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Amsterdam, The Netherlands, November 2019

Back before COVID19 locked us all in our home countries we went to Amsterdam for a holiday. We also took a two day side trip to Billund, Denmark just to visit the Lego House [wikipedia.org], but more on that in another post. Amsterdam was the right combination of close to Billund and decent flights. Copenhagen was another option but Amsterdam won out.

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We arrived quite early in the morning, before 6AM in Schiphol, a day after my mother and sister. After dropping our bags at the hotel room our first stop was the bakery on the corner for fresh stroopwafel [wikipedia.org]. Thus began a recurring theme for our period in Amsterdam: breakfast confections… maybe that’s not the right work but we had stroopwafel, proffertjes [wikipedia.org], icing sugar coated waffles, and even vegan pancakes at Mr. Stacks [mrstacks.nl].

But it was not all eating. We did some sight seeing. Actually we did a lot of walking to see things. Based on my iPhone we did 118km walking over the week and a half we were in Amsterdam.

Some of our sightseeing agenda was based on what I already knew about Amsterdam generally and from my time there in 2001/2002, but a lot of it was based on watching various travel videos, mostly on YouTube. We all sat around in the months leading up to our trip and watch different “best of” videos. It’s how we discovered Mr. Stacks, among other things.

One of our favorite sightseeing activities is museums and Amsterdam has some great ones. On this trip we visited:

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  • The most important museum we visited was, without a doubt, The Anne Frank House [annefrank.org]. I remember reading the book as a teenager, I truly believe the world needs to remember the atrocities of the Nazi’s and the bigotry of ordinary people which allowed the Holocaust to happen. I’m not Jewish, I’m not religious at all, but the story of Anne Frank, her family and the 17 million other Jews, Poles, Russians, Romani, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbs, Slovenians, Homosexuals, Disabled, Spanish Republicans and who knows who else [wikipedia.org], must be told, over and over again. It is more important today than at anytime since the end of World War II, as xenophobia and racism seem to be on the rise again. Bigotry seems to be the default mode for most of humanity, us and them, the in group and the out group. Without constant reminders, humanity has no humanity. It’s important to remember and to teach our children so they can be mindful and hopefully live up to “never again” as we keep failing to.
  • The Rijksmuseum [wikipedia.org], where you can see The Night Watch [wikipedia.org] by Rembrandt and many other Dutch Golden Age paintings. THe Night Watch was under renovation at the time of our visit, you could see the painting but it was inside a giant glass box and there were people working on part of it. It was kind of interesting to see it under renovation and I’m glad they didn’t take it off display fort he renovation. Though the things my kids seems to like the best was sitting in the Research Library where you have to sit quietly. Interesting…
  • The Van Gogh Museum [wikipedia.org], filled with Van Gogh paintings… duh. Lots of self-portraits and sunflowers; also people eating potatoes [wikipedia.org]. A very good museum, love the way you ascend year-by-year up the building. The audio guides were included in our ticket price and were very good. I forgot that The Starry Night [wikipedia.org] is actually at MOMA.
  • NEMO [wikipedia.org], a hands on science museum for kids. Good for a full day of play. Bubbles, Rube-Goldberg machines, earthquake simulation room (very cool), water works to play in. We could have gone two days I’m sure.
  • MOCA, a small museum located in the Museamplein, near the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Like MOMA but Contemporary. Exhibitions on Banksy, Daniel Arsham and Yayoi Kusama as well as a general collection of contemporary art pieces. I got tickets to this one without consulting anyone else as I wanted to see the Banksy.
  • Body Worlds. Not, strictly speaking a museum, but an exhibition on the human body using actual human (and animal) bodies and body parts that have undergone plastination [wikipedia.org]. The smaller Amsterdam exhibition was not as good as the one I saw two in London two decades ago. Partly it was just smaller, but also the layout in a small, multi-story building and all the rooms being painted black made it feel less open and like it was trying to creep you out. In London it was a huge open space and all white and bright. My kids thought it was too creepy.
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But it was not always stuffy museums, we got out of town to see some amazing things too. We went to Haarlem, and spent a day wondering around it’s medieval center. Quaint red-brick buildings and streets surround it’s cathedral. A nice sleepy town to spend an afternoon in, enjoy some food and walking. Unfortunately it was a wet day, light rain off and on all day, when we were there so we didn’t cover much other then the main square around the cathedral.

Out other excursion was more successful. On our first day in Holland, we took the train an hour out from Centraal station to Zaanse Schans, famous for its windmills. From the train station it’s a 15 minute walk to the riverfront where the windmills sit. And you get to walk past a chocolate factory. Smells amazing, looks like it’s straight out of Willy Wonka, of course you can’t see the Umppa Loompas, they stay inside.

We visited a couple of windmills along the Zaan river. Two of them were actually working: De Kat [wikipedia.org], a dyemill crushing chalk to make dies for paint, and De Zoeker [wikipedia.org] an oilmill, roasting and crushing linseed for oil. Their was a presentation inside De Zoeker showing how they use various mechanisms to transfer the wind power from the mill stones to hammers and other tools using various mechanical means. The oil from the linseed’s pressed at De Zoeker can, and is sometimes, used to make paint with the dye from De Kat. The inside of De Zoeker looked and smelled a lot like my grandfather’s shop/barn. The smell of oil and wood and sawdust.

There was also a few shops/exhibits in Zaanse Schans, one making Dutch cheeses, Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm, and one making and selling traditional Dutch wooden clogs: Kooijman Wooden Shoe Workshop [woodenshoes.nl]. The cheese did not interest the kids so much, but the wooden shoes were a hit, especially the giant ones you could sit in outside.

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I also managed to meet up with two friends while in Amsterdam, one planned meeting and one random chance. Both are, funny enough, ex-colleagues from working here in Singapore. The planned meeting was with a recent ex-colleague who is dutch and moved back to Amsterdam a few years ago. We met up for an afternoon drinking in a pub. We didn’t drink that much, but we managed to stretch it out for about 6 hours and he ended up missing a flight for work because we took too long. Oops.

The second meetup was completely random. I posted about it at the time [confusion.cc], but, in brief, an Irish, ex-colleague who worked with me in Singapore, before moving to Russia, happened to be in Amsterdam for a conference and we managed to meet up for a evening of good beer and great food. Absolutely random and the best, if not only, reason to still have social media.

You can see the full Amsterdam, The Netherlands, November 2019 photoset [flickr.com] on Flickr.

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