#RoofSquares 1: Amsterdam edition

Becky at The Life of B likes a square go, oops, I mean a square challenge. I’ve never joined in before, but the theme for June intrigues me: Roofs. If you want to join in too, tag your post #RoofSquares and link to Becky’s post each day. You can also see what other people are posting in the comments. Interpret the theme as you please: the only rule is that your main image must be square.

I don’t have time to post daily, so I’m going to post every Friday instead. The roof detail above is from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. The building in its full, non-square, glory is below.

A walk round Utrecht

The second day trip we took from Amsterdam last year was to Utrecht. Again, it was an easy train journey to a lovely historic city, by far the oldest we’ve seen in the Netherlands – it dates back to a Roman Fort built around 50 AD.

Instead of a walking map as in Haarlem, this time we had a little booklet with photographs of the main sights, so I might do a better job at identifying the buildings we saw. To start with, here are the medieval city castles of Oudaen (c. 1276) and Drakenburg (11th C) which face each other across the Oudegracht. It was much later in the day when we got round to Drakenburg, probably the oldest brick house in Utrecht, but I’ve included all the pictures here.

The first Dutch department store, with the unlikely name of Winkel van Sinkel, dates from 1837 and has four huge classical Greek statues as pillars. Again, I’ve included a picture as we passed it in the morning and a shot from later in the day.

We were heading for the Dom, or cathedral, which wasn’t very difficult as you can see. Just look for the tower! Although, at this time it was trying to hide in the mist.

We were surprised when we got there to find a large open square, the Domplein, between the tower and the rest of the cathedral – it has been this way since the nave was destroyed by a tornado in 1674! We spent sometime looking around inside what was left of the church: this was December 1st, hence the nativity scene (by Dick Bruna – more of him later).

Next to the Dom is the Academiegebouw, richly decorated home of Utrecht University:

And next to that, is the entrance to the peaceful Pandhof:

We now had a choice before moving away from the Dom. We could either climb the tower or go underground, but we didn’t have time to do both. We decided we’d been up many cathedral towers so exploring underground was the better bet. Just time to have lunch and a warm up, before setting off on the tour!

DOMunder takes you underneath the Domplein through the huge pillar foundations of the cathedral where archaeological finds dating back to the Romans are displayed. An interactive flashlight brings history to life, including “experiencing” the destructive tornado of 1674. No photography was allowed, so do follow the link at the beginning of the paragraph if you want to know more. It’s very good, especially as an English-speaking guide was provided for us as the only non-Dutch people on the tour. This guide was the only person in the whole week we were in the Netherlands who mentioned Brexit to us – in disapproving tones: “So. You are still doing Brexit?”  I was quick to point out that we were from Scotland where over 60% of those who voted chose Remain, but it seemed to cut little ice.

After our tour, we resumed our walk. The house with the turret was built around 1400 for a canon of the Dom chapter but is now used by the university. The red and white house was built by order of Pope Adrian VI (1459-1529) who was born in Utrecht, but he never lived there. The statue is of him. The French Baroque black door is a former Mayor’s house, and the other two images in the gallery below are just pretty street scenes that I like.

Next stop, the park at Lepelenburg where Dick Bruna strikes again – John was rather taken with this urinal, but I wouldn’t let him use it!

Onwards! So many more lovely buildings – hover over the gallery for captions, or click on any picture for a slide show. I’m running out of words!

We’ve already come across Dick Bruna a couple of times. This well-loved children’s writer and illustrator was born in Utrecht in 1927, and died there in 2017. Outside the Conservatoire, the last building in the gallery above, we came face to face with Bruna and Miffy, his best known character. We’d already passed the Miffy Museum – I wish I’d taken my hat off for that photo, but it was COLD! I think the tributes are all rather sweet.

Home stretch now! The light was fading as we came back round to the Dom (where the tower had now emerged from the mist) and made our way to the station.

This was our last night in Amsterdam, but we’ll soon be back. Our friends that we travel with each May have only made one brief visit to Amsterdam. They saw some of our photos and suggested we went there together, and John and I could act as tour guides! I can’t wait – not least because in May I shouldn’t need my woolly hat …

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – today she’s in South Shields, somewhere I knew well in childhood, where she discovers a Roman Fort.

Historic Haarlem

During our visit to Amsterdam last November, we took two trips outside the city. The first was to Haarlem, just 15 minutes away by train. As we left the station and walked towards the main square, we were already noticing lots of interesting historic and decorative buildings.

The square, Grote Markt, is the heart of the city  where we admired St Bavokerk, the 14th century Town Hall, and a statue to Laurens Coster who is believed by Haarlemmers to have a claim, along with Gutenberg, to be the inventor of moveable type.

