I thoroughly enjoyed my little get away to Amsterdam. I definitely needed a break from the office. This is the perfect city to just walk around and let your mind wander.
I'm not a superstitious person but they say that things always come in three's.
While walking around yesterday I came across the Hotel Atlanta. Kind of odd for the Netherlands but OK. Sign #1 - My past.
A little while later I came across a Czech-Slovak bar. Hmmm...Sign #2 - my present.
I saw a lot of other things during the rest of my walk. I wonder if something I saw will turn out to be sign #3 - my future. Who knows? Again, I'm not superstitious but if I could figure out #3 then it could make for a pretty interesting story one day.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. However, the Dutch government is actually located at The Hague. Amsterdam has over 805,000 residents and is the largest city. The larger metro area is home to more than 2.3 million people.
In the 12th century, Amsterdam started out as a small fishing village. Humble beginnings for what became one of the world's most important ports.
The city is famous for its canals. There are more than 100 km (62 miles) worth of canals and 1,500 bridges. The main canals were dug in the 17th century. In 2010, they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
This is probably the most bicycle-friendly city I've ever been to. There are about 1.2 million bikes in Amsterdam so they actually outnumber the people living in the city. The cost of an average new bike runs €600 ($825).
Bicycle theft is a huge problem. This explains why for everyday use most people ride around on bikes which seem rather battered. Use the cheap bike to get from place to place and keep the expensive bike for serious riding.
The 15th century Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) is used for royal weddings and coronations. Religious services are no longer held but is now a popular exhibition space.
The palace was built in the 17th century as a city hall. Completed in 1665, it became the royal palace. For quite some time it was the largest administrative building in Europe. Today the Dutch Royal Family reside in The Hague.
The National Monument was completed in 1956. It is a memorial to the victims or WWII and a monument to liberation and peace.
De Gooyer is the country's tallest wooden windmill. It is a registered national monument.
The Portuguese Synagogue was completed in 1675. At the time, the 17th century Sephardic synagogue was one of the largest in the world.
The Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theater) is a memorial to the Dutch Jews who were murdered during WWII. In the summer of 1942 the Nazis used it as an assembly point before Jews were sent on to a transition camp. Between 60,000 - 80,000 people were sent on to concentration camps.
The Anne Frank House is a museum dedicated to the life and times of Anne Frank. The museum opened in 1960. It was amazing to actually be in the secret hiding place where Anne Frank and others hid from Nazi persecution during the occupation. There's no photography allowed inside so here's a short video I found on YouTube.
The 800 year old Oude Kerk (Old Church) was founded around 1213 and consecrated in 1306. Not only is it Amsterdam's oldest parish church but it is also the oldest building in the city. After the Reformation in 1578 it became a Calvinist church.
The Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history. It was founded in The Hague in 1800. In 1808 it was moved to the Royal Palace. The current location was opened in 1885 but closed for renovation from 2003 to 2013 at a cost of €375 million ($515 million).
Vermeer's The Milkmaid
Fortunately it opened in April of this year so I was able to enjoy it on this visit and see the works of two of my favorite artists - Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer.
The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch Preparing to March Out became commonly known as The Night Watch in the 18th century. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world.
At Rembrandt Square is a 3D version of The Night Watch.
Taxes were based on the width so most houses were built tall and skinny. This means that staircases are tight and narrow, and almost impossible to move bulky furniture upstairs.
Houses have a large arm and hook at the top so that furniture can be more easily moved. Houses were also built with a slight forward lean so that it minimizes the chance of furniture colliding with the front of the building on the way up.
In 1987, the city unveiled the world's first Homomonument. The initial intent was to establish a memorial of the gays and lesbians who were persecuted in WWII. Today it commemorates all homosexuals who have been, or are still being, persecuted by government regimes.
For many people, when they think of Amsterdam they think of the Red Light District. The area is known for a high number of sex shops, peep shows, coffee shops that sell marijuana and the famous windows for legal prostitution.
