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Trip Report Rebecka's amazing adventures in Amsterdam, 3/2-3/9.

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How does one keep such an eventful trip short and to the point? I will try, limiting the report to highlights.

So, two fascinating cities, each very different yet both worth seeing! It may have been cold but I am glad to say that the people were warm and friendly. I also noted that the city has its share of handsome, well-groomed men. Always a plus. ;-)

Amsterdam may be the quaintest city I’ve ever encountered and I mean that in a very complimentary and not a cutesy sense. Although its role as a world power is long over, evidences of Amsterdam’s rule of merchant princes can be seen its distinctively gabled canal houses and old warehouses. Unlike other European cities dominated by palaces and churches, one can tell that Amsterdam’s power and influence came from its mercantile class and not from its royalty or church. This makes it unique. It also may well be Europe’s most bike-friendly city with bikes outnumbering cars. Considering all the pastry shops and hearty Dutch food around every corner, perhaps this explains why I saw very few heavy people.

I stayed at the Seven Bridges Hotel , a 300 year-old canal house in a very convenient location on the Reguliersgracht, a short walk from the Rembrandtplein and right by one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals. Pierre, one o f the owners, took good care of me in my pretty, little garden room on the top floor. A huge breakfast tray with breads, cold cuts, cheese, tea, fruit and yogurt was delivered to me each morning, and I’m still impressed by Pierre’s his associate’s ability to carry it up those three incredibly narrow and steep flights of steps! I also appreciated the free Wifi enabling me to download and share pictures after long days of exploring. In short, the hotel is lovely and I give it high marks for service, ambiance and comfort. Traveling alone, I never felt unsafe even after dark in this area of the city.

My first major site was the Rembrandthuis . Rembrandt bought the house when he was a wealthy and successful artist and, although none of the furnishings are original, rooms such as the studio and kitchen are meticulous recreations based on the artist’s own depictions. A picture gallery on an upper floor reminds us that Rembrandt was also an art dealer selling the works of contemporaries and pupils. A short demonstration of the artist’s etching technique was interesting, but a high point was the exhibition of Rembrandt’s own remarkable etchings, as bold and innovative today as they were nearly 400 years ago.

Anne Frank House: My advice is to get your ticket online: http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?pid=1&lid=2
I did and skipped the long line that wound around the corner. The most poignant part of the annex was what was left of the room that Anne shared with a dentist. Pictures of art and of movie stars such as Garbo and Ray Milland are pasted all over the walls, a testimony to the longings of this romantic young girl trapped in her bleak, claustrophobic existence. Anne longed to be a writer and one cannot help but feel moved by the irony that after her death she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. After my tour of the house, a visit to the adjoining bookstore and café provide a welcome respite and chance to reflect. The house is by the Prinsengracht, another lovely canal well worth exploring with its Tulip Museum which I never got to.

The Rijksmuseum: Here they all are: the Rembrandts and the four Vermeers as well as other treasures from Holland’s Golden Age including works by Terborch, Ruisdael, and Hals. The renovated museum will not open until 2012, so much of the collection is not on display until then. This was not all that bad as it allowed me to concentrate on the “treasures” exclusively. Did you know that the museum’s most famous masterpiece, “The Night Watch”, was cropped and that it may include a self-portrait? At any rate, it was marvelous to finally see it in up close and personal!

The Van Gogh Museum: Provides an informative overview of this other great master’s developing style. Apart from Van Gogh’s own masterpieces, it also includes works by other artists that influenced the young Vincent as well as paintings by Impressionist masters such as Monet and Manet, placing Van Gogh in a stylistic context. Among the most famous works on view here is Van Gogh’s bold yet stark painting “The Potato Eaters” and several self-portraits. The gift shop had some nice souvenirs and I bought a cute handbag adorned with the image of a lesser known work by the master.

Other worthwhile sites: The City Museum of Amsterdam and the Royal Palace, both of which gave me a greater understanding of Amsterdam’s history and mercantile past. I also took a “hop-on-hop-off” canal boat tour which provides a good orientation session and chance to rest up a bit. My one regret was not making it to the acclaimed Concertgebouw, but I’ll leave that for my next visit.

Food: I enjoyed Dutch hutspot (potato and veggie mash with bacon, sausage and a meatball) at Haesje Claes on the Spuistraat. The food was delicious and very hearty. Another highlight was the marzipan pastry I bought at the Café Kwikkeboom near the Rembrandtplein. Finding a decent cup of tea, however, was a daunting challenge. I guess the Dutch prefer coffee over tea.

On to Leipzig next! I’ll post that in a separate thread.

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