Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Amsterdam - Land of tulips, clogs and windmills

Hello Readers,
Before I start on our Amsterdam weekend I have a few pics to share.

A Kevin Coleman pic - I planned on stir fry one night so whilst picking out the ingredients I found this Ginger Beer which claims to go best with Chinese food.  Of course I had to try it and... it was awful.  Maybe they meant to use it during the cooking process cause it sure didn't taste good during the eating process.

A Dana Johnson pic - stir fry night.  Chicken, baby corn, asparagus, mushroom and green beans.  Turned out okay but I need to add more colour for presentation.

Our Better Halves Club met again last week at Restaurant Zest (link).  We were only four strong with a few missing.  I had a pasta dish that was okay but the chicken dish a couple others ordered looked much better than mine.  The place is a little on the nicer side but there were only two groups of people dining there that day, kind of made me wonder if it was a slow day or if the place will be closing down soon.  Good food but the location is on a side street which probably doesn't help.

We've finally found a place we all like!  The Bull's Head in Repton (link) was a Better Halves Club lunch spot so we all went as a family and all liked it.  So this week we were finally able to meet the Andersons there one night.  Dave works at Rolls and Sarah is a BHC member, cute little Anna is our half member.  Sarah recommended this place originally so thanks Sarah.   

Sarah and Anna.  She slept through our first couple of BHC meetings so I snapped this adorable pic as soon as she woke up.

Enjoying fire oven pizzas with friends - great way to spend an evening.  Dave's co-worker Vik was over from Indy so she joined us.

Now onto our weekend of inappropriateness.  Amsterdam was on our to do list so when our friend Christy told us she was going there for work we decided to meet her.  All I knew about Amsterdam before I started researching our trip was wooden clogs, tulips, windmills, canals and the Red Light District.  I also read a couple of ex-pats blogs to absorb their take of the city/experience.  My trusty Lonely Planet guidebook warned me about the dodgy culture - Napoleon legalised prostitution in 1815 to control STD's and pot was decriminalised in 1976.  The Netherlands was the first country to legalise medical pot presciptions in 2003.  They were also the first country to legalise same sex marriage and euthanasia in 2000.  Not that I am judging anything above but I was quite sure this trip would be "educational" for all of us.

Friday - We booked a Friday afternoon flight since it was cheaper to leave Friday and pay for a hotel that night instead of leaving Saturday morning.  Plus we would be able to start our exploring first thing Saturday morning which is a bonus.  The flight on BMI Baby was short and uneventful except for us having to pay a baggage fee.  Perk of using a low cost airline although I could have sworn I checked the baggage option when I bought the tickets.  Oh well.  Once we arrived we bought our I amsterdam Cards which gave us 48 hours of unlimited public transportation usage, eating and entrance fee discounts, and free admission to many attractions.  We also found out that Schiphol (pronounced skip-hole) Airport is outside of the city range so we had to buy train tickets to our destination, the RAI Center.  Which brings me to my first "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" - the trains are not numbered, named, labelled or otherwise identified.  You look up the train you need on the travel board and go to the boarding platform.  Which is what we did.  The train was a few minutes early so we tentatively jumped on and enjoyed the ride to Central Station.  Apparently the Central Station train was 20 minutes late and by coincidence it arrived at our platform just before our train - we learned this by sitting next to a couple of Americans on their way to Central Station.  Not a great way to start the weekend.  Fortunately our cards do cover from Central Station to RAI Center so we were only a short ride away from our hotel.  And once we reached the RAI Center our weekend of inappropriateness started.  As soon as we left the train station by our hotel we saw a poster of a topless woman.  Her poster was displayed a few places around town, I found out why in the Old Church.  So after the poster surprise we walked to our hotel and even though it wasn't to late yet we opted to eat at the hotel restaurant instead of venturing out to find a place since Lori is sick (nice planning Lori). Food was okay, the highlight was trying the white asparagus (pic below). 

A Dana Johnson pic - white asparagus.  The texture was a little beefier than green asparagus, kind of a cross between asparagus and cauliflower.  I liked it.

Saturday - off to explore the city!  Weather was 66 F and sunny, no complaining by me.  While we were getting ready in the room we saw the Olympic Torch touch down on British soil at Land's End.  The reporter said there are actually 22 torches and the torch design has 8,000 holes to commemorate the 8,000 torch bearers.  It is passing my Buddy Steve's house on my birthday so you know where I'll be that day.     

