Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Postcard From Delft, the Netherlands

Delft

After the cramped alleys and the narrow streets the Market Place was in complete contrast – a vast cobbled open space with elegant gabled houses, shops and bars.  The Renaissance town hall with its red shutters at one end and at the other the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its almost one hundred and ten metre tall spire (the second largest in the Netherlands after Utrecht) rising majestically into the sky like a needle.

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Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Thursday Doors, The Anne Frank Secret Doorway

Anne Frank Secret Doorway

It was an interesting experience to go through the hidden door behind the bookcase and to climb the steep steps into the rooms where they lived and hid.

Imagine staying hidden and quiet all day without a mobile device and the internet!

The little guide book calls it a ‘Museum with a Story’ and this sets it out against other museums that do not have the same emotional connection.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Wroclaw, Cathedral Island, Padlocks and Museums

‘… In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ – Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.

At customer feedback I rated the Best Western as excellent and awarded high marks for everything but it is has to be said that it is not a hotel for sleeping in late into the morning.  The room faced east and was adjacent to a very busy road so the combination of bright sunshine leaking in around the curtains and trams regularly clattering past meant for an early breakfast.

Leaving the hotel we walked towards the River Oder and the handful of islands that sit in a wide stretch of the river and which are connected by several bridges which immediately entitles it to the tag of the ‘Venice of the North’.  This isn’t a title that it holds uniquely of course because this has also been applied to AmsterdamBrugesSt. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Birmingham amongst others.

Actually, I have to say that here in Wroclaw this description is stretching it to its absolute limit but it was pleasant enough criss-crossing the river on the bridges and strolling across the islands one by one towards our objective of Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island, which actually isn’t an island any more since part of the river was filled in two hundred years ago.

To get there we had to cross the Tumski Bridge which has now become known as Lovers Bridge on account of that awful modern obsession with attaching padlock graffiti to any available railing which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe.  This is a lover’s plague whereby signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.

This tradition might sound all rather romantic and lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridges because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year from bridges across Europe.  In Venice there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

This is what Tumski Bridge used to look like before mindless love lock vandals began to consider it acceptable to add metal graffiti…

This is what it looks like today…

I know which way I prefer it, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

To anyone who thinks this is mean-spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed.  They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!

Cathedral Island is the original site of the first permanent settlement in Wroclaw, sometime in the ninth century and shortly after it became established and became a bishopric work began to build a Cathedral.  Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it has had a great deal of restoration work since then because just like every European church it has suffered a mandatory burning down or two and the odd bomb over the years including the destruction of the twin towers in 1945.

There is a lift to a viewing platform up to the top of one of the towers and so we took the ride and enjoyed the views over the city and the surrounding countryside and after a couple of circuits or so of the spire we took the first available lift back to the ground where the temperature was more agreeable.

And so we left the islands and returned to the old town where we walked for a while along the south bank of the river.  Here we passed by two museums, the especially impressive National Museum built in the style of a German sixteenth century palace and over the road the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice.

This is a concrete rotunda with just one exhibit, a 114 metre long by 15 metre high painting of the battle of 1794 when a Polish army defeated a superior Russian force in a struggle for independence.  This makes it the second largest panorama painting in the World just slightly shorter by six metres than the Arrival of the Hungarians in Ópusztaszer in Hungary and just ahead by 5 metres longer than the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, USA.

After the museums we went to the indoor market but it wasn’t as vibrant as some that we have been to and compared badly for example against Riga and Budapest and it seemed tired, run down and unexciting.  The guide book pointed out the importance of the roof as one of the best examples of early halls made of concrete in Europe and if you like concrete then I am prepared to concede that it was rather impressive.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of the grey stuff!

We had been walking  for over two hours and I was beginning to detect that the needle on Kim’s whinge meter was beginning to twitch so the priority now was to find somewhere for a coffee break so we walked back in the direction of Market Square and found a modern café where we stopped for a while for some of the group to top up sugar levels with cake in preparation for more walking in the afternoon.

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

European Capital of Culture 1987 – Amsterdam

Volendam postcard

Early next morning I was woken by the rumble of a passing freight train seven floors below which in my half sleep sounded like my next door neighbour putting the wheelie bin at the roadside and for a moment I was transported back home and had forgotten to put the refuse out and in an unnecessary panic this woke me completely.

