Amsterdam second look

Today is our first solo day since our arrival. We feel ready to conquer the city, having learned much from family.

Marieke showed us how to use the metro. Don and Tineke provided information on how the streets are named and Nelda marched us around the city high and low to obtain our bearings.

We begin the day the Dutch way with strong coffee, old Amsterdam cheese and bread. We tidy, pack our camera and set off for the train station.

We arrive, twirling around trying to remember how to buy a pass, though soon we are victorious.

Passes in hand we climb to the platform. Confusion reigns and we march down after deciding we are on the wrong one, then march up to the next platform, read the map and settle knowing we are correct. Good thing there were only two platforms, we muse.

We decide to get off one station early to experience something different. We exit pop our heads above ground and determine where we are. It is familiar though different. We start walking and soon we are in Chinatown. The shop windows are interesting with strange herbs in bottles and the lucky cat waves as we walk by, I wave back.

We continue to look at the objects in the windows and quickly they change to racier items with a large selection of male anatomy for sale in a variety of colours and sizes. I ask John for his thoughts as 15″ seems rather large. He adds nothing to the conversation, head down, blind and focused on a way out of the area.

Soon we are back in wonderland with fresh coffee, bakeries we tuck into a bright shop with a chandelier made of tea cups. The pastry delicious, the coffee strong and good we watch the world go by through bright sunny windows.

We discover a sculpture of a Volkswagen Beetle and wonder how it was created.

We set out again and decide to venture to Rembrandtplein for lunch. This is a tall order and we walk up and down the cobblestone streets searching for familiarity, stopping to consult the map or resetting the gps. We are always mindful of the bikes, looking both ways, then running like we are on fire across the street.

We pass the flower markets and I remember Marieke and I laughing as each is same same, selling identical products though somehow making a living. We are close I declare and soon we are victorious. Our rule, we cannot dine at the same place twice so choose an Italian restaurant. The food excellent, our chairs turned boldly facing the square for maximal people watching.

Our next plan is to find a flea market at Waterlooplein and we set out. Some twists and turns, wrong turns and we arrive. The market has much to sell though we are not in a buying mood. We continue wandering and stumble on Rembrandthuis, my favourite artist. We decide to pay for a tour.

The house is unique and bright compared to its neighbours. It is narrow with tight staircases where crawling is the safest way. I think that most staircases in Holland would not pass code in Canada.

We learn that Rembrandt painted here and purchased the house for 13,000 guilders, a princely sum. He was at the height of his game and the same year he received his contract to paint, “Nightwatch.” He was a talented artist, though poor businessman and went bankrupt forcing the sale of the house and most of its contents.

We learn how to mix paint as was done in Rembrandt’s time and how he made copies of his sketches. We marvel at the furniture and admire the paintings. We listen to descriptions and gain a deeper understanding as we walk through this beautiful home.

We leave to find the metro. Rush hour has arrived and a steady stream of bikes clog our route across. We time our bolt, state after the guy with the hat and run across. We find the metro and uneventfully find our way back to Nelda and Marieke’s.

We scan our passes to leave and are denied. We try again and again, insanity reigns with no exit gained. We read and understand there are two exits, one for the train, the other for the metro. We move to the metro exit and the doors swing gleefully open. We are victorious.

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Family

Don and Tineke have offered to drive us back to Amsterdam to Nelda and Marieke’s home. This saves us much time and confusion to navigate our way by bus, ferry, bus and train. We are so very thankful.

They arrive and we bid Paul goodbye and thank him for his hospitality. It has been a memorable experience that we will both remember with fondness. In a lifetime of days,yesterday was the best.

We begin the journey to the ferry. As we drive onto the ferry, Els waves. She has ridden her bike to see us off. She will ride the ferry across and back, then bike home. We are so happy to have a chance to say goodbye.

We sip coffee and enjoy the short drive back. Don and Tineke invite us to their home and we happily say yes. It is nice not to have to say goodbye so soon.

Their home is warm and cozy with large windows. Their life in books, pictures and art surround. The room draws us in and immediately we are comfortable.

We chat about Canada and Tineke produces a scrapbook she made after her trip to Canada with her parents and brother, Hein. It’s interesting to see the pictures from that time. We welcome them to visit us in Canada and hope they will.

We learn about their other home in Portugal that we hope to visit one day. We learn they met each other when they were very young, they both lived a lifetime, then met and began another. How lucky they found one another, though life really does happen exactly as it should.

We enjoy cheese, crackers, wine and beer before venturing out for dinner. The neighbourhood is a vibrant community with interesting architecture and large, bright windows.

