot-shaped stacks of four, five, six… good grief, how many power stations all across this verdant land. Interspersed between them, in discreet groups on the tops of the hills, tall white wind towers stand, their massive sails barely moving.

I realise we’ve crossed into Holland when my brain finally registers the countryside has changed. Down there beneath the woolly clouds the land has taken on the appearance of a patchwork quilt in brown and green and gold. So different from the channel country in the heart of Australia, where rows of petrified sand hills march across the land like so many frozen waves. Do I need the camera? … Nah.

The plane turns and begins to descend into Schiphol. The patchwork quilt of fields changes again, each piece becoming long and narrow, edged with glittering channels of water. Water, more water everywhere. Barges drift along a lazy river threading through the landscape. And what’s that? I peer down at a shifting shape leaping along below, hazy, elusive, blending with the shadows, hiding under the clouds. The plane loses height and speed. So does the shape. The haziness resolves and hardens. It is the shadow of the 737 in which I sit, thousands of metres above. I notice the pools and lakes that seem to erupt into crinkled silver paper glitter as the sunlight hits them. And still the shape paces with us, sailing over water, leaping over roads, galloping dark and gleeful over the white roofs of massed greenhouses, only to disappear briefly into the shadow of a drifting cloud.

Camera? No. It won’t last. The plane will turn and it will be all over.

Down, further down. Our shadow matches every move. Damn and blast, it’s perfect; there’s the tail, the foreshortened wings. The shadow disappears into the detail for a moment and reappears. By now the plane is dropping down to the runway. The cultivated fields are replaced by a wide expanse of grass edging the asphalt and the shadow paces with us, perfect, sharp edged and dark until it merges with our wheels

I sigh. The camera’s up there, in the overhead locker.

We’re finally in Amsterdam, city of my birth. Next time, I’ll tell you all about it.

 

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!