Netherlands May 6-10 2019
We arrived in Amsterdam in the afternoon around 2:00 pm. It was another hour by the time we got out of airport. Before we did, we had bought our “I Amsterdam” cards as well as the tickets for Keukenhof so that the local travel and museum tickets are taken care of one shot. We were greeted by the large Iamsterdam sign right in front of the airport as we exited and felt very welcome by the city. It was drizzling a bit so we rushed to the taxi stand.
In Amsterdam we were being hosted by Kannan’s nephew. So, took a cab from Schiphol Airport to his house. Were thrilled that it was a Tesla!
By the time we freshened up it was already past 4:00 and we realised that there was no point in going to Zaanse Schans as the original plan was. Instead, we decided to take a walk around the Amstelveen to acclimatise ourselves to the weather and neighbourhood.
The weather was colder than we had expected it to be. It was windy and threatened to rain. So we carried our umbrella too. The neighbourhood was beautiful. It was green and a variety of flowers in bloom. We saw a number of houses with variety of tulips, iris and other flowers the names of which I do not even know. We crossed a few canals and streams and of course came across cyclists individuals as well as families, regular bicycles and some exotic ones with provision to carry a baby almost like a pram cycle and many to carry larger loads. With very few cars on the road the air was clean. We visited a nearby park and successfully navigated our way back to the house by 6:00 pm or so. Niranjan was already back home so we spent time in chatting and planning out the day wise activities in Amsterdam. Niranjan had loaded a couple of OV Chip cards for us to commute in Amsterdam and out of Amsterdam for the days that we were not using the Iamsterdam card. We also booked a slot in the Van Gogh museum since that is mandatory for the visit. After dinner we turned in. It had been a long day so we slept well.
In May in Netherlands the days are very long with the sunrise around 5:30 am and there is day light almost until 10:00 pm. This gives a huge window to go around. In the evenings one can walk around and enjoy at the restaurants as most of the museums close latest by 7:00 pm.
Day 1: Keukenhof, Delft, Rotterdam, Dam Square
We were up at day break and ready by 7:30am. Niranjan dropped us to the Schiphol airport on his way to the office. The bus 858 to Keukenhof starts from the other side of the airport and the fare is included in the ticket. It was drizzling and we were in the line by 8:10 or so. However, we did not find room on the first bus and had to wait for the second one at 8:30am. The ride time is about 25-30 minutes. Despite the drizzle, the ride was beautiful through green fields. One could see occasional farmers working in the fields and yes some of them still do wear clogs. Like most countryside in Europe we could see cows and sheep grazing. The route is also dotted with canals. Water birds and ducks make a pretty sight through the route.
Fortunately the drizzle had come down when we entered the park. There was no queue at this time and we walked in straight. We were greeted by a couple of ladies dressed in Dutch costumes. With the map in hand we walked past them into the main garden area. The garden is extremely well planned and beautifully landscaped. I particularly liked the section which has beds of all the varieties of tulips with names. It was an education in itself. There are multiple beds of tulips in various colours and varieties through the garden. Plants of other varieties are also there mainly to enhance the sow of the tulips.
There are a number of pavilions inside the park which run different themes. The flower arrangements in these is marvellous and so it the use of different material to create these arrangements. There are coffee shops as well as souvenir shops attached with these pavilions. They also provided the added benefit of shelter in case of a heavy shower. The windmill in the park is a addon attraction and one can climb up to get a good view of the garden as well as the tulip fields and the canal. The tulips had already been cut. We were a couple of weeks late for that. The fields still looked beautiful though just green! By noon the park was full and we could see people everywhere. We were happy that we had almost completed seeing the entire park and pavilions by 12:45 or so. It had also started drizzling heavily so we entered the lunch area. There was not much for vegans except baked potato and salad. By the time we finished lunch the rain had reduced. We picked up a few magnets in the souvenir shop and made our way out of Keukenhof. Tulip bulbs are also available on sale. With nearly 3 weeks of travelling ahead of us we decided against buying them. Though after returning, I regretted the decision. A morning well spent. A desire to see the tulip garden in Holland met! This is a must see for anyone planning to visit Amsterdam. April month is perhaps better suited to be able to visit the fields also which we missed.