We arrive a short distance later to a round orange restaurant. It’s cozy inside with a central fireplace and bright windows for 360 degree viewing of people.

We share drinks and enjoy a wonderful meal of bread, fish, mussels and steak. Strong coffee and dessert round off a most excellent meal. Conversation is easy and relaxed.

Don and Tinneke drive us back to Nelda and Marieke’s. We pass through the museum district, see a large bathtub claiming to be art, along with The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. It’s good to be reacquainted with the lay of the land as tomorrow we are alone.

We thank Don and Tinneke for a wonderful dinner and day and make plans to meet again. We arrive at Nelda and Marieke’s assume our seats as the wine is poured and we pick up exactly where we left off.

Sheep Market, Texel

Reluctantly we pack to leave this beautiful island. We both agree to return, rent a beach house and explore the island’s secrets.

Today there is a sheep market. John’s father told us about this weekly event where the farmers would bring their sheep to Den Berg to be sold. It is no longer weekly, but rather annual and our timing is perfect, for today is the day. The sheep are auctioned, some fetching as much as $25,000 euro. The majority of the sheep have arrived for a chance to win a ribbon.

We bike the distance, my butt screams, though I discover third gear and share this information with Paul. We ride together when the path allows, Paul explains this is done so chatting is possible. It is very relaxing, like riding in a car, though better.

We arrive, expertly lock the bikes having learned the secret. We then remove the key with one try and walk to the market. Everyone has arrived, a busy, happening place. The sheep are in open pens, an auctioneer is shouting, food is available and a farmers market completes the scene.

John and I enjoy fried kibbeling, fish breaded and fried so tasty then finish with sweet poffertjes, tiny pancakes with butter and icing sugar, yum.

We meet Tinneke, Els and Don in the crowd and walk around admiring the sheep though unaware why one received a ribbon and another did not. We celebrate a random sheep with a picture so he doesn’t feel bad for not winning.

We ride back and I discover 4th gear. The ride is now easy. I excitedly tell Paul of my discovery. He says in response, now you can lead and I do.

Biking Texel

We wake early to help with clean up from the party. Family arrives and in no time the cleanup is complete. Els, Theo, Carla, Paul, John, Tinneke, Don, and myself make the many hands to create light work.

John’s cousin, Carla has brought a bike for me to enjoy while we are here. John’s Grandfather biked around this island well into his 90’s, though this practice is not unusual in the Netherlands. Still, I wanted to have this experience and today is the day. Paul, Karl, John and myself set off. The bikes are different, touring bikes as opposed to mountain bikes. It’s like biking as a child. I sit high on the bike though it’s comfortable and nice not to hunch over.

The paths are paved and mostly flat. We are not alone, there are many people biking young and old though considerably less volume than Amsterdam.

We work our way to the beach a short ride away. We arrive lock our bikes easily with a lock installed on the tires, the key remains in until used. How wonderful to not fuss with combinations and search for keys.

We walk the short distance to the beach and find the sand dunes John’s dad described. How amazing, so tall and majestic they flank the entrance. There is a restaurant, requisite supply store though my eyes are drawn to the water. I continue.

The water is cool though quickly I adjust and enjoy the soak. Children play on the sandbar, sea birds swoop playing with the wind. Seashells cover portions of the beach. There are beach houses that can be used for the season providing a more permanent structure to enjoy the summer at the beach.

We enjoy the space and begin to walk back. I just want to stay here. We opt for lunch at the restaurant to continue to enjoy the ambience. The food excellent, local beer cold, perfection.

We hop back on the bikes and continue. Paul shows us the Polder lands, new land reclaimed from the sea. When the industrious, clever Dutch run short of land, they just make more.

There is a lighthouse in the distance. Paul tells us about about an annual walk around the island.

We turn around though each time we get back on the bike it hurts a little more as our butts become accustomed to riding. Paul tells us he is getting us tough for our trek through Iceland so we don’t embarrass ourselves or the family name.

We arrive back and decide on dinner at a nearby beach restaurant. Tinneke, Don, Els, Theo will join Paul, John and myself. Paul explains if we bike he can enjoy a drink though if he takes the car he will be the designated driver. Reluctantly, we opt for the bike ride though our butts scream their protest.

The bike ride is beautiful, flanked on both sides by tall stands of trees. I discover second gear and marvel to Paul that I had no idea the bike had more than one. Paul casually smokes a cigarette while he rides, John and I focus on the task at hand.

We arrive and walk the short distance where we are greeted by the others’. The meal wonderful some have hake(fish), others’ have steak. The waiter errs our order despite its simplicity. The sunset beckons and demands its photo, I comply.

