Posts Tagged With: Netherlands

Amsterdam Revisited

In November 2017, our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine ended in Amsterdam so we scheduled two days in the city before our return flight to the U.S. Although we’ve visited Amsterdam several times previously and we’ve seen most of the top tourist sights, it was time to revisit some favorites and add a couple of new experiences, too.

The ship docked within walking distance of Amsterdam Centraal Train Station and we headed there first to orient ourselves for the walk to our accommodations at Swissotel just a half mile down Damrak.

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Amsterdam Centraal Train Station

Although it was too early to check into our hotel, we left our bags there and ventured out to explore the area before our scheduled 1 p.m. tour at the Anne Frank House.

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Our hotel

Our hotel was next to Dam Square where the Royal Palace of Amsterdam is located. Originally built in the 17th century as the town hall of Amsterdam, it was converted to a palace for Napolean’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, who was named King of the Netherlands and lived there for 5 years beginning in 1808. Since the departure of the French, it has been used by the Dutch Royal Family for royal receptions and ceremonies. Today, it is one of three palaces used by the royal family and is normally open to the public. We didn’t have time this trip but I’d be interested in a tour next time.

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Royal Palace of Amsterdam

We walked back to the Amsterdam Tourist Office located right outside Amsterdam Centraal Train Station to purchase our GVB multiday ticket which allowed us unlimited use of public transportation by bus, tram, and metro during our stay.

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Tourist Information

We checked back at the hotel and we were able to deposit our luggage in our room prior to setting off for the Anne Frank House. We arrived early for our tour and rather than stand in line with our pre-purchased tickets, we elected to explore the area a bit and take some photos. As you can see below, both canals and bicycles are ubiquitous in Amsterdam!

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Canal in Amsterdam

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Bicycles galore!

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Another beautiful canal

I’ve toured the Anne Frank House twice before and each visit was busier than the previous one. It’s amazing that nearly 1.3 million people from all over the world visit the museum each year. Anne’s life and her diary have made an enormous impact in our world and the continued interest gives me hope for humanity.

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Anne Frank House

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The bookcase that hid the doorway into the secret annex

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Pictures on the wall of Anne and Margot’s room encased in glass to protect them

After our tour, we wandered some more, finally returning to our hotel as the sun was setting where I got this photo of Amsterdam rooftops.

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Sunset in Amsterdam

After a brief respite, we were off again to meet our friend, Iris, at the train station for dinner together. Iris, who is Dutch and now lives in Amsterdam, lived with us in Iowa while she volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. We were excited to see her again and hear what she’d been up to during the intervening year. She led us off on a new experience, taking the free ferry across the IJ river to North Amsterdam, where we walked a short distance to THT Restaurant. THT specializes in small plates to share and we ordered an abundance of tasty dishes which we devoured while we talked world politics and our lives since the U.S. presidential election.

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Jim and I with Iris at THT

The next morning we took the tram to the Van Gogh Museum where we had pre-purchased tickets. We arrived before the museum opened so we found a charming cafe, Small Talk Coffee Corner, where we enjoyed coffee and breakfast.

 

The Van Gogh Museum is an amazing facility housing the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, including 200 paintings and 400 drawings, as well as 700 of his letters. Photographs are not allowed of the artwork but you can see his complete works on this website. The tragic life story of Vincent Van Gogh is every bit as fascinating as his art and the museum tells the story well.

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View from inside Van Gogh Museum

Another tram ride took us to the Dutch Resistance Museum, dedicated to the courageous Dutch citizens who risked their lives to resist the Nazis who occupied their country from May 1940 until May 1945 during WWII. It was our first visit to this remarkable museum. I especially appreciated the exhibit about the 1300 illegal newspapers which operated to ensure people were informed about what was really going on rather than relying on propaganda issued by the Germans. The papers also encouraged resistance and helped to maintain Dutch morale. If you ever doubted the importance of a free press, see this museum.

