H/B/F 2017: adventures in Amsterdam

Because of Andrew’s work schedule, we ended up doing Amsterdam in several chunks of time: a few evenings, half days and full days.  Here’s a recap of some of our highlights:

One evening, we decided to try our luck in the line at the Anne Frank Museum.  Lines are historically long, and morning reservations are made online months in advance; by the time I checked they were all gone.  So, every day after 3:30 pm, hundreds of people wait two or three hours to get in.  Thankfully, they’re open late (until 10 pm!) to accommodate so many visitors.

Knowing we might not eat until very late that evening, we grabbed some fries to go (with mayo for me, of course) and rode the train into the city.  Fries are definitely a thing (in both Holland and Belgium) and they. are. delicious.  They are definitely different than our fries here–slightly larger than traditional size but smaller than steak fries–and not greasy at all.  They’re sold out of fry shop windows in little cones, perfect for on-the-go snacking.  I started eating my fries with mayo in college (no idea how that started), and that’s how they like them in the Netherlands.  Other sauces are available, including a peanut satay, but ketchup isn’t very popular.

Below is a shot of Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station.  I love that train stations overseas are typically grand buildings.

We walked to the Jordaan District, which is where the Anne Frank Museum is.  In the photo below, you can see the line starting in the lower left and wrapping back and behind the white structure in the foreground and then along the side of the building on the right.  The original entrance is just outside of the photo to the left.  We only waited about 45 minutes that evening to get in, which was a huge blessing.  The museum includes the actual ‘secret annex’ where the Franks, Hermann, Auguste and Peter van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer hid, Anne’s original diaries (mercifully spared during the raid) and other artifacts and displays from that time period.  While the furniture is all gone, the walls of the annex still have the pictures and newspaper clippings Anne had glued to them.  It’s a quiet and somber place, knowing the fate of those who lived there.

On a day trip to the city, Andrew and I started with Rick’s walking tour of the city, which brought us to Damrak and then to Dam Square, which is home to the Royal Palace.  It was once so grand, it was referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ It’s still used today for official functions.  We toured the inside, marveling at the cavernous great hall, decorated with giant maps in the marble floor.


Continuing along the walk, we came to the Amsterdam Museum, which presented the history and current statistics of the city in a fun way using their ‘DNA exhibit.’  The museum includes interactive spaces (see Andrew, below, on a bicycle; as he pedals, the video progresses in time to modern day), models (see the Royal Palace, below next), artwork and even an almost-full-size replica of the first gay bar in the city (last photo).

After the museum, we needed a snack!  Thin pancakes (very similar to crepes) served rolled, filled and sliced are big here, so we went ahead and indulged ourselves. I chose strawberries with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals.  We didn’t take a canal boat tour this visit, but on a future visit we’d like to go on one of the smaller tours or perhaps even rent our own little craft and adventure on our own!

H/B/F 2017: Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam is home to many fantastic museums, and it’s impossible to see them all in a week.  I saw the big three (the two mentioned here and the Stedelijk), as well as some smaller ones, such as the Bag and Purse Museum and the Amsterdam Museum.

We chose to hit the Van Gogh Museum on a Friday night when it was open late, and we were greeted with a party!  There was live music, vendors, food and drinks in the lobby.  We hadn’t had dinner yet, so we went ahead and enjoyed the scene with some snacks.


The Van Gogh Museum began with a room full of his self-portraits, organized chronologically.  It was interesting to see how his art evolved over time and with his mental illness.  I didn’t realize the scope of his artistic ability, ranging from landscapes and self-portraits to Impressionist work, pieces with Chinese influence and even modern art.

On Saturday, to escape the heat, we heading again into Amsterdam to enjoy some air conditioning at the Rijksmuseum.

Inside, we focused only on the Dutch Golden Age, which is housed in a great gallery, designed specifically for these pieces:

We saw a still life by Pieter Claesz , a Haarlem boy known for his work with light and reflection.  I fell in love with his work in the ‘Slow Food’ exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.  For more about our trip there, click here.

This piece was on loan from Leiden, which is where I ran my half-marathon!

