Don't Rock the Boat - Don't Rock the Boat, Baby
September 17, 2005
We set out this morning to refamiliarize ourselves with the city of Amsterdam, as it has been about 3 years since our last visit. We strolled through the Looier Kunst en Antiekcentrum (antiques center), a labyrinth of small stalls selling everything from antique jewelry and silver to toys to Delft porcelain to African and Roman pottery. Although we didn't buy anything, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
From there, we walked through the Jordaan, a 17th century neighborhood to the tourist shopping area of Kalverstraat. Today, it was literally packed wall to wall with people, so we quickly stepped into the two English bookstores and then made our escape via the Begijnhof, a lovely, quiet residential area. It was originally built in 1346 as a sanctuary for the Begijnites, a lay Catholic sisterhood, who lived like nuns, but took no monastic vows.
We came back to the hotel around 4:00 for a break and went out for dinner around 7:00. We found a great local bar and restaurant on one of the tiny side streets behind the Leidesplein. We "started out" with an appetizer plate of assorted Danish cheeses and Belgian brown bread - it was so much food that we couldn't continue with anything else. We waddled to the hotel and up to our room.
It is quite cold tonight - you can see your breath outside, but this means that the skies are very clear and the full moon is beautiful and bright. Our room is at the front of the hotel, overlooking the Singelgracht Canal and the Leidesplein. It is fascinating to watch the orchestra of traffic, with pedestrians, bicyclists, trams, taxis and other automobiles and trucks each playing their part.
September 18, 2005
We had a late breakfast today and then checked out of the Marriott at about noon. We had a couple of hours to kill before we could go to the boat so we walked along the Spiegelgracht Canal and window-shopped in the numerous antique shops and art galleries. We continued up to the Bloemenmarkt and from that point, we just wandered aimlessly until we found an inviting bench at the corner of Leidsegracht and Keizersgracht where we sat and watched the boat traffic on the canals. At about 2:30, we returned to the hotel to retrieve our bags and car. Once we got to the Nieuwe Prinsengracht, we were fortunate enough to find a close-by, metered parking place. We met the owner of the boat, Isabel, and she gave us a few instructions before departing.
We only had enough Euro coins for about an hour of local parking, so after we got our bags on board the boat, we had to move the car to a nearby garage. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at the supermarket for a few supplies and have been happily nesting in our temporary home ever since.
The view from the houseboat, down the Nieuwe Prinsengracht is fantastic; we particularly enjoyed the sunset. Also, the water fowl are fairly active on the canal side of the boat - we sat and watched/photographed them for quite awhile this evening. Right now, we're just chilling with some jazz CD's on the stereo. Once again, it seems a real luxury to stay in one place for a week - when we started the trip 10 weeks ago, I don't think we envisioned that we would be quite as mobile as we have been. We had originally anticipated that we would be stationary in some of our favorite places for longer periods of time, but with the summer holidays, longer-term accommodations weren't available. Now that fall has arrived (it was about 65* today in Amsterdam) and school has started, reasonable accommodations should be easier to find.
September 19, 2005
Today, we decided to move the car out to long-term parking at the airport. At Euro 30-36 (about $40) a day, parking in the city is quite expensive - it is the city's way of discouraging cars! So, we got to the airport, found the long-term car park and hopped on the shuttle to the terminal building. We stopped at the British Airways ticket counter to change the date on our next flight segment to Istanbul. We are going to Turkey next Monday, the 26th - very exciting!!
From the airport, we took the train to Amsterdam Central and walked through one of the main tourist areas around Dam Square. We stopped for lunch at the Koepel Cafe in the Renaissance Hotel (we stayed at the Renaissance a few years ago, and thought that the cafe was quite good). The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm - we sat outside and enjoyed the day and the good food. Afterward, we walked back to the boat, stopping at the supermarket for our daily supplies.
Since it was a rather boring day and we don't have much to include in the journal, we thought we would tell you a little more about the boat (the first one in the right of the picture). By our estimates, it is 70-80 feet long and about 15 feet wide. It is secured to the quay on the starboard side (that is the right for all you non-nautical types) with steel cables and springs that allow for movement. We can occasionally feel the movement, particularly if another boat goes by or if the canals are being "flushed" out, a process done 2-3 times a week with a series of locks that let fresh sea-water in and pollution out.
Entry is through a small door (about 5 feet tall) into the main living area, which encompasses the galley, the dining area and the living area, all in one large open space. The flooring is hard wood, finished in light pine. Towards the bow, there is a small raised platform with recessed areas for the TV and stereo. The master bedroom is at the stern - there are two small bedrooms (barely large enough for a single twin-bed each) and a small bathroom with shower only (no tub). The furnishings are a generally good standard - not great, but adequate and about what you would expect for a rental property.
