Sunday, April 30, 2017

Impressions of Amsterdam

     I wrote a few impressions about Amsterdam before we left, so I will send these now.

     In addition to the cold & wind (which I was unprepared for), I had trouble dealing with the drug culture. Our hostess in Enkuizen had told us that she was a social worker and spent most of her time dealing with drug addicts – not marijuana but hard drugs. So, I really wonder what the cause and effect is. I can’t say everyone does it because there are tons of people in the street doing everyday activities, but there seem to be “coffee houses” (places to use marijuana) on every block, plus other stores selling products related to various drugs. I just do not find that very interesting or pleasant to walk past.
     However, I do love the canals.
Many of the canals have houseboats docked along both sides. People started living in them in the 60’s when housing was scarce and now they have become a fixture and quite expensive. The city provides all the utilities for them. They actually don’t look that comfortable, but I think it would be a fun place to live.

     I also love the architecture.

There are older (the east side) and newer (west side) versions of the four or five story town houses (row houses) built from when the city was in its golden period in the 1600’s, Many of them have statues or some kind of sign depicting the original owner. They are quite narrow because originally people were taxed on the width of the house. They also may have been taxed on the number of windows, so many have shutters which can be closed to hide the windows. Because the interior stairs were quite narrow and steep, almost all have some kind of pulley mechanism at the top to raise items up to the top floors. This was often because merchandise was stored in the attic if the owner was a merchant. Now it is used to get furniture up to the top floors! So, some homes were built leaning forward a little to facilitate this activity. Others may be leaning to one side. That is because all the original homes were built on wooden pilings pounded through the mud and sand to harder ground. Most of the time the pilings have stood up, but some have deteriorated. The tops of the homes are mostly false fronts of many shapes and decorations. This hides the steep roofs of the buildings.
     Historically Amsterdam has been a place of refuge for many people and accepting of all cultures and life styles. That leads to a great diversity in restaurants, shops, and the look of people walking in the streets. We noticed a lot of young men dressed in black, and a lot of tall people! I guess people watching was one of our pass times as we did have to rest a lot.
    We came home on Tuesday, April 25. Other than the airline losing our luggage, it was an uneventful trip! And it is always nice to be home after a wonderful vacation.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Touring Amsterdam

     On Thursday, April 20 we said good-bye to the River Voyager and dragged our suitcases to our new hotel, the Bank Hotel. We had a beautiful 5th floor room with a lovely view of the city roof line.
We were there until Saturday, April 22 when we again dragged our suitcases almost due east to our last hotel, the Crown Hotel which is right next to one of the smaller canals.
     So, we have spent the last three days getting to know the city and trying to take in some of the more popular sights. However, this has been somewhat difficult because the city is very crowded now with people celebrating spring and getting ready for the King’s Day celebration next Thursday. In addition we seem to be spending most of our walking time dodging bicycles! This is really a bicycle culture-there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. You not only have to watch for people riding bikes, but you need to walk around all the ones parked on the sidewalks or where ever their owners drop them. We saw a 3 story bike parking garage next to the train station which was totally filled with bikes!

The Central Station

Places we have visited while in Amsterdam:
1. We first went to the Central Railroad Station to scope out the train system. You can take the train to almost any city and it is quite easy and fast. This is a large Neo-Gothic building built by the same architect as the Rijksmuseum. It was built in the late 1800’s and has two towers, one with a clock, the other with a weather vane.

2. Then we walked along Damrac to see the canals, all of the restaurants and shops along that street, the Stock Exchange Building, and ended up at Dam Square. Here we saw the National Monument, built to honor WWII veterans, and an amusement park which obscured all the other magnificent buildings!
3. We found the Amsterdam Museum, but decided not to visit it. We did look at the interesting paintings in the gallery at the entrance and we had breakfast in the cafeteria.
4. We visited the Begijnhof. I found the Catholic Chapel very moving with all the paintings and relics of St. Ursula.
Suzanne at the Begijnhof
5. We saw the Amstelkring Museum which gave us an idea of what the inside of a town house looked like. In the attic of this building we found the “hidden church” – a beautiful Catholic church built for worship when Catholics could not openly worship in a church. What a fascinating story.
The Hidden Church
6, We toured Rembrandt’s House which is the home that he lived and worked in for almost 20 years. It is located in the Jewish Quarter of town, so we also walked around there for awhile.

7. We walked around the Red Light District – but it was too early for the prostitutes to be out, so all we saw were the red curtains that they stood behind later in the evening.

