Sunday, June 29, 2014

The constant parade of boats along the canal outside our window.

A constant parade of boats filled with tourists, families, football fans. They are all there.



We are having a rest day today so there is time for a few theme posts rather than what-we-did-today posts.
Also on the list of things we are Not Going To Do is ride a bicycle. We simply don't have the coordination, the experience, or the insurance. A Dutch friend says that everyone is bike-scarred, that accidents are all just part of it, but still, it isn't for us. There are bicycles everywhere. We have seen only one couple wearing helmets. Nobody wears them - I am sure this pair were tyro tourists.
Bikes festoon every railing, every bridge, every footpath. They clump together, they fall over and block the path. They have their own ramps on sets of stairs and into apartments. They have their own garages, holding thousands of them.
They come in all varieties, and materials, and decorations.
With all kinds of carriers and stands.
They are a peril for the unwary pedestrian as they go at speed and seem to have complete right of way. I am sure they are fun, and useful. I am sure that Amsterdam could not function without them, it was definitely not built for cars. And I am sure I am not going to ride one. My bike-scars are going to stay as they are, I am not adding any new ones.

Two museums and the flower market in 16,008 steps

That's over eleven kilometres. Phew!

We didn't have enough time at the Tropenmuseum yesterday so we went back to do the rest this morning. Walked there, of course. It didn't seem far.

It is a fantastic museum, beautiful building, fabulous displays. Yesterday we did the top floor, with Suriname, Morrocco, Egypt, much more. It isn't just displays in cases. In Egypt we sat in a retro café and watched a TV over the bar, with Umm Kulthum singing to us. There were musical instruments in cases, and you could sit in front of the case with earphones on, press an image of the instrument on the screen panel, and hear a bit about the instrument and hear what it sounds like. There was a spice shop and the front of the case was perforated to allow the rich smell through. There was a fabric shop. So much more, so exotic. Today we did the first floor. We looked at wonderful displays of artefacts from New Guinea, India, Indonesia and more. I noted a description of some clothing worn by women in a remote part of the Indus. The sign said that normally these clothes would never be seen, that the wearers lived indoors all their lives. I felt very lucky and very worldly, to be able to see so much of the lives of other people in so many different countries. There were wonderful fabrics on panels that rolled out when you pressed a button, along with information. One lovely display of an Indian temple included about eight clay horses about two feet high, richly decorated. Our electronic guide told us what they were for, and about the making and transport of these very horses. We found the section for kids, we found the museum shop. No, we didn't buy anything. We have enough stuff already!

We walked from there to the flower market. Seeing all those tulip bulbs made me think of those exhibits in the Museum of Dutch Resistance, where for a while that was all they had to eat. But the displays of flowers were lovely. Perhaps not the best time of year - baskets full of bulbs aren't exactly picturesque. But there was plenty to look at. There were tacky souvenir shops there too. Michael has been looking for sticky labels - he decorates his suitcase with them. He looked, and did not find. "Ask!" I suggested. Blokes apparently cannot do that so I asked and was pointed to exactly what he was looking for. Success.

From there we walked quite a way to Electric Ladyland: the first Fluorescent Museum of Amsterdam. What a great museum this is. You walk into a cluttered room, with rather garish clutter. Lurid blue and yellow and red paintings, large coloured disks, strange stalactites and stalagmites. There was a group of five young American lads already putting on their foam slippers for the adventure downstairs. But first we were told to hold up our Visa cards, passports, driver's licenses and banknotes to a black light overhead. Wow! Suddenly all this fluorescent stuff lit up! All designed as security measures, but who knew?

Then came the descent to the museum below, a ladder rather than steps. Alas, Michael deemed it beyond him, so I was sent without him.

Nick the proprietor is a would-be relic of the sixties psychedelic era. Would-be, because he is actually too young to have experienced it personally. He was born ten years too late, he mourned. He missed Jimi Hendrix, man. Cognoscenti will recognise Electric Ladyland as Jimi's last album. Somewhere in his New Jersey childhood Nick saw one of those black-light disco posters and was totally hooked. He began researching, and his passion grew. He says he used to go out at night, creeping around his neighbours' back yards with his black light, searching for fluorescent rocks. He found lots of them. He started grinding up rocks to make his own paint, and he has used that to create the psychedelic cave you see in the photos. He has even made his own tattoo ink, so he himself glows in the black light.

He knew an amazing amount and was happy to tell us. He had a collection of art works, pictures and sculptures, which had been made by other enthusiasts using particles, tweezers, and glue. I didn't know that fluorescence occurs under both ultraviolet and short wave light. Things can be one colour under one light, but entirely different under the other. He demonstrated. Wow! Some of the pictures, which looked dull and grey under daylight, were different under the two different lights, allowing one picture to be night/day, or summer/autumn. If you check out Trip Advisor there are lots of pictures. His website is also well worth looking at. Then we looked at more banknotes and stamps, even coins, and one of the lads had his US passport which was filled with different colours and symbols, depending on which light was used. If you will forgive me, the whole experience was most illuminating!