Along with Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer is king of the Dutch Masters painters.  We specifically waited to visit the Rijksmuseum until Saturday as his painting, The Milkmaid, had just returned from being on loan to another museum. We visited a museum dedicated to him in Delft, which features reproductions of all his 34 paintings with detailed descriptions of his style and themes.

Below right is ‘Reading a Letter’ and second from right is ‘The Milkmaid.’

Jan Steen, who paints humorous scenes like Norman Rockwell, is another Dutch Master we saw in various museums during our trip.

Finally, here is Rembrandt’s self-portrait as Paul:

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, hugely famous:

While I can’t say I loved EVERYTHING I saw, I can say that I have a much better understanding of the Dutch Golden Age and the artists who painted during that time period.  I learned to recognize some of the themes and techniques, such as still lifes, landscapes, use of light and textures and a departure from religious scenes.

As we only visited the single gallery (which took almost two hours!), we’ll just have to come back for the rest another time!

H/B/F 2017: Amsterdam on my own

One day while Andrew was working, I decided to go into Amsterdam on my own to do some exploring. I’d planned my itinerary the evening before, selecting agenda items that Andrew wouldn’t also want to do.

I caught the 11:10 am train out of Haarlem and was in Amsterdam within about 20 minutes.

I made a beeline for the Museum of Bags and Purses, on foot and armed with a map. I prefer to walk, and found navigating the city incredibly easy. Along the way, I found a square dedicated to Rembrandt:

While a ‘purse museum’ might sound a little silly, it wasn’t simply a collection of high-end bags. The collection contains some of the earliest bags, including gaming bags and bags for men (this was before pants were made with pockets), in addition to unusual bags and haute couture. (I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a ‘purse-girl,’ and I’d rather embrace it than fight it. In fact, I seem to get a new purse on each of these extended trips to Europe…)

This bag and heels are made of TOAD:

The museum featured many historical and/or functional bags, like these picnic baskets and luggage trunks:

The cabinet I liked best was the ‘unique’ collection, including a bag made out of a soda can, one decorated as a phone and many in interesting shapes and fabrics. The museum also owns Margaret Thatcher’s gray purse, that apparently has a story of its own.

After the bag museum, where I picked up a souvenir in the form of a tiny pineapple-shaped coin purse from mywalit (it’s an Italian brand I found on a trip there years ago, yet never found an item from the line I wanted to buy), I walked another 15 minutes or so to Museumplein. My next agenda item was the Stedelijk Museum, which is Amsterdam’s modern art museum.

I was pleasantly surprised with their main collection, which included works by many of the later 1900s artists, like Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall and Leo Gestel.  I tend to like modern art a little more than Andrew, although I’ve found some modern art museums to be a bit too ‘modern’ for my taste.

My last must-do item was a cheese tasting class–something Andrew would never do! I caught one of the many trams running from there (Museumplein is an area where three major museums–Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelik–are clustered, along with a busy square and some shopping) back up toward the train station as I was probably a 30-40 minute walk and I wanted to be early to the cheese tasting as I hadn’t yet bought a ticket.

Rick recommends the Reypenear cheese shop for their tasting classes, and it did not disappoint. I was able to squeeze into the class and sat with a little Aussie family of three (seats are two per table).

The tasting was much like a wine tasting (we paired each cheese with a different wine), as we started with the mildest and youngest cheeses (two goat) and worked our way to cow cheeses that were older. Along the way, our host explained the open-air ripening process. This was perhaps the event I most looked forward to of the entire day and was so glad I had the opportunity to do it.

After the cheese class, I walked over to the Jordaan district, which is becoming a trendy place to eat, shop and live. Along the way, I meandered through the ‘Nine Little Streets’ shopping district and I found my way to one of the Rick-recommended restaurants there.

Just as I ordered my dinner–mahi mahi with red and yellow beets, coconut risotto and truffle cream–a French couple sat down next to me and we started to speak! (In French.)  Obviously, my conversational skills are limited, but I was able to tell them what brought us to the Netherlands, about our previous trips in France and why I was learning French. They were so kind to indulge me and let me practice with them.

After another glass of red wine and a raspberry tart with coconut ice cream, I headed back up to the train station to catch a train back to Haarlem.  I’d say I had an incredible day in the ‘big city’ on my own; I was able to do all three things I wanted to, navigated quite easily and enjoyed myself the entire time.