Friday, March 28, 2008

Netherlands - Arrival in Amsterdam

We had an easy two-hour flight from Reykjavik to Amsterdam, and took a train from the airport to Centraal Station and then a tram to the B&B. We stayed at the Suite 259 Bed and Breakfast, and wouldn't even have left our cozy room if Amsterdam hadn't been such an interesting city.

But despite the cold, rainy weather, we did head out. We started at the Van Gogh Museum in the nearby Museumplein (museum district.) It presented the works of Van Gogh in distinct periods, with wonderful explanations of his influences and surroundings. In addition to work by Van Gogh, the museum has a rich and varied collection of other 19th-century art. The artists represented include Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and others: Van Gogh’s friends and contemporaries, those who inspired him, and those who drew inspiration from him. Some highlights for me were

Almond Blossom (1890) and Sunflowers (1889). Be sure to click on "show enlargement" for these paintings. If we've piqued your interest, follow the link to the museum website. It's amazingly well curated, too.

The museum also had a visiting exhibition of the works of John Everett Millais (1829-1896,) the foremost painter of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Britain’s most successful artist of the latter half of the 19th century. The detail, color, and emotion of these paintings was astounding. One of the best known is Ophelia (1851-52)

and I really loved The Order of Release, 1746 (1852-53)

Around Amsterdam-Flower Market

First on the agenda for our first full day in Amsterdam was the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market.) The market floats on a row of premanently moored barges in the canal, and bursts with color and hundreds of flowers and bulbs.

Don't these look like aliens in overcoats watching sports from the bleachers?

Netherlands-Walking Tour of Amsterdam, cont'd

Right near our B&B on Overtoom was the Hollandsche Manege (Dutch Riding School) built in 1882. Patterned after the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, it still operates as a stable and arena. Every morning we'd poke our heads in the stable and enjoy the warm huff of the horses munching away.

Although the tram system (like a subway but above-ground since Amsterdam lies below sea level) was great, we often walked because it was faster than figuring out the tram routes, and it allowed us to see (and photograph) more. From the Flower Market, we walked into the Centrum along the Amstel River, past the Historical Museum and Madame Tussaud's.

We next checked out Dam Square, the epicenter of Amsterdam. This is the site of the original dam built across the Amstel river in the 13th century.

The Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) is here. Built in 1648-55, this was originally a town hall, but became a palace in 1808. This is still the official home of the reigning monarch, although Queen Beatrix prefers to live in The Hague.

The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) was originally built in the 14th century as the city's second Catholic church. All the Dutch monarchs are inaugurated here.

Dam Square is filled with people, street vendors, and performers. That helps to explain the following photo:

From there we continued on (past this gorgeous clock)

to the Oude Kerk (Old Church) begun in 1250. This sits smack in the middle of the Red Light District, leading to juxtapositions like this:

We braved the seediness of the Red Light District, in order to get a picture of this:

Our friend Ben is a coffee fiend. Sadly, he'd be out of luck here, because while other shops sell coffee, "Coffee Shops" in Amsterdam are mostly known for cannabis.

One tower at Centraal Station showed wind direction. As there were gusts on this day, it would swing back and forth. Especially with different letters representing the Dutch compass points (Southeast being "OZ") it struck me as fanciful.

Closer to home base was an upscale market. As we walked by, I asked Mark to get a shot of the veggies out front. I like how he also captured the reflection of the buildings across the street.

We couldn't get over the tiny vehicles. This car was even smaller than a SmartCar.

And these trucks were common.

Some things just explain themselves.

There are many architectural styles in Amsterdam. One common feature is the hijsbalk, the hook protruding from the gables. It is used with a rope and pulley for hauling large, heavy items into and out of homes with steep, narrow staircases.

A typical canal view:

Along one beautiful canal was the Anne Frankhuis (Anne Frank House.) In this house, Anne Frank and her family and some family friends hid from the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam for nearly two years. It was very moving, as expected, but also very interesting to see how the parts of the house connected, to allow the family to hide although some workers in the business below didn't know they were there.

Near the Anne Frank House was Westerkerk. We didn't learn much abut the history or architecture of this church, but did think it amazing that we got pictures of the tower in snow, rain, and sun, all in the space of about an hour. The weather was that variable all day.

In the nearby Jordaan, we slowed our pace a little to stroll the quiet streets. (Mark might argue this point, since I'm always plowing impatiently ahead while he snaps pictures. ) Some pretty canal boats:

and a not-so-pretty one:

Everyone tells you when you're going to Holland that you won't believe the bicycles. I figured, how many can there really be? Now I know. They have their own lanes on the streets, and are usually moving at lightning speed. These lanes have their own traffic lights. Many bikes are brightly painted or adorned with silk flowers to make them easy to find on the racks brimming with bikes in every corner of the city. Many are adapted for carting groceries or have child seats, but nobody thinks twice about hauling home big, bulky objects even without a cargo area.

All of the following pictures were taken at the train station in Delft. Delft has a population of 95,000 people. And at least that many bikes.

After wearing ourselves out on Friday, we took the train on Saturday to Delft. The train trip itself was fun, as we got to see daffodil fields (in bloom, ) tulip fields (not yet in bloom,) and windmills.

The famous Delft blue porcelain is made here. It is a small, charming city.

Like in Amsterdam, it has an old and new church, with the New Church dating from the 1300s.