Staggering out into the sunlight we had trouble re-adjusting to reality. It was very trippy.

We thought we would check out the supermarket rumoured to be at Centraal, so off we walked. Indeed there is an Albert Heijn selling lots of packaged foods. We shall shop there for some dinner to take on our overnight train to Prague on Monday. Then we walked past our apartment (despite being seriously weary at this stage, we'd done a lot of walking) to the cake shop for our reward. We both ordered one of the very light cheesecake, and a slice of pizza for later on. Once we sit, we are not going to want to move again. Our creakers are creaking.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Another four museum day: Friday 27th. 12,187 steps

The Chief of Operations drew up his plan for the day, and so after breakfast (coffee, bacon, refried potatoes and tomato) we set out. It was raining a bit, so we dithered about what coats to take. The new Irish Mackintosh? No, just the windcheaters. It was only a little rain, and the days are still warm. Our first museum was
1. The Hermitage. This is an outpost of the St. Petersburg Hermitage, in an enormous building on the Amstel. We didn't really know what to expect, but we enjoyed what we got. It was a sumptuous exhibition of the Silk Road, with artefacts found by several Russian archaeological expeditions. The display was really sensational, reminding us both of the exhibition on Alexander the Great we saw recently, and the Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan exhibition even more recently. There were beautiful wall paintings, silken clothes, glassware, silver and gold. All beautifully displayed. There was a bit of high tech with videos here and there, but not nearly the tech of some of the other museums we have seen.
The Hermitage had far and away the best shop of all so far. I note the proliferation of grown-up colouring books. There were scarves and cushion covers and cards and wrapping paper and pencils and calendars and notebooks and vases and jewellery and ceramics and kitchen gizmos. Michael couldn't resist a carrot sharpener. Yes, you read right. It looks like a great big pencil sharpener and it is designed to produce vegetable shavings.
Not far away was
2. Hortus Botanicus. The botanical gardens. An oasis in the city, these are said to be the oldest botanical gardens in the world. It was lovely to wander around and see plants familiar and unfamiliar. There was a Wollemi Pine. A huge Chinese Scholar tree. A redwood, the biggest ginkgo I have ever seen. A lovely butterfly house, and a huge greenhouse with both tropical and desert plants. This was a rare place - the plant names and descriptions were almost entirely in Latin and Dutch with hardly any English at all. Each day I wonder whether I can be bothered carrying my big heavy camera and today was a day I didn't. There are times when I am very happy with that decision and times when I wish I had it, but the iPhone takes serviceable snaps. And it takes great selfies, so here are some of those.
It was about lunchtime when we finished our circuit, so we opted to sit in the café and had some lunch. Julie will be pleased to note that I finished with a hot chocolate but didn't quite expect the cream turban!
And Michael didn't expect the thunder and rain:
After lunch we set out for what we thought would be a smallish museum,

3. The museum of Dutch Resistance. Among the other things we are not going to do is Anne Frank's house. Too sad. This was even sadder, and as we both agreed, morally exhausting. Story after story of experiences in the war, both in Holland and in Dutch East Indies. Question after question about whether it was better to collaborate, to accept events, or whether to resist. And how to resist effectively. Room after room of tragedy and violence, of lives torn apart. Most wrenching were the stories about Camp Vught and the deportation of the children. Look it up if you have the heart. We were utterly overwhelmed by it all. It is so real, seeing pictures of those times in streets we are walking today. There was an audio tour where you point your device at points on the displays and a wealth of information was poured out.
I wasn't sure I had the stamina for another museum but the Chief had the plan, and we kept to it. We reached the last museum for the day at 4pm. This was
4. Tropenmuseum. Wow. Enormous. Comprehensive. Fun. Lots of buttons to push and gizmos to try. This museum deals with Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Egypt and the Middle East, everywhere the Dutch traded. It is an absolute gem, well worth a visit. When we arrived at 4.00 we were warned by the very genial desk man that one hour would not be enough. He was right. We may have to go back tomorrow morning, as we only managed one floor out of the four. Loads of gizmos and fun interactive stuff. I love pattern, and there was a great screen which allowed you to create your own. Totally addictive. This is one of my triangular effort. See the highlighted triangle in the lower right? That's where you do your drawing and the system does the rest. I want an app that does this!
The interior of the Tropenmuseum
Weary of the museum shuffle after the doors closed at 5.00 we vowed to return in the morning. Chief of Operations is already Woking on The Plan.
On the way home we bought some supplies - apples, blueberries, chocolate, Dutch wafer biscuits. I suggested we stop in to one of the alluring cake shops in our street and Michael agreed with alacrity. He had cheesecake, I had apple pie and a cup of tea.
Later we walked down to the Suriname restaurant and got a takeaway. Our bones are creaking!