I lay for a while reflecting on the first day in Amsterdam and planning the second and I began to regret that we hadn’t booked a second night in the city because we didn’t have enough time to do all of the things that we would have liked to.

Amsterdam by Delph

One of these might have been a trip out of the city to see the countryside and I recalled a previous visit to Amsterdam thirty years ago when I had done just that.  As on this occasion that trip was also by ferry crossing but out of Felixstowe rather than Hull and it was on an organised coach tour paid for by exchanging Persil washing powder vouchers and I can only imagine now that I must have done an awful lot of washing to get enough vouchers for two people to go to Amsterdam for a weekend.

We didn’t go very far into the countryside, just twenty-five kilometres or so to the attractive village of Volendam to the north of the city.  Volendam is a popular tourist attraction in the Netherlands, well-known for its fleet of old fishing boats, pretty gabled wooden houses and the traditional clothing still worn by some of the older residents.

The women’s costume of Volendam, with its high pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is the one most often featured on tourist postcards and calendars.  As everywhere else as time passes however fewer and fewer young people continue the custom of wearing traditional clothes and I suspect that this is something that is going to be difficult to keep going for very much longer.

Amsterdam Near Miss

We certainly saw some people in traditional clothing on this visit because they were waiting for us as the coach pulled into the car park of a clog making factory for a demonstration of how they are made.

Wooden shoes have been popular in the Netherlands for about seven hundred years and along with windmills, Edam cheese and tulips provide the perfect tourist images of the country.  The Dutch have been wearing wooden clogs or ‘Klompen’ since medieval times.  Originally, they were made with a wooden sole of alder, willow and poplar and a leather top or strap tacked to the wood but eventually, the shoes began to be made entirely from wood to protect the whole foot.

Painting the shoes is an old custom and carved, painted clogs are traditionally given by grooms to their brides and that’s clever because that’s a lot cheaper than a diamond ring and a lot more practical as well.

I seem to remember now that clogs were quite fashionable for a short time in the 1970s (although many will dispute that there was any fashion in the 1970s) and I had a pair of black open back clogs which my boss told me I couldn’t wear to work and were terribly difficult to drive in so I wasn’t going to be tempted to buy another pair here.

Clogs Amsterdam the Netherlands

Close by to Volendam is the village of Edam, where the cheese comes from and there was an inevitable visit to a dairy to try again to see if we could be parted from some of our spending money.  Edam has never been a favourite of mine but I do remember that we left with a bag of cheesy comestibles with a variety of different additional ingredients including one with herbs and another with black pepper corns.

Twenty years later or so in 2004 I returned to Amsterdam with my son Jonathan on my very first Ryanair flight and on this occasion we visited some museums that we certainly wouldn’t be seeing today because we wouldn’t have time, the weather was too good to go inside and museums are not that popular with everyone in our group.

Henri Wellig Cheese Shop Delft the Netherlands

The first of these was the Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum which was a short walk from our hotel, the Amsterdam, on Damrak and told the story of the Dutch association with the sea through an interesting collection of maps, atlases, charts, paintings and scale models but best of all a full sized replica of the three masted ‘Amsterdam’, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which in its maiden voyage sank in a storm in the English Channel in winter of 1749.

To sink on a maiden voyage always seems rather wasteful and sad to me, ships like Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, the German battleship Bismarck and most famous of all the passenger liner RMS Titanic; all that money, blood and sweat just for the ship to go to the bottom of the sea in a shorter space of time than it took to build it.

Steering the Titanic

Admission to the museum included entry to the ship and we wandered around the decks and cabins completely alone because this was an early morning in February and the temperature was some considerable way below zero.

In the old town we warmed up when we visited the Rembrandt house museum and visited the reconstructed rooms and historically correct restoration based on the artists own sketches and drawings.  In the afternoon we walked to the Van Gogh museum which is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the World.

Together with those of Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold and some of the most valuable ever.  Actually, I found the museum rather disappointing because there were lots of gaps where paintings were on loan to other galleries around the World and some of his best known works that I would like to have seen are tucked away in private collections and vaults.

Sunflower Head

I like Van Gogh paintings and the museum shop was full of prints and reproductions but I am not an art critic and have to confess that alongside those I find brilliant I find some that quite frankly are not so good (shock, horror). The sort of things that my children used to bring home from school, I’d say well done and give them words of patronising encouragement and then after they had gone to bed I’d tape it up inside a kitchen cupboard!

