Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day -1

FRI MAR 10 - Fly to Amsterdam, take one.

Tried to leave on a 6:30 pm flight, after work for Betsy.  Airline status was “On time” leaving the house.  In reality, one inch of snow in New York City earlier in the morning (!) had air traffic delayed across the east coast.  Really? We had given New York more credit than that.  Wimps.  Our 1 hour and 30 minute layover had shrunken to 15 minutes, not enough time to switch terminals at JFK.  After spending an hour at the Delta ticket counter, we were sent home in disgrace.  They ultimately put us on a flight out the next afternoon.

After paying for a whole day of parking, all the air was let out of our psychological balloons.  We were sent home in disgrace.  But since it would be silly to sit in I-485 traffic for an hour plus, we drove to Charlotte for a beer at Triple C Brewing Company, and then had BBQ over at Mac’s Speed Shop.  (The fridge at home was pretty empty.)  The rabbits were surprised to see us back from our trip so soon.

Lessons learned:
  • Leave more time between flights
  • Avoid New York City airports (we kind of knew this already)
  • Delta Airlines has no clue.  We stood in front of the ticket agent for a whole hour while the guy tried to figure out flight status and how to rebook us.  And even that was screwed up, as we were to find out when trying to return at the end of the trip

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 0

SAT MAR 11 - Fly to Amsterdam, take two.

Now we had to get re-psyched up for traveling.  The plan:  3:45 pm flight to Atlanta, 2-3 hour layover, then on to Amsterdam.  Airbus 330, 2-4-2 seating, middle/aisle seats on a packed flight.  Had a BIG meal in Atlanta waiting for the flight, thinking airlines never feed you anymore.  MISTAKE.  The fed us nearly continuously, all the way to Europe, mostly carb-rich fare. Lots of music to listen to and movies and TV to watch on the seat back screens.  Betsy watched “Jackie”, but couldn’t hear much of the subtle, allegedly good soundtrack.  I caught up on old “Big Bang Theory” episodes, of which a little goes a long way.  We both managed to doze a bit, but didn’t sleep a lot.

The one day delay meant we missed out on 2 concerts we wanted to attend.  Saturday afternoon was the Lumako Ensemble (string trio + harp + flute) at the Het Schip Museum satellite facility, close to where we were staying.  I had emailed them, and they were holding our tix/spaces.  The other was a 11:00 am Sunday symphony concert at the famous Concertgebouw, already paid for, just to add injury to insult.

So, Bob’s carefully engineered trip agenda already had a big money wrench thrown into it.

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 1

SUN MAR 12 - Arrival

Landed ~ 10:45 am

A slow, but not long line at customs.  “You're just visiting Amsterdam? Really? There’s more here than just Amsterdam.” Took the train to Centraal Station, then the subway (Metro) to our digs.  The train ticket machines did not like any of our credit cards, seems a signature was required at the window.  The Metro ticket office was located outside the big train station.  Eventually figured THAT out.  Fast, easy, Metro ride to the apartment, where our host AirBNB Paul had coffee ready for us.

Our place, up on the third floor.

Stairs to the metro station.  Note the Dutch Modern design.

Cargo bike. Things like this were everywhere.

So… finally here, we ditched our carry-ons and daypacks, and hit the streets.  Walking here is an adventure in itself, with canals and bike lanes and trams and busses.  But once you realize there are seperate stoplights for people, bikes, and cars/trams/busses, it all makes sense. 

To get oriented, we took a canal cruise on one of the Blue Boats.  We zigged and zagged through the canals, starting at the Heineken place, up around the harbor, and back down the Amstel River.  Took pictures:

Fancy gables, this one with a sheep
More gables

Old church, bikes everywhere

The EYE Film Museum, plus some of the few tallish buildings in Amsterdam

Museumkaarts in hand, we took the sidewalk/bike path that goes through the big Rijksmuseum, past the AMSTERDAM letters, and went to the Stedelijk, the modern art museum.  Lots of Mondriaan, of course, being the 100th anniversary of De Stijl.  Nice Ab-Ex room with a Rothko, a big blue Newman, and several nice de Koonings.  Lots of Malevich.  The current big exhibit was on Ed van der Elksen - Dutch street photography and early home films.  I think we actually walked the museum backwards.

Bike path going THROUGH the national art museum.
Stedelijk, the modern art museum.

Ate dinner at a Thai place called Yum Yum (!) on Ceintuurbaan, which is kind of the main drag between the apartment and the Museumplein zone.

