Six Days in Amsterdam (and my birthday, too!) November, 2004

Click on the small pictures to see larger ones.
It's a 9-hour and 40-minute flight, non-stop, from Seattle to Amsterdam and, brother, let me tell you, that's a long time to sit in a plane! We didn't have to get up early for it but we were so excited the night before that we hardly slept anyway. Finally, though, the big day was here! The car arrived right on time to take us to the airport. International security was no worse than 'normal' security and we remembered the three essentials for international travel:
  1. money
  2. tickets
  3. passport
With those three items, anything else can be dealt with! We obtained Euro currency at the bank and practiced our tourist-level Dutch with each other on the plane. "Please", "Thank you", and the ever-popular "No, thanks". Somehow, we endured the flight. I read books while Al kept an eye on the plane's movements in the air. Unfortunately, the audio wasn't working so the films they showed in Coach class were pretty useless as entertainment. We made do, though, playing "MST3K" with the couple in the seats ahead of us. They were on their way to Greece to run the marathon from, you guessed it, Marathon all the way to Athens. The folks behind us were on their way to Delhi for a traditional Indian wedding. All of that sounded like fun, but we were secretly glad that we were getting off in Amsterdam, and staying off. They had hours and hours more to, thank you!
We took the train from Schipol airport to Centraal Station in Amsterdam. For me, it was like coming home to a place I'd adored two years ago. But it was better this time because Al was with me and he was delighted by it all. The time difference was catching up to us, so we checked into the hotel, ate some breakfast, and hit the streets. Our bodies felt like it was midnight but it was actually only 9am local-time and we didn't want to make the mistake of falling asleep. Once outside, the cool air revived us and we hit the nearest coffeeshop for reinforcements. That morning, we walked to the Dam, then past Der Waag, and on to the museum that was Rembrandt's house. It's filled with his paintings, props, etching tools, etc. Very cool, but no photos permitted (although Al did get some video). Here's the official website if you're curious. It takes a while to load.
After that, we walked back across town to the edge of the Jordaan neighborhood and went to the Anne Frank House museum. It was heart-wrenching, as you can probably imagine, but is one of the best museums I've ever been to. They've added some exhibits since 2002, so that was interesting for me. They also don't permit photos, so here's their official website. We got there early, and there were few other people in the museum, which added to its haunting tone. Right next door is the Westerkerk Church with a tower that you can climb as part of a guided tour. But the tours only run from April to September, so we were out of luck on that :(

Al documented

Busy busy busy

Fantastic church
We spent the rest of the day exploring random streets, went to the grocery store for snacks, and crashed into bed pretty early. We watched the U.S. Presidential election results in dismay, but fell asleep at last. The next day, though, we were up with the sun and ready to go. We fortified ourselves with a big breakfast from the (ridiculously overpriced) buffet at the hotel, and hit the bricks again. This time, we headed south through the Flower Market (Blumenmarkt) and on to the Rijksmuseum. Unbeknownst to us, though, the museum proper was closed until 2008 for renovations. They had one gallery open, and were displaying their finest works there. So we went in. Wow! I love this museum. The art is fantastic (here's their website) and they permitted pictures if taken without a flash. So I got a great shot of one of my favorite paintings of all time: Vermeer's "Milkmaid". It's a fantastic, compelling, peaceful painting and I sat in front of it for a long time. I'm glad I'm taller than the average European as it meant my view was rarely blocked by anyone's head. We bought prints at the museum store and pointed our shoes toward the nearby Van Gogh Museum (website) where we were further overwhelmed by beauty in paint. Wow. No photos allowed, though, sorry!