While I reminisced about these previous visits the clock ticked on and soon it was time for an Ibis hotel buffet breakfast, which turned out to be very good, to set us up for a second day of sightseeing and walking the canals of Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam, Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum

Blue Doors of Europe and North Africa

Wooden Door of Catalonia Besalu

Catalonia, Spain

Door Detail Dinard Brittany France

Brittany, France

Dublin Doors 2

Dublin, Ireland

Milos Greece

Milos Island, Greece

Doors of Ronda 1

Ronda, Spain

Burgau Algarve Portugal

Algarve, Portugal

Essaouira Derelict Doors

Essaouira, Morocco

Amsterdam by Delph

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Black Forest, Germany

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Blue Doors of Essaouira

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Birmingham – More Canals than Venice

Birmingham Canal Boat

When visiting Birmingham it is almost inevitable to come across the proud boast that the city has ‘More Canals than Venice’.  Birmingham has been called the ‘Venice of the North’ but this isn’t a title that it holds uniquely because it has also been applied to Saint Petersburg, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester and Edinburgh amongst others.

It is important to understand that the city makes this claim on the basis of waterway length because it has over one hundred miles of navigable waterways compared with about sixty in Amsterdam and just twenty five in Venice. But thinking in terms of the number of canals, it is wrong; Birmingham only really has six canals whereas Amsterdam has 165 and Venice has 177. I am just saying.

After walking around the Civic Centre we made our way now to Brindleyplace which is at the heart of the canal infrastructure of the city and which has been regenerated and thoroughly reinvented as a tourist attraction.  By the 1970s Birmingham’s canals were in a serious state of disrepair, crumbling away, dirty and smelly and lined by derelict warehouses and  the City Council even considered a proposal to fill them in and turn them into cycle routes but canal enthusiasts would not allow this to happen and instead they approved a multi-million pound restoration scheme.

I have always been fond of canals because when I was a boy we lived near the Oxford Canal that had been commissioned in 1769 and built by the canal builder James Brindley.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the gates for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

If the canal was dangerous then the locks were doubly so but this didn’t stop us from daring each other to jump from the elevated tow path down about three metres and two and a half metres across to the central section of the double locks.  I shudder to think about it now.  We used to swim in the canal too and that was a stupid thing to do as well.  Not only was the murky water about two metres deep and lurking with danger but it was also full of bacteria and germs especially in the black cloying mud on the bottom that would ooze through your toes so it’s a miracle that we didn’t catch typhoid or something else really, really awful.

Talking of catching things, we used to go fishing down the canal and this wasn’t quite so dangerous except when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a homemade rod and line.

One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water struggling for his life.  Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.

The last time that I had lunch by the side of a canal was in Venice at the Ristorante Da Raffaele and although there were no gondolas gliding by in Birmingham it was just as nice to sit by the side of the water in the sunshine and enjoy a pasta in the UK Midlands and after lunch we walked for a while along the towpaths before heading back to the city centre, New Street railway station and a short return train ride.

I had enjoyed the day in Birmingham and look forward to going back some time soon.

Canal Boat British waterways

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

Amsterdam Cyclist

It was ten o’clock by the time we had finished our leisurely breakfast and checked out of the hotel and stepped out into the sunny but chilly streets for a second day in Amsterdam.  We followed Prins Hendrikkade but with the Maritime Museum in site and those among us who do not like museums beginning to tremble we turned right back towards the centre and more or less followed the route of the canal boat ride of yesterday but this time on foot.

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It’s Nice To Feel Useful (7)

  

It’s nice to feel useful (7) …

Every now and again I like to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Last year my favourite was is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  and I was obliged to point out here that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

Vesuvius the crater

Being a student of geography I am going to begin with a couple of wildly inaccurate searches:  Firstly “Vesuvius Turkey”  and secondly “Wales Cantabria”.  When I was a boy I had a book called “The Boys’ Book of Heroes” which had a chapter about great explorers and I am fairly certain that if they republish it that these two enquirers are really most unlikely to get a mention.

Sex always rears its ugly head so let’s deal with that one straight away.  Someone asked about “Getting laid in Germany” and believe me if I had the answer to that one then I would keep it to myself.

I like this one even better – “Medieval brothels images” and I am completely unable to help with that one because most of the illuminated manuscripts in my collection have images of Jesus and the Saints and as Monks didn’t have digital cameras they probably didn’t have a great deal of spare time to draw pictures of brothels.  Perhaps the enquirers were thinking about the red light district in Amsterdam or perhaps they found their way to my post on the Grand Tour of Europe?