We enjoy each other’s company, the conversation switches between English and Dutch and John and I begin to follow the conversation using context and body language, coupled with a few words we have learned.

Too soon it’s time to leave, the sky dark. We figure out the lights on the bikes, the moon and stars light the sky and we begin the ride with Paul leading the way. How cool to ride a bike at night. Mentally, I decide to remember this moment, though my butt declares it will be sometime before I forget.

Texel, Netherlands

Today we travel to Texel for the family reunion. I’ve heard so much about this place, my expectation high. I attempt to curtail my enthusiasm to avoid disappointment.

The first time I met John’s parents they showed me pictures and a book about Texel. John’s dad spoke about the sheep market, dunes and the beauty of the beaches that he declared rivalled any beach in Hawaii. From that moment this was a place I needed to see and today was the day.

We travel a great distance to the ferry with Nelda and Marieke pointing out the sites. We pass small quaint towns even one whose name roughly translated means ditch, Slootdorp. Marieke and Nelda laugh stating some day when they retire they will live in this town. We pass a town where each house is decorated with flags as today is a celebration we don’t know what they are celebrating so speculate, perhaps it’s because we have arrived we joke.

Soon we arrive at the ferry. I learn the crossing will take 15 minutes, hardly enough time to collect our thoughts. Still we have a chance to come upstairs, look at the sites, peruse the souvenirs and take photos. I stand on the deck and the seabirds swoop and dip leading the way to Texel.

Too soon we arrive and begin the journey to John’s cousin, Pauls’ home, the scene of the family reunion. We first stop at the site of John’s Grandparents homestead, The home consisted of a house, a summer house and a carpentry shop. The summer house remains though the rest is gone making way for row homes. Still, I close my eyes and imagine them in their later years waiting for the bus to arrive and their children and grandchildren to visit.

We set off for Paul’s home and I prepare myself to meet the relations. A group is gathered, though we are given our space initially with a chance to take in their sheer volume before joining in the fray. John and I are touched as the reunion is every two years though they have added another this year because of our visit.

Gradually we meet them all, a lovely bunch, friendly and welcoming. They all speak English well, thankfully, as my Dutch is limited with only the ability to ask for salt and pepper and I have no need for either so it would be awkward.

We drink strong coffee and enjoy Gevulde Speculaas cookies. The almond taste is lovely, I enjoy two and a second cup of coffee.

We eat fried fish to remember John’s grandfather who would trade sausage for small flat fish. The fishermen would be tired of fish and happy for the sausage. The fish were small and not saleable. Win win all around. The fish is flash cooked in oil with no breading and is melt in the mouth goodness. I enjoy two and part of Johns’ too.

We look at the pictures that have been assembled, so much work. It depicts John’s grandparents followed by their 12 children and their children and grandchildren. I marvel at what is created because two people fell in love.

John’s remaining Uncles and Aunts chat with us. Ann, Jan, Nely, Emmy, Els and Tinneke. We hear stories about him, his youth and how difficult it was for him to be away from home when he arrived in Canada at the tender age of 18. We learn how his Mother would sit down once a week to write her eldest son. I think about how difficult it must have been for John’s grandparents to say goodbye to their oldest son when he journeyed to Canada. Travel so different then and the length between visits uncertain.

We continue visiting and meet everyone, learn about each other and enjoy the beautiful weather in Paul’s yard. John is reminded how he longed for a McDonalds during his last trip to the Netherlands. Chickens and a rooster weave in between creating a tranquil peace despite the crowd. Don plays piano and accordion and sings including a Canadian song for us. The song is not familiar in words though the music is east coast.

The family gathers for a picture, organized chaos ensues though like a well orchestrated system within minutes everyone assembles, the moment is forged. Day turns to night, Indonesian food arrives, we indulge.

At intervals family members leave to catch the ferry, some opt to not say goodbye as it’s likely to take too long to go through everyone and the ferry will be missed. There is a mad scramble to catch the last ferry, the frenzy ends.

The night quiets and all that remains are those who will stay the night on a Texel. A circle of chairs is assembled around a warm inviting fire and in a time honoured tradition we stare into the flames. Tineke strikes up the ukulele and Don harmonizes with the accordion. Together they sing. We listen to the conversations around us and pick up the gist.

The family disbands and soon we are three, John, Paul and me. We retreat to our room in his home, sink deep into bed and reminisce about the day. John states he can’t believe he’s related to all of them and marvels that not everyone is here. He wonders how different his life might have been had he been raised here. I think about my expectations that have been surpassed. We both agree we are very blessed.

