Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Despite having spent the entire day in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day, I still felt as though I saw the city without seeing the city; I gained a feel for the people, the culture and the love of a good party without seeing any of the sights due to the large quantities of orange accessories, confetti bombs, vendors and trash commandeering my attention.

With our two days sightseeing in Amsterdam sandwiching a day in the bulb fields, I had a short break from the city to process all that we had seen on Queen's day. So it was with a feeling that I was seeing it for the first time that I returned to hit the main sights we had left unseen two days previous. Roberts lived in the city for a short while, so he had favorite places, preferred routes to get there and beloved views of certain canals he wanted to show me, but he had also seen a majority of the must-see sights. Therefore it was with only Mikus as company that I braved the line for the Van Gogh Museum after the stroll through a shockingly empty Vondelpark (shocking because the last time I was there it was shoulder-to-shoulder full!).

I’m not usually a big fan of museums, as I would much rather experience a city and its history through walking the streets, photographing the monuments and being there. The Van Gogh Museum turned out to be a noteworthy exception. I have never seen a print or reproduction of Sunflowers that will replace the feeling I had standing in front of the original. Although my favorite, Blossoming Almond Tree, was on tour elsewhere in the world, other celebrated canvases such as The Starry Night and Irises were on display. The special exhibit currently showing is “Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky” and I was happy to see a few works by Munch in addition to Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Reaper. In the courtyard between the two buildings they had recreated this painting using only stones and the resemblance was striking. This exhibit is only there through June 17th.

Having rejoined Lauris and Roberts, we headed from the museum district through the South Canal Belt to the floating flower market. After finding a crêperie with outside seating, we made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the scene during lunch. The bloemenmarkt has been a floating market since 1862 and had the selection of an enormous plant nursery. I couldn’t resist buying some interesting bulbs (although not quite the right season, I hope they bloom!) before venturing further into the old city center.

We found our way to Begijnhof, the Beguine convent that was founded in the 14th century and is a bizarre pocket of tranquility in the heart of the city. The city’s oldest house with its wooden façade faces the church and grassy area. Although it dates back to the 15th century, the majority of houses are from the 17th and 18th.

Just a little ways north we emerged from the main shopping artery (Kalverstraat) back into the Dam, which seemed utterly empty without the sea of orange and storeys-high carnival rides. I was amazed that the city had succeeded in picking up the majority of the trash; the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk were once again the focal points in this main square. The Protestant New Church is where Queen Beatrix and all the country’s sovereigns are crowned (Queen Beatrix’s coronation was April 30th, 1980). The town hall (1650s) became the Royal Palace in 1808 during the reign of Louis Bonaparte, and behind it is the beautiful Magna Plaza building, which was a post office but now houses a shopping center.

The Oude Kerk (built in 1306 and the oldest in the city) is not too far east, right in the middle of the Walletjes, or red light district. The word means “small walls” and refers to the extremely narrow streets that radiate out around the church.

We spent a quiet hour sitting canal side, enjoying some snacks and a rest from the walking. The canals each had their own, distinct personality, and this one was quiet, shaded by the leaves of giant poplars with the tall, thin buildings colorfully standing guard.

We passed the Anne Frank House on our way west, reminding us of a darker history than that which is visible on the surface in this city. It is good to remember, but nice to have such beautiful canals to soften the tragedy for me on such a whirlwind trip. I had steeled myself for the sadness before our time in Normandy, but the grief flowing just looking at the unassuming house from beside the Prinsen Gracht canal caught me unawares.

We met the friend that had opened up her flat to us on Queen’s Day for a much needed break that crazy day, and headed to a local favorite for dinner. According to Jill the Café de Oranjerie is “about as Dutch as it gets.” We had bitterballen, something Roberts fondly remembered from his time in Amsterdam which turned out to be breaded and fried meatballs, and kip sate met frites, chicken with peanut sauce and fries.

A short walk to the tram stop was the last of the walking that day, and it was good because we were all beat! Our final evening in Amsterdam before departing south to Den Haag and Rotterdam couldn’t have been any better, and I’ve added Amsterdam to the list of cities that I hope to return to some day as we left the famous Rijksmuseum unseen and dozens of canals unexplored. Maybe next time a different view, from perhaps a canal tour by boat?


  1. It looks like you had such a great trip. You are making me so excited for our time there this summer.

  2. I've heard Amsterdam is the Venice of the north and your pictures make me want to visit even more!

  3. I always enjoy your trips - but my favorite in this post is the smile on Mikus's face.

  4. The canal tour was overrated (in my opinion) but the Anne Frank House was worth it. So glad you got to enjoy all of Amsterdam!

  5. Love the stone display. Feel quite inspired. Must take my teens to Amsterdam - such a great city.

  6. Thanks for writing about Café de Oranjerie. My husband took some colleagues there today and they all liked it.


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