Minicruise to Amsterdam

The Pride of Hull

Back in August I thought it would be fun to visit my friend Monique in Amsterdam and instead of flying travel the slow way by train and ferry and coach. The P&O Ferries Company sells “Minicruises at mini prices“.  Several fellow passengers were just sailing over for the day. But I decided to book the one night version which included two nights on the ferry and a night (you can arrange this yourself, as I did, or P&O will do the honours for you) in Amsterdam.

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Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age, Hermitage Amsterdam

As I’d decided to spend most of the day at The Hermitage I bought the full price ticket (no reductions for pensioners!) and after a tasty lunch of pumpkin soup and apple pie I headed for the other show. There’s no permanent collection, as far as I understand but the Golden Age portraits are showing for an extended period.

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1917 Romanovs & Revolution at The Hermitage, Amsterdam

Last weekend I made a short trip to Amsterdam. My Dutch friend, Monique, who joined me on my Irish trip last year, had invited me to her 60th party and I joined up with two Swiss friends (also called Barbara) for the weekend. We all met when I worked in Cambridge and they were at Language School. That summer (1977) Monique and I went to work at a Hotel in the Bernese Alps. We met up with the Barbaras during our time there and have met up over the years ever since in Boscastle, Italy, London, Grindelwald and Amsterdam. Later this year Tenerife is on the cards!

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The Hermitage Amsterdam

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Tulip Fever and Flowers at the Airport

This year is a Floriade Year in the Netherlands. I have several friends who are going to make the trip. It’s a world horticultural expo and is held every 10 years. The event happens in the Venlo area in the southeast of the Netherlands very near to the German border.

Every year thousands of tourists do the Dutch Bulb Fields Tour. Keukenhof is probably the most famous Dutch bulb field park.

In Amsterdam we saw tulips everywhere we looked! See my little Flickr tour of Tulip Fever in Amsterdam.

I have no problem when passing through airports like Amsterdam and Zurich. There is always something new to see and experience and lots of tasteful and up-market, if exceedingly expensive, shops in which to browse. Schiphol goes one step further than any other airport I know. In addition to shops they have taken the unusual step of opening a branch of the world famous Rijksmuseum. With all those flowers around the place it’s not surprising I suppose that the little one-room  gallery should have a selection of flower paintings on display.

The Dutch Flowers exhibition currently showing at The Rijksmuseum Schiphol includes 9 stunning paintings worthy of study.   In each of these pictures there is so much detail – not only the flowers but other symbols like the watch shown below and creatures like lizards and snails and butterflies.

Still Life with Flowers and Watch by Abraham Mignon (1640-1679)

Be sure to keep an eye on your watch as it’s easy for the time to pass quickly in this little gallery!

In addition to the Dutch flower paintings on the other wall of the gallery are 7 paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.

Two kinds of Games by Jan Steen (1626 – 1679)

This year I also noticed another novelty just by the staircase to the gallery: an Airport Library! But I didn’t have time to try it out.

Amsterdam Made By Hand – De 9 Straatjes en De Noordermarkt

For quite some time I have had my eye on this lovely little book and as soon as I knew about my trip to the city I could not resist buying. To me there is something very special about these travel publications from the Little Bookroom. Here’s a press comment from their website :

“The Little Bookroom…wants travelers to slow down. They’ve carved themselves a niche in the over-crowded travel book industry by thinking small with titles that define the character of a city.”—The Pittsburgh Tribune

There’s an area of Amsterdam, very near to our digs, called The Nine Streets  [De 9 Straatjes]. On our first morning we found ourselves wandering along the nine streets, popping into cafes for sustenance and to warm ourselves, calling into boutiques, shoe shops, design shops, galleries and studios, trying things on and generally having fun spotting the unusual. We also took lots of photos.

Antiquariaat Culturel

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Culturel is run by Hans and Ina Cramer, who I like to imagine spending their non-working hours amid a snug muddle of crosswords, sleeping dogs and homemade cake. Their business oozes quintessential second-hand bookshoppishness, with precarious towers of tomes and ceiling-to-floor shelves crammed with literature, art and history books hand-picked by Ina. None of them is catalogued; there is no computer, let alone a website, or even a till. Among other books, I have bought an Esperanto translation of The Little Prince here, and also a copy of The Diary of a Nobody, mainly because I liked the fact that on the inside cover Hans has written ‘very funny’.”  From an article in the Guardian in 2008 : Amsterdam: literature’s capital city

De Kaaskamer – The Cheese Shop (7, Runstraat)

The Noordermarkt celebrates its 25th birthday on 5 May 2012.

Akelei on the Noordermarkt

The Noordermarkt, also very near our place, lies in the shadow of the Noorderkerk just by the Prinsengracht. Mainly it’s an organic farmers’ market with stalls of mouthwatering fruit and vegetables, spices and herbs and homemade honeys and preserves. It operates on Saturdays and in addition to the food stalls there are several secondhand and ‘made by hand’ stalls, including Akelei (jewellery),  Anne (recycled clothing and stuff) and Anna Maria Preuss.

Anna Maria Preuss stall, Noordermarkt

Anne’s Stall, Noordermarkt

On our Saturday morning the sun shone and we sat outside by the church where a band of musicians played Russian music and we watched the world go by.

Then it was on to the famous daily Flower Market by the Singel canal – a good place to stock up on bulbs to take home!

Herengracht Life

Before the weekend just past I was last in Amsterdam in the late 1960s when it was all hippy and flower power and full of people sleeping rough and doing I don’t know what. I was on a cycling holiday and staying in a Youth Hostel outside the city by the Zuyderzee. I was not impressed by Amsterdam and couldn’t wait to get back to Broek in Waterland.

My previous impression of the city has been totally overturned. I love it! And I especially love the area where I stayed with my 2 Swiss friends. Our Dutch friend has a lovely flat nearby too. Of course, this Amsterdam canal ring is now, not surprisingly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our B&B was at 21 Herengracht in one of those so picturesque 17th century canalside houses of which Amsterdam is famous but which I didn’t even notice on my previous visit. Loes, our host, explained about the plan of the house – the narrow canal frontage was because the houses were taxed according to their width, the house is really 2 buildings linked by a covered passage (some houses still retain this tiny courtyard) – our duplex apartment on the second and third floors was reached by a very very narrow spiral staircase and situated in the ‘servants’ house at the rear of the building.

Courtyard within the house links the front with the rear building.

Rooftops of Amsterdam from our rear window.

Entrance lobby with obligatory bike!

Within 5 minutes walk of the Centraal Station, past the multi-storey bike park, the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht in this part of town are an oasis of calm and seemed totally tourist-free and almost totally car free. The bikes however could have proved hazardous – but we soon learned to look out behind us and step back onto the narrow pavement as we heard a tinkling bell approach.

Houseboat garden with sculptures!

Of course, the folk of Amsterdam don’t just live in these picturesque houses by the canals, they also live in houseboats on the canals. Due to housing shortages in the 1960s and 1970s living in houseboats here was positively encouraged by the city council.

I’ve written about whaling here before. My friend’s flat on the Keizersgracht is situated on the ground floor of a 17th century whaling house [Walvissenhuis]. That is why the shutters have ‘Groenland’ written on them.

It was so relaxing to meet up at the Cafe Papeneiland at 2 Prinsengracht (right in the middle of the picture). It is a typical Bruin Cafe whose walls have turned brown from generations of cigarette smoke of the local regulars who meet here at all hours.

I can’t wait for another taste of Herengracht life!