Closing Thoughts

Well, our time in Amsterdam has come to a close and it’s time to go home. As I write this we are flying high somewhere over the Atlantic ocean on our way back to Toronto; this is providing me with the supreme luxury of about 7 hours in which to collect, organize and document my thoughts for closing out this blog. Time was the one thing there was just simply not enough of during this trip, so the next few hours will provide a near-bliss opportunity.

 

Thank You

First of all, I want to say thank you very much to all of you who sent through their comments, compliments or “liked” the postings, be it in an email to either of us or via the WordPress comments/reply function. I am very flattered and grateful that so many people followed our humble little attempt at a blog and were interested enough to follow our daily experiences. I apologize to everyone for not getting back to you individually with my thanks for your comments, but this was only due to the constant battle with time or, more specifically, the lack of it.

A special shout-out to Miss Jackie for all her invaluable help in my grappling with the blogging beast that is WordPress. Knowing nothing about WordPress, I initially bit off more than I could chew when I opened an account with the intent of photo-blogging this trip; WordPress was quite daunting to me at first.

 

On Keeping A Travel “Photo Blog”

This was my first attempt at keeping a public-access “blog” of any type while travelling. In all my years of travel, be it solo or with Vince, I’ve always kept a highly-detailed daily journal of everything I/we have done during a trip. For a number of reasons, most of which I won’t go in to, it is very important to me that I do this. Years later, when I look back on any of my travel journals, they bring back that warm and fuzzy feeling (well, usually – depends on the destination).

This photo blog of our Amsterdam trip was a different mode of journalling for me this time out. As you can see, I kept the blog format to a (mostly) picture format as opposed to talking a lot about things we experienced. This was intentional for a few reasons:

  • I am a photographer, not a wordsmith
  • the perpetual lack of free time to journal – it’s faster and easier to post pictures than to write about your experiences
  • the photo blog was a way for Vince and I to share our daily pictures on a broader scale, rather than doing a nightly email with attachments out to the various people who might be interested (or not) in what we had seen/done that day.

After completing my humble attempts at blogging this trip, I have developed a HUGE level of respect for those who travel blog/vlog professionally (a la Youtube, etc.). The level of dedication, enthusiasm, persistence, humour, patience and time that goes into a professional blog or vlog effort must be utterly astounding. As mentioned earlier, time was (and always will be) the thief when one travels anywhere in the world. After almost 12 hours of slogging through the daily pouring Amsterdam rain and returning to the hotel as two sodden messes with pounding feet, pounding heads, aching knees, grumpy, exhausted, frazzled and starving for a proper meal, the LAST thing on God’s green earth we felt like doing, or had the stamina to do, was to sit in front of the computer for another 2-3 hours trying to compose some daily thoughts. Again, this is one of the main reasons I mostly stuck to pictures in the blog. So much easier.

 

On Amsterdam

When I was a little boy growing up on our prairie farm in Alberta, we would have an occasional infestation of ants who would build a thriving anthill in the garden or an out-building. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of ants would congregate in a pile and work frantically to maintain their colony and existence in a mound of sand or dirt. The ants, of course, were a destructive force to foliage, vegetables and crops, so either Mom or Dad would pour a bottle of gasoline on top of the anthill to kill the little beasts. When the gasoline would hit the ants they would scurry madly and wildly over top of each other in a totally chaotic, wild, unpredictable fashion. It’s not pain-free being burned alive.

Central Amsterdam is one giant, out-of-control anthill that’s had gasoline dumped on it. Despite all our months of careful pre-trip research, hours of watching preparatory Youtube travel videos, reading guide books and following online discussions, we were NOT ready for the utter mayhem that greeted us when we arrived in the city, stepped out of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station and into the streets. There is no traffic organization, structure or right-of-way to anything or to anyone. We did not find the dedicated bike lanes we were told about. Instead the bikes compete with the pedestrians, cars – and in many places, trams – on streets which are just barely wide enough to allow a Smart car to pass. On many busy corners where there is tram traffic there are no street lights to control the flow of the trams, bikes and pedestrians, so you need to be extra cautious to get across the street without becoming a tram hood ornament.