Walking Amsterdam

We finish our beer and Nelda asks if we would like to walk back to her home. This seems like a tall order as we have been walking for hours and the prospect of walking to her home instead of riding the metro seems daunting. The plan is for Marieke to take the metro, arrive home to retrieve her bike, then shop and return home. It’s decided we will all arrive home at the same time. I stare longingly after Marieke wondering if she needs help with the shop then begin the walk home with John and Nelda.

Nelda is very familiar with Amsterdam as she has lived in this beautiful city for many years. She begins to expertly navigate us through a series of rabbit warrens, pointing out landmarks, historical homes and telling us the history of the area. We learn to watch for bikes, cars and move quickly across streets. We stop at beautiful canals the buildings reflected, their beauty doubles. Quickly the city falls away and communities take over

We walk through an area that was owned by a manufacturer of diamonds, a large building dominates surrounded by large and small buildings depending on the role in the company. We walk past a central bath house for the community. Nelda explains it was used until the 1980’s. I try to imagine this life, then say a silent prayer for my private bath.

The windows of the homes are large and brighten the spaces inside, even the smallest building appears spacious. Large courtyards provide a place for children to gather and play, creating a community.

We learn about building styles, Amsterdam school style of architecture where creative techniques are utilized to create beautiful homes. We learn about Dutch golden age architecture that flanks the majority of canals. I decide I could live in one, though shudder at the upkeep. The ground shifts and many are considerably less than square. My carpenter husband angles his head repeatedly trying to make it right.

In no time we arrive back at Nelda and Marieke’s the distance short from downtown and our expert guide, Nelda ensured our travels were not convoluted. I realize I had over estimated the distance initially as we had seen so much in a short span of time that the miles seemed great.

Marieke has beat us home but only just. We enjoy a glass of wine together and continue our conversation, laughter soon takes over. Dinner follows a delicious curry engages all our senses . We chat well into the early hours. Sleep takes time as my mind remains active for a time with all I have seen and experienced.

First look Amsterdam

We wake ready to tackle our first full day in Amsterdam.

Our breakfast is excellent bread, an amazing selection of cheese and cups of strong coffee. We indulge and both agree we could get used to this type of morning start.

Nelda and Marieke suggest a tour of Amsterdam and we happily agree. We walk to the train station and receive an in service on how to buy tickets and read the schedules. We are fortunate as we have 3 lines available to take us downtown. Within minutes a train arrives, spacious, bright and clean we settle ourselves for the short trip downtown

We arrive and expertly Marieke and Nelda lead us to the correct exit, good thing as my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. We see cheese wheels in a shop dedicated to this pursuit, flowers for sale and the smell of baked goods encourage us to stop, though we continue moving.

We begin to exit the station oblivious to a commotion behind us. The train station is being evacuated. Nelda is concerned as she has heard the announcement. John and I have no idea until we are safely outside and Nelda explains. We later learn a Belgium citizen in retaliation to a controversy involving a Politician’s statements randomly stabbed several people as he exited the train. He was later shot by Police. This would be a main news story for several days. John and I comfortable in tourist mode with only a few words of Dutch between us continued to ooh and awe at the sites.

We marvel at the bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere. People of all ages ride, owning the road, pedestrians beware. We watch for cars, though are focused looking for bikes as they weave in and out. We wonder how anyone finds their bike at the end of the day. There are huge garages dedicated to storing the bikes, bike theft is a problem which seems bizarre when there are so many. Still it is the best way to get around and the people are fit. I think about home where we bike until we get a car and then most Canadians never bike again. Nelda tells us that abandoned bikes are a problem and at times they are marked and picked up. We also learn 13,000 bikes are removed from the canals annually.

We take the ferry for a short trip to arrive on a small island with a large building. We ride to the top and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city. This allows us to really gain an understanding of the city. We point out landmarks of places we would like to see, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, and Marieke points out their home. There is a chance for swinging from the edge of the building though we decline and opt for gawking instead.

We find a great spot for lunch before continuing our tour of the city. We take pictures of the canals with the beautiful homes on either side, the quintessential picture of Amsterdam and I learn there is more than one street with a canal. In fact at every turn beautiful architecture exists. There are hooks at the top of these narrow homes to haul furniture through the windows as this is the only method that would work. These homes were built during the Golden Age when Holland was enjoying a boom. No expense spared though narrow and tall to avoid tax which was based on the width of the building.

We stop at the Rembrandtplein to admire the 3D model of the Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s famous painting. Our feet tired and demand respite we sit at a nearby open cafe. I smile as there is no pretence, all chairs are facing towards the sidewalk for maximal people watching. When in Amsterdam we think as we sip our Amstel radlers and join in this popular pastime.