Linda and Marcel deserve medals for hospitality.
The sumptuous meal that appeared on the table was clear evidence of determined effort. Lamb curry, vegetable casserole, vegetable pies, salads, and pickles turned us all into gluttons. Marcel opened up a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from a Stellenbosch winery. Wow, I couldn't imagine a more luxurious way to begin a visit to the great city of Amsterdam.
The next evening Linda and her mom, my Aunt Sally, prepared an assortment of vegetable curries and roti for dinner. It was another balmy evening. Marcel opened up a fine Bordeaux for this meal. We had such a lovely time in the garden reminiscing about our childhood days in Ladysmith. Don't they always seem wonderful in retrospect? The sun disappeared around 10:00 PM and we finally dragged ourselves indoors to rest up before more serious sightseeing in Amsterdam.
A spiffy train from Almere Parkwijn station deposited us most efficiently in Central Amsterdam. Mass transit in Europe never fails to impress the heck out of me. Exiting Amsterdam's Central station - a stunning neo-gothic building designed by Pierre Cuypers - we hopped on a tram, easily visible and waiting to depart, to Museum Square.
Now, I have to admit, we did learn that over the top efficiency had its problems too. Transportation chip cards are supposed to be painless, but we encountered some frustration when we tried to do a top up. But that's a long and boring story!
A free online audio app guided us through the museum's highlights, helping us understand Dutch art of the Golden Age. We got quite the scoop on famous paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer and Frans Hals.
The helpful audio guide also made staring at the museum's Delft pottery more meaningful.
Rembrandt's gigantic Nightwatch is, of course, the star attraction at this museum. For ten years the museum was closed for remodeling and this famous painting wasn't available to the public. This year Amsterdam was a hot tourist destination due to the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum. Two other major museums - the Stedelijk and the the Van Gogh Museum also re-opened this spring after years of being closed for remodeling.
The audio guide helped me appreciate the contrast of light and dark that made "Nightwatch"famous. Rembrandt's depiction of motion was another unusual feature. Despite the crowds hovering around this masterpiece, we managed a good gawp.
Canals. gabled buildings, and bicycles - Amsterdam images forever imprinted in my mind. What a pleasure to wander around a (mostly) car free city. Though, it has to be said, dodging the millions of cyclists was not exactly fun.
We totally lucked out with accommodation in this city. I found an absolutely fabulous bed and breakfast listed in Rick Steve's guide book. The Hotel de Leydsche Hof was so central - on Leidsegracht - just a five minute walk from Leidseplein. The building was owned by the same family for generations and used to be a proper hotel. Now, after some remodeling, it is like a huge house with many bedrooms and loads of character.
The most famous one, the Dam Square, home of the ornate Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the monument can keep you gaping for hours!
On the topic of famous squares, I had a lot of fun on the Leidseplein, discovering jenever. The buzzy cafés on this square provide a pretty cool base to absorb the city's energetic vibe. Tourists, locals, street performers, shoppers, street vendors - all help give this area a really lively atmosphere.
How many Shakespeares and Beethovens and Van Goghs have gone unnoticed? Thomas Gray said it best in his poem "Elegy in a Country Churchyard".
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness beneath the desert air
But thanks to Theo and his wife, we get to revel in the sweetness of Vincent Van Gogh's sunflowers and irises.
At another of Amsterdam's treasures, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, we heard three heartwarming pieces of music - Stravinsky's Pulcinella, Mozart's Violin concerto No. 3, and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4
Free beverages (wine, beer, espresso drinks, tea) were a really nice touch. It was just so pleasurable to relax in the plush lobby during the intermission, sipping red wine, imbued in the sweetness of "Pulcinella".
|Anne Frank House|
A visit to Anne Frank House is just so gut clenching. Walking through the sombre rooms, all I could think of was Anne's joie de vivre that came through so vividly in her diary. She let us into her soul and we know well how she looked forward to her freedom. To think how close they were to it when they were caught ...
What cruelty we humans are capable of. So many examples through the ages, throughout the world ...
After checking out the 13th century Oude Kerk, we strode into the narrow lanes with red lights that radiate from the square. A few women were at work being alluring ... and it was impossible not to wonder about the heartbreaking circumstances that led them here. We fled from the area, to more cheerful parts of the city.
Indonesian food is to Holland what Indian food is to Britain. We were told that a rijstafel is a not to be missed experience in this city. So we dined at a place called Sampurna near the famous flower market. An overwhelming number of spicy Indonesian dishes, many featuring tofu, tempeh and peanut sauce, arrived at our table. But they were all so tasty, we totally pigged out! It was our last evening in this city, so the heck with exercising discipline!
As we took our last tram ride to the train station in the early morning, we decided that this was a city we had to return to. There was still so much to see.