The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Sunday, May 03, 2009

High Times in the Low Countries, Part 3: Amsterdam

Well it’s been two months since I got back from this trip so I think it’s about time to finish it up! Having finished with our adventures in Brussels and our homies in Bruges, we headed up to the infamous city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a city of contrasts: young and old, progress and tradition, new and ancient, holy and profane. There is certainly no city quite like it. And I never realized just how water-bound it is, with an intricate but well-ordered system of canals and countless bridges. All in all, I liked it.

There’s a strong Asian influence in Amsterdam (due to the old colonial days of the Dutch East Indies) and our first evening we went out for an Indonesian Rijsttafel (“rice table”). This is an elaborate meal of rice (obviously) and different little tiny dishes. And by many, I mean about 25! So it’s a little adventurous feast. The next day we slept in a bit at the charming Hotel Esthérea:

Of course Janét had a “Top 10 Amsterdam” book so on this beautiful, sunny day I planned us a walking tour that would cover most of them. Our first stop was the Beigijnhof, a convent. It contains some of the oldest surviving structures in Amsterdam and is still operational today (as always, you can click any photo to enlarge and enhance the colors):

Our next stop was Dam Square, the main square in town and—truth be told—a not-terribly-attractive one. Sorry, Amsterdam, but you could learn something from the Belgians here.

The dominant building is the Royal Palace. Like the Dutch government, the Dutch Royal Family is based in The Hague (about an hour away by train) but this is the palace the queen uses when she’s in town. It’s the only really attractive building on the square, although it could use a good cleaning:

It’s very conveniently located in case Her Majesty wants to come out on Dam Square for a hot dog…

…to take in some scintillating entertainment…

…or to have her photo taken with Batman, The Mask…

…or an out-of-shape Spiderman:

Opposite the palace is the relatively ugly National Monument (again, apologies to the Dutch):

It looks like a giant suppository, but the detail and lighting did make for a nice B&W photo op:

Then we went past the Westerkerk, a simple church with some striking splashes of color:

Note that seal of the city of Amsterdam features 3 X’s—coincidental but rather ironic. Also, this is the church near Anne Frank’s hiding spot, the bells of which she often talks about in her diary. But more on that later. It is also next to the Homomonument: the world’s only monument to gays and lesbians who were persecuted and killed in the Holocaust and throughout history:

And then, there it was: the most exciting sight in all of Amsterdam! Of course the Dutch are famous for their wooden shoes (the historical reason for them being that they offered farmers a waterproof footwear option in the marshy land of these low countries), and every gift shop sells them: real and fake, big and small, ready-to-wear and for-display-only. And I was…well…kinda obsessed with them. Plus I had always remembered this photo of my Grandma Hirsch in the Netherlands in 1956 posing in a GIANT pair of wooden shoes:

So I was constantly on the lookout for them, and here it was: even BIGGER than Grandma’s and shining like the sun!:

Continuing on our tour, our next stop was the aptly named Oude Kerk, or “Old Church”. Dating from 1306, the interior was quite different from most churches I’ve visited on my travels: there was a lot of bare wood and it was generally very simple and austere:

And you know I love me some dead people:

Now here’s the sort of sight you only see in Amsterdam…the Oude Kerk is in the middle of a little circular square (is that a real phrase?) in the middle of the Red Light District. In other words, it’s surrounded by brothels! Ones where the prostitutes stand in the windows and try to entice customers:

Here’s photographic proof of the proximity:

Like I said, a city of contrasts. Continuing on our way, here is Die Waag, the old city weigh station:

This was Rembrandt’s house:

And here’s a statue of the old chap in the middle of a square named after him:

And then we found…MORE GIANT SHOES!!!!

And then we went to sleep. The next day, we went a-museuming. And since most museums don’t allow photography, there’s not much to show here. So here’s the famed Rijksmuseum, home to Rembrandt’s greatest work—The Night Watch—as well as many other celebrated Ditch works of art:

And here’s Janét waiting on line to get into the famed Rijksmuseum:

Here’s the renowned Van Gogh Museum, set up in chronological order so you can follow—through his art—Van Gogh’s life and decent into madness and death:

And here’s Janét waiting in line to get into the renowned Van Gogh Museum:

Last we dragged our tired feet to the haunting Anne Frank House. It is chillingly preserved just as it was left after the Nazis took all of 9 Jewish occupants (8 of whom perished) and most of its contents:

And here’s Janét waiting in line to get into the haunting Anne Frank House:

Here’s some canals at night…

…and—you guessed it—here’s some WOODEN SHOES!!!!:

Our last day was once again dedicated to museums (and completing Janét’s final top 10s), and we couldn’t have visited two more different ones. First was the Jewish Museum. Amsterdam has been home to a vibrant Jewish community for centuries, and even museum building itself is actually four former synagogues connected to one another and filled with displays:

And then something altogether different: the Heineken Brewery Tour! Okay, it don’t get more cheesy and touristy than that. But it seemed like a fun way to cap off a fun week. And truth be told we rushed through most of the tour in order to get to the free beer!:

Okay, maybe we did learn a few things about the Heineken logo that make for good bar conversation:
• The leaves are hops, the main ingredient and flavor of Heineken
• The red star is an ancient brewer’s symbol
• The upturned e’s in the logo are called “smiling e’s”

And we did get to make this terrible Dutch music video (click to play):

After that we went out for an absolutely delicious Indian meal at Mayur (and Janét generously insisted on treating in order to thank me for being tour guide) and then back to the Esthérea to pack and prepare for the journey home. So it was a great and fun time. I found Brussels to be underrated, Bruges charming, Amsterdam unique—and all well worth visiting. And as an added treat we spied on that final walk back to the hotel…A WOODEN SHOE BOAT!!!!:


Note the utter hatred and disdain the woman on the right seems to have to me and my giant shoe:

Here’s one way to solve a lack of public restrooms…except for the ladies:

This sign was next to the toilet in the hotel. Is that the most popular place for people to smoke doobies?:

I thought it was fitting that my car home from the airport took the Holland Tunnel:

So that’s it for our high times in the Low Countries…Thanks for tuning in, and may all your e’s always be smiling!!


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