We had bought our tickets for Keukenhof along with the Iamsterdam card which got us a 20% discount on the ticket.
We walked to the bus stop and took a bus to Lieden Centraal. From there the train to Delft. It was past 2:00pm when we reached Delft. Delft is a lovely university town. Very beautiful with a lot of old architecture well preserved. It is also known for Delft pottery. The walk from the station to the Royal Delft Museum and factory is about 20 minutes. The museum has a good depiction of the different type of work done by the company over years. One area that interested me was portraits done on tiles. One of this was “Night Watch”. Other than these, I did not find the visit to the museum and factory great. Maybe because we are exposed to so much of pottery in India and have been to factories before. The products showcased in the outlet are nice but kept reminding me of Khurja pottery! At 14 Euro per head this is one visit which can be avoided if you have been to a handmade ceramic pottery factory before. The outlet is worth the visit and does not cost anything.
We got the city walking map from the museum. This is one good thing about whole of Netherlands. You can easily get a walking or a cycling map for the must see places in the city. We started our walk via the Theatre de Veste to Oostpoortthen. We were mostly walking along a canal. The view was beautiful with old houses alongside the canal, cycles parked on both sides and lot of greenery and flowers. We walked the Catholic church – Maria van Jesse Kerk and then onto new church and the market square and city hall. The place is very beautiful. There is a church on one side and the city hall on the other. We entered the church for a bit. The square is lined with shops selling Delft pottery, cheese, souvenirs’ and cafes. We entered a few for window shopping. I particularly liked how they sell cheese. Not only can you taste and buy cheese but also all equipment related to cutting, grating cheese. Loved the interiors of these shops. In the market square there were carriages drawn by draft horses ferrying some tourists around which is an option for those who do not wish to walk. Though the beauty of the place can be best enjoyed by walk. After taking a few pictures we took the road from the back of the city hall to the Old church and then one of the parallel roads leading us back to the station. Few good things about Delft. It is a small university town so one comes across a lot of students on their bicycles etc. The old world charm is maintained and the place does not give a crowded touristy feel. Worth visiting to get a feel of a Dutch town. At the station we had some coffee and buns. We had by now found a couple of varieties which were vegan and tasted good. So, we would pick them up if we found them, even stock a couple.
Cube Houses @ Rotterdam
Kannan was keen to go to Hague. However, I felt that it was not possible to cover both Haque and Rotterdam. One, we were a bit tired with all the walking and two, it was around 4:30pm. We got off directly at Rotterdam Blaak station. The Cube houses are right across the station. I had read about the Cube houses designed by architect Piet Blom and was keen to see them. Learning that the ride to Rotterdam was less than 30 minutes from Delft I had included that in the plan. We were not disappointed. It is an architectural marvel. We spent some time going around. I decided against entering one after realising that there were three flights of very narrow stairs to be climbed. The beauty about Rotterdam is the variety of architecture one sees in a single frame. After the cube houses we walked around the area near the station a bit mainly to see and enjoy the different buildings that were visible from the Cube Houses. There was weekly market set up close to the station. We enjoyed the Tuesday market especially the flower shops. It is interesting how everyone buys flowers for their homes in this country. As we were sitting around, enjoying some coffee we also saw the process of meticulously dismantling the shops. The market would again be set up the next day in some other location and I guess the same shops will move there.
Around 6:00 pm we took the train to Amsterdam Centraal. Right across the Centraal ststion is Dam Square. We had some time to kill to we walked in the market area. This place is like any other city market full of shops for tourists. We came across a number of Tourist groups being guided around. The place is great to have Gelatos, coffee and food, We had some coffee and based on Niranjan’s input took a bus to the place where we were to meet. We had covered a lot today and were completely exhausted on the return journey to enjoy the view outside. Niranjan took us for a vegan dinner at Vegan Junk Food Bar. The place had some great choices of burgers, fritters etc. After the heavy dinner we headed back home.