Things we are not going to do in Amsterdam

I have already alluded to our avoidance of Art per se on this trip. It is impossible to avoid in the course of our general touring around. Museums and grand houses have a lot of it, and we are happy to look at it and appreciate it en passant. It's just that it is so easy to overdose, as we have certainly done in the past.


There are other things we are Not Going To Do, kind of a reverse bucket list. In Dublin we did not go to the Guinness brewery, nor Jameson's Whiskey distillery. In Amsterdam we are not going to visit the Heineken brewery, nor the Bols gin experience.

Madame Tussaud's is out, along with the Torture Museum, the Amsterdam Dungeon, and the Sex Museum.


Some of these attractions, such as the Dungeon and Madame Tussaud's, have long lines outside them every day. But they are not for us. Our line this trip is more the quirky and historical museums. And of course, the magical roller coaster ride.


Women of Holland

I am so impressed with some of these pictures of women in Amsterdam. They are not prettified or objectified. They gaze steadily out of the canvas engaging the viewer with their intelligence and sense of their own power. They are nobody's fools.
I will try to find the pictures and get them in here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Quirky museums day but only 7790 steps so far

I reckon museum steps are worth double your regular everyday walking steps. The museum shuffle is a real killer and there are unlikely to be too many more steps made today.

Michael the Navigator charted our course for the day. It might sound as though we are Philistines but we are leaving out ART. We have both looked at an awful lot of pictures in an awful lot of galleries all over the world, and sometimes we are just arted out. I don't want to face the crowds in front of the Night Watch. I am not sure I can cope with the Van Gogh Museum. This time we are focussing on different experiences. We began by walking down past Rembrandtplein

to Herengracht to find

Museum 1: Tassenmuseum (Bags and purses museum)

Oh. My. God. What a treasure of a Museum. Michael reacted rather the same way as he did when we went to the button shop in Newtown once. His brain fused and smoke started coming out his ears. The overwhelming preponderance of visitors were female, all of us agawp with the fabulous displays. Words cannot do it justice. We (until Michael retreated in shock and awe to a husband-seat) started on the top, fourth floor. These were the historic bags, some dating from the sixteenth century. There were many knitted beaded bags with intricate pictures. Some are called sablé work, as the beads are as small as grains of sand. One of the highlights of this kind of work was the unfinished bag. It still had the four very fine knitting needles with the stitches on, knitting in the round, with the large wooden spool holding the strung beads. Now I know what is involved in bead knitting, having done some myself. To knit these pictures, first you make a chart, then you string the beads in reverse order according to the chart (last bead on, first bead off) and then you knit each bead into a stitch using a special technique to lock it in place. Hoping you have not made a mistake because if you leave out a bead there is no way I know of yo get one back in there. Trust me, it is intricate. The scale of these beaded bag pictures was amazing. Then there were the bags designed to hold needlework, and I spied two tatting shuttles, one very large indeed compared with anything I have used. There were wooden school bags, like portable cabinets painted with Dutch scenes. These held all the school gear, but could be turned over and used as lap desks. There was so much more I can't begin to elaborate. The next floor down was 20th and 21st century. Metal mesh, like Oroton. Wicker baskets for lunch on the train. Ship wardrobes and hat boxes. Funky quirky, entertaining, glamorous. Feathers, ostrich leather, snakeskin, alligator, ivory, silver, you name it. There was the Kelly bag. There were Chanel bags. I am not generally a handbag person (purse-on?) but the array was boggling. Beautiful, and odd, useful and purely decorative. As a bonus, the house was interesting and beautiful in itself. Go the the website and look around. Go visit, the next time you are in Amsterdam. It is really a highlight of the trip. The shop was worth a visit too, with many handbags for sale. I resisted, but was sorely tempted by the cardboard "pimp your own handbag" designed for the museum. Go have a look. Très amusing. What would I have made?

From there we walked to our next museum,

Museum 2: Het Grachtenhuis, Museum of the Canals

Also in a beautiful canal house, this is also on the Herengracht Canal, on the Golden Bend. Again, the house itself is magnificent. The wealth of the early city was prodigious, it certainly shows. This was an audiovisual tour with audio headphones, well done, very informative, very high tech with laser imagery. One of my favourite rooms had an eye level frieze of canal houses all around the wall, like a streetscape. Set into many of these were peepholes, showing rooms inside those very houses - sometimes modern, sometimes historical. There was a room devoted to how these houses were built, and the planning of Amsterdam and its canals. The gift shop had many items, like necklaces, bowls, cufflinks and more in the shape of the map of canals. One room had original 17th century wall paintings. We noted the very wide floorboards. Those, plus the thousands of wooden pilings on which the city is built, must have deforested thousands and thousands of acres.

