Amsterdam Day 1

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The day began on the early side– up by 7:00am so I could make the most out of my only full day in Amsterdam. Had breakfast in the hostel’s nice cafeteria. Even saw a family with kids who was eating there and must’ve also been staying the night. A hostel is an interesting place to stay for a family vacation. Luckily ours wasn’t one of the wild ones.

After breakfast, I headed out to find the streetcar that would take me into the Museumplein, aka Museum Square. I was headed to the Rijksmuseum, one of the great European art museums. Had a few troubles as usual trying to get there, but eventually I was at the gates. Turns out the musuem was under construction and only a small part of it’s collection was open for viewing. That was OK, I didn’t have a ton of time to devote there anyway. Before I took my place in the ticket line, I stopped to get a hotdog from a guy with a very funny t-shirt. Put a pic of it up but I had to blur out part to keep things classy around here. Apparently the guy’s friend had made the shirt after hearing him complain that so many people would talk to him in whatever language they felt like and expect him to know it. Being amongst so many foreign languages and desperately yearning to hear English for the last 5 weeks, the shirt totally struck a note with me.

Anyway, after I finished laughing and eating my hot dog, I got in line and went into the museum. The first piece there was an amazing huge group portrait done by Bartholomeus van der Helst called “Banquet in celebration of the Treaty of Munster”. I was stunned at the level of detail and the lifelike expressions on each face. You could not only tell exactly what was going on in the scene, you could also tell what each character was thinking by the look on their face. Simply amazing. I included a picture from their website, since I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of my own. Again, I think it was a trick to get you to spend money on their picture books in the gift shop.

After the Van der Helst, I saw some collections of fine home furnishings, stuff like Delft pottery, elaborate furniture, and even these incredibly detailed doll houses. For a period, wealthy women would commission doll houses to be made and furnish the houses with exact scale replicas of things like real porcelain dishes from China, custom artwork and furniture. Everything was created like it would’ve been in the full scale, except for in miniature. The women treated decorating their doll houses as a serious hobby and ended up with these finely detailed and complex houses. It was an expensive hobby too. The one I looked at reportedly cost the owner between twenty and thirty thousand dollars, way back in the 1700’s. That was enough money to buy a real house!

After that, I saw a lot of paintings. The ones by Rembrandt were especially amazing. He captured light and texture and emotion like no one else I’d seen and the result was astounding. A couple of them I liked were Old Woman Reading and Night Watch, one of his most famous works. All of his pieces were stunning and captured a state of reality more intense than a photo ever could. Another work I enjoyed was Jacob van Ruisdael’s Landscape with Waterfall. I’ll include pictures of all these at the end, though so much of the detail and impact is lost in a photo.

So when my tour of the Rijksmuseum was over, I decided to just walk around and explore the city. My memory gets a little fuzzy here because I didn’t take enough pictures. I remember running into an open air market and buying a cool lapis ring as a souvenir. I also walked around the red light district a little bit, although it wasn’t quite the same place during the day. This area was definitely the most crowded and touristy of the city. I’ll talk more about the place later on.

At some point, I also decided to rent a bike to help me see more of the city. Amsterdam is not a very car friendly city but for bikers, it’s paradise. The city is pretty compact and you can get anywhere within 15 minutes if you’re riding. They have dedicated bike lanes pretty much everywhere and always a place to lock your bike up. It was fun sailing up and down the canal streets on a bike.

Hunger kicked in at some point, so I opened up my guide book to find a good place. I decided to go to this place called Restaurant-Cafe in de Waag. The place was originally built in 1488 as a weigh house for one of Amsterdam’s city gates. It has served many uses since then: fencing hall, furniture factory, fire station, and many more but now it’s primary use was for the restaurant. The interior was classy but a bit medieval since the structure was all stone and the interior was lit solely with candles and window light. Pretty cool to be eating in a place like that. I thought it’d be the last fancy meal of the trip. The food was absolutely delicious too. I don’t remember exactly what everything was but see the pictures for more detail here.

I couldn’t linger too long at dinner, so I finished up and paid the bill. My next mission was to check out a source of inexpensive Delft to get a few souvenirs. I’d seen a piece for sale in the gift shop of the Rijksmuseum but the thing cost €564, so it wasn’t quite in my price range. For those who are unfamiliar, Delft is white porcelain hand painted with blue designs, usually floral. It was originally created as a substitute for Chinese porcelain when they were unable to import any more. Since then, it has grown into its own style completely and is coveted by many.

I found a place selling official Delft but unfortunately, they were closed. Tomorrow, then. My next stop was the Anne Frank House. I’d heard that lines could be hours long, so I’d planned to go late in the evening. I think the plan worked, because I didn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes before heading inside. No pictures allowed, as usual. Sad. The experience was well orchestrated– they handed out portable audioguides and you walked along the house, every once in a while running into a TV screen playing a small clip of an interview or reading from Anne Frank’s book. It was cool to see the actual place they had stayed in but I had a hard time feeling sorry for them being cooped up there. I know it was a bad thing compared to the way that they had been living before, but compared to the many who were shipped off to concentration camps, they had it pretty nice. It was amazing to hear Anne’s perspective on the matter and they had pulled some of the incisive quotes from her diary to display in the exhibits. Being in that same place where her family had lived and she had written the diary was pretty awesome too. It was horrible hearing about the fate they all ultimately suffered, though.

By the time I got out of the Anne Frank house, it was dark. My only agenda item left for the day was to check out the famous Red Light District at night. I don’t think my descriptions will be able to do it any justice, but I’ll at least try. The center of the Red Light District is an area about 4 streets wide and 8 blocks long. It’s crowded with coffee shops, neon-lit stores, and of course the famous red lit doors showcasing scantily clad women. Most people just roll on through the area, gawking and laughing amongst themselves. Every once in a while, you do see somebody talking with a girl in her doorway and then going in. As you walk by, the women start tapping furiously on the glass to get your attention. It was weird and a little creepy at first but eventually the ridiculousness of it all just made me smile.This place made Vegas look like Bible Camp.

So after my time in the RLD, I decided to call it a night. It had been quite a sight to behold.

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November 21st, 2010 at 12:04 pm

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