There is a small Tourist Information Office in the Town Hall, so we headed there to pick up a walking map of the old town which we followed for the rest of the day. At first we passed mostly shops, some of which retained traditional signs such as this chemist (1849) and baker (1900).

Then we turned into residential areas, a higgledy-piggledy mix of narrow streets, small squares, churches and alms-houses.

Our steps then led us to 62 Groot Heiligland, formerly a poorhouse where the artist Frans Hals (1582-1666) spent his final years, and now a museum dedicated to him. We saw two interesting exhibitions, The Art of Laughter and A Global Table – both very good, but long over now so no point in me recommending them! Do you recognise Frans Hals’s friend in the bottom picture?

It seems our walk took us down to the canal after the museum. I really should write these trips up nearer the time – even with my map, I’m struggling to remember what all the buildings are, so much of the gallery below is not captioned.

A last hurrah for some more decorative features:

Then, in the faded light of late afternoon, we arrived back at Grote Markt from where we headed for the train.

With a few minutes to wait, we admired the art deco station, a national monument.

My Fitbit recorded 20,355 steps on this day, the second highest for our week in Amsterdam. The highest (almost 26,000) was the other day trip we did, to Utrecht. A post on that is coming soon – if I can remember it! In the meantime, this post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – today she’s in the beautiful North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough.

Amsterdam Museum and Festival of Light

Lauren Ewing: Light Wave

On one of our evening strolls around Amsterdam, we came across this light sculpture which we discovered was part of an annual Light Festival. Best visited by canal boat, we booked up for a couple of nights later. We knew we were likely to get cold and wet in the evening so looked for somewhere dry and warm during the day, and decided to visit the Amsterdam Museum.

Until 1960, the building housing the museum was an orphanage. In one of the courtyards, shown above, you can see the cupboards that the children used to store their possessions, now filled with art. I wasn’t too taken with the main body of the museum which had been revamped since our last visit to provide (according to Lonely Planet) a “multi-media DNA exhibit, which breaks down Amsterdam’s 1000-year history into seven whiz-bang time periods”. Whiz-bang is not really me, and I also found the red and white timeline wall difficult to focus on.

The Civic Guard Gallery in the arcade next door was more interesting – you could both look down on it from inside the museum and enter (free of charge) from street level. On view are original group portraits, made between 1530 and 2007 by artists such as Bartholomeus van der Helst and Erwin Olaf, as well as Goliath, a 350-year-old wooden giant. From what I remember about the colourful carpet, I think each square represented a different country and we were able to find Scotland from the key.

We did, indeed, get very cold and wet on the way to the (open) boat, but fortunately the rain went off so we were “only” freezing cold during the 75 minute tour of the 35 light sculptures. Here’s a selection of my favourites – this first one is a general view of how busy the canal was, but it also shows one of the installations. Ai Weiwei’s Thinline (the red lights) ran the whole length of the route.

Ai Weiwei: Thinline

You might recognise some of the buildings in the next two images from an earlier post – the funny little roof-creatures outside the library, and NEMO Science Museum. The pyramid is Infinita by Cecil Balmond. In A necessary darkness, Rona Lee chose to invert the norm by projecting a lighthouse beaming out darkness onto NEMO’s wall.

Claudia Reh created a large projection, It was once drifting on the water, on the façade of the Hermitage Museum in collaboration with local primary school children. Myth by Ben Zamora is a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines which light up in different combinations at different speeds.

Eye to eye by Driton Selmani represents a giant nazar amulet that protects people, animals, and objects from the evil eye. If you’ve been to Turkey, you are probably familiar with it – we have one hanging in our bathroom. Whole hole, by Wendel & de Wolf, was probably my favourite installation: it was exciting to be drawn through it into the tunnel.

Lifeline by Claes Meijer was interesting: it showed the waves of sound which a boat engine makes underwater, so changed as we passed it. Lynne Leegte’s Windows are probably self-explanatory!

Floating on a thousand memories (Lighting Design Academy) achieved its effect by reflecting small lights in the water and in mirrors on the water’s edge. The next sculpture is prettier than its title – The life of a slime mold. it’s an enlargement of the mucus fungus by Nicole Banowetz. Nice!

The final pairing is Citygazing: Amsterdam (VOUW) and Be the change that you want to see in the world by Bagus Pandega. The former is a giant light map of the city. The latter scrolls one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes – I think you can just make out see in the passing by. A good motto to live by.

My goodness, were we shivering when we got to this point! We were happy to find a cosy pizza restaurant and then head back to the warmth of our apartment.

This is my last post about Amsterdam itself – for the moment: we’ll be back again later in the year. However, we took a couple of day trips out of the city, so stay tuned for tours of Haarlem and Utrecht.

Amsterdam-Noord

This is not real – but we’ll get to something almost as scary that is!

