Wednesday, May 9, 2012


In retrospect, the best time to visit the Anne Frank house probably wasn't right after wandering through the red-light district, where the brothels display their "wares" in the windows -- and right before coming across a big gay dance party at the Homomonument, complete with drag queens, just across the street.  That's a lot for a brain to process all in one evening.  But overall, our long weekend in Amsterdam was a great getaway.

Instead of flying, we took the train -- Eurostar to Brussels and then an Intercity train to Amsterdam.  It was a very easy trip and only took 7 hours, from the time we left our house to when we checked into our hotel.  Much less stressful than flying!

We arrived at Amsterdam's Centraal Station, which is a beautiful brick building.
Amsterdam Centraal Station
We stayed at the Convent Hotel, which was just a 10-minute walk from the train station.  The facade is the only part that remains from a 13th-century convent, but the hotel, which fills 3 or 4 adjacent buildings, is fairly standard inside...
The Convent Hotel
Except for this notice that was in our room.
Never seen this in a hotel room before!
We managed to cram a lot into our 3 1/2 days there.  Here are some highlights...

The Rijksmuseum is undergoing a major renovation, but they have a small display of "highlights" from their massive collection.
Doll house
wood cabinet: sunflowers are from the natural wood grain
Delft violin

Still Life With Flowers
Rembrandt self-portrait
Vermeer: Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
China display
My favorite piece on display was this clock, which was about 7 feet tall and appeared to have a very bored man trapped inside.
Every 60 seconds, he would erase the hands on the clock...
...and redraw them to indicate the correct time.
We particularly enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum.
Van Gogh Museum
They don't allow photography inside, but they did have this neat installation in the courtyard where river rocks had been carefully arranged to resemble Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Reaper.  It reminded me of the living wall at the National Gallery from last summer.
Wheatfield with Reaper in stones
The concert hall
Does this look like another photo of the train station?  Well, it's actually the Rijksmuseum, which was designed by the same architect.  They sort of face one another from opposite sides of the city center.
Another view of the Rijksmuseum
Coincidentally, my friend Marianna from the AWC was also in Amsterdam for the weekend with her husband, so the four of us went out for Indonesian food one evening.  Marianna was born in Amsterdam and speaks Dutch, which was a pleasant surprise for our waitress.  Most people speak English in Amsterdam, but they still appreciate hearing their native tongue.  I also discovered that Marianna's husband grew up in central California and attended the same university where my parents both taught.  Small world!  We ordered the rijsttaffel (rice table), where they bring you rice and about a dozen different dishes to sample.  The food was delicious! 
Feasting on Indonesian rijsttaffel
We took one of the many canal boat tours to see the city from a different perspective.
Canal boats in front of the train station
NEMO science museum
Dutch West India Company warehouse
Hermitage Museum
The Skinny Bridge
Dam Square is the central plaza in the old part of the city.
National Monument/pigeon perch
Royal Palace
As we searched for a place to eat lunch, we came across an organic farmer's market in the Nieuwmarkt a few blocks away.
Cheesy bicycle
We ended up eating in the Waag, a building that dates back to the 15th century and was once a gate to the city.  It's also been a weighing house, a guildhall, a fencing hall, a fire station, and a museum, among other things, but now it houses a nice cafe, where the chandeliers have real candles.
the Waag
Our walking tour took us through the red-light district, which is right in the center of the city.
The red-light district
Josh tries to look casual as he gets a closer look
at the Erotic Museum
Since prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, the brothels rent their street-level windows out for the ladies to display their wares and entice customers.  It is very strange to walk through a historic district and see a 14th-century church on one side of the street and a row of windows filled with unattractive women in their underwear in the other.  We ducked into the Old Church to get away from the seediness.
The Old Church
Church interior
ship in the window
The church was lovely, despite being stripped of most of its interior decor in the 16th century.  

Amsterdam is a charming city, with its distinctive architecture, canals, and museums, but it definitely has a seedy side.  In addition to all the "coffee bars," where customers can smoke marijuana, and the red-light district, we saw a few things that made us laugh or do a double-take.  It is clearly also a popular destination for stag and hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties, especially where the groom is made to walk around the city in a ridiculous costume.  We saw a banana, a frog, and a penis, among others.
Make sure you have a 'safe word'
Uh, I don't think that guy's playing golf
Odd place to stop and feed your kid a snack

Bar on wheels: when you can drink AND drive

Line for Anne Frank House
We had heard the lines for the Anne Frank house were shorter in the evenings, so we headed over there after making our way out of the red-light district.
Anne Frank House
We still had to wait in line, but we were treated to strawberries while we waited, along with loud techno music coming from the nearby plaza.

We weren't allowed to take photos inside, but it was an incredible experience to go inside the cramped apartment hidden behind her father's office where Anne and 7 other people hid for two years.  I remember reading her diary in junior high school, when I was about the same age as she was when she wrote it.  It was a very simple, but powerfully moving, memorial to Anne and everyone else who lost their lives simply because they were Jewish. 

When we came out of the museum, we could still hear loud, pulsating music coming from the other side of a nearby church, so we went to investigate.
The Western Church
It turned out to be a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Homomonument, complete with beer tents, techno music, and drag queens.
Gay dance party at the Homomonument
Although this was a rather jarring contrast to the somber Anne Frank house, it was a reminder that Jews weren't the only people persecuted by the Nazis.  The monument was dedicated in 1987 as a memorial to the gays and lesbians who also suffered at their hands.  It was designed so that one point of the larger triangle formed by the monument points towards the Anne Frank house.
Flowers left at the Homomonument
For dinner, we went to a Dutch pancake house, which serves huge crepe-like pancakes with sweet and savory fillings.  We had American-style pancakes for breakfast at the hotel, but that didn't stop us from eating pancakes for dinner AND dessert!  Yum!
I am always on the lookout for beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, and Amsterdam did not disappoint.
Amazing Art Deco/Nouveau theater
Interior detail
American Hotel
Hotel dining room
Astoria building
Former photography studio. Now a Japanese restaurant.
The last stop on our tour was the Begijnhof, a secluded courtyard surrounded by traditional Dutch houses which was once a convent of sorts, and even today is only inhabited by women.  You're not allowed to take photos inside, but it seems like it would be a lovely place to live.

Begijnhof gate
There are only two entrances to the courtyard, both of which are a bit hard to find, despite their ornate surroundings.
Begijnhof doorway
We also spent a day at the Keukenhof gardens, but that will have to wait for another blog post.  I took about 100 photos!  I'll leave you with a little teaser...
I suspect Josh would enjoy living in Amsterdam. Why? Because people ride bikes everywhere? Sure. Because of all the water and boats? Certainly. Because drugs and prostitution are legal? Not so much. But mostly because you can eat pancakes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert!

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