Sunday, November 10, 2013

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is another city I hadn't been to in at least 15 years. We only had two nights here, once again, so it was a quick stay. Our hotel was conveniently located close to the train station, so we didn't have far to wheel our luggage.

On that first afternoon, we took the tram to find the Hard Rock Cafe (yet another pin for me). We stopped to look at the scenery along the way.

The next morning, we went to the recently re-opened Rijksmuseum, the national museum of art and history. This wasn't open the last few times I was in Amsterdam, so I'd never seen it. Dragging Carter to museums is always a bit of a risk, but we came prepared with drawing supplies for him and a list of what we wanted to see, so we could prioritize and leave if we had to.

It was raining that morning, and we couldn't find our umbrella (I dug it out of the luggage a week later in Dubai.) We got soaked walking to the train station and decided to buy new umbrellas. And of course, it didn't rain a drop after that for the rest of the day! 

The tram dropped us off on the back side of the museum

The first item on our list was Rembrandt's The Nightwatchman. We used to have a print of this hanging in our house, and it's one of Doug's very favorite paintings. It's huge, too, much bigger than I expected.

Carter was particularly interested in the strange clothes the people were wearing. Seriously, men in those days wore some amazing shoes:

This is another one by Rembrandt, The Syndics.  What I find really fascinating about this is that it looks like someone peeked in on their meeting and took a snapshot. They all look a bit surprised, and that one guy is even halfway through sitting (or maybe standing). But it's a painting! He didn't use a reference photo; these men posed for this. So why did Rembrandt choose to make it look like something you'd post to Instagram? Fantastic!

This is The Milkmaid, Vermeer's masterpiece (though he's probably better known for Girl with a Pearl Earring). He captured scenes of everyday life in the 17th century, and did amazing things with light.

There was an entire room of the museum dedicated to dollhouses. The detail in these was incredible.

There was another room full of the iconic Delft blue and white ceramics.

There was a room exhibiting all sorts of glasses, and this placard about Dutch drinking games cracked me up. Apparently the Dutch have always been drinkers?

This is a fantastic suit of armour.

And in case you've ever wondered what knights looked like from the back:

 There was far less of Van Gogh's work here than I was hoping for, but there were a few beautiful pieces. There is an entire museum in the city devoted to Van Gogh, but alas, we didn't have time to visit it.

Next to many important works of art, the museum has laminated sheets that give you lots of information about the paintings and what to look for. It really helped me talk to Carter about the art, and he seemed to find it interesting. 


After our morning at the Rijksmuseum, we decided to find a Trip Advisor-recommended restaurant that served classic Dutch food. On our way out of the museum, we spotted this hot dog stand. I have to say that this is the single most American object I have ever seen in my life!

This is something that is really fascinating to me about Europe. You see people who are obviously not Americans walking around with American flags on shirts, and things like this that I can't imagine seeing in the US, except maybe at some sort of state fair. In almost every city we visited in Europe, I saw shops selling scarves with the design of the American flag, and saw lots of non-American people wearing them. Even in France! I suppose it's the equivalent of Americans walking around wearing ITALIA tshirts?  

There were lots of autumn leaves for Carter to crunch around in.

These canals are so beautiful!

We had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant that served traditional Dutch food, which turned out to be pancakes and stewed meat with many different kinds of mashed potatoes. My favorite was the mashed potatoes mixed with sauerkraut. It was surprisingly good!

One thing you see everywhere in Amsterdam are the bicycles. The city is flat and there are bike lanes everywhere, so it seems like it must be a very bike-friendly place.

You see bikes parked everywhere.

These floating barges are bicycle parking lots.

I was hoping to find a photo op with some wooden shoes, and we found it at the ticket office for the canal boat tours.

Something I'd never done here but had always wanted to do was take a canal boat tour. So we decided it would be a good way to spend the rest of our afternoon.

From the boats you get some fantastic views of the city's row houses. Something I didn't realize until the guide pointed it out is that all of the houses have a lifting hook at the very top. It's the easiest way to move furniture and heavy goods in and out.

 This is a parking deck for bicycles!

This sailing ship is a replica of the ones that brought spices and goods from Asia during Amsterdam's heyday as a port.

Amsterdam is also known for its many houseboats.

We saw some windmills on the train in, but this is apparently the only one left in the city.

It was a great tour, and a great way to spend our afternoon!

The next day we flew to London and spent the night in a hotel by the airport, and then on the day after that, we flew to Dubai. Stay tuned for the next post!


  1. Ah, Amsterdam. My home away from home-- the home of my heart is what I tell everyone. I'm lucky enough to get to spend three weeks every autumn there with my in-laws. I'm sorry you didn't make it to the Van Gogh museum-- I'm not a huge fan of Van Gogh but the museum is so beautifully presented that you fall in love with his work in spite of yourself. Also, if you ever return, you really should visit the Hermitage in Amsterdam. Absolutely beautiful museum with wonderful exhibitions. And you're right-- a boat tour is the perfect way to see the city, get an overview and while away an afternoon. I always recommend starting any visit to A'dam with a canal cruise. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your journeys!

  2. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are considered the two most bicycle-friendly cities on earth. American city planners that are keen on bicycles often come back from visits with stars in their eyes about how everyone there rides bicycles and it's really not a big deal--but it's so easy because both cities made cycling a priority. The Netherlands in particular see cycling as part of their national identity: during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam the Nazis took their bicycles because it allowed them to travel too easily, and to this day (I've been told) when the Netherlands play Germany in football, the Dutch yell "Give us back our bicycles!"

    (PS: this is April, if that doesn't show up)