Netherlands

Netherlands

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  • Day38

    Relaxed start, but trained in to Amsterdam for midday. Lots of tourists (and there's presumably more in the main season). Bit overwhelming at first but nice streets and strolls. Overall did feel relatively touristy and there were more tourist traps than normal places (at least where we walked).

    Had some frites (fries) with sauce in a cone - yum. Then continued strolling and ended up at the flower market. Pretty. Stopped at the Christmas shop (so much easier than Paris). Nice shop and some nice ornaments. Undecided yet on what we'll get. They have some ones by Jim Shore (famous-ish?) - but most are on pricey side (although better than Harrods which were pricey but average). Saw lots of the Royal Blue Dutch things - quite pretty.

    Wandered over to FOAM - a photography art gallery. Bit expensive for the size but still nice - and nice having a break from the masses. Had exhibits from a bunch of young talented photographers from all over the globe, and an exhibit on André Kertész, a Hungarian photographer born in 1894 (some beautiful black and white photos).

    Some of the young ones were cool - particularly an Iranian taking photos of petrol smugglers (a dangerous profession caused by low petrol prices in Iran and low employment, with demand for petrol in Pakistan high).

    Also one by a Polish artist who used typical American Suburbia 1950's photos of happy people and then distorted them in humorous ways to change the meaning entirely.

    Also one by a Mexican woman who felt that in the early days of photography, women were the subject of the lens versus the photographer. She also explored how the image of women were male-defined. She took the photos of these women through the ages and tweaked them to strengthen  and unobjectify them. Very interesting!

    Finished up, ate sandwiches and continued walking. Found a used bookstore with heaps of levels and lots of English books. Not dirt cheap, but still fine, and great to discover the unexpected 4 levels (and with alphabetical sorting). They even had a Juliet Marillier book (Dunedin/Australian writer who went to OGHS)! Got ourselves a couple of books and went on our way back to Haarlem - train easy to use so far.

    Home cooked meal for us tonight! Bolognese which was good and some real Italian wine (even managed to de cork it more or less properly).
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  • Day39

    Midday train to Amsterdam again (after brief stops at souvenir and board game shops in Haarlem - which we will be back to).

    Walked to Anne Frank House - bit early so had large, thin Dutch pancakes at the nearby (imaginatively named) Pancakes. Seemed like it would be a tourist trap, being next door to Anne Frank, but was quite nice.

    Pancakes were yum - especially (and surprisingly) the savoury mushroom, bacon, capsicum and cheese one. The ingredients are baked in rather than being a topping, which was rather good. Lemon and sugar one was also quite nice. Wade may have added icing sugar, cinnamon sugar and syrup to his half (and also eaten the lemon slices whole). There was an 80c charge for toilets (with coin operated barrier arm) but they refund you later if you're eating there. They also give you a little blue and white clog key chain each as a memento.

    Then on to a longish wait in line for the Anne Frank museum (despite having online pre booked tickets). Got inside and went through with audioguides. Was definitely strange shuffling through the house and seeing the cramped quarters the family had to manage in. The having to stay there and be quiet - including the restricted bathroom use - was a stifling  reality, but then much better than the alternative of being in one of the concentration camps. Reminded Radi of the first time she read the book, and how she was so absorbed that she forgot that she could actually make sounds and use the bathroom when she'd finished reading.

    Overall glad we did it, though the tourists all packed in took away some of the sobriety. Even more so when some of the tourists are just complete nincompoops who think it's appropriate to giggle lots and rush through without looking at what you came in and see - even better when one did take the time to check herself out in the mirror (the family's bathroom mirror in the annex) and fix her hair. Very distracting French tourists who clearly had no clue. No photos inside the house.