NEMO Science Museum

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 2

MON MAR 13 (day 2)

It was Rijksmuseum Day, the one day of the entire trip that we we stuck to our original agenda.

Rijksmuseum, the Dutch nation art museum, in the distance, across Museumplein.

Had a good night's sleep, and made it to the museum by 10:00.  Took a guided tour, which is always fun.  HUGE place, with lots of specialized exhibits.  The museum centerpiece is Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”.  Lots of bored, cell-phone entranced teens hanging out there!  Fun collection of Durer prints - they had “Melancholia”,  but no “Young Hare”.  Lots of portraits and group portraits by the Dutch masters.  Never did find the Frans Post capybara in Brazil paining.

The naked statue people seem to be enjoying the big trees and the art museums

Had lunch right in the museum cafe’, which was good and surprisingly reasonable.  Our waitress disappeared, but it turned out that all the waitstaff had everyone’s order on an electronic device, so you can get your bill from anyone walking by. I thanked a nice elderly dutch couple for that information (“Excuse me, but how did you DO that - get your bill?”)

The famous IAmsterdam letters!  Selfie central.

Dinns at the Wildshuut, an eetcafe’ (perhaps our favorite Dutch word) on the way back.  They had most of their space reserved for some political party event. National elections, it turns out, were just two days ahead.  Frites and shrimp croquettes.  Salmon and salad for Betsy.

Visited the big - by Amsterdam city standards - grocery store to stock up on Greek yogurt, cheese, and crackers.

Texted Paul a Happy Birthday.

Along the Amstel River

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 3

TUE MAR 14 (day 3)

Courtyard behind the Museum van Loon

Went to the Museum van Loon in the morning. The van Loons were a bigwig family dating back to at least the VOC (Dutch East India Company) days, and this canal house is now a museum, at least most of it, most of the time.  BIG entryway/staircase with a very cool, script brass baluster going up the stairs.  They had a special tulip-themed art show nearly ready to open.  A formal garden courtyard let to a carriage house which held a fancy carriage that a van Loon had build for no apparent reason other than to hopefully get invited to ride in parades. 

We attended a free lunchtime concert  at the Opera House.  People just sat on the stairs in the big entry foyer. It was fun.

Lunch - walked up toward the old town center, Nieumarkt square, and ate lunch in de Waag, which used to be the weighting house and an entrance into the very old city. It is the site of Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp”.  Guess that happened upstairs somewhere.  The place looks like a castle from outside, and now stands by itself in the middle of Neiumarkt square.  Very cool atmosphere, with high ceilings and lots of real candles, and again, good food at a reasonable price for something smack dab in the middle of a busy, touristy place!

Next up was the the famous Stephen and Penelope knitting and yarn shop.

Stephen and Penelope


Rembrandt, looking down on a recreation of his "Night Watch" painting.

Drawbridges, both wooden and metal

Walked around more after lunch, and ended up at the Rembrandt House Museum. They had it it done up, as much as possible, as it was when he was living, working, and painting there.  There were printmaking and paint prep demos.  Many steep, winding, spiral staircases.  Rembrandt had a bic collection of collectables and curiosities that he used as working models for the art (his & his students).

Dinner at Ali, a Turkish/kabob place, just south of Rembrandtplein.  Great hummus-like appetizer, made with walnuts, roasted peppers, and tahini.  Muhammara.   Lots of walking today! 

Dinner spot

Many of the buildings actually do slant toward the street.  Stairways are very narrow, so big things are loaded in through windows, using the cantilevered beams mounted in the gables. The overhang helps.

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 4

WED MAR 15 (day 4)

Slept in a bit and got to the Van Gogh Museum around 11:00.  The museum was quite impressive, and had by far the largest crowd seen to date.  Very bright, modern building(s) set up well for big crowds. Three - count ‘em three - gift shops  You could buy a Potato Eaters watch.  We could not interpret the symbols used for the numbers.   One gift shop was for books only.  This must keep the intellectually curious away from the mere curio seekers.  

The Van Goth Museum

On display apart from the Van Goths were works by artists that influenced him, and by those he directly influenced.  One whole floor focused mainly on his life history.  Many self-portraits, which he seemed to use to develop his style and try new things.  Several canvases had been painted on both sides, and were displayed in special frames.

In the egg-shaped new wing was a big display of early 20th century prints and posters.  Toulouse-Lautrec, et.al.  Many also by Pierre Bonnard, which I totally didn’t know about. Totally different than his paintings.

