Sunday 6th of May by CarpediemEire
We awoke early on the second day of our trip refreshed. The breakfast which was served in the Park bar of the hotel had the usual continental selection of meats, fruits, pastries and selected hot items. It didn’t offer anything too exciting and after 3 days it would become a little monotonous. I consumed scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit salad and a gallon of coffee.
Grabbing the tram from outside the Troppen Museum into the city we simply strolled over canals, down streets and past houses admiring what we saw. We eventually reached Kalverstraat and here we parted ways, Beata to savour the high street, and I in search of sights. On my route I passed through the Amsterdam Museum with its beautiful archway. The museum had an earlier life as the city’s orphanage and its entrance bears the coat of arms of Amsterdam.
My first stop was to see the Begijnhof Houses. These houses had intrigued me, in a city famed for its amazing houses, these houses had fame. This is an enclosed courtyard, which was built in the 14th Century and was and still is a commune for a nun like sisterhood who took vows of celibacy. No houses exist from that period, with the exception of Het Houten Huis which was built in circa 1420 and is the cities oldest house. The wall to the rear of this house has a collection of religious wall plaques. What stands around the courtyard now are houses from the 17th and 18th century. The houses are nice to look at, entry is free but I found it a little disappointing. Perhaps I expected more. There are 2 churches enclosed within the courtyard, the English church from the 15th century which was inaccessible and the Begijnhof Chapel, which can be visited. Buy the little map of the church which explains the statues and reliquaries within. There isn’t much else to do here and it’s a quick stop on a walking tour.
Walking north I came upon Dam Square. Amsterdam’s vast square is surrounded by Madame Toussauds, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the Koninklijk Palace. I would love to have visited the interior of the palace, but it being King’s Day that Friday, it was closed for the week. I briefly visited the Nieuwe Kerk. The “new church” was consecrated in 1409, I guess so-called only because of the “old church”. Churches seem to have lost their traditional use in Amsterdam, the interior is now set up as an exhibition space. You can step inside and take a look around, with a chance to see the stain glass windows and roof. The exhibition was on World Press Photo 2018 and runs until July. I declined to visit it.
Meeting back up with Beata, we visited the magnificent neo-gothic 18th Century Magna Plaza shopping centre. The building was formerly a post office and has a splendid double-spired facade. The interior is spread over three floors and is also quite picturesque, with pillars and arches lining the balconies on each floor. The central hall looks up to a sunroof above. Good views of the arcade can be got from the higher floors. We did some more window shopping up Nieuwendijk street, before making our first foray into Amsterdam’s infamous red light zone.
Sights and Red Lights
It was with surprise that I saw how active the area was at this time of day. Girls already displayed themselves behind the windows and doors. My first impression was how sordid it all was.
We visited the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church and building, being 800 years old. It serves many functions now from ceremonies to exhibits. When I visited entry was €10 and the space was dedicated to an exhibition by artist Christian Boltanski, examining life after death. Some of the imagery was effective but I found the whole thing rather unusual. A white noise effect filled the air to add to the weirdness. The church itself was what I desired to see. The church has a wonderful wooden ceiling, and be sure to look up to see the subtle art which decorates it, depicting biblical scenes. I would love to have climbed the spiral staircase that hugs one wall but it was sadly closed. The 500 year old choir is one of the church’s highlights, the wooden seats featuring delicate carvings many of them humorous. Perhaps i’m a philistine but I would have preferred to see the church without the distracting exhibit.
Our path took us over to see the Montellbaanstoren Tower, which sadly doesn’t open to the public. I wasn’t going to get my tower fix in Amsterdam. It was originally part of the Amsterdam defensive wall in the 16th century, before being converted to a clock tower as the city evolved, and its defensive purpose dwindled. It’s unusual shape makes it very photogenic, and the tower is Amsterdam’s answer to the leaning tower of Pisa, as it leans off-centre.
Looping back we felt that familiar rumble. Time for lunch. I really wanted to have lunch at De Waag. It’s conical roofs gives it the semblance of a small castle. It served as the town gate and is Amsterdam’s oldest non-religious building. It’s main function was as a weigh house facilitating local trade, hence its name. It now has been reduced to a restaurant, one whose menu was poor, so sadly we left. We found a cafe called Lokall ‘T Loosje on Nieuwmarkt. Simple fare but my hete kip chilli ciabatta was quite tasty. After that we completed our walking circle, admiring the Zuiderkerks fine church tower en route, before finding ourselves at the Rembrandtplein. We gave into our sweet tooth cravings and had dessert in Dolce and Gelato, unable to resist the scent of waffles and Nutella that enticed us in. Messy messy food but that’s usually a recipe for sweet and delicious.
We had a few errands to run for mates back home so we got cookies from Van Stepele Koekmakeriji and cigars from PGC Hajenius. They sweared by the quality of them, but we’d had enough desserts ourselves and we weren’t in Amsterdam to smoke. Unlike a lot of visitors.
Having researched a canal cruise we decided upon the City Canal Cruise. They all seemed similar, reviews were good and it was recommended on Tripadvisor. It also alleged to pass all the city’s main sights and was priced at €18.
The tram took us to just outside the American hotel, which I was grateful for as it’s an architectural oddity that I wanted to see. It’s interior was disappointingly modern.
A few minutes walk brought us to our boat where we purchased our tickets. We had to wait 30 minutes till the next available cruise. The cruise last 75 minutes and to be honest it was unexpectedly boring. It passed through some of the larger less interesting canals before moving out onto the IJ, the large estuary that lies to the north of Amsterdam. It was peaceful but uneventful out there. It did improve a little as it came back in to the canals with views of the Nemo science centre and passing under the Magere Brug, before drifting by the Heineken experience and the Rijksmuseum but on a whole we found it disappointing. I would have preferred one of the smaller boats that traverses the small canals, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
As we left the boat the driver perhaps cynically bid adieu with this rhetoric “thank you, goodbye, look out for the cyclists, they will hit you!” He’s not wrong they are nuts. He made me laugh.
We headed back to the hotel the tram system as ever proving very flexible. Google maps is great with its step by step instructions too. I always download maps of where I’m going to have them offline. Life saver sometimes.
Dinner and Booze
We freshened up and relaxed a little before donning some evening wear. We intended to benefit from another of the hotel receptionists recommendations, by dining in a hotel nearby called the Volkshotel. It’s 7th floor restaurant was enticing with the promise of views over East Amsterdam. The area surrounding the hotel has a young student feel and the hotel is surely styled for hipsters. But the promised views were great despite dusk falling outside. The restaurant Canvas was buzzing, not the most romantic place but atmospheric. I got Bitterballen as a starter (my new fav) while Bea got a curried turnip and chickpea started. Both excellent. The mains were a little limited so Beata had cod which she enjoyed and I the beef succade. My curse of ordering beef outside Ireland befell me again, the flavours of home just weren’t there.
We had that drink around our hotel bars fireplace that we had promised ourselves when we returned.
The star performer on this day in Amsterdam was the picturesque canals and I took countless photos of their peaceful beauty. Here are a selection of some.