The “sidewalks” (and I use this term very loosely) are extremely ragged and broken up, and almost always blocked by bollards, potted plants, chained-up bikes, maintenance/repair cones, caution tape or have huge holes in them or bricks missing from the surface. In many parts of the central city it is literally impossible for two people to walk beside each other, shoulder to shoulder; you must walk single-file. One is constantly forced to step off what passes for a “sidewalk” into the frenzy and chaos of the street. Vehicular – and *especially* bicycle traffic – is conducted at top speed, resulting in a melee not unlike the aforementioned anthill situation (see my “However…” notes about the cyclists, below). This is a terrifying and confusing situation when you come from the controlled, organized, grid-like structure found in most newer North American cities today. Amsterdam is an extremely old city which has grown organically over the years and the Netherlands is one of Europe’s most densely populated countries – you really feel those facts when you’re in central Amsterdam.

The Dutch people are absolutely wonderful and some of the nicest people on the planet, despite some of the old and false stereotypes out there. We fell totally in love with them.

Although they may at first seem stern or curt in their speech, it only seems that way compared to our innate Canadian politeness and “niceness”. Everywhere we went, the Dutch people treated us with extreme respect, were kind beyond measure, always had a smile and a pleasant thing to say, were cheerful and interested in us and were interesting people in general. Absolutely lovely, hard-working, accepting, ambitious people. They have a tolerance and live-and-let-live attitude that is unlike any in the world. Side-note: they love Canadians.

HOWEVER… however…

there is a dichotomy here. Put an Amsterdamer behind a bike and it all changes. All hell breaks loose. Behind the handlebars of a bike these people go like the proverbial bats out of hell. They are hyper-aggressive in the extreme and do not yield or slow down for anyone or anything. Their sole mission in life is to take you out, and they do this with a demonic gleam in their eye, a stony expression and nary a sideways glance. Murderous, frightening intent. Dodging these psycho-killer cyclists – more than anything – added a major element of stress to this trip. Vince and I joke that it will take a couple of weeks to lose our “traffic paranoia” once we get home. We were in constant fear for life and limb. I think we’ve both developed some serious whiplash from looking all directions repeatedly before crossing the street.

Chris Page flirts with danger in the bike lanes

Dutch is truly a mystifying language – so many i, j and k letters thrown together. It took me a day or two to get the “grachts” (canals) and the “straats” (streets) sorted out. Street names like “Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal”, “Haarlemmerhouttiunen” and “Stadhouderskade” do not easily roll off my little Anglo tongue. Vince faired far better than I with the language, as Dutch in several ways sometimes reads like a derivative of German (according to him), in which he has the basics.

And the FOOD!! Oh Lord, don’t get me started on the amazing Dutch cuisine! (chocolate, sweet pancakes, rich coffees, breathtaking desserts, cheese):

Would I come back for another visit? Uuummmm… probably. A valuable lesson learned this trip, though – next time we would spend only a couple of days in Amsterdam and do a tour of the smaller Netherlands towns and villages. More beauty and less stress that way. During our trip, whenever anyone asked us how long we were staying in Amsterdam and we replied “10 days”, they looked at us like we had either gone mad or suddenly grown two heads. Apparently no one stays in the city for that length of time, the average stay in the city being two or three nights at the most. I now see why. Yes, it’s pretty intense but is equally beautiful, fascinating, unique, romantic and rewarding.

 

Signing Off

I always have mixed feelings when a trip draws to a close – I’m very sad to see it end (ah, the pleasure of stepping outside one’s life for 10-14 days) but it’s also wonderfully reassuring to get back home to the reality and solidity of the day-to-day: friends, family, pets, work, colleagues and life in Toronto.

All-in-all though, this was a great trip and we’d do it again in a heartbeat! There were the usual highs and lows (more highs than lows) which happen every time we travel, but in the end it was all (very) good.