The Montelbaanstoren, a tower dating back to 1516 and originally built for defending the city per Wiki.

Example of the varied building architecture.  The building architecture was my favourite part of the trip. 

Our first stop was at NEMO - the hand on science museum (Wiki link).  This was our rare kid's stop on our international travels.  Usually I focus on historical or local landmarks, famous sites, or rare occurrences when we travel but based on the Frey's and travel site recommendations we stopped here.  It was a hit with the kids so I'm glad we stopped.

Working our way over the canals to NEMO (the green building).

Magnum watching the fam playing with magnetic fields.

Learning about the mechanical advantage of pulleys.

Our "education" continues.  Yup those are human embryos and fetuses.  They had about thirty animals and embryos in glass jars.  The 5.5 month old human baby and human Siamese twins (not pictured) stuffed into jars creeped me out.

They also had a case full of skeletons.  I included the Tasmanian Devil because I can't see one without thinking of the Bugs Bunny cartoons Tas whirling his way across the screen, stopping to snarl and growl at Bugs from time to time before resuming his swirling path of destruction. 

Karl pedalling his way to Mars.

Read below.

I thought this was neat.

Amsterdam has a stoned spiders epidemic. 

Our education continues in the teen section of the museum.  This little area had a video running of animals in the wild "getting it on", wooden dolls posed in a variety of sex positions (including the name of the sex positions of course), and three peep show booths.  I didn't go in the booths.  Lori is officially out of her comfort zone and the weekend just started.  We didn't let the kids go through in case you are wondering.  

After the museum we met up with Christy and looked for a lunch spot on the way to the churches.

We found this public urinal walking the streets. 

A couple of girls not as cool as they think they are.  The blaring techno music didn't help.  Central Station is in the background.  

I had a fried egg with bacon and cheese on bread.  Very, very good.

The kids had krokets - gravy and mush stuff inside a fried roll.  Pretty good but not one of my trip faves.

Lori had pea soup with fatty bacon.  It was okay.

More of my favourite canal architecture.  Pisa only has a leaning tower, this place has a whole city of leaning buildings!

I had to include a "coffeeshop" pic.  Coffeeshops here are legal pot smoking stores and seem to be on every street.  Very strong pot smell walking down some streets. 

Now onto the bad parent section of the trip.  I wanted to walk through part of the Red Light District just to see what it is like.  In my head I had pictured a main drag with side streets off the drag but that wasn't how it was.  It was more like a loosely defined neighbourhood with the girls in the window "shops", various sex stores (clothes, drug paraphernalia, sex toys, etc.), restaurants, apartments, and regular small retail shops all mixed together.  Our next stop was the Oude Kerk (Old Church) which is in the RLD albeit near the edge so I figured we could walk to the church and through part of the RLD which we briskly did.  The kids did not like it which I expected.  The adults didn't like it either but now I have seen it.  And yes I brought my kids through it so feel free to pile on me.  One thing that did surprise me is that normal convenience stores all over the city had sex and drug stuff in the store windows.  Anything goes in Amsterdam I guess.

My Sarah Anderson photo - an example of the sex shops.  The small room has a bed, stool and sink with a lingerie clad women waiting.  Curtains closed means a customer is in, curtain open means that girl is available.  No I did not check their rates. 

Onto the Old Church (Wiki link or Dutch language church site).  Consecrated in 1306, it is the oldest building in Amsterdam. 

More inappropriate sights, this one just outside the Old Church entrance.

Information board outside the church.

Organ inside church.

Looking at the Choir Screen and wooden ceiling.  The floor is made of grave stones because the church is built on top of a cemetary.  Supposedly 10,000 citizens are buried under the church.

Pulpit with massive sunshade.

I thought this was free admission with our cards but we had to pay three Euro because of this World Press photo exhibit.  Very strange to have some of the images displayed in the church but we are in Amsterdam so anything goes I guess.

Sad pic of hornless rhinos.

This was very interesting.  It was taken in Vietnam, check out the cave sizes in relation to the people in the pictures. 

Stained glass window.

By this gruesome photo was the topless woman photo we saw on the posters around town.  She is part of a Ukrainian women's protest group that goes topless at public events to protest women's causes in the Ukraine.  O-kay. 

Store wasn't on the itinerary, sorry ladies.

Family picture in front of the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) is to the left of the Palace.

Lori and Christy in front of the Palace.

