Seeing More of Amsterdam

5/25/15

The Breakfast

The breakfast at the Amsterdam City Centre Hotel was just like anything you would have in the U.S. It had an assortment of pastries, cereals, yogurts, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee and more. It was more than enough for us to be well fed for the start of our day.

Anne Frank House

Our Rick Steves tour group visited the Anne Frank House. Being part of a tour was awesome because the line to get in was wrapped around the block! Our group walked right in 🙂

It was eye opening to see how large of a hiding place the Frank and van Pels actually had. From what I remembered as a child reading the diary of Anne Frank, the conditions were small and cramped. This was not the case. In fact, Otto Frank saw what was coming for the Jews and took preparations to transform the back annex of his business into a secret apartment with two levels, a living room, bedrooms and a kitchen.

It was interesting to pretend what it was really like for the families during hiding, not being able to move or talk, use the bathroom, cook a meal or anything that would make a sound during the day in fear of being discovered.

One room had actual pages from her diary, which was a nice site to see. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the house, so we couldn’t take any to document what we saw.

Homomonument

Just around the corner from the Anne Frank House was the Homomonument memorial. Jennifer explained to our group that it commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. It is made up of three large pink triangles set in the ground to form a larger triangle. What is interesting is that it is set directly next to the Westerkerk church. Jennifer posed the question, “What do you think this tells you about the culture here in Amsterdam that they would allow this to happen?”

Hidden Catholic Church

Jennifer took us down a busy shopping street in Amsterdam and stopped us at a building that looked out of place on the row. She explained that it was actually a church, The Parrot: Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. It was originally hidden behind a regular house front that belonged to a bird-trader in the days when Catholicism could not be practiced publicly. This, along with other secret churches, popped up all over Amsterdam so Catholics had a place to worship.

Later, we stopped in front of Our Lord in the Attic (featured on the Rick Steves Video Episode) but couldn’t go in because it was closed for holiday. This was a cleverly hidden church because it was built in the top three levels of a canal house.

Beginhof

We visited the Beginhof, one of the oldest inner courts in Amsterdam. It had a beautiful courtyard surrounded by picturesque apartments. It was and continues to be for single women with low incomes.

Lunch

Our group took a break at a cafeteria-style place on a main shopping street. It had tons of food options and everything was very appetizing. It was amazing to see how all of the food was prepared using fresh ingredients, even the bread for sandwiches were hearty and rusting looking like you would get only from a bakery.

Rijksmuseum

We walked to the Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to present day. Our group had two reserved tour guides. The one we chose was, Robert Uterwijk, and he was absolutely amazing! Every painting he took us to he made come alive. He explained all of the tiny details that you would not have noticed if you did not take time to admire the art.

For example, we saw Rembrandt’s self-portrait of himself in the guise of the Apostle Paul and Robert explained how Rembrandt could have painted himself to look like much better than he did, like royals do to make themselves appear much more attractive. Instead, he painted himself with sagging lines and a potato like nose, which was real and true to life, like an everyday person.

We also saw Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Robert pointed out that during the time it was painted, milkmaids had a reputation for being predisposed to love or sex with men of higher social ranks. A small detail, which most people do not notice, is a piece of straw laying next to the warming box on the floor (which was put under the skirt to keep milkmaids warm). This symbolized the spark that could ignite easily between a husband and a milkmaid, so wives should keep an eye on her.

Another painting we learned about was Rembrandt’s Night Watch. The most interesting aspect Robert taught us was how light and shadow was used to draw the attention of the eye. The shadow of Captain Banninck Cocq’s hand is falling onto Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch’s coat, cupping Amsterdam city’s emblem, a lion and three St. Andrew’s crosses.

Hands down, this was one of the best experiences of the tour. Robert taught us so much on how to look at a piece of artwork in order to understand everything the artist is trying to portrait. This changed the way we approached every piece of art we saw going forward for the entire trip!

Canal Cruise

Our group went on an afternoon canal cruise. We were able to bring on our beer or wine. Our guide, Jennifer, surprised us with snacks. An audio guide was provided that explained the various sites we saw while cruising on the canal.

Red Light District

We took a stroll through the Red Light District, an area where prostitution is legal and regulated. Women rent window booths and entice people to buy their service. Unfortunately, it was around 5 p.m. during our walk, so we only saw one lady who was on duty.

Haarlem Tapas Bar

We caught the train back to Haarlem and ate at El Pincho tapas bar. We had an all-you-can eat tapas for just 17.50 Euro each. We sampled a ton of food and most of it was delicious. We highly recommend it as a dining option while in the city.

Final Thoughts for the Day

We were really happy that we arrived a few days early in Amsterdam so we could see more of the sites and what the city had to offer. We felt like the group did not get to see what Amsterdam is really like because we were shuttled from one museum to the next. Also, chatting with other members of the group, we began to feel like we knew more about art and history than anyone else. Many people have not even seen the Rick Steves episodes related to Amsterdam. We couldn’t believe it. We thought everyone on the trip would be die hard Rick Steves fans like us.