Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011--Red Light District

By our last day Mary had come down with a bad cold as well, and the two of us were really under the weather.  However, we decided that we couldn't come all the way to Amsterdam and miss the red light district.  So we marched back to Dam Square and then off the square and quickly we ran into sex shops.  The most spectacular is the Condomerie.  I did not take any pictures of the red light district because Mary warned me that there are stories of pimps or "guardians" who rip cameras out of tourists' hands and destroy them.  So here I cheat and present pictures from the net.  The Condomerie presents an assortment of its wares in the window; my favorites were the Big Ben and the elephant's head (but let's not slight the Eiffel Tower choice).  These would really rock your world.

note elephant's head, Big Ben, and statue of Liberty

full monty offerings

We then turned down a street and encountered the Old Church (Oude Kerk) in front of which is a statue of Belle, an homage to sex workers around the world.  From there we wandered up to a canal that featured an outdoor urinal complete with a prodigious pisser.  Down we came to an alley, and Mary told me we turned down there.  The passage is so narrow, people walk single file down the alley.  In front of me there was a rather suspicious looking young chap who I assumed was a pimp, so I kept my eye on him and thus missed the "working girls" who stand in the windows and look enticingly.  In fact, out of the corner of my eye I saw an image in the first window and assumed it was a statue; when we reached the end of the alley, Mary asked what I was doing.  I answered where's the bordello (I assumed they hung out of windows or over railings like New Orleans in Madi Gras).  She said we had just passed three or four--I missed them all.

Old Church


narrow alley approach

windows, actually rooms, with women on display

me, passing obliviously by

definitely NOT me
missed this wall entirely--still watching pimp
That was enough for me; back we went for a walk along the canals, until we crossed one bridge and found ourselves at the University of Amsterdam.  As we walked down the other side of the canal, we were suddenly passing more windows with buxom workers.  A little further on, we came up on the Hemp Museum (no, we didn't visit or sample the wares).

University of Amsterdam
Hemp Museum

By this time Mary was exhausted, and we had a long hike back to our room for a rest.  After we got back, the rains started so we were in for the rest of the day and night until our departure early the next day.

last look out our hotel window

Wednesday, February 9, 2011--Haarlem

We got up and took a small commuter train for a short trip to Haarlem, a gorgeous little city outsde Amsterdam.   We arrived early on a cold morning, so there were not too many people out.  We headed down to Market Square (Grote Markt), the beautiful center of town.  Along with Bruges and Amsterdam, this is another spacious, beautiful city square.
Market Square

The centerpiece the cathedral, St. Bavo's (Grote Kerk), another Gothic church that is huge and impressive.  Unlike others, however, its interior is bathed in white (the result of Protestant reformers who painted over the colorful frescoes), which creates beautiful pictures.  The altar is huge and separated from onlookers and the organ is the most beautiful we have seen and evidently impressed both Handel and Mozart.  There is a Foucault's pendulum (which was not operating) and a curious little chapel, the Dog-Whipper's Chapel, where an attendant had to shoo dogs away from the church.  The wealthy, fearing  for their immortal souls, bought space under the church floor for graves which were then adorned with sometimes elaborate stones.  As the bodies rotted, the pungent odor supposedly led the less wealthy to refer to these neighbors as the "stinking rich."
St Bavo's with statue of L. J., first inventor of movable type

amazing fan vaulted cedar ceiling

a young Mozart played this

engraving of dog whipper
site of a couple of the stinking rich

After our tour we headed over to a nearby restaurant for a wonderful lunch.  In a survey a few years ago, researchers discovered that the Dutch were the most content people in Europe and Haarlemites the most contented in the Netherlands.  I said to our waiter that this was one beautiful town; he laughed and said, "Yeah, and old."  Everyone, I mean literally everyone, speaks English, and he told me that is common; most Dutch speak four languages, in addition to their own and English, they are usually fluent in French and German.  And then there are Americans. . .
Cafe Dora on left for lunch
We wandered around taking in the sights and then made our way to the Franz Hals museum, the painter who lived in Haarlem and is considered, along with Rembrandt and Vermeer, one of the Dutch masters.  The museum is under a good deal of reconstruction, so the display was limited, but we still saw some  wonderful paintings.  Hals is definitely worth investigating.  No pics, however.
Franz Hals Museum

We intended to visit the read light district, which Rick Steves describes "as precious as a Barbie doll" (WTF, precious as a Barbie doll!), but it was getting late and we were wearing down.  So we strolled around and then headed back to Amsterdam for a long walk back to our hotel.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011--Anne Frank house and Jordaan Walk

We had reservations to see the Anne Frank house this morning, so we hiked up the Leidsestraat, over one of the canals, and then down to the Westkerk and on and on.  Yes, lost again.  We backtracked to the Westkerk and, voila, we were there.  We stopped off for a quick bite in the cafe next door, and then made the tour.


Westkerk rear

No pictures are allowed, but the place is impressive both for the ingenuity of deception (a hinged book case hid access to the rear rooms in what was a commercial building) and its size.  Indeed, the living quarters were small and cramped when other families were added to the Franks, but I had a preconceived image of much, much tighter quarters.  The place is definitely worth seeing in spite of the fact that there is no furniture.  After the Nazis discovered the family, they cleared the place, and Otto Frank, the only survivor, insisted that the house remain in the stark condition after the families' discovery.  The tour also features some interviews and film clips that explain and enhance the whole experience.

Anne Frank house in center
We then headed out to Dam Square (what Steves calls the Times Square of Amsterdam) and then a walk through the Jordaan neighborhood.  Dam Square is beautiful and immense, but the Royal Palace, which looks over the square, is covered in scaffolding and sheeting, so it is largely invisible.  Still the square is worth seeing, and unlike anything we saw elsewhere.
National Monument, an obelisk dedicated to peace

Madam Tussaud gets around, if you'll pardon the expression

Royal Palace

We then headed out past the New Church and came flush into the Magna Plaza Shopping Center, an opulent building dating back to the 1880s.  There, in front, was a message to me, but I refused to take the insult, still a picture was necessary.

New Church

Magna Plaza Shopping Mall
should I have been insulted?

We gradually walked back to our hotel and took in many of the gorgeous canals; I went ape taking a thousand pictures. I'm not sure about the names of the different canals, so I will make some uneducated guesses below.

Prinsengracht canal

Leliegracht canal
The buildings are also fascinating, shifting one moment from commercial businesses to residential.  Once again, this is a photographer's paradise for all the variety.

my newest friend
We headed back to the hotel for a little lunch and rest; I was starting to feel really wiped out by the cold.  Late in the afternoon, we stayed close by and walked through Vondel Park, Amsterdam's version of Central Park.  The place was large and beautiful.  There are a string of large, obviously expensive, multi-story houses ringing the park's perimeter.  This is clearly a neighborhood that would have restrictions against the likes of us.  Many people were out for a stroll, and many mothers were walking their prams or chasing their kids.  It was a beautiful day, and the park was just the thing for weary travelers.


one of many grand houses

small boathouse-restaurant near Vondel lake