National Monument in Dam Square.  The square was filled with bikes.  We took a canal cruise later in the day and the guide said there are 550,000 bikes in Amsterdam and 50,000 are stolen annually.

Front of New Church (Wiki link).  Construction started in 1385.  I'm not sure how many "new" buildings were built in the 1300's.

Amsterdam had the strangest clocks.  At least I think this is a clock.  It was about 2:30 PM when we entered the church which isn't what this is showing.  Maybe someone forgot to switch the clock to daylight savings time. 

Stained glass window I liked.

Organ in centre, pulpit to right, gentry (rich people) pews on the left.  This church had wooden ceilings as well. 

Monument to Michiel de Ruyter, the greatest Dutch naval hero per the placard.

Burial vault of Michiel de Ruyter. 

Another stained glass window.

Close up of pulpit.

Choir screen.

Wooden clog maker outside New Church.  He would pose for a picture with us for a Euro but we passed.

Next up was our canal cruise.  The three main canals encircling the city (Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht) are all labelled as World Heritage Sites so I wanted to check them out.  I've been to other W.H. sites (Suomenlinna Fortress in Finland, Tower of London, Mesa Verde in US, etc.) so instead of walking them we opted for an energy saving and more encompassing canal cruise.  We had a few hours until the Anne Frank Huis so why not explore the canals?

Three story bike racks.  This is where the guide said there are 550,000 bikes in Amsterdam.

 The girls enjoying each others company.  Christy is starting to tire a little now that we are sitting.

 More leaning buildings - check out the far right darker brown building.

Canal intersection of the Amstel and the Herengracht - I forgot the name of the bridge on the right.

The Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) over the Amstel, read about it here.  The original skinny bridge is gone, this one is only from 1871.  

I thought this 1665 house was old.

Then we passed this 1649 house.  My sharp eyed readers have noticed the hook on the top centre of all of the houses.  The stairs are to small to haul anything big up them so all of the houses here have hooks attached to the house fronts to winch up larger and heavier objects.

View down Herengracht Canal.

 Yes Kalle we are almost done with the cruise.

After the cruise we saw this beer bike.  It has a keg in the middle and guide steering/braking in the front.  You can rent these in groups, all you have to do is pedal while you are enjoying the sites and drinking a beer.  It also brings up another odd sight, people in costumes.  A lot of people were dressed up, not sure if it was bachelor/bachelorette parties (popular spot I guess) or just people airing out their Halloween costumes.  Sure struck me as odd though.

A Kevin Coleman pic - After the cruise we stopped to wet our whistles.  The Vedett Extra Blond is possibly the worst Belgian beer of all time.  Christy compared it to Blatz and couldn't finish hers.  You know a beer is bad when Christy can't suck it down - jk Christy! 

We also saw this poor dog in the tow behind carriage.  Its legs were locked stiff and planted as wide as possible as it frozenly stared out the front window of the carriage.   

This building on the corner was leaning out in two directions.

View down Singel Canal - where we stopped for the drink.

View down Keizersgracht Canal.
This struck me as funny - Christy comes all the way from Detroit to see an art exhibit on The Ruins of Detroit.

Looking down the Prinsengracht Canal, you can see the Westerkerk (Western Church) steeple on the left, see the Wiki link.  Rembrandt is buried there but it was closed so we didn't tour it.  The church is next to the Anne Frank Huis (House) and is mentioned in her diary.

The group outside the Anne Frank House (link) at 263 Prinsengracht.

Outside face of the house.  The secret annexe was the back half of the top two floors.  The factory is behind the dark green doors and windows on the ground floor.

No pictures allowed inside the house so I'll give y'all a quick summary.  Otto Frank owned a business he ran in part of the building and lived in another part of the same building.  When the Nazi's started rounding up the Jews him and a helper built a swinging bookshelf to hide a staircase to the top back of the building (annexe) and the four Frank family members went into hiding.  A week later a business associate and his family join the Franks.  Four months later a family friend of the Franks join them in hiding.  For over two years the eight people hid in the back of the house 24 hours a day.  The business Frank used to own is still operating as they are hiding so they can not make any noise because the factory workers do not know they are hiding.  The office workers know they are hiding and supply them with food and necessities.  Eventually the Nazis are tipped off to them and they are found (no one knows who tipped off the Nazis).  Only Otto survives the death camps, the other seven people die in the camps.  The hiding annexe is left bare with only wall placards telling the story, the annexe is left bare intentionally by Otto as a symbol to the people exterminated like his family.  The tour itself was very interesting and somber.  The one thing I was surprised at was the solemn quietness of the people touring the house.  Most people did not speak at all and the ones who did all whispered.  I did not hear one person in the annexe speak in a normal tone which only heightened the haunting effect of walking through the house.  Excellent museum.    

