Our first trip to the Netherlands starting with three days and nights in Amsterdam where we walk a lot and check out some of the museums.
by artslover on October 1, 2009
Amsterdam is meant to be explored on foot. A canal boat tour gives a good overview. Bicycles are good transportation but the locals pedal very fast and do not appreciate slow moving sightseers in the bike lanes. On foot you can explore the many concentric canals and the multitude of bridges. This may mean you will get lost, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.By walking, you get to see details you might miss at a faster pace. Walking allows you to stop to gaze in amazement at the many bridges and their varying styles. Or you can stop to enjoy a concert on a canal. You soon discover bicycles are chained to nearly everything. They are as plentiful as the gardens, mailboxes, and chain like fencing which adorn many of the houses. Young couples out on a date ride together on one bicycle. Young men in suits zip by on their bikes with briefcases on the handlebars. The Dutch are very open people who seem to have less need for privacy than us uptight North American or so it seems when you walk by urinoirs, outdoor commodes, sometimes decorated with wisteria vines. When you get near the many public squares, the Dam, the Rembrandtplein, the Lunt, and the Leidesplein, street vendors and street performers seem to pop up, well aware that you are a tourist.The real enchantment of Amsterdam is its inhabitants, who you will not meet if you are cycling or boating. By ambling through alleys and across canals, you get the tangible experience of the city. Locals lean amiably within open doorframes, often smiling and offering assistance. Smoke, not necessarily from tobacco, wafts out of the occasional doorway. You hear the throat clearing conversations in Dutch. You can refresh your hard working feet at the many pubs where friendly bartenders will tell you where you can get a good meal and other native knowledge.You can walk circles in Amsterdam, but you will not be lost, not really.
A canal boat tour is a quick and easy way to see the city and explore the many canals. There are lots of canal tours by boat. We picked up a very basic one near the Rijksmuseum for €11 which lasted a little over an hour. No dinner or tourist photographs of ourselves which suited us fine. On the tour, we were able to see the harbour and the Shipbuilding Museum, two places we did not get to on foot. It also gave us a different view to see houses we had walked past but were now looking at from the canal. The guide was also helpful in describing some of the things we had seen but did not know very much about. A canal tour does not take long and is not expensive. I highly recommend it as an introductory orientation to Amsterdam.
It was starting to rain so we went looking for a restaurant close to our hotel which was near Vondel Park. Bellavista with its white linen table cloths and gleaming wine glasses looked appealing so we went inside. We were greeted with "buona sera" just like when we were in Italy. This proved to be a good sign as the food is very authentic Italian – very fresh, simply prepared and extremely tasty. I had probably the best fish soup ever – full of a variety of seafood and the flavours perfectly balanced. My spaghetti vongole had so many clam shells at first I could not see the pasta. Other pastas and pizza were also very good.We had the fun of getting a waiter who spoke Dutch and Italian but not much English, so some of us spoke to him in Italian. Occasionally, another waiter would helpfully stop and explain in English and the young man behind the bar would also chat in English to us, so we got through the meal with a lot of hand gestures and no major misunderstandings.The wine list is Italian focused but good. We were too full for dessert but received a plate of little chocolates anyhow. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, the prices were reasonable, and would recommend it even if you are not staying close by.
It took us about five tries to learn how to say Van Gogh the way the Dutch pronounce it. But however it’s said, it was a really informative visit. The museum contains the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings in the world. The displays are organized to provide an opportunity to track Van Gogh's developments as an artist by organizing his work both chronologically and comparing his paintings to works by other artists from the 19th century to show how those artists influenced Van Gogh. The museum also offers exhibitions on various subjects from 19-th century art history. The Van Gogh Museum is situated in the Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter, between the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum, the contemporary art museum. Both the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum are undergoing renovations so the area is a bit of a construction zone. We almost missed the entrance to the Van Gogh Museum, which is up a set of stairs a bit behind a large grey wall of this more modern structure. The one thing which signaled the entrance was the long line of people who were queuing to buy tickets. Luckily, we had bought ours in advance and walked straight into the museumRight now, as the Stedelijk Museum is under renovation, scheduled to reopen in spring 2010, a large part of that collection is in the new wing of the Van Gogh Museum. It has one of the richest modern art collections in the world. Along with all big names of modern painting movements, Impressionists, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, it has a unique collection of Dutch artists, Casimir Malevich, De Stijl and the Cobra movement, a superb Dutch photography collection, and a very good collection of design and furniture. As well, there are pieces since 1950, such as works of Matisse, Picasso, Newman, Rauschenberg, and Warhol. So for the price of one ticket, you get to see two museum’s collections!