8. We managed to get a spot in the Van Gogh Museum and found it most beautiful, but very crowded.

We are leaving tomorrow, April 25, so I will have to send my last post from home. We have not had good Internet in this hotel!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amsterdam The Netherlands

     We have finally reached Amsterdam. We have six days to explore this eclectic Dutch city. Our ship docked at the port early on Wednesday, April 19. We had an early morning cruise of the canals which was really very beautiful and interesting. I was totally disoriented, but enjoyed seeing all the different buildings and learning some history of the city.
     This area has always had access to the sea and been a center for trade and commerce.  In the 1200’s there was a fishing village on the Amstel River. The fishermen built a dam on this river and that gave the name to the future city – Amstel-damme. The Amstel flows into the Ij (pronounced Eye) River (now created into the Ijsselmeer), which in turn entered the Zuiderzee, an inlet from the North Sea. So, this gave Amsterdam ready access to shipping from all over the world. Its history is fraught with many ups and downs, periods of vast wealth and stagnation. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded here and that was the golden age (1600 – 1650) when many of the beautiful gabled town houses were built along the canals. In 1795 Napoleon conquered Holland and set up his brother as ruler. The Netherlands gained their independence in 1813.
     The Dutch seem to love to create dikes and canals, and this city is a beautiful example of how that was done. They made the Amstel into a canal and the dike became Damrak, a busy wide street that goes from the Central Railroad Station (built over where the Amstel enters the Ij) to Dam Square (the site of the original dam) and further south. Concentric canals were created encircling south of the railroad station and crossing Damrak. There are 4 major ones that do this. Then there are many smaller canals going between these. It is all very confusing, but beautiful.
     After our canal cruise we were given a quick tour of the Rijksmuseum before returning to the ship for our last day on board. The people of Holland are getting ready to celebrate Kings Day next week, plus it is spring break for many students, so the city is extremely crowded. We could hardly see the paintings at the museum which was very disappointing. But we will carry on!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Enkuizen The Netherlands

     We had another long overnight sail via canal to the Ijsselmeer. This is a lake formed when a branch of the North Sea called the Zuiderzee was closed in by a dam. They did this because Amsterdam was getting flooded. When the water became stable and fresh they started making polders which made the lake smaller. Finally the people said that was enough! Now they have a smaller lake but more land to farm. The Dutch are pretty amazing!
     The town we sailed to is called Enkhuizen. Again we were not there to visit the town, but to learn more about tulip growing. In the morning we had a lecture on the history of the tulip. It first appeared in the wild in the Far East and Caucasus Mountains in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1540 the Turkish sultan developed a strong interest in the plant. It started to appear as a decoration on ceramics, embroidered on clothing, and even in the shape of the Sultan’s turban. The plant came to the attention of a Dutch horticulturist who started to study them for their medicinal value. He brought them to Holland and they were stolen and ended up being propagated in Harlem. For some reason speculation in bulbs was started and fortunes were spent on acquiring them. The bubble lasted from 1634 to 1637 before the whole thing burst and fortunes were lost.  
     However, the tulip is still big business in Holland. We visited a bulb growing farm and learned all about the propagation of the tulip. The bulbs are planted in the fall and the flowers come up in April. When they bloom they are beheaded so that all the energy will go back into the bulb. Then the bulbs are dug up and processed and sent to another grower who raises them in a green house for their flowers. So, it is basically a two year cycle. Baby bulbs from the first growth can be used to continue the cycle. Everything was mechanized, computerized, and very methodical. The main pleasure for us was to see the beauty of the fields with their colorful, straight rows of flowers.
Don and Suzanne at the bulb growing farm
     In the afternoon we visited a typical Dutch family – who it turned out was just like us and probably had spent more time traveling in the US than we have! People all over the world are the same – she was a social worker, her husband owned a roofing company, there were 2 teen age daughters, they lived in a 2 story modern duplex on one of the canals and they grew some of their own food.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Arnhem The Netherlands

     Monday, April 17, found us in Arnhem. It was a long sail from Rotterdam, east on the Rhine to a junction with the Neder Rhine and a turn back to Arnhem. We are learning a lot of WWII history on this trip. This town was the site of another famous battle, the battle for the “Bridge Too Far,” which was the bridge over the Rhine River and also a movie you could watch.
     However, we were not here to look at the town, but to visit the Kroller-Muller Museum and Sculpture Garden. It was about an hour bus ride from Arnhem and located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. The museum contains the art collection of a wealthy couple who purchased art in the early 1900’s. They collected “modern” art which includes the second largest collection of paintings and drawings by Van Gogh. Also, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondriaan, along with many others are featured.   We could have spent hours – but we only had a couple to take it all in. Even riding through the lovely Dutch countryside into the park was a delight. We saw beech and oak trees and a small herd of red deer. There are three buildings plus a huge sculpture garden in the beautiful gardens outside. Sculptures by Rodin, Moore, Lipchitz, and Oldenberg plus the art piece called Jardin d ‘Email by Dubuffett can be found here.

Don and Suzanne at the museum
 Later in the day we did have some time to explore Arnhem. It was very typical to many of the towns we have seen. The original wall was demolished in the late 1800’s, but the city still has the circular shape of so many other cities. We admired the original town gate; the church of St. Eusebius; the old Town Hall and the new City Hall built on a large modern square which has been recently refurbished; and the Weighing House with statues of Justice and Strength over the doors. We also spent some time shopping along the walk streets in the middle of the city.