Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Amsterdam, NL

Amsterdam, NL

OK, when you say Amsterdam to me the following things pop into my head: Red Light District, Anne Frank House, Rijks Museum, Grachten (Canals), Marijuana, very open minded society, Old Dutch Masters (artists), bicycles, no parking and house boats.

The Rijks Museum In The Back Ground 
What is on your mind when you think Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is a huge city, spread out, flat, with water everywhere and near impossible to see and explore in just a few days. We gave ourselves 2 days in Amsterdam, so you can imagine we know nothing of the real Amsterdam, but that was OK, too. We just wanted a quick look, wanted to see if we wanted to come back and explore it in depth. But who am I kidding, to just visit the Rijks Museum would take ages, it is jam packed with history, jam packed with art and facts.
Typical Dutch Housing 
House Boats Blend Right In 
Some House Boats Are Very Fancy
We took the public bus from the hotel into Amsterdam’s city center and then walked or took the trolley everywhere. There is not enough parking in downtown Amsterdam and if there is, it just is not worth it to get lost in the one way roads. Take the public transport. The first thing on our agenda was to take the canal sight-seeing trip via boat. Sure, it is a tourist thing to do, but it is similar to the hop-on/ hop-off bus trips one can take in other cities, it gives you an overview, a quick assessment of what you want to see and about where it is. Since Amsterdam is full of Grachten, the artificially constructed canals, taking a boat is a logical thing to do. 

It was interesting to see the different architectural styles. The brides spanning the water are low, just high enough to let loaded barges pass. On the sides of those canals are barges or boats tied up (moored) that are used as housing. Yes, people really live in those boats. Some even had a parking spot arranged on them so the owners could park their car. Some boathouses had privacy screens, trees planted for a green effect or other quirky ways to make life comfortable for the inhabitants. It seems anything goes in Amsterdam; there is very little criticism when it comes to living your own lifestyle. Yet there are strict rules. Only so many boats are allowed throughout the city and if you like to live like a seafarer you can buy one of those boats. They are part of the local real estate market and not cheap. There is fun in Amsterdam, but living is not a free-for-all and rules do apply.

They Even Have A Museum Of Prostitution In The Red Light District

One of the rules is the regulation of the Sex Trade, very liberal, yet very strict, too. Each of the ‘workers’ undergoes a health check once a week. It is mandatory. While I saw ladies advertise themselves in a shopping window, in very revealing clothing, the actual act is performed in a private space behind closed doors. I was told there are 290 working girls in the district. 

Did Carol and I visit the red light district?  Of course we did! It is part of exploring what is offered. Did we buy anything? No! We only window shopped!

 Phobias seem to not be part of the Dutch life. Religion is up to each individual and you can have your own opinion about anything.

Carol wanted to see the Anne Frank house, I had seen it a few times but I went along and waited with Carol in line. We waited 90 minutes in line to buy an entrance ticket, standing in the rain. I did not go inside for the tour; I waited in the Cafeteria for Carol to finish her visit.  It is a depressing experience, really, and I did not want to be reminded (again) of how terrible the Jewish experiences were during Hitler’s time. Carol’s comments are:
A Very Long Line For The Anne Frank House Visit 
It was a very moving experience to walk first through the downstairs factory, then through a door hidden behind a bookcase and up a flight of narrow, steep stairs to the upstairs loft which held eight people for two years. There was only one toilet which could only be flushed at night. During the day when the factory workers were working directly beneath them, the hidden Jewish people had to be very quiet and could only speak in whispers. Food was brought to them at night by a friend who worked downstairs. 

After two years in hiding, all eight were discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Only the father survived the camp. Anne died a month before liberation after being told erroneously that her sister had died. After the war, Anne’s diary was found and made public by her father so that her story should not be lost.

Although the house was very crowded with tourists, no one spoke. We were not allowed to take pictures because that could detract from the stirring experience of imaging what it must have been like for Anne and her family. I also could not speak for some time after this visit. My life has been untouched by the horrors before, during and after WWII, but walking through this house, seeing the pictures and reading the history, reminded me again how cruel people can be towards one another. When will it end I wonder?

We mostly walked through Amsterdam. Never mind the rain, we managed OK. Daily life consumes most people and they don’t even pay attention to tourists in Amsterdam. Tourism for the Dutch is part of their daily life. Almost everybody speaks English, young and old alike. I could read and understand most of their signs but speaking Dutch takes some practice. I would need a few months to get a hang of it.
Cannabis Shop, Buy As Much As You Like. 
While walking through some streets, the sweet smell of marijuana wafted past us. Cannabis is legal in Amsterdam. The Dutch have shops throughout the city that sell different varieties of ‘weed’ and also all the paraphernalia one associates with smoking this stuff. I went into one of those stores but had no clue what was what. It seems to be for the connoisseur. I don’t fit that image.

We took the wrong bus back to our hotel on the first day and had to walk quite a bit at the end of the bus ride. That happens to the best of us. Even though I asked if this was the right bus, we were on the wrong bus. Luckily we were close enough to be able to walk back to our hotel.
View Along a Grachten 
On the 2nd day visiting the city, we concentrated mostly on the Rijks Museum. As mentioned, it is a huge place. It houses most of the paintings by the Old Dutch Masters. Any art lover can name quite a few of the pictures by just looking at them. There are some ‘modern’ painters, too, but mostly I found the Old Masters to be my focus. Van Gogh also has his own museum but we could not see everything there is to see in Amsterdam. The Rijks Museum is just too large for a quick visit. The themes for each room or section covered the Netherlands overseas, the Amsterdam period, the Haarlem Period, the Enlightenment, various Dutch Kings and other sections such as Goya, History, Prints, Japanese Officials, Meissen, Flemish Painters, etc. etc. All of it was a bit overwhelming and there were lots of people visiting the Museum. Our feet were sore that day and our minds filled to the brim. We took in so much that I can only mention a few paintings here: The famous Night Watch painting by Rembrandt, the Jewish Bride also be Rembrandt, Vermeer’s Milkmaid and The Little Street; the Museum is loaded with famous art pieces. Amazingly, we were allowed to take pictures in the Museum. Here are a few of them.
Entrance to the Rijks Museum 

Rembrandt Self Portrait 

The Jewish Bride (Rembrandt)

Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers (Rembrandt)

Night Watch (Rembrandt)

Dutch Merchant Ship Model 

Battle of Waterloo (Jan Willem Pieneman)

Still Life (van Gogh)

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait 

We had an overview, now Carol can for sure, say she has been to Holland, she has seen a lot. Yet I thought of showing her one more thing but for that we had to drive even further north. Read the next post.

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