August 31, 2013

Amsterdam: "It's just like Berkeley in the 60's"

Another year has gone by and we're on our way to Europe again. This year we're visiting Amsterdam and Paris. We used some Alaska Air miles for our tickets and got really lucky to score business class seats on the trip over, however they only had coach seats available for the trip home. Given how delightful our nonstop flight in Delta's business elite section was on our way to Amsterdam, I'm already dreading the horrible flight home in coach that has us changing planes in Detroit, MI. Oh how I envy people who get to travel in business class all the time on these long haul flights to Europe and beyond. Where do I sign up for that same treatment?

Thanks to those awesome lie-flat seats on the flight (and the seemingly never-empty wine glass), we all managed to get some sleep on the way across the Atlantic, which helped to smooth out the rough edges of our first day in Amsterdam.

Our flight arrived at 1:00 PM and by the time we took the train from the airport to Centraal Station, checked into our hotel and took showers, it was almost 4:00 PM. We purposely didn't plan any activities for our first night since we knew we'd all be tired. So we decided the best strategy was to just wander around, have a beer and enjoy the atmosphere.

Although I certainly was aware of the "weed" culture here, I wasn't prepared for just HOW prevalent the weed smoking was. It's everywhere! All the cafes advertise "drink and smoke rooms" and every other shop on the street is selling some kind of weed-related edible, or accessory in which to smoke/roll your weed. I have personally never smoked weed and I'm wondering if just spending a couple of hours walking around central Amsterdam gives you a contact high? So although I didn't partake in the local café culture in that manner, I did enjoy a couple of nice local "Holland" beers. One of which was fruity and served over ice. Pretty darned refreshing!

The weather was lovely; about 74 degrees and sunny, so it was just nice to walk around and soak in the sights (and there was plenty to look at). We had a bit of trouble finding what looked like a decent place to have dinner. There seems to be plenty of fast food and take-away joints, or what April likes to refer to as "Shwarma on a Stick"; but it seemed like people were only drinking (and smoking weed) and NOT eating an actual "meal."

So we sat at a café and had another beer while we pondered where our dinner meal was going to come from. I'm pretty proud of myself that while sitting at said café I was able to hack myself into a nearby WiFi signal; I took a chance at the password for "Greenhouse" and typed in "greenhouse" and voila! I was connected. So now perhaps I shall add "computer hacking" to my list of skills. After some Internet research, we found a nearby restaurant and wandered over for dinner. It was just OK; nothing to rave about, although I would have to rave about the delicious hericot verts wrapped in bacon that accompanied my steak. Très délicieux!

It wasn't long after we returned to the hotel that our jet lag seemed to kick in with an earnest; April was the first one knocked out, followed by Sean. I managed to catch up on work email and get a couple of hours of work done before I too had to surrender to the sandman. April was able to sleep the entire night, whereas Sean and I both were wide awake around 3:00 - 4:30 AM, but finally fell back to sleep until 7:30, so not entirely a successful night of sleep.

After a light breakfast in the hotel, we headed over to the museum district for our 11:00 AM "highlights tour" of the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of Amsterdam. While on the city tram, we were chatting with an older couple from San Jose. I had to chuckle when discussing the "café culture" prevalent in Amsterdam his wife said "Amsterdam is just like Berkeley in the 60's!"

We managed to get to the museum with plenty of spare time for a much-needed cappuccino.

The museum was recently re-opened after a 10-year renovation that cost more than 375,000 Euros. The museum has on display more than 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt,  Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer.

This entry hall had previously been whitewashed over and painstakingly restored during the recent renovation. The murals on the walls are actually painted on canvas and had been removed before the walls were covered over with paint.

The hall is beautiful and its difficult to understand why anybody thought it would look better just painted over with white paint. Who does that? The museum, constructed in 1885 was the work of architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed more than 80 churches and it's easy to see the similarity to some churches in its gothic and renaissance elements.

In the "Gallery of Honor" are some of the Dutch masters' most famous works of art, including Rembrandt's "The Night Watch".

After a LOT of religious art seen last year in Italy, it was a bit refreshing to see art depicting the simple Dutch life as seen in these paintings.

This works, entitled "The Feast of St. Nicholas" by Jan Steen was pretty funny as it depicts the whole theory of the "naughty and nice" list at Christmastime. The girl received a basket of toys, while the little boy received only a switch!

This one was one of my favorites entitled "Drunken Couple." We decided we might want to commission a work called "Drunken Aunt" for April.

The "modern art" section featured this biplane designed by Dutch aeronautical engineer Frits Koolhoven in 1917. An FK 23 Bantam, the biplane is the oldest airplane in the Netherlands to have been preserved in its original state.

After thoroughly suturing ourselves with art and history, it was time for a cold beverage and some lunch. We wandered around near the museum district and settled at a nice Irish pub for some grub (and beer).

Later that afternoon, we had tickets to tour to the Anne Frank house. It was a somber visit. Having read her diary during my young school days (perhaps Junior High?), it was a familiar story (and such a sad, sad story). In an interview her father did before he died (at age 93), he said something along the lines that as parents, we think we really "know" our children, but we're wrong. We don't really know what they're thinking and just how deeply they "feel." Reading Anne's diary was a shocking revelation for him to realize that he didn't really know his daughter as well as he thought.

Next on our agenda for the day was a lovely canal cruise, which my feet really appreciated as I think we had probably walked more than 6 or 7 miles already (over lots of uneven pavement and cobblestones). And the weather couldn't have been nicer.

And that's pretty much a wrap for our first full day in Amsterdam. You can view all of my pictures from Amsterdam Day 1 here.

No comments:

Post a Comment