Day 2: Rijks Museum, Van Gogh Museum, Flower Market, Canal Cruise
Day 2 was reserved for museums. We had not done any advance booking for Rijks museum. The only sure shot way of getting in was to beat the crowds and be at the museum before it opened at 9:00 am. We took combination of bus and tram to reach the museum and were in the queue by 8:45 am with only around 20-30 people ahead of us in the ticket line. It was drizzling since morning and the tunnel in which we were standing provided good protection. Hordes of cyclists rode across providing good insight on how popular and part of life cycling is in this part of the world. Individuals to families across 3 generations were riding through. The groups stood on the other side of the road.
The doors opened sharp at 9:00. Once we bought the tickets, we realised that the backpack had to be deposited in the clock room. Kannan went for it while I got the tickets for the exhibition “All the Rembrandts”. This special exhibition open from Feb to June 2019 is exhibiting 22 paintings, 60 drawings and over 300 prints of the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn on the 350th anniversary of his death. We were extremely fortunate to have visited Rijksmuseum while this exhibition was on. Many of the drawing and prints are extremely small and fragile. The exhibition was a real treat. Each of the sketches and prints is very intricate, Many are self-portraits. Rembrandt’s ability to bring out expressions and emotions even in the tiniest of the sketches is mind boggling. One can spend the whole day just in this section. While each of the painting is brilliant, I particularly liked the marriage portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oppjen Coppit , his self portrait, The Syndics and Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. Besides the expressions, the clothes, the fineries on the portraits are over whelming. A few landscapes were also on display.
I liked all the still life and flower and food stills by various artists. Most of the artists are from the local region so lovely presentation of flowers especially tulips, cheese and bread in the paintings. Overall the display left me spell bound with the volume and breadth of the work done by the artist.
We then moved on to the second floor to see the most famous of his painting – “Night Watch”. We were lucky that there were just a handful of people in the area and we could spend a lot of time going over every detail in the painting, even take a few pictures with it. The Night Watch gallery has two other huge paintings under the title of Militia company by other artists which are excellent but get overshadowed by Night Watch.
On the same floor is the Gallery of Honour. Paintings by great artists like Johannes Vermeer ( The Milkmaid), Jacob Isaack( The Windmill), Gerard ( The Merry Fidler) , Hendrick Avercamp ( Winter landscape with Ice skaters), Floris Claesz (Still Life with Cheese) etc and many more Rambrandts. In one of the paintings the lace of the runner on the dining table was so intricate that I could not take my eyes off it.
The second floor also has a good collection of artefacts and furniture from the 16th century on display. Notable one is a doll house which one can step up to get a full view inside.
We went up the 3rd floor which has on display some modern art. We did not spend much time there and decided to go to the first floor. The first floor also has some great paintings on display, Self Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, A landscape by Monet, A Windmill by Paul Gabriel, A Dutch girl on breakfast table by Jean Liotard were some of the unforgettable ones. Being a big fan of Vincent van Gogh, seeing original paintings and sketches by him were a great treat. One of the gallery of first floor has a number of paintings of people from different places in Europe by Vanmour. These painting provide a great insight into the clothes, head gears and other accessories used in different parts of Europe in the 17th century. Similarly another section that we liked had a number of paintings of Javanese officials. Many of the galleries have furniture, artefacts, silver etc from the same period. There is a gallery dedicated to huge tapestries which we appreciated a lot. We love to visit libraries. The library at Rijksmuseum is also beautiful. We did not get time to go and browse though.
We moved to the ground floor. The ship model gallery is excellent. Many of the models are huge and very close to the original. The collection of Delftware is also good. Has some lovely tea sets on display. We are not great fans of arms so quickly browsed through that section. As we were crossing over to go to the last few galleries from India we realised that it was past 1:00pm and the queue for the locker room was very long. So I got into the queue and send off Kannan to check out the remaining galleries. Kannan returned back after 40-45 minutes long after I had extracted our backpack from the locker room. We did not have time to go to the restaurant since our Van Gogh slot was scheduled for 2:30 pm. The walk between the museums isn’t much and there are a number of pop up stores on the way between the two. Had it not been drizzling and we just about in time, we would have browsed the stores and sat for a cup of coffee. We were at Van Gogh museum at around 2:15pm which was useless since they let us in only at 2:30. We got time to get some coffee and something to eat.