Had a late lunch at the Cobra Cafe on the Museumplein.  If the M of the “IAMSTERDAM” letters fell over, it would crunch the corner of this resaurant.  Once again, in a tourist-packed location that would provide a valid excuse for mediocre, over-priced food served with indifference, the Netherlands proved us wrong.  Good food, good service, at a good price.  Something is wrong here - we’re not use to traveling and NOT griping about food.

Betsy on a bridge
Everyone loves a crocheted wiener dog.

Took a walk after lunch, and saw a bunch of things:
  • De Afstap knit shop
  • A great bookstore that specialized in books on just two topics: Architecture and Nature.
  • The Homomonument, which comemorates all persecuted LGBT men and women.  There are three ground-level triangles that form the corners of a larger triangle.  You might miss it, or even walk right through it, if you didn’t know it is there - it is right in the middle of a busy square.  
  • The Anne Frank Huis had a line that wrapped around the block (we’d see an even longer line, in the rain, later in the week).
  • The Cheese Museum.  Actually a plain old cheese shoppe with a little display in the basement.
  • A two-story, floating bicycle parking lot on a barge by the ferry dock next to Centraal Station.
  • Had a beer on the dockside deck outside the main public library.

If you leave your Bakfiets parked in one spot long enough, it will get tagged.

We finally got to attend a concert. It featured a string quartet AND a saxophone quartet.  Music from Bach to Bartok.  The venue was the Muziekgebouw on the IJ, a big, ultra-modern performance space right on the water.  Four story glass walls, cantilevered roofline, big atrium, the whole modern architecture thing.    There was a cool laser show with mirrors and mist, which was both fun and tastefully done.  It was the first time the musicians had seen it, too.  

Muziekgebouw on the IJ

We got there early to pick up our tickets, so we attended an “Intro” 30 minutes before the concert, but the fired-up, animated speaker presented it in Dutch.  All we understood was, “Talking Heads, Bartok, U2, CBGB’s, Rolling Stones, David Byrne”, and “Does the composer write with the venue in mind?”  We had nabbed front row seats, so we couldn’t really just sneak out. 

Wine for everyone (included with ticket) in the big glass  lobby afterward.  Hobnobbed with the musicians and other concert-goers.

They do have bowling

They also have unimaginabley long, skinny river cruise ships.  

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 5

THU MAR 16 (day 5)

Bike Day #1.  First lesson: you can really zip around town on a bicycle here!  We overshot our first destination by half a mile, thinking, "We couldn't have gotten so far so fast".

The Horticultural Gardens were not on our borrowed Museumkaarts, so we opted for Micropia instead.  This museum was devoted to microbes.  It appeared brand new, impressive considering the hoards of school kids that must go through the place.  Entering, we were ushered into big, freight-sized elevator. It had a welcome/intro video on the ceiling.  There were lots of Zeiss microscopes hooked up to joysticks and video screens. It was all very fun and interactive, and extremely well done.  You stamped a card at various displays and “collected: microbes.  Fun!

Lunched at Plantage (same name as the neighborhood) right on the Micropia/Zoo grounds. Big, outdoor-ish setting in sort of a greenhouse.  Got blasted by the sun - sunglasses were a necessity.  Yet another great, reasonably-priced lunch.  

Biked around the Eastern Dockland islands.  All reclaimed land, fairly recently.  Modern architecture, mostly apartment buildings.  Many interesting bridges between both little and big canals.  Little ones had cool sculpted iron foot/bike bridges. Took lots off photos of the larger Anaconda snake bridge.  

Anaconda bridge, with bike
Anaconda bridge, with boat


Anaconda footbridge, showing the funky lights

Had a beer at the windmill Brewery on the IJ. 

Windmill, brewery, and, of course, bikes.

Stopped by a local bike shop to get Betsy’s seat adjusted.  You can buy a big, black, upright, step-through Dutch city bike for around 300 Euros.  Plus racks, of course.

In the evening we went to the opening of the William Eggleston “Los Alamos” photography exhibit at the FOAM (Photography Museum), which is in a converted canal house across from the van Loon Museum.  Very cool - he printed with an older Kodak dye absorption process to carefully control color saturation. Lots of crusty Americana!

Dinns later at an Ethiopian restaurant. They give you a huge, soft flatbread which you tear pieces off of and use them to pinch off bits of your food.  No silverware.  Chicken, beef bits, spices. Small place - 5 tables or so.

Stopped by the local “big” grocery on the way home.  Stocked top on greek yogurt, cheese, crackers, and chocolate.

Bob stayed up WAY too late doing laundry and chatting with our BNB host Paul.