By now Christy is still feeling good (she says) but it is almost eight so she bravely (foolishly?) offers to eat with us.  Even better she remembers a pancake place close so off we trot.  The place is called The Pancake Bakery and was so, so good to quote Kal.  I guess the Dutch like their pancakes, and now I like them too!  As soon as we sit down Christy starts to go zombie on us which is not helped by the painfully slow service.  I had to get up twice to get a waiter to stop by.  The service was even worse than typical Brit restaurant service.  But the food was outstanding.

A double Dana Johnson pic - I ordered off of the international section of the menu.  This is the Canadian - bacon, ham, mushroom, onion and cheese.  Sooooooo good.  My second favourite pancake ever, my first favourite is the "big as the plate" pancakes my uncle Irwin would make for me when we visited Daggett as I was growing up.  I think he just made them that size to get my reaction, you just never knew with him if he was funnin' you or not.  He was the consummate jokester - even if the joke was on you he had a way of making it funny without hurting your feelings.

The rest of the table - clockwise from left - ham and mushroom, nutella and banana, lemon and powdered sugar, bacon, and little dough balls (I forget their name but they are Ethan's favourite - sorry you missed them E).

Dutch powdered sugar and syrup - double yum!

Keizergracht Canal shot - I loved the scenery on the canals.

Another clock pic - it was about 8:45 PM here so the hands look correct but don't ask me what the symbols in the numbers ring mean. 

Christy goes back to her hotel and we go back to ours to crash.  Our feet are killing us and we need to lay down.

Sunday - we stayed at a Holiday Inn so the room was okay and the breakfast was pretty good but not picture worthy.  The weather forecast was chance of rain and it did rain overnight but was sunny when we arrived at Kukenhof.  We had a slight hiccup - the train from RAI to Schiphol wasn't running so we ran around asking people for help until we found a guide bus driver who told us the airport has a replacement bus when the train isn't running.  So we ran around some more (literally this time) until we found the bus and ended up being about half an hour late to our meeting place with Christy.  And we still beat her!  But once we met up we were off to tulipville.

Studly Magnum's family pic outside the entrance.

They sold beer in the gift shop so I had to get one.  Unfortunately this beer (which wasn't very good) was the high point of the Kukenhof.

Kalle in the tourist clogs.

Now to my second "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" - Kukenhof!  Ninety percent of the tulips were cut off.  NINETY PERCENT!  It was like walking through a weed garden.  The remaining flowers were wilting.  SO SO disappointing.  A couple of Christy's co-workers assured her that the Dutch know their tulips and if the Kukenhof is open it is worth it.  As a personal favour to me I asked her to slap each co-worker when she saw them next.  Not only did we spend almost half of Sunday getting there, walking around looking at headless stalks, then getting back, it also cost us about one hundred bucks.  My biggest complaint is that I feel like they intentionally cheated us.  At a minimum they should put on their website that the tulips have been harvested.  The layout was nice but come on - it's like getting tickets to a playoff football game and walking into the stadium to find out the game has already been played and all you can see is the grounds crew cleaning up.  As a matter of fact I'm going to make that my third  "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" also. 

Crappy looking purple flowers and headless stalks.  What a great place to see.

Colourful bird.

The token Dutch windmill.

Fields of harvested stalks.  Still feeling cheated.

We stopped for a stroopwafels snack - they slice apart the thin waffle then slather it with hot carmel.  Very good.

Some flower pics.

The mobile music boxes reminded me of a cheesy old gypsy movie.

I actually thought about telling the kids about the stepping stones but quickly came to my senses.


Middle of Kukenhof, stepping stones are on the left.

After the pathetic Kukenhof (yes I am still bitter) we checked out the Van Gogh Museum.  The Van Gogh was okay but I had this feeling that it was his lesser pieces and not his best work.  His self portraits, fruit and flower stills, and landscape pieces were all on display.  My favourites were some of the landscape and flower pieces.  The kids saw some of the paintings from the Van Gogh Dr. Who episode which was neat.  Side bar: our English cultural pre-introduction was watching Dr. Who episodes while still in the States. 