    After that, more wandering. Tossed up seeing the Maritime Museum (with a life size replica ship) or doing a canal cruise but ran out of time (will do a cruise in Haarlem anyway hopefully). Did some shopping then caught the train back. Had a quick wander through Haarlem, looking forward to exploring tomorrow!
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  • Day40

    What a wonderful day. Started with a relaxed stroll to the Grote Markt - the main square in Haarlem that also hosts a street market on Saturdays. A perfectly cute little market - mix of fresh fruit and veg, random goods and delicious food.

    Saw some cute little leather booties and a bag but resisted temptation. Did not resist the temptation to have some deep fried kibbeling fish bites. Yum Town - population us. Strolled some more through cute cobblestone streets and picturesque canals. A lovely wee town.

    Also saw a Christmas and candle shop. Sorely tempted but the usual lack of packing space stymied our plans. Amazing candles though.
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  • Day40

    Next stop, Teyler's Museum. Recommended by our hosts and one of the top attractions in Haarlem - and we can see why. A magical little gem. We gather this Teyler chap had a museum back in the day, and then left his collection to the city. So it's been preserved as an old school museum, while still making it accessible and enjoyable for visitors.

    Relatively cheap, and audioguide included - which was necessary as most writing was only in Dutch. An eclectic collection of many different things, in buildings that are themselves interesting. First two rooms were fossils, then gemstones/rocks and old telescopes and other inventions, followed by paintings and some temporary exhibits.

    Fossils were super interesting - what we were expecting from the Natural History Museum in London (which didn't really deliver). Also basically no crowds and you could get right up close. Fun fact - the amonite was a sea creature that lived in its spiral shell, made up of chambers. It adds chambers as it grows and lives in the biggest one. The other chambers are used to fill with air and water to make the amonite sink or float and move through the water. They grew up to the size of car wheels, but are now extinct - although their closest living relative, the nautilus, is half as small. The amonite was around for a relatively short period so they used to use its fossils as a way of dating different rocks!

    They also had examples of some "lying stones". These were fossils that someone wrote a huge paper on until he later discovered they'd been fabricated by his rival to discredit him. Kind of funny - especially as the supposed fossils were convex on the rocks instead of being indented into them.

    The room with rocks were cool - organised in an odd way, and surrounded by old school instruments and stuff.

    Also enjoyed the paintings - some were really well done and just drew you in.

    There was also a random film and an electricity exhibit, but mostly in Dutch so didn't stay as long. Apparently the Netherlands had a huge push to do everything with electricity when it first came out.

    After the museum, strolled some more along the canals, before our final stop, the board game shop (of course).
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  • Day40

    After the museum, walked to a souvenir shop to buy a Christmas ornament (resting temptation to buy many other cool knick knacks). Ended up at the Boardroom - a board game café  (like Counter Culture in Wellington). Heaps of fun. They use a Catan-based difficulty rating - from 0.5x Catan up to 3x Catan. If you're not familiar with Settlers of Catan then this scale would be relatively meaningless.

    Had some beer (NZD$4), including a nice dark bock beer. And popcorn and tea and hot chocolate. We played Elder Sign first - a cooperative survival game with a Cthulu/H.P. Lovecraft-type horror theme. Vaguely dice rolling based. Intimidating at first, with a big rulebook (3x Catan) but we figured it out without too much bother and had a blast. Managed to beat the easiest monster (with only minimal cheating). Yay.

    Then moved on to Ascension - yet another deck building game like Marvel or DC (1x Catan). Wade had played on his phone, but was good to try in real life. Good fun and easy to learn.

    After that, a quick stop at the supermarket for supplies (including a gluten free beer for about $1.60).
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  • Day41

    Another fantastic day in Haarlem. Kicking ourselves for not spending an extra day here - one long day in Amsterdam would have been enough. Definitely want to come back though!

    Beautiful and sunny, today was definitely the day for a canal tour. On our walk to the canals, briefly perused a cloth market at the Grote Markt.

    Then opted for a tour on an open air small group boat. Guide was lovely and spoke English to our group of 9 total (others on tour were Dutch and Spanish so all understood English perfectly). He pointed out lots of interesting facts and it was great to learn more about the history.