We’d never before had cause to visit Amsterdam-Noord, the area across the IJ River from the centre of the city, but since our last visit we had read about new attractions opening up there. And it’s so easy to get to – a free ferry from behind Central Station only takes about 5 minutes. Off we set!

First port of call was the EYE Film Institute. I confess we didn’t look at any of the exhibits or see any films, but it was a great coffee stop.

Our main purpose for visiting was the A’DAM Tower, seen in the background of the last photo above. Formerly the offices for Shell Oil, which has since moved elsewhere, the 22-storey building now houses electronic dance music companies. However, it has a café and a restaurant near the top and a Lookout on the roof with Europe’s highest swing, Over The Edge. We had to try that.

On arrival, we were asked to sit on the beam at the top of this post – safely set on the ground, of course! I think we made quite a good job of pretending to fall off. Then we took the lift to the roof – unfortunately, another dull, misty day, so the views weren’t great as you can see.

So – onto the swing then! This is the couple before us. I was a bit nervous at this point …

Over The Edge

Then it was our turn to get strapped in before the swing moved upwards and outwards to leave us dangling over the edge and moving gently back and forwards. Eep!

It wasn’t too bad! I felt quite secure, except that I didn’t like the sensation of slipping forward on the shiny metal seat when the swing went backwards, so I gripped the side bars very firmly all the way through. I’m glad I did it, but I felt I definitely deserved my beer and frites in the café downstairs. Spot the selfie in the model tower!

After lunch, we walked up river to NDSM-werf, a derelict shipyard turned arts community. If we thought we’d found quirky areas before, this time we surpassed ourselves! Graffiti everywhere:

We had coffee in Pllek, made out of old shipping containers. A lot nicer inside than out!

We decided that, given the frequent ferry service, this wouldn’t be a bad place to stay. There are choices! There’s a Doubletree and a Botel.

Or – there’s a crane! Yes, really – the Faralda Crane Hotel has just three rooms, so make sure you book well in advance 😉

Lots of other boats were berthed, mostly not functioning because it was out of season – I fancy the pancake boat next time, but maybe not the rusting submarine.

By this time, the light was fading and it was bitterly cold. Time to get the ferry back – it had been an absolutely brilliant day!

Ferry ride into the sunset

Amsterdam: walking East

Bikes at Central Station

Most days, we began with a walk either to or, in this case, beyond Amsterdam’s Central Station. I trotted happily behind the one with a sense of direction, looking out all the time for more interesting details to photograph. We particularly liked this blue angel which we passed several times.

On this particular day, we were heading for Oosterdok (East Dock) to visit the library. I had already spotted it in my guidebook and Greet, our landlady, also recommended the views from the terrace. She obviously thought we might think a library was a weird place to visit on holiday, but I soon put her right on that!

I’m not sure we ever did find out what the little building outside with the strange creatures on top was, but we fell in love with the library.

There was an exhibition of political cartoons which, knowing little about Dutch politics, I thought might not be very interesting. Turns out, there were two main topics, both of which I knew lots about – try to guess …

After the exhibition, we made our way slowly up through several floors to the terrace. The views were, indeed fine, but would have been better on a less misty day. We could see both Het Scheepvaartmuseum (maritime museum) and NEMO (science and technology museum – the green building). Finally, we went to the café for lunch – some of our libraries have cafés, but they are much more basic than this. My sandwich was one of the simplest dishes on offer.

After lunch, we headed across the pedestrian bridge you can see in the gallery above, passing NEMO and the maritime museum.

We then crossed the road to Kadijksplein in the Plantage district where we watched a boat and tug passing under two swing bridges.

From here we walked along Hoogte Kadijk, a residential street with enough quirks to keep us happy: more carvings, street art, a block of flats built on the site of a former brewery, and an 18th-century wharf where ships are still repaired. The latter is also a museum, although it’s only open on Tuesdays – which this wasn’t, otherwise I’d have had to drag John away.

At the end of the street, we crossed over to view the De Gooyer Windmill, the last of five grain mills in the area and now a private home, before making our way back along Entrepot Dock – former warehouses of the Dutch East India Company now also converted into homes.

This brought us out opposite the Dutch Resistance Museum which we decided to visit – it’s very good but, of course, very disturbing. We’d been to the Anne Frank House the day before and the combined effect was profound. (NB, if visiting the Anne Frank House it’s essential to book online in advance for a specific time slot. Even then, we queued outside for 20-30 minutes so plan carefully.)

Finally, after a warming, and cheering, coffee, we set off for home. It was getting dark by this time, always interesting in Amsterdam.

My next Amsterdam post will take us to the highest swing in Europe. And I wasn’t scared, honestly. Well, only a little bit.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk which today is Portuguese and sunny, so pop over there for a warm-up.

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!