We woke to yet another gloriously sunny day in Amsterdam…..from what we hear, this is quite unusual…..welcome, but unusual.
We leave Amsterdam tomorrow, so today’s itinerary definitely includes the museums!
But first up is something I’ve wanted to try since we arrived…..Jenever. From what I’ve read and heard, it’s what the English tried to replicate when they made gin. One of the two places that samples it in Amsterdam is Wynand Fockink, near Dam Square. Each time we’ve been in or near the Square, Craig has avoided looking for it. I think this is due to an unfortunate incident during his high school years…..he hasn’t been able to drink gin since. Oh, well…..his bad luck……I was determined to find this place and get a taste of Dutch “gin” before we left Amsterdam.
We finally found Wynand Fockink, well hidden in a passageway next to the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. We passed their bar, then their shop and finally found the distillery that’s been in operation in this same spot since 1679.
Although he wasn’t expecting tourists, a young man welcomed us in and gave us an overview of how Wynand Fockink makes jenever and all types of liqueurs. It was a very personal, home-spun tour that gave us an understanding and appreciation of this liquid we still hadn’t tasted.
After a quick look at their small museum of antique bottles and their small bottling and packaging facility, we were finally invited to taste some of their jenevers. First a “young” jenever was poured…..I took a sip and looked hesitantly at Craig. He closed his eyes, took a taste…..and liked it! It tastes nothing like gin…..it’s more complex with a strong herbal flavor.
Then we tasted an “old” jenever…..it’s a more robust drink….but still doesn’t taste anything like gin. Craig became an instant convert to the wonders of jenever.
With our moods mellowed, we walked through the Red Light District (again) to the Central Station to pick up a canal bus to the Rijksmuseum.
The boat’s dock was at the end of a steep set of wooden stairs with a high railing. These steep steps were beyond my comfort level so, with hand rail firmly grasped, I took the steps one at a time (step down, meet step, step down, meet step). It’s slow, but it alleviates my fear of falling. A boat arrived quickly and, as we boarded, I looked up to see a flurry of activity. A woman had fallen down these stairs and was lying motionless at the bottom of the steps. Her eyes were open and I could see the fear in them. My heart ached for her. As we pulled away from the dock, police arrived and helped her to sit up. In the distance, we heard the wail of an ambulance siren. I prayed that she would be fine.
We cruised through the outer canal and ended our trip in front of the Rijksmuseum. The museum, home to the art and history of the Dutch Golden Age, is currently being renovated so only the major works were on display in a small wing. Some people were disappointed with this, but not us! Our attention spans lag after two hours so this was great news…..all the masterpieces in half the time!
After walking through rooms and rooms of historical art and artifacts from the Dutch Republic, we rounded a corner and came face to face with the accomplishments of the Dutch Masters. What is it about these simple paintings of everyday life that draws you in? As you stand before them, they seem to come to life and resonate in your soul.
You want to join Frans Hals’ “Merry Drinker” at the inn, pull up a chair and bite into the fruit in Pieter Claesz’ “Still Life with Turkey Pie” and frolic with the villagers in Hendrick Avercamp’s “Winter Landscape
with Ice Skaters.”
Rembrandt’s contemporaries and his students were showcased in the next two rooms. Seeing Rembrandt’s work next to that of other artists of the time gave me a deeper appreciation for his genius…..he was able to convey movement and emotion in the subleties of hands and eyes.
The tenderness felt by a husband for his wife is palpable in “The Jewish Bride.” Van Gogh said of this painting, “I should be happy to give ten years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight with only a crust of dry bread for food.”
Nearby was the painting made famous by a cigar box…. “The Sampling Officials” (or “The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild”). These men controlled the quality of cloth in Amsterdam and this painting captures them work while looking up to see who’s entering the room.
In the next rooms were more paintings of everyday life in the Netherlands, including two by Johannes Vermeer, a favorite of mine who’s detailed paintings exude a calmness that quiets the soul. Look at “The Kitchen Maid” for a minute or two and your blood pressure is sure to go down.
A great ending to a perfect musuem experience.
After a lunch at an outdoor cafe, we walked down the street to the House of Bols for our next jenever. Unlike this morning’s low-key tour at Wynand Fockink, this was a slick presentation by a company with a worldwide presence.