The Rijksmuseum is best known for its collection of Dutch paintings from the 17th century, or the Dutch Golden Age, as it is often described in the Netherlands. But the museum has a wider focus which includes crafts and history. The collection includes substantial Asian artworks as well.A major renovation is being undertaken but the museum is still open for visits and is well worth the time. The huge four story castle like structure is unmistakable when you are near the open square of the Museumplein.We bought tickets online which saved us another long queue. The website can be found at: www.rijksmuseum.nl/?lang=en. Tickets for adults is € 11and for those 18 and under, admission is free. When you go to the museum with your printed tickets, ignore the sign which says "Fast Lane" because it leads to an area under renovation.The museum offers audio tours and guided tours but it is very easy to tour yourself around as each art object has an explanatory text in English and Dutch.The stars of the collection are the paintings by Dutch artists Jacob van Ruysdael, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rembrandt’s pupils. Rembrandt’s painting known as The Night Watch is a national treasure and one of those works which will never be loaned out. You need to visit the Rijksmuseum to see it. No photography is allowed. There are a couple of museum shops with postcards, books and other souvenir items. The Rijksmuseum also shares a gift shop with the Van Gogh Museum in the Museumplein area between the buildings and where you will also find the IAMsterdam sculpture. The shops do not all have the same items so if you see something you want in one, buy it, because it may not be sold in the other shops.
We were walking to the Van Gogh museum and walked past this restaurant. It looked nice with its Indonesian decor, a dining area and a bar area. None of us had eaten Indonesian cuisine before so planned to return the same day for dinner. We showed about early in the evening without reservations and got a table for the three of us. The waiter told us we were very lucky to get a table without a reservation and we saw soon thereafter that the place was packed. Making a reservation looks like a good idea.As we did not know our way around the menu, our waiter recommended the multi-dish rijsttafel, litterally translated as rice-table. The dish is a Dutch adaptation of Indonesian dishes. The menu listed some 20 or more dishes as making up the rijsttafel. We questioned whether the three of us should split two but were assured that it would not be too much food. Our waiter and two others then proceeded to bring out so many dishes a little side table was needed to hold them all. The waiter then showed us how to prepare the rijsttafel by first putting two different rices in a bowl and topping them with the different side dishes. Some of the side dishes were seasoned, some had sauces and consisted of vegetables, chicken, fish, nuts and fruit. If you have a nut allergy, you will want to avoid this dish as peanuts featured in the satays also. The seasoned dishes were very tasty and not spicy in the burn you tongue off kind of way.We managed to eat almost all of it and would love to try Indonesian food again. It was not cheap at almost €28 a person but it was good value given that it was a huge amount of food with everything including dessert.
This small hotel is located in the Museum district on a mostly residential street. For that reason, it is great for a good night’s sleep as it is relatively quiet. The hotel is very convenient to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum and well within walking distance of the central canal areas. Lots of restaurants are close by as is Vondel Park, providing a green oasis within the city.They have a variety of room sizes but we stayed in the penthouse which allowed my spouse and I to stay with our teenage daughter but not have to sleep in the same room. The penthouse is huge by European standards. It has a bedroom area, a bathroom with shower only, huge living room with a double sofa bed at one end, a terrace, a dining area and a lovely kitchen with large windows on two sides. Some basic food supplies were in the kitchen. Most important for us was the coffee maker which helped rouse us every morning. There is skylight so the penthouse feels very spacious and light when the sun is out. It is at the top of three sets of very steep and narrow steps. There is no elevator so staying in the penthouse insures a bit of a work out each time you return to the hotel!A breakfast buffet is included with the room and offers a reasonable variety of cold breakfast items. The main floor reception area also has a computer available for guests although wi-fi is available free of charge throughout the hotel.Best of all, the staff are very friendly and extremely helpful. Our daughter had a massive suitcase as she was going to be staying in the Netherlands to go to school. We were a bit jet lagged and very grateful to the two staff who negotiated the huge case up the narrow, steep staircases. We mentioned we wanted to go to the Van Gogh museum and they were able to provide us with tickets which saved us the long queue at the museum.
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