Amsterdam: Jordaan and the West

Jordaan at dusk

Back in November, we spent a week in Amsterdam staying in the Jordaan, a former workers’ quarter which is now given over to shops, cafés and galleries. We spent a lot of time just wandering around it, and the nearby Western Islands, enjoying the quirky sights – we’ve been to Amsterdam six times before so we don’t feel the need to visit all the major museums again. We’re almost locals!

Those sites include quirky house carvings:

Quirky cats and other animals (one is actually real!):

Quirky street art, shop-fronts, museums:

And of course, the buildings and the canals in general, which are, as ever, gorgeous:

The last picture in the gallery above is Het Stuivertje, our favourite restaurant. There are many good places to eat in the Jordaan, but we went back to this one twice. Not only was the food excellent, the staff were absolutely lovely and some of the friendliest we have come across on our travels. Highly recommended if you are ever in the area.

Also wonderful was the landlady, Greet, of Amphora Apartment where we stayed – she and her husband live upstairs. Greet is an artist and the kitchen and bathroom areas were decorated with her mosaics.

We had breakfast in the apartment every day, but only ate dinner there once. We got so wet during the day that we didn’t want to go out again, so stopped off at one of the local supermarkets, Albert Heijn, on our way home. A word of warning – we queued at a “No cash” check-out only to discover that, despite having several different cards between us, none of them was any use. I think the only thing they accept is MasterCard Debit which neither of us has. In the end, the lady behind us in the queue paid for us and we paid her back in cash. The welcoming bottle of wine left by Greet was an added bonus that night!

In the next instalment, we go out east for more slightly-off-the-beaten-track sights. In the meantime, a reminder, or a heads-up if you don’t know, that Wednesday 14th February is a special day. No, not that one – it’s International Book Giving Day. Follow the link for ideas to get books into the hands of as many children as possible, either through personal gifts or by supporting a charity. Much better than a Valentine’s card!

All the same, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day AND a Happy International Book Giving Day on Wednesday.

Z is for Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans is a small village just outside Amsterdam. It’s a living and working community, but also a heritage site with multiple windmills, some working, and small topical museums such as the Clock Museum and the first Albert Heijn store which started in 1887 and is now a major supermarket chain. Not everything was here originally – many of the buildings were moved from elsewhere – but it does give you a picture of what life must have been like in the past. I was interested to find out the different functions of windmills – sawmills, dye mills and oil mills – as I had just imagined they were all for grain.

And that’s it! The A to Z Challenge accomplished. Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my posts. It’s been great fun.

Delft

I can’t believe it’s now over two months since our trip to Amsterdam and I still have some pictures to post! We took a day trip to Delft – here’s a word of warning about travel first. Transport within Amsterdam is well integrated, but we came a cropper with train tickets. Instead of getting the tram to Central Station and catching the train there, we believed an app which told us the quickest journey was to get a tram to a suburban station. It probably would have been quicker, but unfortunately, when we arrived at that station the ticket office only dealt with the trams, not the trains, the ticket machine wouldn’t accept any card we had, debit or credit, and cash seemed to be coins only. So off we headed to Central Station, where we found buying a ticket was actually much cheaper. The supermarket we used also accepted a limited range of cards (Maestro), so be prepared! And don’t believe everything the travel apps tell you.

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Delft and had a lovely day. Head for the Tourist Information if you go there – staff were very helpful, and we bought a map with a walking tour of the town. We had been once before, about 20 years ago, but not much has changed. It’s beautiful. Yarn-bombing included!

 

Keukenhof part 4: the park

Our visit to Keukenhof is almost two months ago now, I’m very behind with posting. As I mentioned before, the weather was incredibly cold for April, so we didn’t wander around the park as much as we might have done. However, what we did see was interesting – lots of quirky little gardens and sculptures. Any pictures of carpets of flowers have been very artfully taken to hide the fact that there actually weren’t many blooming yet!

Keukenhof part 3: the UK theme

Keukenhof’s theme this year was the UK: Land of Great Gardens. The Juliana Pavilion had an exhibition from the Royal Horticultural Society and the Oranje Nassau Pavilion was meant to have a flower-mosaic of Big Ben and Tower Bridge outside – again, the weather had wreaked havoc with this. Inside, its idea of the UK seemed rather London-centric, but the gerberas were lovely. We chose not to investigate the restaurant with its “typical British” style.

Keukenhof part 2: the bulbs

I mentioned in my previous post that the bulbs in the fields and the park were sadly lacking because of the cold spring, but the Willem-Alexander Pavilion was dazzling: mainly daffodils and tulips, but a few other types of bulb flower as well. We spent ages in here and were just blown away by all the different colours. Here’s a flavour:

In other news, this is my 100th post on this blog. Woohoo!

The orchids of Keukenhof

Keukenhof is a park amongst the bulb fields near Amsterdam which puts on a lovely display each Spring – well, except this one! We have been before at this time of year, and it has been beautiful, but this year’s cold weather has certainly inhibited growth, and I really worry for the fate of some of the bulb farmers because I couldn’t even see shoots in some of the fields. Despite the bitter cold, we decided to visit anyway because the hothouses wouldn’t be affected, and we still had a wonderful day, coming away with about 200 photos, so there will be several posts. This one covers the Beatrix Pavilion which housed the orchid show – absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy the photos!

NB The best way to get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam is to buy an all-inclusive ticket from the Tourist Office (there was one in Leidseplein near where we were staying) which covers the entrance fee plus fares for a bus to Schipol and then one directly to the park.