I'm sure that it's much wilder at night but it's pretty calm during the day. Photography isn't allowed of the women working in the shop windows but here's a discrete photo taken at a distance.
Overall, I'm pretty liberal but this wasn't my favorite part of the city. The biggest problem I had was trying to get a coffee. Cafés are where you can get a cup of coffee. Coffee shops are where you can legally buy and smoke marijuana. The whole area reeked of marijuana and I can't stand the smell of pot. While this part of town may be near the top of people's lists I far enjoyed the rest of the city.
Today was a full day bus tour of South Holland. Our first destination was Rotterdam which is the country's second largest city. Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe. Until 2004 it was the world's busiest port in the world until the title was taken over by Shanghai.
Rotterdam's 39 cube houses were built in 1977 based on the concept of "living as an urban roof".
The Euromast observation tower was completed in 1960, after two years of construction, and renovated in 1970. The antenna spire is 184.6 meters (606 feet). The observation platform provides a great view of the city's skyline and the harbor. It is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers.
View from Euromast
Then it was off to Delft, a beautiful little town, located between Rotterdam and The Hague.
The Old Church, was founded as St. Bartholomew's Church in 1246. The Protestant church is nicknamed "Old John". The 75 meter (246 feet) high tower leans about two meters (6.5 feet) to the side.
Construction on the New Church began in 1396. It was finally completed in 1496.
Across from the New Church, in the market square, is the Renaissance style City Hall. It was rebuilt in 1620 after a devastating fire. Today the building is mostly used for civil wedding ceremonies.
Delft is well known as the home of Delftware - Dutch ceramic pottery styled after 17th century Chinese porcelain.
We were given a tour of the museum and the factory to see how products are made.
After Delft we headed to The Hague. Den Hague is the third largest city and the seat of the government. Unfortunately, we never stopped in The Hague. From what I could see from the bus it looks like a return trip to the Netherlands is in order.
Our final stop, before returning to Amsterdam, was Madurodam. It is a miniature park in The Hague. Everything is built in 1:25 scale with astonishing detail.
While the park was interesting enough I would have preferred some free time in the city. Oh well, my next trip to Holland will include Den Hague and Utrecht.
From Amsterdam, it is about 2.5 hours to Antwerp by train. Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium with around 512,000 people. The larger metro area is home to over 1 million residents. The Dutch name for the city is Antwerpen while the French speakers call in Anvers.
Traders from all over Europe and Asia used to buy and sell goods here in the 16th century when the city was one of the world's biggest financial centers. It didn't hurt that Antwerp has one of the largest seaports in Europe.
Antwerp is considered the world's leading diamond city as more than 70% of all diamonds are traded here.
In 1920, the city played host to the 7th Olympic Games.
The zoo was founded in 1843. It is one of the oldest zoos in the world.
The Central Station was completed in 1905. With its Neo-Baroque façades, glass dome and marble interior, it is one of the most beautiful train stations I've come across.
In 2009, Newsweek ranked it the 4th most beautiful train station in the world.
Boerentoren, the Farmers' Tower, is a 26-storey building built in 1932. This is the oldest skyscraper in Europe.
The Bourla Theatre is near the historic city center. It was built in 1834 and was renovated in 1993. The top is decorated with statues of Apollo and the nine muses.
Museum aan de Stroom is made of Indian red sandstone and located on the harbor.
The guild houses in the city center are very similar to those found in Brussels.
The Stadhuis (city hall) is located in the Grote Markt (old market square) and is the historic city center.
Het Steen, the Stone, is the relic of a former castle. From the Middle Ages to 1824 it was used as a prison.
The Cathedral of Our Lady was consecrated in 1518. It took 169 years to complete. It is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. The steeple is 123 meters (403.5 feet) tall.
In one of the many city parks is a huge monument to both WWI and WWII.
The legend of Lange Wapper started in the 16th century. He likes to tease drunks, cheats while playing with kids and laughs like the devil. He can make himself so tall that he can move from one to another in a single step.