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Dutch Resistance Museum

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Printing press

The only criticism I had of this museum was the lighting wasn’t sufficient for old eyes. I wanted to read everything and it was sometimes hard to see the print due to the lighting.

After the museum, we stopped by a small restaurant nearby for some poffertjes, a small Dutch pancake made with buckwheat flour and adorned with butter and powdered sugar. My sister-in-law, who is of Dutch heritage, introduced us to poffertjes and we’re big fams.

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As we continued to wander, I captured some images of interesting architecture and neighborhoods.

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Oude Kerk

The sight below definitely caught my interest, mostly because I wondered if there was an option for women or if this was strictly designed for males.

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Street relief

And of course, the most gorgeous photos include the canals.

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Another Canal in Amsterdam

When we reached the red light district, I had my I-phone in my hand and while I wasn’t taking photos, I had several women pull their curtains across their windows or mouth obscenities to me.

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The message is loud and clear

While in the red light district, we happened upon Bulldog No. 90, the first coffee shop in Amsterdam. When the shop opened in 1975, visitors surreptitiously smoked marijuana on the premises. Today, if you’re at least 18 years old, pot-smoking is legal in coffee shops all over the city. We didn’t go inside.

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Bulldog No. 90

The Dutch are also known for their cheese and we needed some cheese for a wine and cheese event on a canal cruise we’d arranged that evening with two couples from our cruise. Gouda is my Dutch favorite.

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Cheese shop

As we headed to our canal tour that evening, we noticed that even though it was early November, the Christmas decorations were up and the lights were lit in Amsterdam.

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Christmas decorations in Amsterdam

The lights from the canal tour were spectacular although, honestly, I prefer a daytime tour in spite of the wine and cheese.

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There’s plenty more to see and do in Amsterdam but it was time for us to return to the United States until the next time.

 

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Polders in Kinderdijk

In spite of being in Kinderdijk, home of the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands, I got only one photo of a windmill. Our ship docked around 2:00 pm on day 7 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine and we had to talk ourselves into leaving the ship because of unrelenting rain accompanied by a cold wind. If Kinderdijk hadn’t been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its nineteen 18th century windmills keeping the land dry for so many years, I’d probably have taken a pass on the included walking tour. And even though Viking provided us with sturdy umbrellas, it was a miserable walk.

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Windmill at Kinderdijk

Our guide led us first to the Archimedes screw that pumps water from the polder to the basin. Huh? OK, according to Dictionary.com, a polder is “a tract of low land, especially in the Netherlands, reclaimed from the sea or another body of water and protected by dikes.” The Archimedes screw is one method used to drain water from the polder, the other is a windmill and since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, the technology is essential. Incidentally, the threat of global climate change is severe to the Netherlands and the Dutch are leading the way in developing new methods to deal with rising water levels.

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Archimedes screw at Kinderdijk

Next, we moved to the outside of a windmill where our guide demonstrated the mechanism to turn the direction of the windmill by hand to face the wind.

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Turning the windmill

Although the information and demonstration were interesting, we were relieved to go inside a working windmill and get out of the elements. Once inside, we saw the living quarters and working mechanism. The under-wheel was on the main level along with a combination living area, kitchen, and bedroom.

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Under-wheel in windmill

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A sleeping area in the windmill

The second floor contained more sleeping areas for the many children in the miller’s family. The third level was the smoke attic where the miller smoked fish caught in a net as the water was moved. The fourth floor, called the grease attic, held most of the working mechanism of the windmill.

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The working mechanism in a windmill

The top floor was not open for us to tour.

When we were finished touring the windmill, we had the option to continue or return to the ship. Due to the nasty weather, we chose to return to the ship. We would end our cruise in Amsterdam the following day and hopefully, see more of the Netherlands in better weather.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking the Scenic Route to Bruges

After our visit to Keukenhof in Lisse, Netherlands, I wanted to take the scenic route to Bruges, Belgium. A train ride through small towns in the bucolic Dutch countryside filled with tulips and windmills appealed to me enormously. Instead, we took the Keukenhof Express back to Schipol Amsterdam Airport and boarded the train to take the fast route to Bruges.

