Archive for May 15th, 2010

Last Day in Amsterdam

A sunny Saturday in Amsterdam – our last full day in the city – and Amsterdam teems with humanity.  There are tourist by the bus, train, and bike load but there are also a great number of rowdy stag parties roaming the streets.  There are hen parties too although they seem more likely to hire a boat and sail along the canals playing dance music.  I did see a boat full of women and a boat full of men pass in front of our apartment.  When they met they all hooted and hollered at one another.  Then the men’s boat turned around and chased the women’s boat.  A few minutes later I saw the men’s boat sail by again on their orginal course.

Since we enjoyed bicycling so much on Thursday (especially Peter) we hired bikes again.  It was much busier at Mac Bikes today but since we knew how to manage the bike locks already we were out of there pretty quickly.  Today we rode to the east side of the city.  Along the Amstel River, Susan spotted a canalside cafe and so we stopped for a mid-morning snack at Cafe de Jaren.  We enjoyed the views and coffee and Peter covered himself in honey.

We pedaled on past the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Garden) and Susan suggested we go in which was another brilliant idea.  Much of our botanical sightseeing was lead by a peripatetic toddler.  Peter insisted on wearing his bike helmet and enjoyed playing in the stream in the greenhouse and picking up gravel from the paths in the gardens.  We saw many cool things including the world’s oldest potted plant and colorful butterflies.

A visit to Amsterdam must include seeing an old windmill, so we rode on to De Gooyer Windmill.  It dates to 1725 and is the closest windmill to the Amsterdam city center.  It’s also adjacent to a brewpub I wanted to have lunch at, but sadly the brewpub was closed.  There was a nice cafe beneath the windmill where we ate lunch instead.  We rode back to the apartment for nap time passing old wharves of the Dutch East India Company that have been converted to residences.  Peter also requested another playground stop.

While Peter and Susan napped, I paid a visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic).  This is a 17th-century canal house with the top three floors converted into a Catholic church used from the 1660′s to 1880′s when Catholicism was officially illegal in Amsterdam.  The lower floors are an interesting look into the life of an Amsterdam merchant family.  The church itself is undergoing restoration but the history geek in me enjoys seeing floorboards lifted up and layers of paint peeled away.  While in the area I walked around the Oude Kerk dating to 1306 and Sint Nicolaaskerk which replaced Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder in the 1880′s when Catholic worship was legal again. I also saw “Little Venice” which is the only place in Amsterdam where the water goes right up to the houses like in Venice.

Rejoining Susan & Peter we went for a lazy bike ride and stopped at two different playgrounds for Peter to play on.  Then we ate dinner at a charming little pizzeria called Il Boccalino.  Back home, Susan cleaned up while Peter and I sat on the bench watching boats and passersby.  A pleasant way to end our last day.

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A Tragic Artist and the Artists’ Quarter

Friday got off to a slow start after a rough night’s sleep.  By Peter’s request we visited his favorite playground so he could ride the teeter-totter and play in the sandbox.  Then we went to the Van Gogh Museum.  Apparently everyone else in the Netherlands and some surrounding countries decided to visit as well.  It was hard to see much of the art as people stood six deep at the popular works.  It got all to overwhelming for Peter so he and Susan went to the museum cafe and I continued on my own.  My tall genes helped me peer over to see Vincent’s great works.

Susan had her turn with the art and I took Peter out to the Museumplein where he asked to walk barefoot in the grass (such an artiste).  On the way home we watched some more baby coots.  Peter watched a video while I made sandwiches and then Susan came home and we all took a long nap.

Post-nap we took a stroll through De Pijp.  This neighborhood was built in the late 1800′s an was originally a red light district but today is Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter, home to students, artists, and immigrants from places like Suriname, Morocco, and Syria. De Pijp means “the Pipe” possibly because of the long narrow streets.  The tour started by the former Heineken Brewery.  The building is still there for administrative offices and a tourist attraction called The Heineken Experience.  For 15 euros we took a pass.  Heineken is a bad beer and I’ve been to St. James Gate which is much more interesting.

Along the walk we saw the former homes of artists and cabaret stars, houses built a acute angles called “slices of cake,” and returned to the Albert Cuyp street market which was rather noisily being cleaned up for the day. The tour ended and the lovely patch of green called Sepharti Park.  Peter discovered two playgrounds along the walk – one on a street corner and one in the park.  The park was also home to a wide range of birds splashing about in the man-made stream.

We returned home and Susan made a lovely supper and then to bed for a much-needed rest.

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Amsterdam by Fiets

Thursday was Ascension Day, a public holiday in Amsterdam.  Susan went out to get croissants for breakfast only to find all the patisseries closed.  Susan wept.  The bagel shop was open but their bagel oven was out of order.  So we had yogurt and coffee for breakfast.

We decided to travel around the city like true Amsterdammers and rented bikes from the Mac Bikes outlet near the Leidseplein.  The staff were really friendly and Peter was super excited to be riding on a little seat behind Daddy.  We toured through Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park where we found not one but two playgrounds.  Peter played in both of them, enjoying the type of playground equipment that seems to be no longer allowed in the United States.  The second playground was adjacent to a cafe called the Groot Melkhuis where we were able to acquire the desired pastries.

We ventured out of the park for a longer ride around the west of Amsterdam where we saw apartment blocks and schools and other aspects of the day-to-day Amsterdam not geared to tourists.  The city is very flat but the bridges can be very steep, especially on a big 3-speed bike.  Peter was very encouraging: “You can do it Daddy!”  He also kept an eye out for Susan making sure she didn’t fall too far behind.

We returned to Vondelpark for lunch at the Kinderkookkafe, a restaurant where children can cook for themselves.  Peter made himself a funny cupcake and then a mini-pizza.  Apparently older kids can actually work in the kitchen on projects together.  We had a long wait while the pizza was in the oven so we played on yet another playground out back.   Too bad we are not entrepreneurs because we think a place like this would be a big hit in Jamaica Plain.

For nap time, we pedaled back to Prinsengracht.  When we went back to our bikes we found that all the bike seats in our area had rain covers with an advertisement on them.  This is the Amsterdam equivalent of sticking a flyer under the windshield wipers.  We took a another nice ride down the narrow lanes of the Jordaan.  By serendipity we passed St. Andrew’s Hof, a hidden garden surrounded by small residences.  We took turns walking around while the other one watched the bikes.  Peter spoke with hushed awe at the beauty of the little garden.

Peter loved the bikes so much he was sad when we had to turn them in at the end of the day. For dinner we had pancakes again (we can’t help ourselves) at the Pancake Corner by Leidseplein.  In the evening, Susan took Peter to bed while I went to visit the Anne Frank House.  I figured it would be best to go without Peter since his jovial and energetic demeanor would not be appropriate for a cramped and somber place.  The house was indeed crowded, with tourists.  It’s hard to get a sense of the hidden annex with so many people, plus the transitions from the modern museum space to the actual house were somewhat awkward.  Still, it was a very moving site and worth visiting to appreciate the horrors of war and the Holocaust.

I left the Anne Frank House at 9 pm to discover that it was sunny out.  It had been overcast all day so it actually felt brighter this late at night than it did during the day time.  Because we’d been going to bed early because of Peter I hadn’t realized how late the sun was staying out.  I walked around to enjoy the sunshine, and then when it finally got dark, I got peckish and looked for the perfect falafel and vlaamse frites.  I found them.  Yum!

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