We think the best features of the boat are the windows. In addition to the large main windows, there is a series of windows higher up around the entry area. We're not sure, but this section of the boat may have previously been the pilot house.
It is very obvious that the owner, Isabel stays on the boat quite frequently with her daughter, Anna, age 11. There are so many personal effects around that we feel like we are staying in somebody's home, as opposed to in a rental property. Honestly, we don't like that - we don't want to be responsible for other people's personal belongings. Also, the cabinets, cupboards and every other storage space on the entire boat are crammed with stuff from photographs and old magazines to clothes and linens to cosmetics and toiletry items. The kitchen cupboards are also stuffed and overflowing.
The up-side to this is that the boat is equipped with just about everything you could possibly need in terms of cooking utensils. Our favorite item is a large cast-iron wok (weighing about 15 lbs.), which Markus used to make a delicious chicken and vegetable stir-fry for dinner tonight!
We went to the zoo today! Artis is actually more accurately described as a zoological complex complete with a Monkey House, a Reptile House, a Botanical Garden, an Aviary, an Insectarium and an Aquarium, along with a Geological Museum and a Planetarium. Needless to say, we didn't have time to visit everything in one day, but we saw most of what we considered to be the highlights.
There were several baby animals to be seen, the most celebrated of which is Yindee, a baby female elephant born on August 2. We also watched a baby monkey (born July 20) for quite a while - animal behavior is just fascinating! Do you think the animals think the same thing as they look upon humans?
Click here for the bonus slide show of our visit to the zoo (Sarah, we know that you will love this and don't worry, you can't wear out the button, no matter what your dad says!!).
The Heineken Experience was our destination today. The self-guided tour takes visitors through the old Heineken Brewery (used until 1988, when the company was unable to keep up with demand and had to move to two other production facilities). Heineken produces over 100 beers worldwide, the most famous of which are its signature beer (Heineken) and Amstel Light, but also Murphy's Irish Stout, Tiger Beer (Singapore), and Zywiec (Polish beer pronounced "Zvee-ette").
beers or soft-drinks were included in the admission price - you enjoy the
first at a bar about 1/2 way through the experience, and the last two at the
bar at the end. It was an interesting exhibition and something different to
do for a change of pace.
22 and September 23, 2005
Yesterday, I went to the Jewish Historical Museum, which is just about 2 blocks from the boat. It was very interesting, with exhibits on Jewish philosophies and beliefs as well as several exhibits detailing the history of Judaism in the Netherlands. The abridged version is that the first Jew to gain Dutch citizenship in 1597 was a member of the Portuguese Sephardic community, escaping the Inquisition. Later, in the 1630s, the Ashkenazi Jews came from Eastern Europe. They were restricted from membership in the Dutch Artists Guilds, and were not granted full civil equality until 1796. The Nazi occupation decimated the community, leaving the four synagogues empty that today make up the museum complex.
Mark was suffering an allergy attack and skipped the museum in favor of staying on the boat to perfect his imitation of a couch potato. I was able to finally get him moving in the evening, when we went out for a walk to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather.
We went to the Rijksmuseum today - it is undergoing extensive renovation and only the "Masterpieces" are on display. I really enjoyed the two 17th century dollhouses. The larger of the two was made as an exact scale replica of the owner's home, right down to the materials that the miniature furnishings are made of. It is estimated to have cost more than a canal home in Amsterdam at the time.
And of course, the museum has an incredible collection of Rembrandt, including his most famous painting entitled the "Night Watch", painted in 1642. Here are a few little-known facts about the painting: 1) Although it is still quite large, it was originally even larger. It was cut down on three sides (the pieces were lost) to fit between two doors in the town hall; 2) The painting actually portrays a daytime scene. Over the years, the preserving varnish has darkened and the dust built up, so it now appears to be a nighttime scene; 3) During World War II, it was rolled up and hidden for 5 years.
In addition to the most famous Dutch painter, the museum also houses several paintings by Jan Steen and Jan Vermeer. I found that I really like Vermeer's paintings (the museum has 4 of the 30 known to exist, but had only 3 on display), particularly "The Little Street". You might also recall that we went to the National Gallery in Dublin to see one of his paintings.
Since so little of the museum is actually open, we didn't take more than about 90 minutes to see the masterpieces. So, as it was another beautiful and sunny day, we strolled along the Spiegelgracht once again and crossed Amsterdam's best known bridge, the Magere Brug (the "Skinny Bridge"). Originally built in 1670, the present drawbridge was put up in 1969, and although wider than the original, it still conforms to the traditional double-leaf style (meaning that both sides open, which happens about every 20 minutes).
After a snack near the Waterlooplein, we stopped at the supermarket and returned to the boat for the rest of the evening.