But first, we spent the night in Lisse at the charming Hotel De Duif .

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Lisse, Netherlands


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Lisse, Netherlands


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Lisse


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Hotel De Duif, Lisse


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Jim in the lobby at Hotel de Duif

After taking a wrong turn and lugging our bags up the stairs not once but three times, we finally located our room and discovered it occupied two floors; the sitting room and kitchen were downstairs with a bedroom above, so we lugged our bags up one more time. Exhausted by this unexpected strength training after an overnight flight and a full day exploring Keukenhof, we wanted nothing more than dinner and bed asap.

We set off on foot to the main square just a couple blocks away to find a restaurant. Notoriously indecisive when it comes to picking restaurants, we chose Restaurant Den Ouden Heere after the usual amount of hesitation. Always a fan of outdoor seating with heaters, we sat outside with a view of the square. Our friendly and helpful waitress advised us that the special for just 9.50 euros would be a tasty choice and we were pleased with her suggestion.

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Restaurant Den Ouden Heere


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Kebab, salad, and potatoes at Restaurant Den Ouden Heere

It was early to bed and early to rise for us. The following morning, we enjoyed a tasty buffet breakfast at the hotel before one final walk back to Keukenhof to catch the bus to Schipol.

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Breakfast room at Hotel De Duif


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Breakfast at Hotel De Duif


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Tulip on our breakfast table


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Bike trail to Keukenhof

We stopped at the bench below for a photo of a bulb field and farm across the road from Keukenhof.

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Scene of the crime

When I clambered onto the bench to get a view above the fence for my photo, a local curmudgeon accused me of having no respect if I would come to their country and stand on the bench. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely while I wiped the spot where I stood on the bench with my hand. Later, however, as Jim and I discussed the event, we decided that outdoor benches are built for sitting, standing, bad weather, bird droppings and a myriad of other events and this fellow was just having a bad day. Every other Dutch person we’ve met has been friendly and hospitable so this experience was unusual, to say the least. It made for a memorable story, however.

We were the only passengers on the double bus back to Schipol and when we arrived, we were astonished to see a huge crowd waiting for the bus’s return trip to Keukenhof. We appreciated the short line to board the bus on the previous day all over again.

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Bus ride from Keukenhof to Schipol Amsterdam Airport


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Line to board the bus to Keukenhof

We easily located the ticket counter in Schipol for the train to Bruges and headed straightaway to our platform. With hardly any wait at all, we boarded our train and sat back to view the countryside.

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Bulb fields from the train


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Bucolic countryside in the Netherlands from the train


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Greenhouses for bulbs in the Dutch countryside

We switched trains at Rotterdam to head to Bruges via Antwerp. We would return to Rotterdam in two days to board our cruise ship so we looked around to familiarize ourselves with this station.

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Platform at Rotterdam

At Antwerp Central Railway Station, amazingly, we encountered our friends, Lori and Rick, who arrived that morning from the U.S. and we had planned to meet that evening at our hotel in Bruges.

We could see why this station is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe and we wholeheartedly agreed. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the glass vaulted ceiling allows light to bathe the stone and marble interior. The overall impression is both historic and majestic. We also felt quite safe with the Belgian military patrolling the station so soon after the March 22nd bombing of the airport in Brussels.

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Antwerp Central Railway Station

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Railway station at Antwerp with Belgian military in the foreground

When I originally checked train connections, I wanted to avoid backtracking to Schipol in Amsterdam and find connections directly from Lisse to Bruges. When I couldn’t make that work, we settled for connections from Schipol to Rotterdam, Antwerp, and finally Bruges with several stops in smaller towns along the way. In the end, surprisingly, our train journey to Bruges turned out to be the scenic route.

Next time: Bruges.

Based on events in April 2016.

