post

Open Air Museum in Arnhem

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people didn’t show up to start with. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM. Sylvain is our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by! The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.

We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.

We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, which reminds me very much of the Fort William historic site in Ontario, Canada (photos). We have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park, which showcases the cultural history of the Netherlands, complete with windmills, recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.

I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our stop in Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.

post

Amsterdam

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

We are out the door by 8:50AM for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train from Haarlem to Amsterdam Centraal train station (takes about 10 minutes). Across the street from the train station, we catch a tram to the Anne Frank House and walk in ahead of the long line already forming. It is surprisingly emotional to actually see the hidden rooms where the two Jewish families hid from the Nazis during WWII. The rooms are devoid of furniture and there are no photos permitted inside, as per Otto Frank’s wishes. The stairways are narrow, and the rooms feel so small. As Anne wrote in her diary, having the windows shuttered was depressing, and it must have been a huge challenge to keep still during the day in order to make no noise that might be heard by the businesses operating below the hidden rooms.

Jennifer then takes us on a walking tour of Amsterdam. First stop is the Pink Triangle granite Homomonument in the canal, celebrating homosexual civil rights and freedoms. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize gay and lesbian rights. Spinning around the main Dam square in the city, we see: the massive Neo-Gothic retail store Magna PlazaMadame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (leading art venue in the city), and the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explore Dam Square.

After a stop for a late lunch, we find our way back to the Rijks Museum for an escorted tour. I must endorse taking an escorted tour through this museum, since there is so much art history to appreciate. The guides are wonderful! The museum doesn’t just feature paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters; there is furniture, applied and Asian art, sculpture, fashion, ship models, weapons, and all sorts of artifacts illustrating Dutch history. Just to cap it off, I bump into friends from home in one of the galleries – what a surprise!

Two old canal houses fully restored

Two old canal houses fully restored

By the time we leave the museum some of us need some respite from all the walking and standing, so we stop for a mid-afternoon beer and wine break in one of the local bars across the street from the Heineken factory. Afterward, we see some fascinating glimpses of Amsterdam by taking a one hour canal boat cruise.

Our final walk of the day takes us to Amsterdam’s Red Light District for a quick glimpse at the girls displaying their wares. As a contrast, we also see the outside of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) located in the same district, before finally taking the inter-city train back to Haarlem and our hotel.

It has been a long day!

Amsterdam is obviously a prosperous city, since it has huge retail, government, and cultural sectors, and they all appear to be thriving. By all accounts, housing is exceedingly expensive in the city. Many people who work in the city must live elsewhere and commute by train. One thing is certain, most of them ride bicycles…there are huge bicycle parkades in the city, and they are everywhere you look.

post

Haarlem

2014.08.31 – Sunday – Haarlem, The Netherlands

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

At breakfast this morning, I meet some of the tour group. I sleep on and off during the day (dealing with jet lag), and walk the city, exploring and photographing as I go. It is a beautiful autumn day, and this old city has some lovely trees showing their colours and old buildings both lining the canals. Since it is Sunday, there are services being held in the Grot Kerk church across the street from our hotel. Once the service is finished, I go inside and listen to the magnificent pipe organ being played, and take in the impressive stained glass windows and huge arched wooden ceiling inside the main sanctuary.

Café Colette next door to the hotel serves great cappuccino, so I sit outside and catch up on my travel journal and photos while sipping my coffee. The tour group meets at 4PM in the hotel, where our guide Jennifer describes the tour details and Rick Steves’ tour philosophy.

We then go as a group to the nearby De Lachende Javaan Indonesian restaurant for a traditional Indonesian ‘rijsttafel’ dinner. The food is wonderful and there are so many dishes, but the food is not as spicy as I remember how Indonesian food normally tastes. This is a good opportunity to meet some of the people on the tour, and start learning names.

From Wikipedia: The Indonesian rijsttafel (Dutch), a Dutch word that literally translates to “rice table”, is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch following the hidang presentation of Nasi Padang from the Padang region of West Sumatra. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways.

Afterward, we go on a walking tour of Haarlem with local tour guide Yodi. She points out the plaques on many of the old buildings, which give clues to the business interests of the original owners, and highlights the history of this area. She talks about the tolerance for the Marijuana ‘coffee’ shops, and points out The Hiding Place – where the Ten Boom family hide Jews and others the Nazis wanted in their home.

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Haarlem & Amsterdam, Netherlands

We are out the door by 8:50AM this morning for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train to Amsterdam and back again to Haarlem in the late evening (about 15 minutes each way). We return to our Haarlem hotel after 7PM, so after quickly cleaning up a bit, I join two couples for dinner at Café Colette restaurant next door to the hotel. I have a very nicely done rib eye steak, and the others also enjoy their meals. It is time to pack for our bus departure tomorrow for Germany.

