Amsterdam was the start of our 2 weeks in Europe. My first impressions flying into Holland, were the wind turbines off shore and the manicured landscape, with canals everywhere and nothing wild.
Schiphol airport is 3m below sea level, but is a modern efficient airport connecting Holland with Europe and the rest of the world, both by air and rail.
We met our friend Keith in the arrival area and headed to our hotel in downtown Amsterdam, near the main train station.
We stayed at the Westcord City Centre Hotel. The room faced the inner courtyard, and while small, was very functional and quiet.
Most of modern day Amsterdam is built on reclaimed land, held up by pilings and clay. This was planned around a series of concentric canals, which acted as streets in the early days of the city. Some of the canals were filled in or narrowed to make way for roads. However, enough canals remain, that there are more canals here than in Venice, even today.
The cool sunny day invited us to stroll the city. We followed Rick Steve’s suggested Amsterdam City tour and walked south from the hotel to the museum district.
The Dutch were the richest nation in the 17th century, and amassed a large collection of artwork from around Europe and the world form that time period.
Maurice, a Jamaica friend of Keith’s who lives in Utrecht, south of Amsterdam met up with us, and joined us for the day.
The walk consisted of travelling down narrow streets along the canal network. The first thing that I noticed was the large number of bicycles littered all over the place. Reminded me of Tokyo.
We headed to the Rijksmuseum, rated as the top museum in Amsterdam, and has an impressive collection of Dutch Master painters, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Steen. Van Gogh has his own museum in a separate building.
While the paintings were quite remarkable, it is not such a good idea to go into a dim museum when one has had no sleep. I felt very tired all of a sudden, and had to get out into the light to feel normal again.
Amsterdam has some quirky sites, and signs. The IAMSTERDAM sign had a lot of people around it, and required us to be creative in taking photos.
The following days were similar, with us visiting different museums, shopping centres and walking along the canals and streets. The abundance of bikes and kamikaze cyclists made it somewhat challenging for pedestrians. The large number of “coffee shops” selling cannabis products seemed to contradict the efficient running of just about everything else that we saw.
The Van Gogh collection was temporarily housed in the Hermitage museum, but presented most of the famous works from Van Gogh, nearly all painted in his last ten years of life between 27 and 37. Incredible what he could produce in that timeframe at such a young age. The other interesting aspect that I had not known was Van Gogh’s fascination with Japanese wood block prints.
One of the most interesting places we visited was the Anne Frank House. This has been turned into a museum about the life of Anne Frank and her family during the war. Incredible how the hid in their for a few years, with only the father surviving the war.
We also visited cheese shops, chocolate shops and pastry shops, as well as an Indonesian restaurant, Dutch pubs and an Indian restaurant. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the Heineken Brewery Museum, which included a multimedia tour through the brewery and samples at the end of the tour.
The Dutch Maritime museum with an East India Company ship moored in the harbor was an interesting contrast to visiting Fort Rotterdam in Sulawesi Indonesia, two years earlier.
We also took advantage of the cheap Euro to buy some clothes and other souvenirs. The overall impression was a well functioning country that is very liberal in their attitude towards soft drugs and don’t take life too seriously.