About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday in Amsterdam

Today we woke up at 8am to get ready. We had to be upstairs for breakfast at 9am. What a great breakfast: cold cereal and milk, bread, rolls, croissants, fruit, eggs, fresh juice, cheese, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We met the couple staying in the room above us. They are from Virginia and traveled to Amsterdam for a little vacation and to see the U2 concert on Monday.

After breakfast we gathered our things and caught a tram to the Van Gogh Museum. Thanks to Rick Steve’s advice, we bought tickets online in advance and were able to walk right past the long lines and into the museum. Security at the art museums is pretty tight. No cameras, no backpacks and you enter through metal detectors.
We paid for audio headsets to see if they would be more interesting and also keep Brandon occupied a bit more. We are still having some issues with him whining and complaining when we travel. We are working hard to try and keep him a part of the planning process, but he still seems to be unhappy with sightseeing.

Anyway, we worked our way through the museum, which was divided into 4 floors and different periods of Van Gogh’s life and career. The audio tour was great and very interesting. The kid’s audio tour kept Brandon a bit more occupied, but it didn’t have as many interest points as the adult tour.

The Van Gogh Museum. The poster has Brandon's favorite painting on it.

Katrina and Brandon at the Van Gogh Museum

I really liked the Van Gogh museum. I think it is my favorite of all the art museums so far (the Monet exhibit in Milan would be second). My favorite pieces were a self portrait with a blue background, and the pieces he did of wheat fields and rolling hills. I was struck by what a stressed life he lived, especially that he killed himself, ironically in one of the wheat fields he painted in his last days.

One small tower of the Rijks Museum.

We had also purchased a ticket for Katrina to visit the Rijks Museum, which was located just down the block from Van Gogh. We decided on past trips that Brandon is best doing only one museum per day. I would have liked to see the Rijks, but it wasn’t my top priority. Katrina headed off, so Brandon and I walked into the park that separates the two museums. We enjoyed some German style hot dogs for lunch then made our way to the playground. Brandon played on some wonderful climbing structures that would probably be deemed unsafe by US standards. They have some very cool climbing walls, log structures and slides that would just scream for lawsuits in the US, which is very sad.

Fountain in the park.

We find this type of swing at most of the parks here in Europe. Brandon loves it!

More swinging...Brandon loves to swing.

After some playtime, we walked around the local streets. We found a large wooden shoe and took photos of each of us sitting in it. We also checked out the prices for the canal cruises and canal bikes. We ended up back at the park for about 15 minutes before Katrina texted us that she was headed our way.

There was an old man who sat in a shoe...

He had one child who always wore blue.

Offices of a Diamond business.

We decided to take a mid afternoon break back at the hotel room, so we hopped on a tram and headed that way. Katrina purchased a bagel sandwich and chai at the shop next to our hotel room. She hadn’t eaten any lunch.

After our break we rented a canal bike. At first I must admit that Katrina and I were doing it only because Brandon wanted to, but it turned out to be quite fun. I had visions of these pedal boats being hard to pedal, like the 4 person bikes we rented weeks ago on Parco di Monza. They were easy to pedal and it was fun to travel the canals and see things from the canal perspective. We had one hour to tour the canals. There are four canal bike rental kiosks, so you can return it to any one of the four. We chose to make our way towards the museum district. We wandered the big and small canals. Brandon sat up front and helped pedal occasionally. Katrina sat in back and took pictures.

Canal Bikes

After our hour was up, we returned the canal bike and decided to go walking. Katrina wanted to find Rembrandt’s house, so we found it on the map and headed that way. We strolled the streets and along the canals until we found it. It was a bit of a walk, but every street is full of interesting sights.

We learned that if you want a drink, you go to a bar or cafe. "Coffee Shops" are where you buy a drink, yes, but also all sorts and varieties of marijuana products. I must admit, I've never tried it and I hate the smell of cigerette smoke, but I do like the sweet smell as you pass the coffee shops in Amsterdam.

There is interesting architecture on every street in Amsterdam. Some buildings appear as if they were purposely built at angles..even the steps were sloped.

Brandon enjoys an afternoon treat from a candy shop.

A lot of the cars in Amsterdam are bigger than in Milan, but this one is extremely small. It had two seats, but I think you could literally drive from either one.

When we arrived on the right street, we spotted a grocery store and decided that cheese and crackers sounded good. We bought two small packages for pre sliced Dutch cheese and a box of crackers and found a spot on the plaza outside the store to eat it. The spicy Guoda was the best.

Just down the block we made two discoveries. Katrina found a tea shop and just a few doors down was Rembrandt’s house. Both were closed, but now we knew where they were located for tomorrow.

Our next journey was an interesting one. Rick Steve’s and many other travel resources about Amsterdam suggest that, know matter what your opinion is on the subject, you visit the Red Light District. The Red Light District offers Europes most touristed ladies of the night who tease and tempt, as they have for centuries, in 450 display windows. As Rick Steve’s writes, “Drunks and druggies make the streets uncomfortable at night after the tourists groups have left, but it’s a fascinating walk between noon and nightfall. The neighborhood, one of Amsterdam’s oldest, has hosted prostitution since 1200. Prostitution is entirely legal here and the prostitutes are generally entrepreneurs, renting space and running their own businesses. Popular prostitutes can net about e500 a day (for what’s called S&F in its abbreviated, printable form, costing e25-50 per customer), fill out tax forms and even pay union dues. “ Most prostitutes even have a call button they can push for help if they have trouble with a customer. The police will show up to any emergency.

We were within a few blocks of this area and had already planned to pay a visit. We walked through and it proved to be very interesting. Rick suggests that families wander through in the daylight hours when it is a little less crowded and not quite so …illicit for families. I was surprised at all the clubs and shows. Not strip clubs, but sex clubs with live shows. I didn’t expect those, but I guess I was wrong. I was beginning to wonder where the red light section was. As we walked another block or two we began to see the windows. Most were closed with red drapes. It was too early in the evening for anyone to be ‘working’. We did see a dozen or so women strutting their ‘goods’ in a few windows. The area is also full of Adult shops selling all kinds of gadgets and toys.

We walked through the area with Brandon and were fully prepared to explain to him what it was all about. Thankfully, we have an 8 year old boy who is not quite at the stage of even noticing what the area was all about. He seems clueless and that was fine for now. Pictures in this area are very restricted and controlled. If you take pictures of the women, you can have your camera confiscated.

Their are public restrooms (mostly for men) all over the place. Most are not as discreet as the one Brandon is using. He doesn't know I took this picture...ha!

When we exited the Red Light District, we found ourselves near Central Station. We spotted the bicycle parking and were amazed!

Brandon poses on the top level of the bike parking.

We found a tram and rode it back to our hotel. Katrina layed down for a bit while Brandon and I went out and sat by the canal. Eventually Katrina came out and wanted to know if we were interested in visiting the Café on the other side of the canal for some drinks. We agreed and had a nice time sipping some alcoholic drinks and orange juice, as well as a plate for fries. I went on about not understating how Europeans can eat fries with mayo, then ended up eating all my fries with mayo on them. Its not so bad, actually pretty good.

It was late, we were tired so we walked back across to our room for bed. I ended up watching a recap of the Tour. Go Astana! It’s a good thing they decided to fulfill their sponsorship requirements, or they would have missed all the exposure from the best team in the Tour. Alberto Contandor and Lance Armstrong are 1 and 2 in the standings. It even looks as though Astana could have 3 riders in the top 5 at the finish line on Sunday.

13 Week Gelato Count: 88
13 Week Wine Bottle Count: 16

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