The visit to the Van Gogh museum gives great insight into the life of the artist. While we had some background of the same have read about him as well as having seen a movie about him before we visited the museum. The letters by Van Gogh to his brother and family are displayed and there also is audio available for the same. Van Gogh had a habit of documenting all his work and changes he made to his approach so one gets a glimpse into his evolution as an artist and the influences he had from his other artist friends as well as Japanese art. A couple of interesting details that stayed with me were about the perspective frame which he details extensively in his letter to his brother Theo, what he had ordered, how he was using it and how he expected the tool to improve his work. The other was about his colour palette and how it changed over time to give his signature paintings in later years. We started with the section on the ground floor with his self portraits. Vincent Van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits between the years 1886 and 1889 and many of them can be seen at this gallery some with hat and others full face.
The gallery on the first floor has a number of paintings of his models, of artist friends. Landscapes, peasant life, paintings influenced by Japanese art can bee viewed. Some of the paintings I likes a lot were Almond blossom, Bedroom in Arles, The Potato eaters, The Yellow House, Sunflower besides many of the landscapes. Also liked many of the portraits and his self portraits in hat. Unfortunately two of the paintings I was keen on but were not on display in this museum were The Iris and The starry night.
The second floor has many of his letters on display. So also on display are his tools, diary etc. a number of photographs of family and friends and of his visit to France. There are also some sketches and letters which highlight the Perspective Frame. Visit to this section took away the myth that I had about Van Gogh being an impulsive painter. He obviously was extremely systematic, learnt and developed a number of techniques and improvised his work through multiple paintings on the same subject.
The museum’s special section had an exhibition by Hockney and his art which is heavily influenced by Van Gogh. His paintings of nature where the central theme. I especially like a section which displayed the change of scenery as seen from the same spot, around the year from cold winter to lovely spring. I would perhaps not go for a stand-alone Hockney exhibition though. This museum is a must visit for all Van Gogh fans when in Amsterdam.
The starting point for the boat ride was very close to the museum. Since today was the day we could do the boat ride and it was covered as part of the Iamsterdem card we decided to go for it. It is a nice 45 minute cruise which takes you around the city and gives a good overview of the city’s waterway system and how it works as well as the main buildings. Of course, would be better on bright sunny day.
We still had about 3 hours before we were to meet Niranjan for dinner. So we decided to do bit of the walking tour. We went to the flower market first. Not all shops were open since it was past 6:00pm. But we got a good idea of the market. We came across a vegan felafal shop and decided to have some since we had not had a proper lunch and were pretty much famished. After this we lost our sense of direction a bit and walked in circles a couple of times upto the Central and Flower market until we finally got on track to the Anne Frank museum via the Joordan market area. This area by itself is worth a visit due to it’s old buildings and cultural feel. We were about an hour late in meeting Niranjan who had been patiently waiting for us in his car. The queue outside Anne Frank House past 9:00 pm was still quite long. In a way I was glad that we had already decided against entering it. It was a match night and the Indian restaurant Niranjan wanted to take us to was open only for drinks. So we drove back home, fixed some dinner and called it a day. Was a very tiring but an extremely satisfying day overall.
Day 3 : Zaanse Schans, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Museum
The good thing about having covered a lot in the first 2 days was that we could still do Zaanse Schans on the third. Since I had an official meeting at 5:00 pm we had a shorter day in hand. As usual, we left home before 7:00am. A couple of bus changes and we were at the entrance of Zaanse Schans before 9:30am. This is a vibrant living and working community that dates back the 18th and 19th century. It is packed with windmills, barns, houses etc built in typical Dutch wooden architecture. The place is kept running in it’s original form as a tourist attraction through volunteer support. It is a great place to get a feel of what Holland would have been in the past. With open fields with cows and sheep grazing, ducks swimming in the canals it is a nice place to just spend the whole day and I am sure it is as popular with the Dutch as the tourists from abroad. While some of the tourist buses had reached before us the place was still fairly empty and the stores and museums just opening up.
