Wow – Amsterdam was SUCH a fantastic surprise! Prior to this weekend, I didn’t know what to think of Amsterdam. I heard about the Red Light District and the coffee shops, but not much else. Then, as we prepared for this trip, I started to hear about what a beautiful city it is, and several people listed the various sites I needed to visit. Hmmm…maybe Amsterdam wouldn’t be so bad…
Five of us were traveling together for the weekend. We piled into my clown car after work and headed for the Geneva airport. (Hooray for 9 CHF each to share the cost of parking vs. 30 CHF each for round trip train tickets!) Aside from serving our drinks in little plastic cups with windmills and wooden shoes on them, the plane ride was uneventful. We taxied to our rental apartment, and all I can say is – I’ve never seen such steep stairs! The whole way up to the third floor, I kept saying, “I don’t understand how they can move furniture in here!”
I opted to go to bed upon arrival to sleep off my crankiness after the long week, and on Saturday, I woke up feeling like a new person! Our first order of business was breakfast. We headed off to Pancakes! I went for something traditional – American Pancakes (complete with maple syrup and bacon, of course)! They were amazing! Just the kind of breakfast I’ve been missing. (When it comes to breakfast, croissants do not always cut it.)
Our next stop was the Central Train Station. The building was beautiful and much easier to navigate than Brussels.
When I was reading about Amsterdam in my New York Times “36 Hours” book prior to this trip, I couldn’t help but read the next section about Haarlem. And guess what I found out?! The house of Corrie Ten Boom is in Haarlem! Have any of you read “The Hiding Place?” If so, you know that Corrie Ten Boom is the author. She and her family created a hiding place in their home in Haarlem to protect Jewish refugees during World War II. Between 1943-1944, it’s estimated that the ten Boom family and their friends saved the lives of roughly 800 Jews. The ten Booms built a hiding place in an upstairs bedroom. There were six Jews hiding in it when the Gestapo raided the home. The ten Boom family was arrested and sent to concentration camps, but the Jews in hiding were safe. Corrie survived the concentration camps and wrote her story. It is a remarkable one – definitely worth the read.
Unfortunately, they post tour times and languages on the door each day, and we missed out on an English tour. We opted to go along with a Dutch tour any way just to see the home. I’m sad that we didn’t get the benefit of the narration, but we did get to climb into the hiding place. Obviously, the hole in the wall is new for visitors. When the hiding place was originally created, the only way to enter was on hands and knees through a sliding panel in the wall on the bottom bookshelf.
Other highlights from Haarlem include a street waffle and a windmill.
We headed back to Amsterdam and to the Van Gogh Museum. It was incredible! So many famous paintings! And I had an epiphany while we were admiring so many of his self portraits. Painters created the original “selfie.”
The most surprising fact for me in the museum? That Van Gogh only painted for 10 years!
Sadly, the famous Sunflower painting is on loan in London. And no photos in the museum meant posing by the mural on our way out.
After our art lesson, it was time to move on to the Heineken Brewery. On the way, we passed the “I amsterdam” sign. I’ve seen a lot of friends pose with this sign. in my mind, there would be no people, and the five of us would be able to spread out among the letters and take a beautiful picture. (Okay, so maybe I live in a bit of a fantasy land.) This was what we found when we arrived:
Hardly a scene that allows for an amazing picture. We spent a lot of time waiting for a picture with a favorite letter. Of course, I needed a picture with the “m.” And of course, we had to get a group photo.
After living in St. Louis for a number of years, I’ve been on the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour quite a few times. Heineken was hardly your standard brewery tour. It was exactly what the name implied – an Experience. They had the traditional barrels and horses, of course, but beyond that there were so many interactive elements. And lots of photo opportunities along the way!
They even gave us a free souvenir glass upon departure.
Dinner was at a place called Bazar, and we had yummy Middle Eastern / North African food. One of the guys went so far as to claim that it was the most flavorful meal he’s had since arriving in Europe in January!
Sunday morning meant time for packing up and taking out the trash. While we were really tempted to throw it out the window, we opted for the more civilized approach…taking it downstairs to a dumpster.
Two of us opted for the Rijks Museum for the morning. The building itself is magnificent (and serves as the back drop for the “I amsterdam” sign). Its contents proved to be pretty incredible, too.
[While not quite as bright, this library reminded me of the one the Beast gives to Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”]
[I couldn’t help but think that my little nephew would love this room full of ships – both paintings and models.]
[“Night Watch” by Rembrandt]
[Just to give perspective of how enormous this painting really is! Incredible!]
[And the award for the creepiest / weirdest thing I found in the museum goes to…a screaming baby head coming out of a plate]
[And just to ensure that I never come near a swan again – “The Threatened Swan” by Jan Asselijn]
After the museum, I roamed through adorable streets and shops for a while. The architecture, the cobblestones, the canals, the bicycles – there are so many lovely things about this city! I also walked through the Flower Market. How I wish I had a garden to plant some of the lovely flowers they were selling!
In the mid-afternoon, I made my way to the Anne Frank House. What a moving experience! I was surprised at how much of the story came back to me from way back in junior high. It also struck me during this visit how wise she was for such a young girl. They don’t allow pictures in the house, but the two families lived in hiding on the top two floors of the back annex of this building (which was also Otto Frank’s business).
The final activity of the day was a boat ride through the canals. This was not only lovely, but also a much needed break from all of the walking. I learned that the water throughout the Amsterdam Harbor and canals is fresh water, because of the locks. I also learned that they move furniture through doors / windows – not up those steep stairs! Stairwells were made narrow and steep to conserve space. There are 1,200+ bridges throughout the city. I’ll leave you with some beautiful images of the city. We had incredible weather all weekend, and I really left feeling like it’s a city I could live in. It definitely exceeded my expectations!