After a long night’s sleep, we woke refreshed and ready to tackle the city. After a quick breakfast, we headed to Dam Square (Amsterdam’s main plaza) to begin our self-guided tour. The jewel of the square, the Royal Palace, was hidden behind covered scaffolding….. Europe is always in some state of renovation.
Walking in Amsterdam is challenging. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the transportation chain and bicycles are at the top. In a city of 750,000, there are over 1,000,000 bicycles. Bicycles have priority over everything else…..cars have to stop for them and pedestrians need to jump out of their way. If an accident occurs, it’s never the bicyclist’s fault. I’d liken them to the school bully. With this in mind, we happily crossed over to Kalverstraat, a pedestrian-only street.
In the middle of this shopper’s mecca, just across from McDonald’s, we found a small Catholic church. The priest was getting ready for the day…..opening the doors and putting signs out (“15 minutes for God”). After seeing the grandeur of Catholic churches in France, Italy, Germany and Portugal, we were touched by this humble church in the midst of mass-commercialism.
Just down the street, we found the courtyard entrance to the Amsterdam History Museum with Amsterdam’s coat of arms in a crooked archway (buildings standing on sand and mud just can’t stay straight). The three X’s in Amsterdam’s logo represent heroism, determination and mercy.
The museum purportedly showcases 650 years of Amsterdam’s history from 1350 to 2000……we wouldn’t know because we were perpetually lost in this museum, missing centuries at a time. We did find old maps, suits of armor, a Dutch Masters painting, Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” and charming doll houses showing Dutch homes through the ages but, when we found an exit, we decided to leave while we had the chance.
Nearby was the Begijnhof, a peaceful courtyard that originally housed the Beguines, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns but didn’t take monastic vows. It’s still home to women needing subsidized housing.
Within this courtyard is the English Church where the Pilgrims worshipped before their eventual journey to America.
Across from the English Church is the non-descript Catholic Church. After the Dutch government confiscated all of the Catholic churches in 1578, Catholics had to hold secret services but in 1671, two houses opposite the English Church were converted into a Catholic church which, by government order, couldn’t be recognized as a church from the outside.
After this peaceful respite, we exited the courtyard and walked toward the Rokin Canal to see the equestrian statue of Queen Wilhemina. We got to the canal but found no statue. We scanned the streets and walked back and forth. Once again, I began to question Craig’s map-reading ability but then, we spied something standing at the corner of the canal……a marker advising us that the statue had been temporarily removed.
Onward we walked, toward the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. There were stalls and stalls of beautiful multi-colored flowers……we would have liked to buy some tulip bulbs but, alas, it’s their time for blooms not bulbs.
It was way past lunchtime and there was a “brown cafe” nearby (no, no, no….not that….that’s a “coffeeshop”…..a brown cafe is an old restaurant with walls stained from years of tobacco smoke). We walked over to the Cafe ‘t Gasthuys and sat at an empty table next to a small canal.
We wanted to give Dutch cuisine another chance so we ordered a Bitterballen appetizer (a deep-fat fried batter of beef and flour……hmmmm, sounds familiar), a Spinach-Cheese Croquette sandwich and a Pork Satay Sandwich….with the requisite glasses of Heineken.
Unlike yesterday’s croquettes, the Bitterballen’s small, round balls were cooked more completely and didn’t have a mushy, doughy texture….but they still were rather bland. The mustard accompaniment definitely enhanced their flavor. The deep-fat fried Spinach-Cheese croquettes were more flavorful and quite good when smashed between two slices of bread. The Pork Satay was delicious. We shared a warm apple pie for dessert.
Again, it was getting too late to spend any time at the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum so we walked back to the hotel and made reservations for a Wine and Cheese Candlelight Cruise on the canals.
The cruise began across from Central Station and the most direct route was through De Wallen…..the Red Light district. So we off-loaded our credit cards, passports and cash in the hotel’s safe, stowed the camera in a zippered pocket and headed off.
It was still light when we arrived but the pop-up barriers that turned the street into a pedestrian zone were up…..with red lights flashing.
Nearby was a store for all your S & M needs…..ewwww.
Surprisingly, nice restaurants and hotels with rooms rented by the day (not by the hour) also lined the streets and, in the middle of all this, was the Oude Kerk (Old Church), ringed with small homes, a pre-school, a statue dedicated to sex workers, a bronze breast oddly placed in the sidewalk and the covered windows of the “working girls” (perhaps their day hasn’t started yet?). All in all, it was rather tame.
The Candlelight Cruise was fun. We enjoyed the company of a young “non-couple” who sat across from us. They were in Amsterdam for a rock concert……her boyfriend (his best friend) and his girlfriend couldn’t take the time off work so these two decided to make the trip alone….kind of, sort of.
Amsterdam at night was beautiful…..silently cruising through the canals, the lights on the bridges brightly shining with their reflections sparkling in the dark, still waters showed a city at peace with itself. The two-hour cruise ended too soon and we were again walking through the now dark streets of De Wallen.
This time, the narrow side streets were illuminated. The shades were pulled open, the windows were lit in shades of red and blue and scantily dressed women were standing at the windows doing their best to beckon passersby in…..but be careful……the red lights are for women, the blue lights are for……hmmmm, shall we say, “pretty boys.”
These women (and men) are entrepreneurs in business for themselves, they have to file and pay taxes on their earnings. I read that in 2007, a judge decided that the VAT shouldn’t be the 19% charged for other services, but only 6%…..the same as for art and artistic performances.
Walking past these windows wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Despite the “legality” of the profession here, it still felt like these women were being exploited…..and, bleeding-heart liberal that I am, my heart went out to the women who’s curtains were still open. How strong must your ego be to put your body on display and have no takers?
It was a somber walk back to the hotel.
Love for sale
appetizing young love for sale
love thats fresh and still unspoiled
love thats only slightly soiled
love for sale……… Cole Porter