Amsterdam – Canals, Windmills, Art, Apple Pie & Bicycles.

I’ve been to more than a few train stations on this trip, from China to London. Hands down the prettiest train station exterior is Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. A true cathedral to transportation. We arrived in Amsterdam by train from Berlin about mid-afternoon. Our first order of business was to buy tickets for the local subway/street car/bus system. Amsterdam has a very limited subway system which we used mostly to get to and from our accommodations to the main train station, otherwise, we mostly used street cars and walked to get around. We didn’t use the most popular form of local transportation, bicycles. I have never seen a city more ideally suited for bicycles, it’s flat as a pancake and compact.

The Amsterdam Centraal Train Station:

Our Amsterdam accommodations – this converted canal boat:

Holly fell in love with the idea of staying on a canal boat in Amsterdam and throwing the budget to the wind (wait – we had a budget?) booked us into this boat for three nights for €584 (about $250 per night) through . It was much nicer than staying in a hotel and other than a problem with an electric circuit breaker popping off creating a few other problems we had to deal with, it was fun and had tons of room for the two of us.

Here’s a shot of the main living/dining/kitchen area. Further back is a nice sized bathroom with both a tub and a shower and a good-sized bedroom, including a clothes washer and dryer. There is another small bedroom (behind me as I take this photo) and a wheel house upstairs. During the summer months the wheelhouse would be a nice place to have drinks and watch the sunset in their comfy leather seats. My only complaint was that other than the skylights and a few small portholes, there wasn’t much in the way of windows. It was OK, because we were sightseeing during the day and with the short winter days, it was almost always dark when we were at the boat.

Here’s a photo of our boat’s neighborhood at night. A short walk from our houseboat is Utrechtsestraat a street that has a very high concentration of good restaurants. Our first night we went to Café Moustache for dinner. The woman who met us to let us into the houseboat works there and recommended it to us. It was good, perhaps a little on the hipster side for me, but the food was good, if pretty expensive.

Indonesian Food:

Another night we walked over to the same street because Holly had seen several Indonesian restaurants and wanted to give one a try. Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, so like Indian restaurants in London, Amsterdam has a generous selection of Indonesian restaurants.

I found Tempo Doeloe on Google Maps and it had good reviews, so we gave it a try. It was a little nicer than we expected, white table cloths and reservations suggested. We turned up at 5:30 p.m. and rang their door bell. (Even when they are open, their front door is locked and guests must ring the bell to be admitted. With the limited space, I understand why they take this approach.) Although they don’t open until 6:00 p.m., the man in charge (owner?) took pity on us and allowed us to come in to get warm. Although we didn’t have a reservation, he gave us a table near the door and the front window, and told us this table was booked at 7:30. OK, we should be able to eat and be out in an hour and a half. I’ve never had a restaurant in the U.S. tell us they have a table available until a certain time, but on this trip we had a few restaurants give us a table with a time limit. I actually like it, I’m not sure why more restaurants in the U.S. don’t do it.

We ordered a sampler dinner for two. It comes with a plate of white and a plate of yellow rice and about 20 small dishes to sample. The dishes on the first tray were “mild”. The dishes on the second tray were “spicy”. The dishes on the third tray were “hot”. When they brought the third tray, the waiter pointed to the last dish in the corner of the tray and said, “I’m warning you. This one is VERY HOT.” Holly was full and I’m not sure she tried anything off the third tray. I, of course, tried everything. The dishes on the final tray were spicy, but not too bad; until I got to the last dish – the dish we had been warned about repeatedly. I honestly do not know what was in the dish. All I can say is that it seemed like some sort of meat that had been cut into very small pieces. I took one small bite, about the size of a pea, thinking “How hot could it be?” I immediately knew I had made a major miscalculation. My lips and tongue felt as if they were under an assault from chemical weapons. I’ve not encountered anything that shocked my nervous system quite so strongly since I was pepper sprayed a few summers back by a helpful neighbor camper in Yosemite trying to repel a bear helping himself to the contents of an improperly closed “bear box”. Needless to say, Holly received much amusement at my discomfort. I enjoyed everything else we were served and I would recommend the restaurant, just take their warnings seriously.

