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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

AMSTERDAM TIDBITS--I LOVED THIS CITY!


AmsterdamAmsterdam is a city inviting you to walk and marvel.  But it is also a big city, and getting to know public transport is important.  The trams and busses are easy to use.


At this site, you will receive a good education about public transportation in Amsterdam.  One important thing to remember is that you swipe your fare card getting off as well as getting on the tram.  If you do not swipe the card getting off, you nullify the card. 

The relevant prices for 2013 for unlimited travel beginning with the first swipe of your card:
 
24 hours (1 day) € 7.50
48 hours (2 days) € 12.00

In Amsterdam as in other European cities, there is a big, central station—a transportation hub.  In Amsterdam it is actually named the Central Station. We picked up, for free, an excellent map of Amsterdam and the public transportation system at the Central Station that we used for walking as well as for transportation between sites.

It’s also a good place to exchange money.  The rates are good and the fees probably less than in your hotel.

One thing about Amsterdam is that you have to be alert. So many people travel by bicycles in Amsterdam.  Watch out when you cross a street because the cyclists don’t seem to have any intention of stopping for you.  With a population somewhere around 800,000, there are an estimated 880,000 bicycles in Amsterdam!  It's pretty fantastic.

On our 2.5 hour walking tour, our guide pointed out that many are older model bicyles and many are rusted.

“Is there much bicycle theft?” asked a tourist on our tour.
“Yes, it happens,” answered Marieke, “but then the idea is to steal another bike.  That’s why we don’t keep getting new ones!” 

We laughed at the exchange but could only guess if she were kidding.  Suffice it to say that outside of flat, flat, flat Amsterdam where basically a gearless bike would be power enough, we saw newer, more sophisticated bikes in other cities as soon as the terrain included inclines.  It would not be a laughing matter if one of those bicycles were stolen.

By the way, should there be a car/bicycle accident in Amsterdam, the bicycle is always right.  The car is bigger.  Watch out for those cyclists.  They ride fast, and they are very adept at maneuvering through people and traffic.  Don’t get in their way!

Ingenuously I thought that renting a bicycle in Amsterdam would be a great experience.  A friend from home warned me that I would be killed.  I think she would have been correct.

Amsterdam
The carpeted walk of Art.
Each patch represents a different country.
On the wall is a legend so you can find
your own country's contribution.
I have a feeling that Marieke pulled our naïve tourist legs on more than one occasion, but when the tour ended, we had a good grasp of the Netherlands’ history, the history of the dikes, and the history of  the city of Amsterdam.  We had seen ancient buildings, learned why buildings are tall and narrow and built as they are.  We learned about the bicycle culture, the way Amsterdam embraces diversity with its population representing 178 different nationalities.  We heard about the different museums we might wish to visit and walked through the lobby of the Amsterdam Museum where the floor where we walk is also a work of art.

Amsterdam
The invitation at the entrance to
The Amsterdam Museum
 










We walked along the canals and over bridges discussing their unique qualities, and we saw ultra-modern buildings that offer a totally different view of ancient Amsterdam.   We saw one of the three remaining wood buildings in Amsterdam, this one built in 1528.  That is before Shakespeare was born!
Amsterdam
Yes, this house was built in 1528
 


We learned about customs surrounding Christmas and the history of St. Nicholas—far different from what many of us experience.

It was a wonderful tour, and as it ended in one of the big shopping areas, we headed to some very important spots she talked about—particularly the lavatories in the upscale department store!  For us, it also meant some time to pleasantly pause before heading out again to do some more exploring.  I am only highlighting some of the sites we visited in this most intriguing city.








Amsterdam
This ordinary office building held
Anne Frank's Secret Annexe.
Our premier stop was the Anne Frank Haus.  We had tickets for a 3:00 tour on the day we arrived.  Tickets are available on line, and you should buy them there or through your own tour company.  Of all the sights in Amsterdam, this one seemed the most important to all of us.  It is highly unlikely with The Diary of Anne Frank published in more than 60 languages, made into a film, a play, and an orchestral piece that too many people are unaware of this famous young girl who may be thought of as the face of the Holocaust. 

Indeed, the Anne Frank Haus apparently heads the lists of many visitors.  When we arrived, the line for tickets extended beyond the end of the block. People with tickets, however, enter through a separate door and simply follow the self-guided tour.  There was no line at that separate entrance on the day we went.  We actually had to look for that door which is to the left of the ticket line.

The building is non-descript.  It is an ordinary Amsterdam building indistinguishable from those around it as, of course, it is just another building—except to those hiding there.

Being inside that building, though, is a stunning and humbling experience because for the first time I was physically conscious of the cramped, close, small size of the quarters where these people had to be totally silent during the day and where they could not even touch a curtain to look out the window.  It seems impossible that they remained as long as they did.

There is no furniture in the building as the Nazis removed it all soon after the arrest, but on the walls are excerpts from the diary as well as family photos and other photographs of the time.  There is information about who lived in each room.  In the display cases are diary pages and other artifacts. 

Visitors must see the building as hallowed ground for it is very quiet inside as we silently walk through the door leading up the stairs to the Secret Annex and then from room to room.  As we climb up the narrow staircase, we try to accept where we are. 

People from all over the world are in that building with us.  We hear other languages spoken in hushed tones.  The flow of visitors through the building is constant, and when we exit, there is still a long line waiting to enter.

For the address, hours, and other relevant information concerning the Anne Frank Haus, visit www.annefrank.org There you will also be able to download a phone app and to see if there is a special exhibit during your stay.  You can order your tickets directly online from the museum.

The Anne Frank House is at Prinsengracht 263-267.  If you wish, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the Central Station.  Trams 13, 14, and 17 and buses 170, 172, and 174 stop nearby at the “Westermarkt” stop.

