I really wanted to find a courtyard called the Begijnhof. In the 12th century, this began as a religious retreat for women. It wasn't quite as strict as a convent, the women were not nuns though did have to vow chastity and obedience to the parish priest. They could leave at any time to get married and did not have to take a vow of poverty. They did good works, teach, tend the sick. They were referred to, some time later as Beguines. This "settlement" was originally surrounded by canals and marshland but over the years it was filled in. There is a church and a small chapel. The women would be buried in the church but when the official church in the Netherlands converted to Protestant, one woman refused to be buried in the "new" church. Though she was initially buried in the church, she was moved to a grave at the edge of the church grounds and you can still see her grave commemorated in the square. The last Beguine that lived here died in 1971 and since then, the houses have been given over to senior citizens.
So what is there to see here? Not a whole lot but it's very pretty, quiet, and one of the two oldest houses made of wood in Amsterdam still stands here. The church is pretty and you can also visit the chapel. The houses are the tall thin canal type houses with gabled roofs and pretty windows and decoration.
It's not all that easy to find. Take the tram to the Spui stop and go into the square. At one end, there is a sign to the Begijnof but keep to the left as there's a street veering off to the right at the same corner of the square. There's a little alleyway into the courtyard with information on the wall as you pass in. When we were there, there was also a walking tour group which clogged up the narrow little entrance when we were trying to leave. Tourists!!!!!
See the website for a lot of interesting information and history. There is a little shop outside the courtyard on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal near the tram stop. They sell religious books and cards and postcards. The square near here, Spui, was nice too, with some street performers and shady places to sit. There's a very trendy looking shopping street just off the square as well lined with designer shops.
We need food so it was time to find a place for a late lunch. We saw a few small places in a small street that was off that trendy one and picked one of them, (see de Rozenboom review). The food was lovely and the staff was friendly. Graham had a burger and i had a ham and cheese "toastie" which was yummy! The Dutch do cheese so well! We shared a sweet pancake for dessert. The stairs to the toilet were a menace, however. Narrow, spiral and fairly steep. I nearly fell over the top step and you just want to hold on and go slowly coming back down again.
It was quite late in the afternoon so there isn't a lot of time to get to and see a museum now as most of them close at 5 or 6 and it was about 4 by the time we left. I had heard the view from the top of the new public library was good so we thought we'd try that. We got the tram back to the station and started to walk towards the area where the Nemo science museum is, which is where the library is as well. It didn't look that far on the map and probably wasn't, but with sore feet, it felt like a mile. We went to the top floor (6th) and yes, the view was good though it had clouded over by this time. Too bad it wasn't a higher building but you can't have everything. We went back to the ground and there we saw a tourist hop on hop off mini-van that runs around the outside circuit of the city along the Prinsengracht canal to Waterlooplein. You can get to most of the attractions from wherever it stops and it stops wherever you ask the driver to stop. We got on and our tram ticket was stamped with enough time that we didn't have to pay. Except i realized i left my shopping bag up on the sixth floor where I'd laid it down to take a photo!!! Eek! Back up there and found it, it hadn't been picked up or blown up as an abandoned package or anything but we missed the bus and it was the last one of the day so we trudged back to Centraal and hopped on a tram once we found the right place.
We rested in our room for a little while. My feet were so sore and blisters threatened. I covered the sore areas with large bandaids to make sure it didn't get worse and continued to do that for a few more days. It worked, too. I still had sore feet but i didn't get blisters. The thing is, most of the things we wanted to see today didn't seem that far apart and weren't really worth using a ticket for. But the walking and then standing and looking takes a toll!
We watched the memorial service on tv and then went out to find a pancake restaurant I'd seen noted in a guide book. Now, we had no intentions of visiting the Red Light District but it seemed to have visited us anyway! We left the hotel and went round the first corner to head towards the canals and we caught sight of a couple of red-lit windows with women standing there wearing bikinis in the dim light. Took us by surprise! We noticed more red lights on some of the side streets though not nearly like it would be in the main district. I guess this must be the fringe area.
We walked a few blocks and over a few bridges to the Prinsengracht canal and found the Pancake Bakery restaurant (see review). It looks like a pretty basic place in one of the old canal houses. It's on two levels, we sat on the main level that's a few steps down from the street. The pancakes are what we call crepes and there were lots of different fillings. I had one with cheese, chicken and onion and Graham had a satay one with chicken and both were delicious but very filling. I couldn't finish mine but i shouldn't have had the onion soup for starters. It was dark when we walked back but we didn't feel threatened. The street we used to return had restaurants and closed shops. The canals were pretty at night, lined with street lamps and the outlines of some of the bridges lined with lights. Tomorrow is the Open Air museum in Arnhem!