Canals, of course

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Europe » Netherlands
November 24th 2012
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 52.3738, 4.89095

We slept until 7am, had coffee at the hotel, then went out for a quick bite for breakfast. Then we decided to go out for a walk, without a specific destination in mind. We were thinking vaguely about walking towards the Rijksmuseum so headed in the vague direction of where we thought it might be, without really considering that, of course, all the canals curve around. It was sunny and reasonably warm, so we weren't too worried about not having a sense of direction. We chatted the whole time; I learned a lot about how things were going on the St. Petersburg with Keegan. We paused periodically to look at different maps and changed our route, then wondered why we got turned around, especially as the sun was out, so rerouted until we felt lost again. It was fun, and we saw a lot of the city. But…

After an hour or so, it was time to focus. We realized we had a map with us, which turned out to be useful. Keegan's friend had recommended the Filmuseum, which was on our map (although Keegan said, that's not where my friend showed it but nevermind). It was near the entrance of the park, which is supposed to be quite nice, so we headed that way. We found the filmuseum, but it was clearly closed … and that's when Keegan suggested that maybe it had moved. Smart boy; that would explain the different location, the closed building, and the fact that we had seen a modern structure when we had looked it up online.

So we decided to return to the hotel, develop a plan, then go back out again. Our plan was: lunch, dessert, Canal House Museum, then see how we feel. We found a very tasty restaurant for lunch (Walem) … good sandwiches (I had open face with grilled peppers and goat cheese, to give you sense of what there was). We then walked to the skating rink so that Keegan could get a warm waffle covered in chocolate. It was turning cold and foggy and increasingly overcast.

Our next stop was the Canal House Museum (Het Grachtenhuis), which we both really liked. It is a good introduction to the history of the canals. The museum is situated in an old canal house, opened recently, and takes advantage of multimedia technology. We received our audio headsets, were told that the first two rooms were timed, and the show would start in two minutes. With the audio headsets we could have shared the rooms with people who speak other languages, but, in this case, there were just the two of us, so it didn't matter.

The first room has a miniature of houses along maybe three canals – the entire set up is a few feet tall and maybe 20 feet wide. The lights dimmed, and the show began. Animation of various sorts played across the miniature houses and along the canals and against the walls of the room. The animations were Terry Gilliam-like: etchings of people and objects from the various time periods in question, with arms and legs moving in exaggerated motion and angular ways. While the lecture was serious, some of the animation was funny (e.g., a man swallowing fish whole). They talked about the role of the Netherlands in the Thirty Years War, the pressures on the city as it grew, the extension of Dutch trade in the Indies. I would have liked more detail about what time the different events they discussed took place (they would periodically play a heart beat sound and make the holograph over the houses throb to symbolize a skip to a new time period), but, otherwise, it was both interesting and entertaining. Then, we were told to proceed to the next room

The second room really did a nice of job of using the multimedia. It tells the story of the planning of the canals. In the center of the room is a table, and when the show plays, you hear the voices of a committee discussing how they might set about changing the city so that there are more canals, more housing plots, yet still not too many ramparts and walls for defense. As you hear the discussion, different maps appear on the table as they talk, and animations of the plans are drawn as people discuss possibilities. It really helps you follow why certain decisions were made and how the city changed over time. They also include dates of different plans and meetings, so there is no question of what happens when. Here, as we finished, a new group came in behind us, and the show started up again, so we didn't have time to look on the wall at all the different plans and maps, which was too bad. Since the room goes dark for the "show", it was impossible to stay to see, so we moved on.

The third room was smaller, with miniature houses under construction. As music plays, you see animations of building in each house: a tiler here, a brick-layer there, pile-driving, a man at a writing desk, and even someone on a tea break. It animation here is film of Claymation, so we've moved from Terry Gilliam to Wallace and Grommit … but it was still fun. No words this time, but we still spend a number of minutes watching each little building. On a large screen, they showed Claymation people working, then, at the end of the segment, a real person walks in and places some shrubbery on the top of the miniature house. Cute touch.

The fourth room upstairs has a giant doll house, which you can totally circle. Each room has a holographic film of some action. Some are historic, some are modern: a waltz in one room, a laptop open on a couch in another. Each room has a number, and you play to listen. Mostly, you hear music, but sometimes you catch snippets of amusing conversations. Around the walls of this room are
Canals of AmsterdamCanals of AmsterdamCanals of Amsterdam

Where Paul and I stayed in 1990 ... it's still here!
drawings of houses; many have peep-holes. You can look in for various views. Again, I like the fact that some are modern, some are of recent history, and some go back to the 17th century. Some are monumental, some known, and some everyday. Again, we spent a lot of time in this room, taking it all in.

The last room upstairs is a model of much of the inner-canals. On the video screens behind play videos of Amsterdam: boat races on the canals, bicycles being dredged from the depths, the gay pride parade.

From here, we went downstairs, where there are three rooms, which tell you a bit more history about this house and its owners. The most interesting part of this room was hearing about John Adams' visits to Amsterdam, where he received loans from the house's owner and compatriots, to help fund the new American republic. Interesting … and not something we usually learn about in US History. I also liked their little 1950s-style animations. There was also a room where you could use iPads to Plan Your Own Canal Tour … but we did not.

Our last stop was the garden outside, which had a central plan that outlined the way plots were designed along the canal to protect greenspace. It had begun to rain, so we didn't linger.

We returned to the hotel to rest, bathe, and skype with Paul and Kyla. Then downstairs for a drink. Not feeling hungry, we grabbed a simple meal out, and walked back in the rain. I think I reinjured my leg. Damn it! We watched a bit of a movie, then a Dutch game show, then went to sleep.

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