Amsterdam 9-14 July 2010
From Birmingham to Amsterdam with BMI Baby
Friday afternoon 9th July 2010
I really do not like flying….not because I am scared of being in a tin tube hurtling through the air at 20,000 feet but because of the nonsense that goes on before you even get on the plane. The rules about carry-on bags change with the weather and is a lipstick considered to be a danger to life and limb? You choose!
On previous occasions I have had a carry-on suitcase plus my handbag. This time the handbag was considered to be a 2nd item and so I had to try to stuff it into the suitcase. Just managed it. I’d bought some perfume and facecream in the duty free shop. The facecream purchase meant that I had a free gift- another canvas bag full of cosmetic samples. Now I had a VERY large plastic bag full of ‘liquids’ – I don’t take a chance with deciding whether lipstick and mascara are liquids or not- they all go in the bag! But what’s the alternative? We could go by train but it would take much longer.
Amsterdam was hot and sticky but we had a pleasant evening stroll by the River Amstel. Everyone was out on their boats, the sun was still shining at 9.30pm, and all looked happy and relaxed.
Sat. 10th July
Pick up the hire car for our day out to the Hoge Veluwe Park and its star attraction, the Kroller- Muller Museum. Fortunately the car was air conditioned as it was another very hot day. We must have missed an entrance to the Park in Otterlo as we seemed to drive around almost the whole of the perimeter and it is a very large park, covering 5,500 hectares of heathland, forest, sandy dunes and large pools. We eventually came to the Arnhem entrance (Schaarsberg), parked the car and went to the ticket office. There we discovered that the Kroller Muller Museum was still 10km away! Back into the car and a pleasant drive through pine and beech forest. The Museum houses the collection of 19th and 20th century art collected by Helene Kroller-Muller and paid for from capital of her husband, Anton Kroller, who was director of his father-in-law’s company, Wm. H. Müller & Co. Helene was the first curator of the new museum. Since her death in 1939 the museum has been expanded and now has a sculpture park as well. The collection of Van Goghs alone makes a visit worthwhile but I discovered a painter, Jan Toorop, whose paintings were in the Impressionist style. After a tour of the gallery we decided to pick up one of the free white bikes with which one can tour the 26 miles of cycle paths. The bikes are of the Dutch variety, that is, you pedal backwards to stop as there’re no brakes! I soon mastered this after a few wobbling practice runs.
The cycle path we chose to follow led to the St Hubertus hunting lodge built for the Kroller-Muller family. The landscape is strange, bare savannah like with sandy drifting dunes in the distance. You half expected to see elephants or a giraffe! The wildlife that is supposed to live in the park, moufflon (wild sheep), red deer and wild boar were conspicuous by their absence. There was no shelter from the baking mid-afternoon sun so, when we reached the hunting lodge I was content to lie on damp grass in the shade of a tree whilst my husbandl joined the guided tour of the hunting lodge. It was lived in by Helene and Anton Kroller-Muller but looks most forbidding and uncomfortable as a home. The interior, all bare brick and tiles, didn’t look terribly luxurious either. It was designed by Berlage (of the Amsterdam School of architecture) in the shape of the antlers of a stag and features a very imposing tower from which Helene liked to view her domain. The 8 km ride back to the museum was along paths shaded by trees.
We decided to make for Utrecht on the way back- to eat dinner and have a little stroll. After all we needed the exercise –we’d only cycled about 12 miles!! First impressions of Utrecht are not great – the suburbs being ugly and plain but the centre is a delightful maze of brick paved streets with interesting small shops. The most striking sight, and the one that leads you towards the city centre when you’re lost on the ring road, is the Dom Tower, standing separate from the main nave of the church of Saint Martin since the transept collapsed in 1674. Utrecht is also the home of Dick Bruna, inventor of my favourite rabbit, Miffy.
The main Canal (Oudegracht) follows the old river bed (the River Rhine moved south) and features old wharfs below street level. Steep steps lead down to the canal bank where numerous cafes and restaurants now use the former warehouses. We chose Dock 154 and found a table alongside the canal where we had a grandstand view of the passing boats, most of which seemed to be full of groups of young women quaffing cocktails whilst a solo man steered the boat. We were amused to see a dinghy being pulled along by a motorised boat, the man in the dinghy slumped down and looking distinctly the worse for wear whilst holding grimly on to a towrope. The waiter had just placed the starter course in front of us when the first raindrops hit. He assured us that there was plenty of room inside so we picked up our plates and ran for it. The brick lined tunnel, a former canal-side warehouse, was cool and inviting after the muggy humidity of outdoors. At 9.30, when we emerged, the sky was pitch black and heavy rain was just starting to ease off. We decided to continue our planned stroll round the puddled streets but we hadn’t got very far when the ominous rumbles of thunder and periodic flashes of lightning became more urgent and the heavens opened. We dived into the nearest bar, Café de Belge, which had an extensive menu of Belgian beers including my favourite, Duchesse de Bourgogne. I was happy if somewhat damp!! The guy with a wet stringy ponytail perched at the bar emptied out his cowboy boots of rainwater in the toilet sink and later began to wring out his socks! My daughter (who is fortunate enough to live in Amsterdam) remarked that we’d made her new husband do three things he hated: getting wet, walking and sitting in a bar whilst unable to drink (he was the driver and had already had beer with his dinner). The half hour drive back to Amsterdam was through blinding spray on the motorway with the sky rent by lightning bolts.