Our tour began with a young man relating the history of Bols, we then moved on to a hallway of bottles….each contained the scent of a Bols liqueur. We deeply inhaled a whiff of each and every one of them…..and correctly guessed all of them (Craig recognized scents that I missed but I got the ones that eluded him….together we have one great sense of smell). After a few more audio-visual presentations, we were in a lounge area in front of a computer screen answering questions about the type of cocktail we’d like to try….. simple/complex, fruity/aromatic. (You can try it, too….just log-in to “http://www.houseofbols.com/cocktailkiezer.asp”). After we input our preferences, the recipe for our cocktails was printed off for presentation to a bartender in the nearby Mirror Bar.
My simple/aromatic drink was a Holland House (created by the Holland House bar in New York in the 1800’s), Craig’s fruity/complex drink was a Collins. Bols also has a bartending school with an emphasis on “flair” so our drinks were made….and presented….with a lot of flamboyance.
Ah, but we weren’t done yet. After cocktails, guests choose two shots of any Bols product. Most people opt for the fruity flavored liqueurs….but not us….we were here for jenever and they had four of them to try….the new “historic” recipe, jonge, oude and corenwyn. With two for me and two for Craig, we’d be able to sample all of them.
When our bartender discovered our interest in jenevers, he smiled broadly, put the standard glasses away and quickly placed tulip glasses (that are perfectly designed for jenever) in front of us. He began with a story…..during the Eighty Years War, English soldiers were in awe of the bravery shown by the Dutch soldiers. They also noticed that the Dutch soldiers were provisioned with a flask of jenever. They decided the jenever had much to do with the bravado……and thus was born the phrase “Dutch Courage.” With a wink, he poured a glass of Bols Genever (based on the 1820’s recipe) and asked if we knew about the Dutch notoriety for “thriftiness.” He then poured the glass 3/4 full and said this wasn’t a full glass for a Dutchman. He poured in a little more, a little more, a little more…..still, he said, this was not a full glass. He poured to the very top of the glass and proudly said, “This is not a full glass for a Dutchman.” Then he gently poured drop after drop until a dome of jenever crowned the glass….. “This” he said, “is a full glass for a Dutchman.”
Afraid to pick the glass up, I leaned in and took a careful sip of this mildly sweet, aromatic jenever. Our bartender then poured a glass of Jonge (young) Genever…..not a Dutch pour this time. This jenever was almost tasteless……more like vodka. Next up was Oude (old) Genever…..honey-colored, more aromatic and more flavorful than the Jonge. Our bartender had another story for us……the English soldiers liked Dutch jenever so much that they tried to recreate it when they returned home…..their efforts produced English Gin…..what he called a “fortunate accident.”
The last jenever we tasted was Corenwyn. This jenever is aged and mellowed in oak. It’s amber color and smooth taste were more like a fine cognac. This might have been our favorite….it was hard to choose.
What better to do with a slight “buzz-on” than walk across the street to the Van Gogh Museum? Under the “influence,” maybe Van Gogh’s short, bold strokes would blend into a serene Monet.
The museum lays out Van Gogh’s works chronologically, starting with the primitve, dark works he did in the Netherlands.
When he moved to Paris in 1886, the somberness left his paintings.
Two years later, when he moved to Arles in the south of France, his canvases came alive with brilliant colors.
But even sunny France couldn’t prevent his madness. When he checked into a hospital in St. Remy, his paintings became more somber. The hospital imprisoned and confined him.
He left and moved to the open spaces of Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris where he painted prolifically…..his art ranging from beautiful florals to mournful landscapes. Within months, he took his own life……an artist for only 10 years of his short life. This was an amazing journey into the creative progression of a tormented man.
From the somber into the sunlight……we took a tram back to Dam Square and walked over to our final destination of the day…..The Pancake Bakery! I wasn’t about to leave Amsterdam without trying pannenkoeken……a Dutch specialty….it’s bigger than a crepe, thinner than a pancake and can be either savory or sweet..
We arrived at dusk. It was crowded but we were led to a table in the brick and dark-paneled main room. We started the meal with a steaming bowl of pea soup then moved on to the pannenkoeken…..bacon and cheese for me, ham and cheese for Craig. Two HUGE pannenkoeken arrived quickly. I anxiously took my first bite……the light pancake, the smoky bacon, the divine cheese cooked to a crispy crunch around the edges all combined to make one of the most delectable dishes I’ve ever had. The only downside was that we were too full to order a sweet pannenkoeken for dessert.
A wonderful ending to a perfect day in Amsterdam.
Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun…...Lou Reed