Until next time….

Over & Out From Amsterdam,

MJ & VB

Day 11: Monday, September 18

Time To Go Home!

Well, the time has come. Back to Toronto we must go.

 

Thank you Netherlands, it’s been a slice!!

 

At Centraal Station, waiting for the train back to Schiphol airport:

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Our chariot arrives

 

At Schiphol airport:

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Weird sculpture thingee
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Waiting in the boarding area for the flight call
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Our plane back to Toronto: AC #825
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So long from Amsterdam!!!!

Day 10: Sunday, September 17

Day Trip To Marken and Volendam

Well, it’s our last full day in the Netherlands before going home so we’re going to make the most of it. We’re traveling out of Amsterdam by bus to explore the quaint little fishing village of Marken, then taking a ferry across the water to the little town of Volendam, before returning to Centraal Station in Amsterdam.

Our route looks something like this:

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So, here we go….

Marken

At the Wooden Shoe Factory:

Well, what can I say – another great opportunity to make a total fool of myself…

 

Strolling around the village of Marken:

Nice shoes… a tad big though…
Our lunch spot in Marken – Hhmmmmm… I sense a decorative theme in this place

 

Time to board the ferry for the trip to Volendam:

One last look at the harbour

 

Crossing the Gouwzee to Volendam:

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Volendam

Approaching Volendam:

 

Strolling around Volendam:

 

Sint-Vincentiuskerk (Saint Vincentius Church):

 

A final wander through the town:

 

Then to the bus stop to catch our chariot back to Amsterdam:

It’s been quite a day…

 

 

Day 9: Saturday, September 16

Wandering Through East-Central Amsterdam

We had no firm plan for our meanderings today but we thought it might be interesting to venture into the eastern section of central Amsterdam to see that part of the city.

 

A Few Random Street Shots to Start the Day

The Dutch can be very irreverent
“Love locks” on the canal
Sint Anthoniesluis

 

We discovered this beautiful park called Wertheimpark

 

In Werthteim Park we came across The Auschwitz Monument (or Auschwitzmonument in Dutch). Consisting of a series of broken mirrors, it is a tribute to all of those who were killed at Auschwitz. Created by artist Jan Wolkers.


We spent a good deal of time touring the The Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum). The museum chronicles, in great detail, the efforts the Dutch put forth to resist Hitler’s advances in WWII.

 

A Walk Through the Old Jewish Quarter

Pretty, but cluttered, garden in the Old Jewish Quarter

 

Rembrandtplein

We then moved on to Rembrantplein (Rembrandt Square) to check out the various Rembrandt statues, art and reproductions


 

The Begijnhof

It was getting a little wet again from the rain, so we made one final stop at the beautiful and peaceful Begijnhof. The Begijnhof somewhat resembles a convent, although the beguines enjoy greater freedom than nuns in a convent.


 

One last random street shot:

 

…And then – guess what – the rain started, which made us feel like this:

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So we called it a day and returned to the hotel!

Day 8: Friday, September 15

A Day Trip To Haarlem, Netherlands

Today there was an odd, yellow glowing ball in the sky and a warm, yellow light being cast over everything. We puzzled over this strange anomaly and finally concluded that this must be the sun finally shining – believe it or not – which we had rarely seen since we arrived in the Netherlands.

We needed a break from bustling Amsterdam, so planned this day trip out from the city. Haarlem is absolutely beautiful and is very quick and easy to reach on the train – about 15-20 minutes from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.

Haarlem is an ancient city, built in 1245, but has been made somewhat modern. It’s a nice size – 156,000 residents. The locals tell us that many people live in Amsterdam and commute to Haarlem to work.

We truly enjoyed our day – and the rare sunshine – in this beautiful city.