what can I say?
on the way to the
      Who could forget, though, that this was November 4th and therefore my birthday! Hooray! Al took me out to an Argentinian Steak house that night and we dined in high style. We also found chocolates and cake. I can find chocolate in any city! Language is no barrier!
On Friday, we returned one item to the store at the Rijksmuseum and stopped at the Katten Kabinet on the way back to the hotel. The Katten Kabinet is a canal house that is dedicated to art related to cats. It's a fantastic mansion of a house that dates from the late 1700's, with a ballroom and everything. It's filled with sculptures, paintings, engravings, tapestries, etc. Anything related to cats! Picasso's "Le Chat" is there, too. And of course there are cats sleeping all over the place. We spent some time petting them and missing our troup back home. It's very cool, and the money goes to a good cause. Here's their website. After that we tried to tour the Royal Palace but it was closed for a couple of weeks for official government business (the Queen keeps an apartment there). We also tried to go in the Nieuwe Kerk, but were also turned away. Oh, well! Off to the coffeehouse for some relaxation!
Saturday we took a field trip to The Hague. We wanted to see Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (the painting, not the movie) at the Mauritshuis Museum. So off we went to Centraal Station where we purchased tickets to The Hague's Centraal Station. Well, almost. The train took us to the Holland Spoor station in The Hague, and since it wasn't the station we wanted, we didn't get off the train. Mistake! The next stop was Rotterdam and our tickets weren't valid that far. If a conductor came along, we'd be busted! As luck would have it, we did have an encounter with a conductor after we changed trains in Rotterdam and were headed back to The Hague. He was extremely nice, though, and understood where we went wrong. He could also see by the time-stamp on the ticket that we had not spent any time in Rotterdam and were therefore not trying to rip off the train service. He explained what we should have done in The Hague and let us go without a fine. Whew!
Anyway, we got off at Holland Spoor and walked the half-mile to the Mauritshuis Museum. The neighborhood that we walked through was not nice, though, and if I'd been alone, I would have gotten right back on the train. But Al and I felt safe, even though there was a curious tension on the streets. We figured it was just the weather but after we returned to Seattle, we learned that several Muslims had been arrested on terrorism charges in that area. The day we arrived in Amsterdam, the headlines were full of stories about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, a film maker and great-nephew of Vincent Van Gogh. Anyway, he'd made a movie about the deplorable treatment of women by fundamentalist Muslims and had been killed for it. There was a note pinned to his body that explained all this and provided a list of other people who would die for this film. They arrested the main suspect while we were there and this sparked a spree of fires and vandalism as mosques, schools, and churches. As the news reporter put it: "the Jihad has come to the Netherlands". Scary stuff.

Not enough light
    But we made it to the museum and enjoyed their collection of Reubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. very much. We spent hours there. They permitted photos without a flash so my pictures aren't that good. The "Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting is extremely striking. The blue of her headdress and the black of the background really make you stop and ponder. Here's their website.
On Saturday night, we took one of my favorite outings of the whole trip. Forty different museums in Amsterdam had gotten together and, for one night, you could get into all of them between 7pm and 2am for one EUR 13.50 ticket (about $17.00). Not only that, but the city had gotten out several of their older light-rail trains and were running them through the city all night. You could get on and off with just your ticket and easily get around to many of the museums. Well, we couldn't let that pass us by! We napped until 9pm and then headed out. We started at the Westerkerk, where we had been denied access a few days earlier. We couldn't climb the bell tower in the darkness, but the whole inside of the church was lit up and the organist was playing the giant organ. We sat in the pews and listened and marveled at the architecture and at the tombs beneath our feet. Apparently in the old days you could be buried right beneath the church floor and there are still metal markers saying who is there. It's kind of morbid if you think about it, and definitely very creepy.
After that, we hopped the train to the Hermitage, a new museum in Amsterdam which had a fantastic display of the personal and royal effects of Tsar Nicholas, the Russion leader whose whole family was murdered in the revolution. The gowns were fabulous, and the swords and Faberge miniatures were fascinating. Here's their website. No photos were permitted.
    After we left there, we hopped the train for Der Waag where there was supposed to be a medical oddities cabinet on display. But apparently we were too late for that and there were just a few skeletons out. It was cool to get to go inside Der Waag anyway, though, as it's one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam (1560's) and was apparently used for observed anatomy lessons ( more information on The Waag Society) - click on the "Museum Night" link for more information about it.
We walked over to the Oude Kerk (here's a website about it) and were able to go in and look around it. It's a great old church and we were deeply impressed with its arches and internal buttress structures. Again, though, there were tombs below us. By that time, it was around 2am and we had a short walk through the Red Light District back to the hotel. The prostitutes were in their windows and groups of enthusiastic young men were everywhere and yet I must say that I felt quite safe. We collapsed into bed after such an adventurous day.
Sunday we slept late and went to the Pianola Museum, where they have thousands of piano rolls and an enthusiastic caretaker who will play as many of them as you could possibly want. It was very cool and since we were the only visitors, we got a great education of the history and manufacture of player pianos. Here's their website. Al took some video but I forgot my camera :(
The flight home on Monday was even longer: 10 hours and 20 minutes, but we made it somehow. The audio for the films was working and they showed three of them. I read my books and looked forward to squeezing my cats when I got home. We breezed through Customs and made it home just fine, only to realize that I had left our art posters on the plane. Yikes! I called Northwest Airlines (KLM partner) and explained what I left and where. Luckily, it was a terminal flight so the plane was still at the airport and the cleaning crew found my poster box. Northwest Fed-Ex'd it to me the next day, which I thought was incredibly nice of them to do. So the whole story has a happy ending after all! Even though the weather in Amsterdam was exactly like the weather in Seattle (50's with some rain), we had a terrific time. And even though Europe as a whole is displeased with the re-election of President Bush, the people we encountered were friendly to us anyway. Al has a ton of video to edit and should have it copied to DVD soon so we can share it. He was thrilled with the whole trip and we're eagerly planning to go back someday.

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