Sunday 11 July World Cup Final
Holland v Spain
You could have said the temperature was rising with the excitement of the World Cup Final but at 10am it was already steamy and hot in Amsterdam. We walked to the Mac Bike Hire shop (near Waterlooplein) and 20 minutes later we were on our way, this time on bikes with three gears and proper brakes- luxury !! Once out of the city the route along the river was quiet and peaceful. Our lunch stop, 40 minutes later, was in the quaint village of Ouderkerk ann de Amstel at a restaurant, the ‘Liotje’ with o terrace, overlooking the river Amstel. True to form, just as we were about to eat, another heavy rain shower began. This time we reckoned on it being a short sharp shower so took refuge under the big umbrella sunshades until we were able to resume eating. We continued our bike ride by completing a 6km loop along quiet country lanes/dikes, alongside canals with isolated farmhouses, and cows and horses grazing and sheep huddled in the shade of small trees. We’d already passed a large windmill, someone’s home but much photographed by coach loads of tourists. We could see several windmills across the fields - a quiet pastoral scene yet so close to Amsterdam. Back in Ouderkerk we felt we needed a sugar rush to get us back to Amsterdam (another 10km) so we stopped for large slices of apple pie (deep filled pastry). The chain ferry was bringing a horde of football fans across the river- all clad head to toe in florescent orange. One even sported an orange cloak and a lion’s head!
The bars back in Amsterdam were already filling up as we reached the outskirts of the city. Boatloads of orange bedecked fans were arriving at their favourite drinking places intent on getting as close as possible to the big screens. Back in Nieuwe Achtergracht, where my daughter lives, the vuvuzelas were already sounding off. Later, after a tense and rather violent game which Holland lost 1-0 to Spain, the vuvuzelas sounded rather mournful.
Monday 12 July
Daughter and husband were both working today so my husbandl and I had all day to amuse ourselves. It was rather painful getting on the hired bikes to cycle 10 minutes up the road to return them!! Hard seats! We managed quite well with the cycle lanes along busy Weepersplein, where Amsterdammer two wheelers ignore red lights, cycle whilst talking on their mobile phone, lead a dog on a lead whilst cycling, and carry various small children plus dog on their bike. Back to relying on our feet we wandered by the Opera House with the sky growing threateningly black. We just made it to the café de Jaren as the rain came down. De Jaren has a lovely outside terrace but not for us today. The Café is very light, airy and spacious. There’s a bar, a restaurant and, a very customer friendly ‘international reading table’ with daily newspapers from around the world. Fortified by caffeine, we walked on to the Rijksmuseum which we haven’t managed to visit on previous trips to see our daughter. It’s been under restoration for some time so many of the exhibits are not on display which makes the entrance fee of 12.50 euros seem rather steep. We made straight for the Vermeers in room 10 where one of my favourite pictures is displayed. ‘The Little Street’ (Het Straatje) by Vermeer is such a lovely calm painting- very simple, very still, showing only the exterior life of the street with just one glimpse of the life beyond the walls (which incidentally are painted in a masterful way). Our next stop was the Vondelpark where we planned to have lunch. As usual, just as we were about to tuck into a very good tuna sandwich, the deluge began. We just huddled further under the sunshade umbrella until it stopped. The café toilets were free for men, but women were expected to pay 30 cents. Hardly equality! The rest of the day was spent wandering leafy streets or leaning on canal bridges or perusing interesting small shops. Tired out, we were walking slowly home when we noticed a jumbo jet flying unusually low overhead, accompanied by two fighter planes. A passing cyclist had stopped to take a photo on her mobile phone and she shrugged as if to say she was bemused too. Later we were told that the Dutch football team were returning to Schipol from South Africa and that would have been their plane.
Tues 13 July
Another day of exploring for me and and husband. Today we are venturing north west of the city to a place called Bergen (near the coast) which was an artists’ colony in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s a collection of artists’ studios and, in Park Meerwijk, 17 houses were built between 1915 and 1917 in the style of the Amsterdam school of Architecture. We took the train to Alkmaar and then a #6 bus to Bergen (about 10 minutes from Alkmaar). Bergen turned out to be a charming little place- the little square was surrounded by cafes and there was a helpful tourist information centre where we bought a booklet giving a self guided walk around the town, including the area of Park Meerwijk. The houses, a cluster of villas were most interesting- wavy lines, thatched roofs and vernacular touches made them very distinctive. But at the time not everyone liked the new style as illustrated by this irritable verse written by ‘Candidus’ in the journal “De Bouwwereld”.
Near Bergen, in the Meerwijk Park
There’s a new influenza strain
In each new house it leaves its mark
A veritable bane
If elsewhere it rears its head
We know, without pretence
A cure to knock it really dead
A little common sense
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Amsterdam 9-14 July 2010