When I travel, I often ask myself the question “Would you live here?” I have to say that living in the Netherlands would be very easy, especially in a small city such as Haarlem. The people are very friendly, virtually everyone speaks English, the country is prosperous and stable, and it is part of the European Union. The only downside to living here is that it is very expensive, and it rains a lot (average 133 days per year).

post

Flight: Victoria to Amsterdam

August 29, 2014 – Friday – flight from Victoria, Canada to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I am up early this morning, get out the door and take a taxi to Victoria airport. I check my bags through to Amsterdam, and wait for my flight to Seattle to depart. Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air is using the usual De Havilland DHC8 Dash 8-400 turbo-prop aircraft. Once I arrive at SeaTac airport, the travel stress kicks in. I forgot that this is the Labour Day weekend, so everyone is traveling, and flights are full or overbooked. So this means lots of kids and families are in the air terminal and on the flights.

Immaculate timing meant that our little flight from Victoria arrives at the same time as a couple of large aircraft from the Far East. Despite this, I clear US Immigration quite quickly, since there are new automated kiosks that Americans and Canadians use. The kiosk takes my picture and scans my passport, I answer a few questions on a touch screen, and I’m good to go. This is a big improvement and much faster than going through a normal immigration interview with an immigration agent, especially when these large foreign flights arrive. Of course, most of those people have to go through the regular procedure of seeing an immigration agent, but I’m done in about two minutes!

I retrieve my bags from the carousel and go through US Customs. Thank goodness our bags arrived first on the carousel that is also assigned to a big airliner arriving from China. I re-check my bag and go through a security check. Of course this is the TSA, so I have to take my shoes and belt off, and take notebook computers out of their bags. Thankfully my flight on Delta to Amsterdam is in the same terminal, so I am saved from using those dreadful trains that SeaTac connects their terminals with.

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

Beginning of the flight northward out of Seattle to Amsterdam

The good news I discover at the gate is that the aircraft is already there, despite me arriving about two hours before loading time. The bad news is the crowds of people in the waiting lounge. Loading takes way longer than expected – chaos barely under control is the way I would describe it. How they all fit in the aircraft is astounding!  We eventually roll away from the jet way almost an hour late, however the pilot assures us he expects to make up all but 15 minutes of the delay during the flight. Let’s hope so, since many of the passengers I talk with are concerned about making their connecting flights. I don’t personally care, since no matter what time we arrive, I’m going my hotel in Haarlem, a small city between the airport and Amsterdam.

My seat on the aircraft is right beside two restrooms, but at least I have the window seat. The young Belgian guy sitting beside me in the isle seat has to put up with people waiting to use the facilities. The Delta crew serve us drinks shortly after the flight takes off. Beer, wine and cocktails are all free, but I just have some Coca Cola. I observe the great circle route on the monitor in front of me as we progress on our track at 33,000’. It is a smooth flight in Delta’s fairly new Airbus A330-200.

August 30, 2014 – Saturday – arrival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have a very nice flight over to Amsterdam. As we fly over the southern tip of Greenland, the most spectacular aurora appears. It is so bright, it reflects off the cloud cover below us. Later during the pre-dawn as we fly south of Iceland, I observe Venus and Jupiter in the eastern sky.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is huge and quite dated, but I manage to retrieve my bag, clear customs, and leave though the correct exit without a problem. I follow the instructions which the Rick Steves tour gave me, since I have to take a local bus to Haarlem, the city where I am staying until the tour gets underway. I find the bus stop, the bus comes, and I’m on my way in no time. The fare is only €4.50, versus about €45 to take a taxi. The bus drops me off at the terminus in Haarlem (which is also the train station), and I walk the few blocks to the hotel. Initially I get lost, but eventually find my way. I’m very tired, and just can’t concentrate.

After checking into the Hotel Ambassador, I have a shower and go to bed, and manage to sleep for several hours. I’m feeling a bit better when I awake, and go for a walk with my camera. There is a local market on the Grot Mark, which is right next to the Grot Kerk, the main church in Haarlem. Haarlem has very little vehicle traffic. Most people walk or bicycle. There are thousands of bicycles of all descriptions, and there are dedicated bike roadways, although wearing helmets is not mandatory, and virtually nobody wears one.

I meet a member of the tour group in the hotel, and we have dinner next door at Café Colette restaurant. We both enjoy our meals, so I’ll file this away for future reference.

There are hundreds of cafes, bars, restaurants, fast food kiosks and shops, however I have yet to see an American fast food outlet. Smoking is widespread in the Netherlands, and it is allowed almost everywhere. That is a real step back as far as I’m concerned, although I see very few overweight people here. I suspect many people who live in the cities simply don’t own cars, since they are so expensive to own and operate. In Haarlem, parking runs to several Euros per hour, and is scarce.