Before returning to New Delhi after our Michigan Christmas, Tony and I spent a week playing in Amsterdam. Our hotel room wasn’t ready at our pre-dawn arrival, so we took the first of many walks around the city’s gorgeous neighborhoods, groggily watching the sunrise reflected in canal house windows.
At Hotel Misc, our room overlooked the canal leading to Neiumarkt and Dam Square on the left and the Amstel River on the right.
The Red Light District was right around the corner, but so were many other attractions. We covered a ridiculous amount of Amsterdam on foot, stopping at various cafes to warm up with mint tea, thick soup and crusty bread. According to amsterdam.info,
The old centre was formed by rings of canals with unique mostly 17th century residences of wealthy merchants, financiers, craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, politicians and artists. Because of lack of space, these houses were mostly narrow, not more than 30ft wide (9 meters). They are are characterized by big narrow windows, decorative gable tops, very narrow stairs inside and pulley outside to transport larger objects to upper floors. Very often the residences served also as businesses. Merchants’ houses had their storage in attics and cellars. Sometimes the lift was installed in the middle of the house plan, to transport the goods between floors. The office of the merchant was usually on the ground floor. Like in Venice the canals were the main way of transporting the goods.
Nighttime walks included a chilly stroll along the Amstel River, where we marveled at some installments for the Amsterdam Light Festival. My favorite looked like an illuminated fishnet dangling over the canal, but after visiting the festival’s website, I now know it is a reference to the 2010 earthquake in Chile.
Amsterdam On Foot (and Briefly By Boat)
We invested in the Museumkaart, a pass good for one year and entrance to 400 museums in the Netherlands, including more than 30 in Amsterdam. We definitely got our money’s worth – saving both money and time (you can skip to the head of the line at many locations).
I started to post photos of each place, but all museums have excellent websites with much better pictures than mine. Just click on the links! Here’s where we went:
The Rembrandt House Museum – This was one of my favorite attractions of the whole week. Rembrandt was living and working in this building when he went bankrupt in 1656. Creditors carefully inventoried and then auctioned off all his possessions. The meticulous inventory, along with the artist’s own notes, enabled the museum to recreate the interior as it likely looked during his time – right down to the angle of his easel near the window.
Anne Frank House – The museum does a beautiful job of preserving the young author’s legacy, as well as the story of the others who hid here during the Holocaust.
(If you’re planning to visit Amsterdam, book your Anne Frank House tickets before you go. We’re so glad we did; the lines were around the block!)
Rijksmuseum – A massive renovation project kept many masterpieces behind closed doors, but we greatly enjoyed our visit nonetheless. Like many Amsterdam attractions, they provided an excellent audio tour with fascinating stories behind the frames. Rembrandt’s enormous painting “The Night Watch” was certainly a highlight, especially because a finished puzzle of that artwork hangs in Tony’s sister’s living room. Tony and I both loved “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer. Could’ve stared at that all day.
Hermitage Amsterdam – Another renovation project has closed the Van Gogh Museum, but a collection of 75 major works was on display here. The exhibit reflected seven themes in Van Gogh’s life, which were yet again explained in a wonderful audio tour. There’s something magical about seeing iconic art in person. One display showed a box filled with skeins of yarn in various shades of yellow, brown and ocher. Van Gogh was known to combine complementary strands and roll them into a ball, experimenting with combinations before choosing paint colors. The box on display featured yarn in colors that perfectly matched the adjacent painting, “Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes.” So many favorites at this museum … I can’t pick just one!
The Old Church – The oldest monument in Amsterdam dates back to 1250. It sits smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District with prostitutes posing in windows overlooking the church. In warmer weather, you can climb up the tower.
The New Church – We entered to see the church but instead found an exhibit on the American Indian had taken over every square inch, top to bottom and side to side. It was surreal standing under the 17th-century organ and watching the old black-and-white Popeye cartoon with the Indian chief singing, “Me, Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh, Gotta have a squaw!” playing in a loop as part of a display on stereotypes.
Museum Our Lord in the Attic – Protestant Amsterdam of the 17th century prohibited Catholics from openly practicing their religion, so Jan Hartman converted the attics of three skinny canal houses into a secret church. It served as the parish church for city centre Catholics for more than 200 years
Museum Willet-Holthuysen – Walking by the lovely but narrow facades of Amsterdam’s canal houses, we were filled with curiosity about what lay beyond the front door. This home of 19th-century socialites gave us a glimpse, including the basement kitchen, the front room (where Louisa Holthuysen received guests between 3:30 and 5 p.m. back in the 1800s), the airy conservatory overlooking a symmetrical garden, and the ostentatious stairwell with statues of Greek gods.
Royal Palace Amsterdam – Originally the town hall of Amsterdam, grandiose statuary provide clues to each room’s function. For example, Lady Justice guards the magistrate’s court flanked by a creepy skeletal Death and Punishment (carrying a knee crusher). We were entranced by the grandeur, including the earth’s two hemispheres inlaid into the floor and Atlas towering overhead with the heavens balanced on his shoulders.
Well, now that you know a bit about where we went, I suppose I’ll share some of my own photos.
We rang in the New Year twice: once on Dec. 31 (see my post called New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam) and once on Jan. 2, when a local Chinese Lion Dance troupe visited the hotel in honor of Chinese New Year, celebrated a bit early to take advantage of the city’s temporary lenience on fireworks. Flashback to our days in Shanghai for sure!
They visited the travel agency next door first, collecting the auspicious lettuce and financial donation.