Prinx Apartments, Amsterdam

In March 1981, two young people went to Amsterdam for their honeymoon on what was known as a British Rail Stardust Holiday – train, overnight ferry, two nights in a hotel, overnight ferry, train. Exhausting. However, we, for it was indeed us, fell in love with the city and have been back several times – last week was our sixth visit. These days, we travel more comfortably, and the last twice we have forsaken hotels for the wonderful Prinx Studio Apartments which I heartily recommend. Beautifully run by Ton and Hector, the house is on a quiet canal near the Rijksmuseum and not far from the myriad restaurants in the small streets round Leidseplein. In the six nights we were there, we ate Italian, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Indonesian and Dutch, all within a few hundred yards of Prinx.

On our last visit, we used the I Amsterdam card for discounted access to museums – it’s a great idea, but this time, we didn’t bother because the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are not open until later this month after extensive refurbishments, and we planned to make a couple of trips out of the city. I’ll  blog about them later – in the meantime, here is a flavour of the lovely area in which we stayed.

2011: the best bits

I started this blog mid-way through 2011, really as a travel diary for myself which I hoped to complete retrospectively, so that I had a record of the great holidays we have had. We have thousands of photographs which we never look at and I think if I blog the edited highlights I am much more likely to revisit past travels. It hasn’t really happened that way – I’ve only done one retrospective post! However, as well as blogging my main holiday, I have been writing up the days out we have had in Glasgow and around, which wasn’t my original intention, but it’s still travel, even if not very far, and I also hope that if other people stumble on this it might show them what a great place Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, is to visit. Although, I hope of course that many of them know that already!

So here are my highlights of 2011.

Travel: We spent three weeks in the summer touring Georgia, the Carolinas and a wee bit of Tennessee. That has all been chronicled here but, pre-blog, we also had a week in Amsterdam in the spring. Amsterdam is a very special place for us as we first went there on honeymoon in 1981. It doesn’t therefore take a mathematical genius to work out that we were back this time for our 30th anniversary. Instead of going to a hotel, as we have done in the past, we stayed in the Prinx Apartments which was an excellent decision – a lovely place and very handy for the Rijksmuseum. You can read my review on Trip Advisor if interested. Prinx is the middle building below and our apartment was behind the three windows on the first floor:

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We had four short UK breaks as well – I’ve written about the more recent ones, to Grasmere in the Lake District and to Fife, but Kelso and Moffat pre-dated the blog. The latter was lovely, the former less so – but that’s a whole other story! So what was my favourite travel destination for 2011? Has to be Amsterdam, I just love it.

Glasgow restaurants: As well as eating out on our travels, we also eat out in our home city A LOT! I’ve calculated that in 2011 we ate in 35 different Glasgow restaurants, some more than once. Of those, seven were Indian, seven were Italian and six were Chinese or oriental fusion. My favourite foods are therefore quite obvious, although the fact that all are veggie friendly probably influences the choices. As for favourite restaurants, that’s really hard. Glasgow has an excellent reputation for curries and has been UK Curry Capital several times, so it’s difficult to get a bad Indian meal. My favourite always seems to be the last one I visited, which at the moment is the Shish Mahal in Kelvinbridge where we had a delicious banquet to send off a friend who was emigrating. The Shish has been a legend since the 60s and was where, allegedly, chicken tikka masala was invented. For Italian, I like Amarone which is part of a chain, but doesn’t feel like it. We often go for a pre-theatre before the concert hall and their menu changes regularly which is good for veggies – it means I’m not stuck with the same choice all the time. The Chinese-style restaurant we go to most is Dragon-I, and for similar reasons – it’s very handy for the Theatre Royal. They don’t change their menu quite so often, but the food is delicious, the restaurant is extremely stylish and the staff are lovely. I’m going to leave it at that; I can’t possibly choose one favourite restaurant.

Concerts and gigs: We went to six classical concerts and sixteen gigs (four as part of Celtic Connections). Of the former, my top choice would be the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus performing Mozart’s Requiem, which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I think my favourite gig was Jools Holland in Amsterdam – we’ve seen him at the Armadillo in Glasgow, which is quite a formal setting. The Paradiso (just round the corner from our apartment, another plus point for it) is much more intimate and we were able to stand very near the stage. All the usual suspects were with him, including the fabulous Ruby Turner, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems you either love Jools or hate him – I think he’s great, and that the rather bumbling persona he has on TV is a front. He seems much more in command live. Looking over the list of artists we saw at home, I am struck by how many strong, female performers are around just now. John’s highlight would undoubtedly be Tori Amos or PJ Harvey, but I can’t choose between Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Anna Calvi and Lisa Hannigan. All great. The venue we went to most often was Oran Mor, a converted church on Byres Road, which is small but perfectly formed – and best of all, about 10 minutes’ walk from our house! So I’m not picking a favourite artist, but I’ll make Oran Mor my favourite venue.

Other culture: What else can I think of? Many visits to museums and galleries, six ballet or dance events, three plays, three Aye Write! events. Not everything was in Glasgow – I think my favourite thing (whispers) was actually in Edinburgh: the Blackadder exhibition I wrote about three or four posts ago.

So that was my year. I have never done a review like this before, so it will be interesting to look back in future years and compare and contrast what we have been up to. And it’s all about to start up again – the Celtic Connections and Aye Write! Festivals are not too far off and, as I am writing this, John is attempting, not terribly successfully, to book flights for our summer holidays. Those pesky Olympics getting in the way!

Watch this space.