 

Train from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station to Haarlem
Browsing in the Haarlem shops

The streets of Haarlem – much quieter than Amsterdam
Local cheese shop
Haarlem’s Grote Markt (Great Market), the central market square
In the Grote Markt

 

The following four shots are of the Grote of St.-Bavokerk (Great Church of St. Bavo’s), a beautiful structure located in Haarlems Grote Mark

The pipe organ (far end of church) where Mozart used to play


HHmmmmm.. what’s for lunch?


 

Back to exploring the town after lunch:

Many canals, just like neighbouring Amsterdam
Some local street art
The windmill De Adriaan

Night Photography Tour

After a full day in Haarlem, we returned on the train to Amsterdam for the evening’s activities ahead. I had booked a night photography tour with the excellent Amsterdam Photo Safari company, and was lucky enough to once again get Chris Page as the guide/host (as we had last Sunday for our day photo tour). Vince opted out of the night course as he felt it really wasn’t his thing (he’s more a point-and-shoot guy), and night photography is very time consuming and tedious by default.

Here are some of my shots from that session:

A very calm finish to a lovely day…

Day 7: Thursday, September 14

Sloshing Through Amsterdam

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Ah, Amsterdam… where old umbrellas come to die

Knowing well in advance that there was going to be extremely heavy and unrelenting rainfall in the city today, we planned a (more or less) indoor, museum-type of day. With this in mind, our first stop was…

The Anne Frank House

Many years ago I read “The Diary of Anne Frank”, as so many have, and could not help feeling extremely moved and inspired by the book. I vowed that if I ever got to Amsterdam, a visit to the Anne Frank House would be at, or near, the top of my list.

Although it’s a very touristy thing to do (I believe it’s Amsterdam’s #1 tourist attraction), it’s another must-see. The demand to get in to the House is so overwhelming that you must now have a pre-booked, timed entry. The perpetual line snakes around the block at any given time of the day even though you have a pre-booked ticket.

Our timed entry was for 9:45AM. I was, in a way, kind of dreading the visit only because of the disrespectful way large groups of people can act when they enter a place that commands respect. What a shock – although there were literally a stream of a few hundred people filing through, there was total, absolute silence from everyone – no ringing cell phones, no text arrival messages, no loud or raised voices, no laughter, no selfies – just silence and solemnity. It was a very sobering experience.

Photography is strictly forbidden in the Anne Frank House, so there’s no photos to post except for this one outside of the House:

Anne Frank, 1929-1945

A coffee break after visiting the Anne Frank House

After spending about an hour and a half at the Anne Frank House, we moved on to…

The Rijksmuseum

Again, we had a pre-booked, timed entry ticket for this high-volume attraction. While the rain continued to pour outside, we enjoyed some amazing architecture and art inside.

“Militia Company of District VIII under the Command of Captain Roelef Bicker”, by Bartholomeus van der Heist (1613-1670)
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt

The Rijksmuseum Research Library. This is the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands.
And… the obligatory gift shop shot

The “I amsterdam” sign outside the Rijksmuseum:

Greetings!

You know it’s a very wet day when we’re forced to take the tram system back to the hotel instead of walking. This is what the interior of the Amsterdam trams look like. Not terribly different from our TTC streetcars:

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One last shot of the day:

Soggy view from our hotel window

Day 6: Wednesday, September 13

Another Soggy Day In Amsterdam

I doubt there is much rain left in the rest of the world, as it’s all falling in Amsterdam! Doing our best to keep spirits up and the adventures continuing in spite of the incessant, relentless, at times torrential, rain.

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Selfies in the rain
Uhhhhh… exactly where is the sunshine?
On the Herengracht

Hermitage Amsterdam

We made our way to the Hermitage Amsterdam to take in the exhibit “1917 Romanovs & Revolution“. Vince has always been a big fan of the Russian Romanov dynasty and this was a fantastic opportunity to see this unique exhibit of the actual Romanov artifacts. The timing for us seeing this exhibit was perfect as it closes on September 17.