Van Gogh on left, Rijksmuseum on right.  Stedelijk Museum on front left but we didn't go there.

After the Van Gogh was the very good Rijksmuseum.  Lori and I really liked this museum.  There's something about the oil on canvas 1600's era paintings that I am constantly drawn to.  I love the colours and crisp figures. 

Dutch Republic painting.

Remember Michiel de Ruyter (Wiki link) from the New Church?  Here he is painted by Ferdinand Bol.

Silver plate c. 1604.  Minerva and the Muses by Paulus van Vianen.  Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, listening to music played by the nine muses.

Life sized dolls' house of Petronella Dunois, c. 1676.

Colourful pottery.

More painted dishes and pottery. 

The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt.

Reminds me of the Dutch Masters cigars my dad used to smoke.  Another Rembrandt.

Still life painting by Willem Kalf.  I love the reflection in the silver jug.

Fruits and flowers painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem.

The kitchen maid by Johannes Vermeer. 

The Night Watch by Rembrandt.  How can you not like Rembrandt's work?  

Winter landscape with skaters by Hendrick Avercamp.

River view by moonlight by Aert van de Neer.  Per the placard he "was the only 17-th century artist who specialised in the portrayal of the landscape at night." 

The Night Watch in relation to the wall.  Even more impressive.  There was about two feet of painting on the left side that was removed some time back to get the painting through a doorway.

Shout out to the Fat Boys in Minnie and Green Bay.  

By now it is after 5 PM so everything close to us is closed so we headed back to the airport to visit a bit until we had to leave and Christy had to head back to her hotel.

We did have some frites (fries) at the airport but I didn't take any pictures, sorry.
Jay - people were mostly unfriendly and sometimes rude, building architecture was awesome, Rijksmuseum was very good, loved the buildings on the canals, Kukenhof was TERRIBLE, surprised at the types of World Press photos in the Old Church, liked seeing Christy, disliked that Dan didn't come also, liked the Canadian Pancake

Lori - disliked the Red Light District and the contact high walking by the coffeeshops, loved seeing Christy, liked the Rembrandts in the Rijksmuseum, liked the Anne Frank house

KJ - liked the food and NEMO, disliked the Red Light District and the headache after walking by the coffeeshops

KK - liked the Pancake Bakery, NEMO, Anne Frank house, Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, seeing Christy, disliked the Red Light District and Kukenhof

Christy - liked listening to our bickering (totally Lori's fault), seeing us, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, disliked the art exhibit in the Old Church (graphic images like topless woman and head/arms in pile pics), disliked the Vedett beer

Overall an interesting trip which really opened our eyes to other cultures which is part of the reason I wanted to come over here.  But even I didn't know how wide our eyes would be opened by Amsterdam.  Fun weekend but once is enough for us.  Bath and Stonehenge next weekend, Israel in two weeks - can't wait! 

Thanks for listening,


  1. You certainly packed a lot in for the weekend. Sorry to hear about Keukenhof -- obviously our experience was a little better.

    Loved the Magnum in Giant Wooden clogs photo.

    The leaning houses were to help get the goods up top without bashing them into lower floors (in case you didn't figure that out).

    Too bad you didn't have a chance for some Argentinean beef . . .

  2. I LOVE YOUR PICTURES! Doug and I have been to Amsterdam 2 times. It is so interesting.
    I can't believe you pulled off the red light district picture! it is done so well with just her knees showing.

    Anne Newlin

  3. Hi, Lori. Saw your link through Anne Newlin. Great pix! Jan and I were in Amsterdam years ago (like 1988) with my parents and I recognized some of your stops.

    Mark Rothrock

    1. Hi Mark! We did have a nice time. The canal tour was a great way to see the different architecture around the city.

  4. Steve - we did find one Arg. beef place but decided not to try it out. I'm still bitter about the Kukenhof. The one item we missed was the walking tour but did manage to pack our days.

    Thanks Mark and Anne. I have to say that Amsterdam is one of the more photogenic cities I've been to over here. I tried a few sneaky RLD pics but that is the only one that turned out.


  5. Sorry to hear Lori was feeling bad. It looks interesting. Too bad about your luck with the beer. The glass was nice for the Vedett. Were you able to add it to your collection?


    1. I thought about it but didn't. I guess Belgium has some nice ones I can add. I did think about it tho.