The Van Gogh Museum:

The one thing I wanted to see in Amsterdam was the Van Gogh museum. I am fascinated by Vincent Van Gogh. Holly took me to Denver early this year for a special exhibition at the Denver Museum of Art – “Becoming Van Gogh” which vividly demonstrated his development as an artist. The exhibit was fantastic, showing his artistic development and his influences in a very clear presentation. I also had read a recently published biography – Van Gogh: The Life. Vincent struggled throughout his life to find his place in the world. He thought he’d be a teacher at one point, a preacher at another; and struggled to make it those professions, ultimately failing. Vincent was a disappointment and embarrassment to his parents and family. He decided to become an artist later in life than most. Vincent WORKED for years at becoming an artist. He apprenticed with established artists for short periods and studied at art academies for short periods, but none of these lasted long, mostly because Vincent could be very difficult to be around. Vincent also worked at self-study; utilizing art books and copying other artist’s works.

We forget that great artists, or the top people in any field, get there only after years of hard work, study and self-discipline. There are very few Mozart’s, mostly Van Gogh’s. I am impressed by and attracted to Van Gogh’s work ethic. In his few short years as an artist he turned out an incredible quantity of work as he obsessively pursued his goal.

Here I am in front of a wall-size photo of Van Gogh’s Yellow House in Arles.

The Van Gogh museum is not huge, three floors, but it’s comprehensive. Basically its Vincent’s brother Theo’s collection of Vincent’s work that he wasn’t able to sell. We were able to see the entire collection on display in about 3 hours.

Here’s a photo of Van Gogh’s Cherry Blossoms:

Crows over a wheat field:


After the Van Gogh Museum, we walked across Museum Square to the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is to Amsterdam as the Louvre is to Paris or the Hermitage to St. Petersburg. Recently renovated, one could easily spend days seeing the collection of Dutch master works. We spent only a few hours. We purchased the electronic “multi-media” tour which offers a variety of tours. We opted for the 90 minute “highlights” tour.

A tip for travelers: We bring our own iPhone ear-buds with us as we sightsee. Many museums/attractions offer self-guided/electronic tours. Some offer headphones, some don’t. We find that most of the devices will take our ear-buds and we can hang the device around our neck and don’t have to hold them in our hands or the device up to our ears. We also don’t have to deal with the sometimes unsatisfactory headphones provided.

The similar look of the Rijksmuseum (completed in 1885) to the Centraal Train Station (see first photo above) is not accidental, Pierre Cuypers designed both with a mixture of neo-Gothic and Dutch Renaissance.

Here’s Holly in front of Rembrandt’s famous “The Night Watch”:

I found this wedding portrait interesting for the youth of the couple. Princess Mary Henrietta Stuart, the eldest daughter of Charles I and Prince William of Orange painted by Van Dyck. This portrait was painted in 1641 to mark their wedding, she was 9 at the time and he was 14.

After visiting museums, we decided to walk around the medieval city center. This photo of flying rats (a.k.a. pigeons) was taken in the square outside of the Royal Palace.

That’s the Basilica of St. Nicholas towering over the buildings on the canal.

Mostly the buildings in Amsterdam aren’t directly on the canals, like in Venice, but here’s an exception. Notice the floating four-poster bed, it was an odd item with no apparent purpose.

The next day we went first to the Anne Frank house and museum – this photo was taken from across the canal.

The museum is very well done. Understated, tasteful and informative. First you guide yourself through the warehouse, offices and storeroom of Otto Frank’s two companies, Opekta and Pectacon. Only the office staff knew people were hiding in the rear annex. A movable bookcase conceals the door to the annex and was built for this purpose. (Photography is not permitted, so I photographed this postcard I bought in the gift shop, to give those who haven’t been there an idea of what it’s like.) We then walked through the rooms where Anne, her parents and sister and four other people hid.