Hermitage entrance
In the exhibit entrance
Exhibit introduction, made to resemble the St. Petersburg Passage
The four Grand Duchesses & the Tsarevich with some of their belongings
With the sculptures in “The Plantage”, an outdoor art exhibit behind the Hermitage

Museumplein

We then moved on to Museumplein, which is a huge public space in the Museum Quarter of Amsterdam. The square houses three major museums – the Rijksmuseum, the van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum.

Entrance to Museumplein
Greetings from the Museumplein. And yes, that actually is sunshine you see behind me. It lasted a sum total of 30 seconds so we took advantage of the photo op.

Canal Cruise

Leaving the Museumplein we hopped a canal boat tour, which is a must-do activity when visiting Amsterdam. The view from the canal added quite a different perspective to the scenery.

Magere Brug
The Memo Science Museum. This is a massive science centre/museum predominantly aimed at kids.
And yes, even the meerkats enjoy the local green here

Local van Gogh street art

Day 5: Tuesday, September 12

In & Around The Red Light District

Amsterdam is keeping us in great physical shape – between dodging the killer cyclists, tornado-like winds and insistent rain – we’re working off all that lovely Dutch cuisine.

Today we spent the day in and around the Amsterdam’s Red Light district (don’t worry, it’s not as seedy as it sounds). We visited:

Our Lord In The Attic Church

A hidden Catholic church in the top of a house, preserved from the era when Catholicism was illegal in the Netherlands.

 

Oude Kerk (Old Church)

The Oude Kerk is the oldest building in Amsterdam, founded in 1213. It was a medieval Catholic cathedral later stripped down to Protestant bareness by the Dutch.

The gold foil on the floor is actually an art exhibit that was taking place, not gold that the Catholics snuck back in!

 

The Amsterdam Museum

This is a fascinating museum that traces the history of Amsterdam. The pictures don’t do it any justice but it was quite an interesting visit.

Reflections of Vince!

 

Miscellaneous Stuff From The Day

And yes, they now have Hudson’s Bay stores in Amsterdam. Good to see Canadiana abroad.
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Oh look! Another canal….
And… another Amsterdam bike, built for two in this case

 

Over & out from rainy Amsterdam!

Day 4: Monday, September 11

Wandering Through Amsterdam

There was no real set agenda for today. We took a totally meandering route, making it up as we went along. It was a real challenge today, though, as Amsterdam was having some serious rain and wind… all day long. We braved the pouring rain and still saw a lot before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

Now… where did I put my bike??

 

Fountain near Dam Square

 

Dam Square, central Amsterdam

 

What we found in an Amsterdam flower market

 

Charming architecture

 

And… a stop at Puccini chocolate shop. The aroma of rich chocolate was impossible to ignore:

 

Vince on the canal

 

Nice houseboat on the canal

 

Very peaceful here

 

The Wester Kerk

 

What happens after too much chocolate…

 

Fingers crossed for less rain tomorrow!

 

 

Day 3: Sunday, September 10

The First Full Day in Amsterdam

After a good long sleep (12 hours!) to get rid of the jet lag, we were ready to take on Amsterdam. For our first day in this amazing city, we chose to do something a little different and booked a “photo tour” of Amsterdam with a company called Amsterdam Photo Safari (www.amsterdamphotosafari.com).

We met our wonderful host/guide/photographer, Chris Page, shortly after 11:00AM at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (sorry we were a little late, Chris!). Over the next 6 hours Chris led us on an awesome, meandering exploration of the spiderweb-like streets of the city. We saw many sites that the normal tourist doesn’t usually see.

Here’s a few shots from our Amsterdam Photo Safari with Chris:

Tour boat on the Amstel
St. Olaf’s Chapel
Red Light District – not a hooker in sight!
Cafe at The Oude Kerk (Old Church)
Amsterdam city flag
The narrowest house in Amsterdam (the bottom is a bakery, and the second floor is a tea room).
Wooden bikes!
Vince & our excellent host for the day, Chris Page
How cute is this? Amsterdam’s version of an SUV. Note the electric charging cable, bottom left.

 

A great tour of a great city!