    For example, in the olden days, there weren't any addresses so people distinguished their house by adding decorative gable stones (like an elephant for the Elephant and Castle brewery). He also pointed out some intentionally crooked houses (they lean forward so that the rain drains well and any weights being raised from the top bit wouldn't risk damaging the lower floors).

    It was also just lovely sitting in a small open boat in glorious sunshine and slowly making our way around the cute canals and the river. Very relaxing - a beer wouldn't have gone amiss.

    Saw lots of sights - including Grote Kerk or Saint Bavo-kerk (originally built as a Catholic church in 1245, turned Protestant church in 1578) and the cathedral of St Bavo (built much later from 1895 to 1930) which is much newer and Catholic and huge. The delay in a Catholic church being built was due to a massive ban following the 80 years War of Independence of Netherlands from Spain - very interesting. Substantial numbers of Flemish men immigrated here to get work after the conversion of power to Protestantism - as Flemish Protestant labourers were in demand as many of the Haarlem men had died in war.

    He pointed out the block where textile and leather industries were once located - in the east so winds carried away the smell away from the city and residents, and surrounded on all sides by canals due to the fire risk. Haarlem used to have lots of breweries - but they came into conflict with the (Flemish) textile industry over water use (breweries need clean water while textile industry pollutes it). The result - the hundreds of breweries dwindling.

    Saw the windmill (De Adriaan)- very cool. And still in operation (although has been somewhat reconstructed since a fire).

    A lovely canal trip through Haarlem and would highly recommend.
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  • Day41

    After the canal tour, wandered a bit. Had a drink and tried some bitterballen (kind of like arancini risotto balls but with quite a firm, deep fried, breaded outside). Served with purple-ish mustard. Nice enough but haven't had enough to really pass judgment.

    Next up, a stop at the Chocolate Company cafe for cake, apple pie and coffee. We were tempted by the Hot Choc spoons, but decided no (basically a wedge of chocolate on a spoon in a bunch of flavours that you then submerge in hot milk). Also reluctantly decided against chocolate fondue option.

    Then what better way to finish our day (and our time in Haarlem) than a drink and nachos (delicious) at the board game cafe. This time we tried TIME Stories, billed as a mix of board and role playing game. Not sure it really succeeded at either. Fiddly to set up and play and just wasn't particularly enjoyable. Also less replay value than normal. But hey, might be OK one day - just not high on our list.

    Ascension was fun though - played again and this time Radi won (convincingly).

    Then home to pack for the train to Berlin! We'll miss you Haarlem!
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  • Day7

    The big event finally arrived. The city was completely plastered with pride flags (including the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam). The atmosphere was buzzing with people all trying to position themselves along the parade route. There was a sea of people for as far as you could see. Those lucky enough to get a spot of one of the many boats on the canals were fortunate to get an up-close view of the glitter, leather and sequins. Us mere peasants were contented with a position on the bridge along the Prinsengracht (and Berenstraat).

    The boats began in the East at the Oosterdok then they floated down into the Nieuwe Herengracht, Amstel, Prinsengracht and finished at the Prinsengracht/Westerdok. All in all the parade took 3 1/2 hours to weave through the canals of Amsterdam.

    The parade included 80 floats, all with a specific theme (well mostly, some just seemed to be party boats). The crowd was so diverse from children to grandparents, all celebrating diversity and love in whatever shape and form that it might come in. It's not just tolerance, it's acceptance! And that's what I love about Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general.
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  • Day9

    Our last day in Amsterdam has come by so quickly. It feels like we only just arrived and now we are moving on.

    The last day was no different to the other days; it was spent wandering the streets like an itinerant with no place to go, except this time we needed to cram in all of our favourite sights and tastes. Of course this included one last taste of the chips and mayonnaise and a waffle. We even had a chance to explore around the Vondelpark.

    Tot ziens Amsterdam, London's calling! But we will be back.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

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