After exiting the hiding place, we entered the adjacent museum. Also very well done, tasteful and thought-provoking. On display are the journals in which Anne wrote her diary and other works.

After visiting the Anne Frank House & Museum, we decided to take one of the canal walks outlined in our Lonely Planet guide book. This house with a sharp angle is not far from the Anne Frank house.

About 10 minutes into our walk, I suggested we stop at this Café, Villa Zeezicht to warm up and have a mid-morning snack. Normally when an establishment claims they have anything “World Famous”, I’m shall we say, skeptical. I didn’t notice the sign informing us of their pie’s world renowned status until after I had ordered it. I’m glad I ordered it nonetheless because it WAS absolutely the best apple pie I have ever had – there is no close second. When I go back to Amsterdam, and I will definitely go back, I will pay Villa Zeezicht another visit.

One of the tasks we set for ourselves on this trip was to send postcards from every city and country to our daughter Kate’s 1st grade class in the Bronx and also to our daughters Natalie and Rebecca. At times, finding postcards, postage and a mailbox was a challenge. We asked our daughters to keep the cards so we can put them in a book when we return. Here Holly is working on a postcard to Kate’s class while enjoying tea and pie at Villa Zeezicht.

Continuing our self-guided western canal ring walking tour, here’s a photo of the Torensluif bridge the oldest bridge in Amsterdam built in the mid-1600’s.

We didn’t have time to take one of the canal tours by boat, but we saw many canal boats navigating under bridges and making incredibly tight turns. Next visit to Amsterdam, I’ll make time for a canal boat trip.

If you look carefully, the house in the middle has the year 1616 proudly written on it.

Zaanse Schans:

I was a little confused by the difference between Holland and the Netherlands; and who are the Dutch anyway? I had to look it up. Holland is two counties in The Netherlands (North Holland & South Holland). Referring to the Netherlands as Holland is like saying England, when you mean the United Kingdom. Dutch is the language, and the people.

Holly and I really wanted to see some of what we associate with Holland: windmills. To see windmills, we went to Zaanse Schans, a short train ride out of Amsterdam Centraal Station. Here they’ve recreated a pretty little Dutch village with six working windmills, a wooden shoe factory and other traditional Dutch artisans.

The windmills were the high-tech power source of their time.

We took a tour of a one of the windmills which was designed as a saw mill. Here are part of the plan from the original wind-powered saw mill that was rebuilt using the original 17th century specifications.

The lumber produced by wind-powered saw mills was used by the Dutch to build ships. By replacing hand sawing of logs, with this high-tech system the Dutch were able to build the vast fleet of merchant ships that made Amsterdam and Holland rich. Richer than England, until England developed steam power and surpassed the Dutch. When John Adams needed to borrow money for the United States following our War of Independence, he went to Amsterdam, because that was the center of international commerce and banking at the time.

I find this stuff fascinating, so forgive me a few sawmill pictures.

In the fields, there are small windmills used to move water.

One of the windmills is used for grinding spices. As I mentioned earlier, Indonesia was once a Dutch colony and the spice trade a key part of the Dutch economy.

Here are the grinding wheels, grinding spices. I took this photo at sunset, hence the orange light on the grinding wheel.

Some of the gears used to transfer the energy from the windmill’s sails to the grinding stones.

One more windmill picture:

It was getting dark and we still hadn’t seen the wooden shoe factory, so we hustled over. Holly tried on these, not a fit.

Amsterdam, Holland, The Netherlands, it was all great. I only wish we had more time. I will definitely be returning.

2 replies

  1. I applaud the choice to stay in the riverboat, very cool. I’m also a fan of large scale engineering projects so I love the windmill pictures, especially the gears and the grinding wheel!

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