Onwards we went, and our next stop was

Museum 3: the museum of the Houseboat

Quite a different scale home from those we have just visited! This one is a real houseboat fitted out as a kind of museum. Small, but interesting. The whole houseboat phenomenon is interesting and you se a great variety of styles. I find the floating gardens quite fascinating too. Michael found it a head banging experience, quite literally.

Onwards, to our final museum for the day,

Museum 4: the museum of Amsterdam

We thought this one was going to be quite small, but the building is deceptively large. Huge. Another high-tech experience where you pick up a brochure in your language of choice. It has a Q-code on the front which you use to scan various things to see and/or hear whatever it is in your own language. Or to scan the gizmo that takes a picture of you wearing armour and a ruff.

There were laser displays and interactive press-button fun things. There were maps, and Rembrandt paintings. Finally we both rebelled and cried UNCLE! We are museumed out, totally. We barely made it to the museum café where Michael had a tuna sandwich and I had some hot Chocomel (!) and a Dutch pancake. Give me some simple sugar and carbohydrate NOW!

We returned via Kalverstraat, hoping to go to the Dam and Die Bijenkorf to buy an Amsterdam Pandora charm, but the square, and indeed the store itself had been evacuated owing to a bomb scare. It can wait. So we picked our way back towards our hotel, stopping at Newmarket to buy fish from the tiny fish shop, the fruit stall sold us potatoes, grapes, and two spears of the most enormous white asparagus we have ever seen, plus a few other goodies for our dinner tonight.

Time to sit and digest our experiences. What a day.


Losing track of day numbers, but we are in Amsterdam

We left Dublin on an 11.30 flight. After a nice big breakfast at the Radisson Blu (farewell black and white pudding, farewell delicious soda bread) we went by taxi to the airport. It is astonishing how many people are travelling. Although procedures are streamlined, like self checkin and bag drop systems, the crowds and security check lines make it quite gruelling. For a one hour ten minutes flight, we really did need to be there at least two hours beforehand. I wonder how many people are in airports and in the air at any one time. The scale of it is boggling.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived at Schiphol, collected our bags, and found the airport shuttle which drove us to our hotel, the NH Barbizon Palace near Central Station. We aren't in the main part of the hotel, but in a small apartment in a house around the corner, right on a canal. Fortuitously we are on the ground floor. There is no lift and the stairs are precipitous. It is a charming spot. Our building is on the right.

Our corner room is right on the canal and in the picture above those are our windows on the ground (water?) floor. Here are some of its views out of the windows which are the only air conditioning. (There is heating but with these heat wave temperatures up to a sizzling 21 we don't need heating).


Our media centre is serving us well, and all the gizmos are getting their ration of juice as needed. Thanks to Julie for her suggestion of the power board.

We have done a few sight-seeing walks, and bought some supplies. Our room has kitchen facilities so we bought bacon, eggs, bread, cheese, cherries, strawberries, a six pack of Chocomel (chocolate milk which brings back memories of my previous trip here in 1971) and some chocolate. Breakfast is covered.

On our first day here Michael navigated flawlessly to the Jan Six house, where we are booked for a visit on Thursday morning.


A few snaps were taken along the way there and back.

On our next morning we took a canal tour, which took all morning and into the afternoon. Very crowded, very hot in the sun, and I felt distinctly queasy. Michael is amused telling me I am seasick on a canal boat. Perhaps he is right. I don't like boats of any kind. How will that affect our plans to go cruising in our dotage?

I didn't take too many pics on the cruise - too many people in the way. But it was interesting and we saw lots of things you don't see from land.

Later that afternoon we caught a tram to the Concertgebouw to buy tickets for a concert on Sunday night. Mahler's 4th and Schubert's Unfinished. Our tram driver was extraordinarily good humoured and helpful. He is a good advertisement for the Dutch.

We caught the tram back to the Dam, where I wanted to go to Desigual, based on a choir-buddy recommendation. It was a successful visit. The streets are thronged, and festooned with soccer balls.


There are lots of Argentine steak houses, but this is the only Uruguayan one we saw, so we snapped it for Gladys.

On our first night in Amsterdam we ate at the restaurant across the corner from us, the Het Melkmeisje. It was a lot of food but it seemed like a long time since our breakfast in Dublin and suddenly my big steak and potato and vegetables were all gone. I had a hankering for some Asian food the next night so we went down the road a few steps to a Malaysian restaurant and we both had Lakhsa. Delicious. We are right on Chinatown so restaurants are easy to find.

Speaking of steps, 23rd June - 9661. 24th June - 7161.