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Gouda - Another pleasant surprise

We didn't spend a lot of time in Gouda but enjoyed another pretty town. Narrow streets, canals, flowers, pretty houses. I visited the church with its stained glass windows but didn't enjoy as much as the church in Naarden. 
The town is very proud of the fact that Eradmus was born there; you can see him on this sign at the museum. 
The town hall was most impressive, dramatically situated in the middle of a large square. 

Naarden

Naarden is best known as a star-shaped fortress town. It's a very compact town of 17,000 inhabitants with the walls and moats very well preserved. We walked out through the town gate to admire the fortifications. We walked out through the town gate to see the walls and the moat:
The town itself is very pretty and not surprisingly is considered one of the prettiest towns in Holland. 


We just loved the church. Those paintings on the ceiling are quite spectacular.  We spent some time wandering, and having a very pleasant lunch. One thing that surprised me was the number of very nice clothing stores. It seems retail is alive and well in the small towns of Holland. This observation was underscored in other small towns we visited. Very nice clothes too!

Along the paths and canals of Amsterdam

One of the conference sponsors hosted an interesting guided walking tour of Amsterdam for 8 of us from Canada, US, India, Taiwan, Ghana, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. My favourite part of the tour was the Begijnhof, shown above. After its long history as a Catholic almost-convent (the women took vows but were free to leave to marry), this beautiful peaceful enclave has 105 residents, all widows. After the bustle of Amsterdam, your heart rate responds to the serenity of the quiet closed-off courtyard. Amsterdam's oldest house is also found here.

The homes in Amsterdam are distinctive both for their gables and for how crooked they are. Sometimes this is because their pilings have deteriorated, but partly it's intended: the upper stories usually lean out to ensure the furniture which is to be brought up by that hoist on the gable won't hit the house, as dramatically shown down this little street.

 Of course we walked through part of the Red Light District. Despite the e…

Bicycles

Here's a shot of part of the parking garage near the central station.  And you've got it - those are all bikes. There are also other parking areas nearby and there isn't an inch of space on any of the railings. We were told there are 850,00 inhabitants of Amsterdam proper and one million bikes. And then there are the students, commuters and tourists on bike tours. Everyone has a bike that causes them to sit up very straight, so you see all these people of all ages, shapes and sizes, all with perfect posture. Great to see until they almost run you over. 
 With so many bikes you have to be creative about bike parking. On our walking tour, we saw this bike parking lot floating in the canal. 

There are truly bicycles everywhere, and they all feel they have the right of way, even when they're reading their phones or texting as they roll along. You have to be very careful crossing streets, because there are so many lanes, for bikes, cars, and public transit. And these are narr…

Conference venue

The conference I'm attending is the Central Bank Payments Conference in Amsterdam. The meetings are taking place in the hotel's conference centre in a 17C church.  They call central banks the high priests of finance so this is an appropriate venue.

Cold and Rainy Day

It didn't matter much that it rained yesterday - the museums were dry. However, today we took a half day tour to Volendam, Marken and Zaanse Schans, and we wished for brighter weather. Volendam is a touristy village on the shore of Lake IJsselmeer, which was created in 1932 with the closing of the Zuider Zee. The lake is now fresh water, and the towns along it are protected from floods.  Lining the dike on the walk into the village were pretty houses. To a Canadian, these looked like miniature houses. But looks can be deceiving, as these houses extended far back, and had at least one floor below the main level. Note the pretty garden in this one in a very compact area.  
Marken was altogether less touristy, with a distinctive house style. Canals ran through the village and  once again there were compact gardens. 
We ended our trip by visiting Zaanse Schans, an open air museum which showcased 14 windmills salvaged from the thousand or so that used to be operating in this area. The indu…

The Van Gogh museum

Frankly this museum was, as Wayne put it, underwhelming. Perhaps it was the contrast with the breadth and depth of the Rijskmuseum and all its drama, or perhaps it was because our energy was flagging, but it just didn't up lift us. Van Gogh explored so many styles during his short life, it was hard to get the full force of a coherent body of work. Nevertheless there were definite high points like the sunflowers painting. 
A particularly irritating aspect of the museum was the descriptions. The Dutch explanations in bold white font on grey background were hard enough to read, but the English descriptions in lighter non-bold font were virtually impossible unless your nose was at the wall. Try that in a big crowd. I fail to understand why people prioritize some weird sense of artistic desirability over sheer functionality.

Sama Sebo

As a break in our exhaustive, and exhausting, tour of the Rijskmuseum, we took time out to visit nearby Sama Sebo, Amsterdam's original Indonesian restaurant. 
We had rijsttafel and Lib reminisced about being at the restaurant over 30 years ago with Tineka and Tony de Lucovich. Most enjoyable.

The Rijskmuseum

The highlight of our day was a visit to the Rijskmuseum. Arriving just as it opened at 9:00 (before the hordes of bus tours), we left at 2:30, exhausted. It's a gorgeous building outside. 
But it's the inside that's spectacular. The museum was closed for ten years to complete renovations to return it to its original design. It was stunning, with charcoal walls and modern lighting fixtures trained on the paintings as in this gallery.  There were fewer Rembrandts than I had expected, but the Rembrandt and contemporaries gallery was spectacular.  The long gallery's arches opened onto many great paintings, dominating their own wall. 
The entire gallery was a frame for the famous painting at the end: The Night Watch. Then there it is, brighter and more captivating than I could have imagined. Thankfully we were there early before these crowds developed so we could contemplate in peace before returning after lunch. (This photo is rather fuzzy but frankly I was amazed anything wa…

Bicycle, Flowers, Canals, Gables - It Must Be Amsterdam

What could be more cliche than bicycles and flowers in Holland? But isn't this a pretty touch right outside the door of our hotel?
We had a tasty dinner at a restaurant with a distinctly Dutch menu. Loved the white asparagus and frites with mayonnaise. At 7:00 we were earlyish for European eating habits so I was able to capture this photo of the lovely decor.  We ended with a short walk along a nearby canal at dusk before returning to the hotel to sleep off our jet lag. Some pretty scenes from our walk: I loved these women just chilling out in the window.

Now there's a taxi

I remember how impressed I was the first time I came to Europe and saw Mercedes taxis. It was a huge contrast with the disintegrating rattle traps I was used to in Canada.  Today I was startled to see many Teslas in the taxicab rank outside the airport. We rode in one to our hotel. Smooth ride. However Wayne was not able to sit in the back.  Still, a Tesla taxi. 

Wayne and Lib's Trip to the Netherlands June 2017

Coming soon: a travel diary of our trip to the Netherlands, starting June 23. It's a small country, but there's so much to see!