The best that I can do is show this picture of a ‘walk this way‘ brothel sign in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey …

Ephesus Brothel Sign

There are always some bizarre questions about low cost airline Ryanair and this year these are my favourites: firstly “Can I take tea bags on a Ryanair flight?” and as far as I am aware tea has not been declared an illegal substance so I am certain that the answer is yes but I don’t think you will be allowed to take a kettle and brew up!  Next – “Is agarbatti allowed in flights?”  and I have to say that with Ryanair being a no smoking airline probably not and lighting up an incense stick is likely to lead to Argy Bargy.   I did provide some advice for flying with Ryanair in a post called Travel Tips When Flying Budget Airlines.

Ryanair Fez Airport

Some of the daftest search enquiries seem to crop up every year but here are some new ones from the last twelve months:

“What were gunfighters actually called” and my answer to that one is that although some of them had real names of course like Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  I think mostly they were just called gunfighters!

The meanest gunfighter in the West however was…

Next up – “Which state are Johnny Cash and June Carter talking about when they say we been talking about Jackson ever since the fire went out?- I am of course tempted to say just try Jackson USA and you will get the answer – it is that simple!

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

To finish two more searches that caught my attention this year – “Jesus give thanks to feed four thousand men” and I can only assume that in an era of cutbacks and austerity that  this enquirer works for the Government because the size of the crowd has been reduced by 20%.  I wrote about the feeding of the five thousand quite recently.

And finally for this time – “is there a weight limit for the Cresta Run” but I am afraid that I cannot help with that one at all.

What is the strangest search engine enquiry that has brought someone to one of your blog posts?  (This is not a quiz!)

A look back at previous silly search questions:

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

Entrance Tickets – Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Anne Frank House Entrance Ticket 1Anne Frank House Entrance Ticket 2

“Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year old school girl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.” – Anne Frank

The entrance ticket is rather plain but this seems strangely appropriate because there is nothing inside to see because it is all about the experience of being there…

…. We were close to the Anne Frank House now on Prinsengracht and as this was on our ‘to do list’ we thought we might check the queue situation which the guide book warned could be quite lengthy at peak times.  Although it was mid afternoon there was no queue at all so we decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed so we paid our entrance fee and went inside.

The house was built in 1635. The canal-side frontage dates from a renovation of 1740 when the rear annex was demolished and the taller one which is rather the point of the visit now stands in its place was built. The Frank family left Germany as the Nazis established power and Otto set up his spice and pickling business in the premises.  Later Nazi persecution spread to the Netherlands and over one hundred thousand Jews were deported so the Frank family went into hiding inside the house in an annex at the rear.

The Secret Annex, as it was called in the English version of Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ enjoyed a secluded position which made it an ideal hiding place the family and four other Jewish people seeking refuge from the authorities. They remained hidden here for two years and one month until they were anonymously betrayed to the Nazi’s, arrested, and deported to their deaths in concentration camps. Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived the war.

Anne-Frank-21-007

After those in hiding were arrested, the hiding place was cleared by order of the arresting officers and all the remaining contents of the Frank family and their friends were seized as Government property. Before the building was cleared two friends who had helped hide the families, returned to the hiding place and rescued some personal effects. Amongst the items they retrieved was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’.

It was an interesting experience to go through the hidden door behind the bookcase and to climb the steep steps into the rooms where they lived and hid, the little guide book calls it a ‘Museum with a Story’ and this sets it out against other museums that do not have the same emotional connection.  It is only small of course so the visit doesn’t take too long before finishing in the inevitable book shop at the end.

I read the diary after a previous visit to Amsterdam but the problem with it of course is that even before you start to read it you know the tragic and heartbreaking end and it is also worth remembering that the Franks weren’t unique in Nazi occupied Amsterdam and across the Netherlands it is estimated that twenty thousand people sheltered Jews at considerable risk to themselves.

Anne Frank House Secret Passage

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam Canal

I led people on along Stadhouderskade before crossing through a small public park and into Weteringschans and around the next corner was my objective.   As we turned in the others all sympathised with me that we hadn’t found the Reguliersgracht and what a shame this was but, quite by chance, this was perfect timing because here was my opportunity to say ‘Da Da!’ and throw open my arms in theatrical style to introduce them to the prettiest canal in Amsterdam!

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