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Published: March 31st 2017
It's hard to believe but I hadn't been in Amsterdam for 17 years. I love Amsterdam. I lived there for a few years when I was young. I have some family and friends and many reasons to visit but somehow we didn't. It is rather expensive and every time we thought about visiting we would check hotel prices and then decide to go somewhere else. This time we were in Amsterdam for a purpose and weren't paying for the trip (more about that toward the end).
It was good to be back. The canals, buildings, bikes, trams, were, of course, still there and even though it looks like it is all straight out of the pages of a history book, I am just so impressed by how modern and efficient the Dutch are. The transport is great and they have blended the old with the new seamlessly together into one.
We don't visit Europe in the winter and we were worried how we would manage but it wasn't too bad – about 8 degrees during the day. It rained most of the time and one day the wind was so strong, I feared we would
be blown away. We walked a lot so we also got wet a lot but somehow it didn't slow us down. Actually very typical Dutch weather.
We were staying on the Dam and on the first morning at 7:00 the building being renovated next to the hotel began demolishing walls. We know that because we could see exactly what they were doing just a few meters from where we were sleeping. Well, we weren't asleep anymore – Hello Amsterdam!
Luckily, it didn't happen again. We didn't do well with food either. The Dutch have never been known for their cuisine. We ended up eating a lot of junk food. I must say that those hot churros with caramel sauce on a cold night were just amazing. How lucky that our son was with us, we probably would have missed that particular delight if we'd been alone.
Actually, we didn’t use the transport much – we walked. I like walking in old cities, every building is interesting in some way – they might be very old, have interesting portals, windows or doors, and in Amsterdam, they might even be quite crooked. So
we spent most of the week walking around the canals and small lanes, from square to square, with houseboats bobbing on the water, and accompanied by the ringing bells from bikes, it is almost like you have stepped back into the 17th
century -- but just for a moment -- the smell of marijuana and the happy groups of people of all ages crowding the streets, put you firmly back in modern times.
After not being in Amsterdam for so long, you tend to forget about all the bikes. Those ringing bike bells that you hear everywhere are often a split second warning for you to get the hell out of the bike lane before you get run over. And even though the Dutch are generally very nice, I saw quite a few riders that almost certainly mowed into unsuspecting pedestrians on purpose, asserting their right of way.
I wanted to visit a few museums. Like everywhere in Europe, there are long lines for the most popular attractions and you have to book online. If you don’t do that, you can probably forget it. I’ve already visited the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gough museum
and we unfortunately couldn’t get into the Amsterdam Hermitage because we didn’t book beforehand, but there is a wealth of museums in Amsterdam for every taste and they have really well done and interesting displays. So whether it be art, photography, film, ships, horticulture, tea and coffee, marijuana, erotica, just about anything you can think of, there will be something to interest you.
We visited the Banksy and the Salvador Dali exhibitions at the Moco Museum for contemporary art, not far from the Rijksmuseum. Banksy, being the flavor of the day, had a lot more visitors than Dali but we enjoyed both, they were both a lot of fun. A lot of the pieces in the Banksy exhibition had several versions of the same piece, some seemed to be cut off walls and others were on canvas. He is a skilled artist and a lot of his work is very clever. He produces a lot of work for private collectors which sell for big bucks. His works sell for between $500,000-1,000,000. One went for $1,700,000. His estimated worth is $15 million but I think he must be worth much more. Which is why I found one of
his paintings so ironic. It’s a picture of an old fashioned auction and the caption says: “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.” Laughing all the way to the bank.
I just loved Rembrandt’s house. It is a beautifully preserved building from 1606, with leaded windows, red shutters and green doors. Rembrandt was a successful, working artist but also very extravagant. He bought the big, impressive house in 1639 at a cost of 13,000 guilders, a huge amount in those days. He eventually went bankrupt in 1656 and the house was auctioned together with all its contents. The interiors have been faithfully reconstructed using the detailed auction lists. The audio tour is very interesting and added a lot to our enjoyment of the house.
We also visited the flower market which even in February was quite nice. We continued on to the flea market where I bought my best souvenir of the trip. I collect tins, mostly new ones that look old, but this time I picked up an authentic Droste’s Cacao tin in really good condition. As a bonus, the place where it was produced, Haarlem Holland, is written on one
side – I lived in Haarlem for two years once and have lots of good memories of that lovely city. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for a visit on this trip.
One day I joined a tour to Zaanse Schans, Marken and Volendam. My travel companions didn’t want to go as we have all visited before so I went alone. I even had a few hours of lovely weather, with fluffy clouds in blue skies. And yes, I’ve seen it quite a few times before, but even so, it was a great day and I guess I am not jaded, because I really enjoyed it. Apart from the windmills, the cute wooden houses, and quaint villages, the countryside and harbors are very pretty. I was once again struck by how very flat Holland is. Also by all the water which seems to be on the same level as the land which often looks very water-bogged, like marsh land. There are huge lakes that are captured sea water that has been turned into sweet water. In all the fields there were many wild birds – mostly all different types of ducks and geese but also swans.
I bought a selection of tasty aged Dutch cheeses and some syrup waffles but resisted buying any more clogs as souvenirs because we already have a big collection at home. All sizes, all colors, some are for decoration and some are with brushes inside. I don’t know where they all came from. We didn’t buy them. They must be presents.
On our last night, we met friends and they invited us for a fantastic fish dinner in an old warehouse in the new part of Amsterdam, all reclaimed docklands. You get there by taking one of the free ferries from behind the central station. The film museum and the Toren tower are also there. From the bottom we could see people on Europe’s highest swing, swinging back and forth over the building’s edge. No time, unfortunately, to visit the modern EYE film institute with its huge collection of films and posters.
Holland has so much to do, and we just sampled a small part. The main purpose of our trip, however, wasn’t to live it up in Amsterdam. We were there for a very special, long-overdue ceremony. My husband’s mother is from a
Jewish family from Almelo, Holland. During the second world war most of her family were hidden by ordinary Dutch people and managed to survive the war. My mother-in-law, Vera was hidden with her twin sister, Betty, in the small farming village of Drachtstercompagnie. The daughter of the farmer was five years old during the war and now at 80 years old she and her family were being honored by the Israeli government in a special ceremony in the village where it all happened.
We started off in the graveyard to pay respects to the grandparents, with all their children and grandchildren taking part. We then proceeded to a very moving and emotional ceremony of about 100 people comprised of family, friends, Israeli embassy representatives and the burgermeister, where many speeches were made and good wishes and deep thanks exchanged. My husband and I, together with our youngest son, represented Vera and Betty’s grandson came from Sweden. I read a speech in English on behalf of the family. Before saying goodbye, we visited the place where the original farm house stood, now renovated and rebuilt, but still much the same as it must have been then.
We hope to see them all in Israel later in the year when they come to the unveiling of commemorative plaques in Jerusalem. We also have good friends in Amsterdam whose family helped my husband’s father during the war and we have kept close connection to this day. My husband’s parents are now 89 and 92 and not travelling anymore so we went instead and I read the family’s response. Over the years, there has been a lot of letters, presents and visits exchanged and I hope that our special connection will continue into the future. As you can imagine, our trip to Holland, was very memorable and I hope it won’t be such a long time till we visit again.
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