Thursday, July 28, 2011

Amsterdam views

We were in Amsterdam last week, enjoying a short vacation. The first time we visited the Netherlands was in April 1998 when my husband took a microscopy course at the University of Delft. We managed to spend one day in Amsterdam before traveling on to Delft, which is southwest of Amsterdam. While he attended his course, I traveled a bit around the country by train and bus, visiting Amsterdam for a day, visiting Anne Frank’s house (a moving experience but also a claustrophobic one—how she and her family managed to live in such tight quarters plagued me no end) and walking around the city and taking in the lovely views of the canals (the Dutch word for a city canal is ‘gracht’).  I also spent a day at the famous tulip park called Keukenhof in the city of Lisse, which is west of Amsterdam; the park is closed during the summer so we did not get to see it this time around. I remember it being very easy to travel around Holland—the train system is excellent and most people speak good English so it wasn’t a problem to communicate with them or to ask for help or guidance.

While we were in Amsterdam this time, we walked quite a bit around the city as we are wont to do when we are in a new city; walking is the best way to get to know a place. We visited the Rijksmuseum with many of Rembrandt’s paintings as well as several paintings by Vermeer and van Dyck, the Van Gogh museum with a wonderful and moving exhibit of the artist’s life and works, and the Stedelijk Museum with its very unusual modern art. The ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer was unfortunately not in the Rijksmuseum; it is located in the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague. We visited the Madame Tussaud wax museum with its interesting presentation of Dutch history as well as of Hollywood actors and actresses like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe and American singers like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Who doesn’t want their picture taken with one of these people? It’s just a lot of fun, and where would the world be without American celebrities? We also walked around the Red Light District that is famous for its sex shops, museums and window prostitutes, and which is frequented by tourists from all over the world who walk through the district ogling the shops and the young women in the windows. This district dates back to the fourteenth century when sailors from all over the world arrived in the city of Amsterdam and went looking for female companionship. We also took the requisite canal boat tour that is always a lot of fun. We are boat people; no matter where we go, if it is possible to take a boat trip of one kind or another, we always do, since it is a relaxing way to see a city and to take some interesting photos. We ate lunch one day at the Café Americain which is located inside the famous Amsterdam American Hotel; this is a beautiful café with a splendid interior that just has to be seen. On the last day we were there, we visited the Botanical Garden (Hortus Botanicus) on the east side (the quieter side) of the city, with its incredible Butterfly House. When you walk inside the house, there are hundreds of butterflies of all kinds flying about, landing on the orange slices and sugar water that have been set out for them. The house contains many different kinds of plants, from coffee plants to sugar cane, and the butterflies alight on them and then move on, flitting from plant to plant. We rounded out a very enjoyable stay at a Dutch restaurant where we enjoyed typical Dutch-style food: pea soup (called ‘snert’) with smoked sausages and bacon for me and mussels for my husband; Holland is apparently world-renowned for its mussels. But I have fallen in love with ‘stroopwafler’, also called syrup waffles in English; these are to die for—a waffle sandwich made from two thin layers of baked batter with caramel-like syrup as the filling. Impossible to eat just one!

Amsterdam is rich in history, architecture, beauty, culture and tolerance. It is a city that has a modern feel to it without having sacrificed its ancient architecture and beauty. The canals are an amazing feat of engineering and were constructed in the seventeenth century; it is no wonder that the city is often called the ‘Venice of the North’. People live in the many houseboats that line the canals; they are considered legal residences since housing in Amsterdam is tight. The houseboat inhabitants seem to take tourists in stride; they are nonchalant about being stared at and don't seem to mind the tourist canal boats. We will return to the city at some future time, probably during the springtime in order to be able to visit Keukenhof park, and look forward to doing so.

The Queen of Holland in the Wax Museum

The singer Prince in the Wax Museum

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