The Anne Frank Haus is located in a busy and central part of Amsterdam.  On that street and in the nearby areas are enough places to occupy a good part of your day. 

Before we went to the Anne Frank Haus, we wanted lunch.  We wanted to sample “Dutch” food.  Because of Amsterdam’s history of trade and because of how the land was reclaimed, the “Dutch” people came from all over the world; we quickly learned that one does not find Dutch cuisine in the way one finds Italian cuisine.

Amsterdam
Looks like Sue and Marty are enjoying that thick syrup!
But the Dutch pancake has a certain flair we’d read about, and we headed to The Pancake Bakery located at Prinsengracht 191, just around the corner from the Anne Frank House.  Visit their website at http://www.pancake.nl/indexeng.php to see the extent of their menu. 

Amsterdam
This was filled with bacon and tomatoes and cheese.
Absolutely delicious
This is not your Ihop!  The pancakes are dinner-plate sized.  There are sweet pancakes and savory pancakes.  The pancakes are filled with all kinds of goodies.  On the table is a big bowl of syrup and a wooden spoon—more like a ladle!  The menu offers more than 75 different kinds of pancakes and includes other items, of course.  Marty ordered a beautiful and delicious omelet.  The coffee was great, and the atmosphere just perfect.  The cost was reasonable.

The restaurant is narrow and long.  We didn’t realize until our walking tour that all the insides of buildings would be narrow.  That is the way things are in Amsterdam.  With land understandably precious, buildings were taxed on their width.  So buildings are tall and narrow.  Instead of a wide storefront, the building is deep. 

Amsterdam
Notice how narrow the restaurant is.
But it is very deep.
As we leave The Pancake Bakery, there is a sign in Dutch.  In translation: thank you and come back soon. 

At Prinsengracht 112 is The Cheese Museum.  Once again, a narrow building where the main floor is a cheese shop and the lower floor, down winding stairs, is the Cheese Museum.   

Cheese has a 600 year old history in the Netherlands, and it’s hard to imagine that any cheese eater has missed edam, gouda, or leerdammer.  This shop is attractive with different cheeses arrayed for tasting and wrapped in clear plastic to display the colors and variety.  It is very arty and very beautiful.

Amsterdam
How could we resist entering such an
inviting establishment?
Downstairs are some of the implements used in making cheese over the years as well as photographs and a history of the process.  It is well worth the stop.  If you’re on Facebook, visit their page.  You’ll see just what I am talking about.  

Prinsengracht hosts several places where we could book canal tours, and we took advantage of that possibility as well.  What would a trip to Amsterdam be without a boat ride on the canals?

The company we used, See Amsterdam at www.seeamsterdam.nl  was located just steps away from the Anne Frank House at Leiliegracht 51, at the intersection of Leiliegracht and Prinsengracht.  We chose it purely for its proximity to the Anne Frank Haus, but we were not disappointed although we would have preferred an open top boat.  They offer hour tours as well as hop-on-hop-off with tours spanning 24 or 48 hours. 

Our tour, lasting about an hour, gave us Amsterdam from a different vantage point.  We traveled along the canals as the captain of our ship gave a running narration of the history of the canals and the backgrounds of some of the neighborhoods along the streets and the houseboats lining the canal.

Go to my previous post (http://www.thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2013/11/in-amsterdam-its-water-water-everywhere.html) to see what we saw.

Amsterdam
The three crosses of St. Andrew represent the
three dangers to ancient Amsterdam: fire, water, and plague.
They are part of the coat of arms and the flag
of Amsterdam.
At Prinsengracht 116 is the Tulip Museum.  Once again an unpretentious building, but tulip and Holland seem synonymous.  Unfortunately we were out of season, but we did look around to see the bulbs for sale and to enjoy some of the colors. Visit the Tulip Museum to see some lovely examples of Holland's finest.

Of course WALK.  It is the best way to see Amsterdam.  It’s the only way to stop and enjoy the architecture and the shops.







Amsterdam has over 50 museums.  Can’t do them all, so this is a tough choice.  We only were in the city for a three incomplete days.  We chose to visit one but to spend enough time to savor its art.  That was The Van Gogh Museum.  Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous Dutch artists although he left the Netherlands and spent most of his short ten year productive life in France where he committed suicide and is buried.  The Van Gogh Museum is located at Paulus Potterstraat 7 with a website at www.vangoghmuseum.com.  Don’t neglect the Facebook page.

Amsterdam

If you’re thinking of this museum, once again the tickets have a timed entry.  You can order them online.  On the day we went, the line was not long, and we spent a long while admiring the original paintings we’ve only seen as notecards at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

If you’re more into the other important Dutch and Flemish masters, especially Rembrandt, you might try the recently re-opened Rijksmuseum located at Museumstraat 1.  Its website is www.rijksmuseum.nl/en.  Would that we had another day….

My best advice is to google “museums in Amsterdam.”  You’ll have a choice, get an address, and you will not waste time trying to decide.

Yes, we headed to another famous Amsterdam location—The Red Light District.  How could we resist?  I won’t describe anything here.  I’m not a spoiler.

Here’s some sage advice.  If you go past a café with a sign that says coffee “house,” the only stimulant you’ll be able to purchase is coffee.  If the sign says coffee “shop,” you’ll be able to buy marijuana.  You can even sit outside at a table in front of the coffee shop and smoke marijuana. The air was thick with it.

But be forewarned.  If you want to smoke tobacco, you MUST go outside.  Cigarettes and other tobacco-based products are not allowed in restaurants in Amsterdam.  Go figure!

This has gotten to be a long post, but I keep saying Amsterdam is big.  My lesson—find an excuse to go back.



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