 

 

 

 

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A Stroll through Keukenhof

Keukenhof, Dutch for kitchen garden, has a history dating back to the 1400’s when Jacoba van Beieren gathered fruit and vegetables in the area for Teylingen Castle. In 1641, Keukenhof Castle was built and the gardens were re-designed in 1857. Ultimately, the park was established in 1949 as a spring garden, today attracting over 1 million visitors each year to enjoy over 7 million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring flowers during the season in March, April, and May.(http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/)

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Schipol Amsterdam Airport

Our flight from the U.S. arrived at Schipol Amsterdam Airport at 9:20 a.m. With our carry-on luggage in hand, we skipped baggage claim and headed straight for customs. After clearing customs, we stopped at an ATM to get euros then asked for directions at the information desk for the bus to Keukenhof. It’s an enormous airport but bus 858, the Keukenhof Express, stops right outside the door and goes directly to and from Keukenhof all day long. We purchased a combi-ticket for 24 euros each which covered round-trip transportation from Schipol in addition to the entrance fee.

Before 10 a.m., the lines were still short. We boarded the bus with our luggage and took the half hour ride to Keukenhof in Lisse where we arrived directly outside the main entrance. We could have stored our luggage at the park but we decided instead to walk the 2 km (1.24 mi) to our hotel and leave our bags there. We hoped for an early check-in after our overnight flight but our room wasn’t ready so we used the restroom near the lobby to freshen up, left our bags at the hotel, and headed back to the park.

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Keukenhof main entrance

As we entered the park, we picked up a map to find our way around the 32 hectares (79 acres) but we really didn’t devise a plan of attack. Instead, we just wandered in wonder at the beauty surrounding us. Staff explained that the season  was a bit delayed and, while there was a chill in the air, the sun was shining and it was truly a perfect spring day to us. We later heard there was a cold snap several days after our visit with hail and snow and the nearby annual Flower Parade was adversely affected.

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Map of Keukenhof

Also immediately inside the main entrance, we found a charming barrel organ playing folk music that set the stage for visitors.

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Jim taking a break on a walkway in Keukenhof

 

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That’s me crouching behind the tulips

 

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One of over 800 varieties of tulips onsite

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The Delft Blue Garden

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Dutch shoes at the Delft Blue Garden

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View of bulb fields from Keukenhof

Eventually, we found our way to the windmill and climbed it to check out the view.

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Windmill at Keukenhof

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View of bulb fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

Next to the windmill, I spied a ticket counter for the whisper boat canal tour of the bulb fields. We wouldn’t have enough time in Lisse to rent bikes or drive the flower route to see the bulb fields so this seemed like a good opportunity. The tickets were around 8 euros each and rather than standing in line until it was our turn, they scheduled our tour at 2:15 so we could explore further and return at the appointed time.

The whisper boat, powered by electricity, glided silently through the canals while we listened to information through headphones. Tulips originated in central Asia and Turkey and first appeared in Holland in the 16th century. Their extreme popularity resulted in a period in Dutch history called tulip mania during which speculation and soaring prices caused what may have been the first economic bubble.  Today the Netherlands are the largest producer of tulips, half of which are exported. Because the canals and the boats were at the same level as the fields, the views weren’t as good as I expected but nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our tour.

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Selfie on the whisper boat at Keukenhof

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Bulb fields from whisper boat

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Bulb fields

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Bulb fields

After our 45-minute boat ride, we were recharged and ready to walk some more.

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Hyacinth

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Jim put his hand by these tulips to show how big they are

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Another selfie

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Such beauty

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Flower mosaic

The bulbs are provided to the park at no charge by the producers and planted by hand each fall in a new design every year. The theme in 2016 was The Golden Age, referring to the period in Dutch history during the 17th century when tulip mania peaked.

These gardens are arguably the most beautiful in the world. And honestly, the fragrance permeating the air captivated me nearly as much as the amazing sights. I wish I could share the scent of hyacinth with you. If you visit the Netherlands in springtime, a stroll through Keukenhof is not to be missed.

 

Based on events in April 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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