Old Citroen ambulance

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 6

FRI MAR 17 (day 6)

Bike day #2

Rode bikes down the Amstel River, out of the city, to the town of Ouderkirk on the Amstel.  It was a cool, breezy, sunny morning. 
Amstel River, windmill

We had the following adventures:
  • Stopped in a cafe’ for a coffee (and to use the bathroom, really), and ended up staying for lunch.  They were somehow affiliated with a bank - I guess the place WAS called “The Bank” - and only took one specific credit card, even in the cash machine at the door.  Had to walk down the street to find a real ATM, as we were running low on Euros.
  • There was a neat old church with a cemetery.  Grave sites were side-by-each, and people kept them up like mini-gardens or landscapes. On old Jewish cemetery was across the street, over one of those cool, white, wooden, Dutch drawbridges.
  • Cool, unsettled wind on the way back.  Rode by windmills, and many, many rowing clubs.  Saw more rowing shells than we had for our entire lives up to today.  Betsy spied some giant wild rabbits hopping around a in a field.
  • Took a wrong turn and got totally “misoriented” on the way back.  Google Mapped our ay back.  Even that was challenging, with bike paths vs streets, the long names, etc.
  • Back at the apartment, after staying up late and getting up early to rescue laundry, Bob actually took a nap.
This wooden bridge was big enough to carry cars

Saint Urbanus Church
Drawbridge, blue sky


Cemetery plots - small landscape projects

Overview of church + graveyard

Evening - first rain of the trip. We went to an avant-garde jazz concert.  Drummer/percussionist (leader), singer, guitarist.  The music was very restrained, moody, flowing, and improvisational.   The concert was held in a converted church, now the “Orgelpark”  They had 4 or 6 big pipe organs, from various  times throughout history, plus several pianos and other miscellaneous keyboard instruments.  The guitarist controlled one of the organs wit his guitar (and foot pedals, laptop, etc). People seemed to hangout after drinking coffee and wine, but we were hungry…

Snuck into a Thai restaurant just before they closed for the night.  Still raining, so we took a tram home instead of walking.  The rain seemed to have no effect on the cyclists.  They just add a hat of scarf, and hunch up their shoulders a bit.

Amsterdam Trip 2017. Day 7

SAT MAR 18 - A cold, wet, grey, drizzly day.

Took the Metro subway to Nieumarkt in the old city and poked around the market stalls.  Mushrooms.  Specialty cheeses. Nuts.  Lots and lots of fresh cut flowers. 

Random root veggies

Went to the Amsterdam Museum, the historical (and historic) museum.  This would be a good place to go first - like we planned - but it cemented lot of things we had been picking up on. Canals, various Willems, the VOC, etc.  The current special exhibit was on the 100th anniversary of the Schipol Airport.  There was a big, four-screen, panoramic time-lapse film  of the airport.  Control tower view?  Planes streaming in, storms gathering and rolling through, night falling.  Also shots of the baggage level, terminals, parking, etc.  Very cool.  15 minutes or so.

Lunch at the Amsterdam Museum Cafe’.  These museum cafe’s have been uniformly excellent.  I ordered a sandwich of Amsterdam Sausage, which is supposedly traditional.  Turns out this is a raw, spiced kind of thing, kind of like steak tartare.  Surprise!  But it was very lean and actually very good.  Tradition!

Behind the museum is a pretty, quiet courtyard that encloses the Old English Church, gardens, etc.  Begijnhof.  It was once a home for unmarried Catholic lay women in the 1400’s. People still live there now.

Took the self-guided audio tour of the Royal Palace.  Originally it was built as the town hall, with offices, court rooms, etc, only on a grand palatial scale.  Ironically, when the various Napoleons took over the Netherlands, they turned it into a residential palace.  Most of the rooms are currently done up in that kind of style, with only the room names hinting at the original use. ”Treasury Office, Lower Court, Burgermasters Meeting Room”, and so on.

The Dutch Royal Palace

Ate at Haesje Claes, a very traditionally Dutch place. Rambling and cozy, with traditional Dutch fare.  Split pea soup, plate o’ cheese, beef steak.  Local beer. 

Back to the Old English Church to listen to the Danish Women’s Choir, Nordlys, perform their winter concert.  About two dozen singers.  Music was from old to new, from traditional to very modern.  The audience filled the main pews of the church, maybe 200 people, and there was another performance following.

The Metro hole we needed was closed for repair, and we couldn’t find another entrance, even after much fruitless tromping, so we walked back.  Had we not tromped so long in search of the mysterious, and very possibly non-existent, Metro entrance, we would have already been most of the way back. At least stopped raining and warmed up a bit.