Our first stop was at the Clog maker. This store like all the others have both the factory and the store attached where one can purchase the produce. Clogs of all colours and sizes were available to admire or purchase. We also visited the Cheese maker. Like in other places I was very impressed with the display and the variety of cheese available to taste and buy. The ladies at the counter were all dressed in traditional Dutch attires which was interesting to watch.
The most interesting thing for us was the walk to the windmills and the tour of each of the windmills. We went inside and up a few of them. Two of them were oil mills one ground nut oil and the other linseed oil and a third one was a flour mill. The linseed oil windmill also has an art gallery which is fun to go through. It was interesting to learn how through volunteers the community has managed to keep these windmills running. Needless to say that one could buy the produce in each one of them. The last windmill has a boat that rides across the canal for just 1Euro.
We took the ride as we were very keen to take a walk through the traditionally maintained Dutch town. Along with the ride we also got a map of the important houses with their number and location in the old town. The oldest house, the narrowest house and so on so forth. As we walked soaking in the architecture we came across a quaint café and decided to stop for a cup of coffee. Loved the décor of the place. The place is run by a very friendly lady who also had a huge array of home made bakery stuff. Unfortunately nothing was vegan so we settled just for coffee which was very well done. The lady knew a lot about India as her daughter had spent many months motor-cycle riding through India. So she was happy to see us and got chatty. It is easy to see how people in this country are a happy lot. Most of the people, mostly old couples and women who walked into the café knew the owner by name and vice versa. The place is more of a venue for the locals to socialize than cut throat business. Most of the houses are beautifully and very aesthetically decorated, have small flowering patches in the front and are dated from 16th century onwards. At the end of the road is a beautiful bridge that needs to be crossed to get back to Zaanse Sanch area. With the town and windmills as a backdrop it is a great place for pictures. We took some. We walked back into the village to complete the visit. Saw a couple more of the factories including the biscuit and chocolate factories. Actually the biscuit factory does not look so old school as I anticipated. By lunch time we were done. We took a bus back to Amsterdaam Centraal.
By 1:30pm we were at the Stedelijk museum. This is mostly a modern art museum. It did not appeal much to either of us and we were out of the museum in less than an hour. We went to Moco museum as Kannan was keen. But looking at the queue and the fact that it was not covered under the Iamsterdam card we decided against entering.
I was keen to see the Amsterdam Museum as it was highly recommended by some of the travel sites. I loved it right from the entrance area which had a few nice murals on the wall. The museum has excellent audio visuals detailing how the city and it’s beautiful monuments were built, especially how the water canal system was built and works. The section takes you through the complete history starting from the 15th century to now. A must visit section. Also on display are some great paintings, some really huge in size. There is a statue of Goliath which is a couple of stories high on display. It was almost 4:00pm and we were running out of time as I had a meeting at 5:00 in a different part of the city. As we walked towards Amsterdam Centraal, we admired the beautiful old buildings as we crossed them. For this trip, it was curtains down on an extremely wonderful holiday in Netherlands.
We look forward to coming back to this beautiful part of the word and explore the country some more.
We spent 4 days in Netherlands in 2nd week of May. Weather was still cold, windy and rainy but the days had started becoming longer. There was natural light from 5:30am to 9:30pm so we got a lot of time to see places. Most museums and shops work from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm so even if the whole day is spent in museums and sight seeing, there is ample time in the evenings to walk around and enjoy the city and it’s café. It rains any time of the day so it is good to have an umbrella or a rain coat handy. We wore weather proof jackets with a hoodie but the umbrella was really useful.Most tourists start their day a bit late. We chose to be at the place of interest before opening time and much before the crowds. So, invariably we were within the first 20 and could enter almost as soon as the place opened and had crowd free viewing until 11:00 am or so. Highly recommend reaching the museums by 8:30/8:45 am and save money on buying skip the line tickets. In most places the audio guides are good and a great substitute for the personal guides who lead the pace. Vegan food is available though not every where. It is a food fad which is picking up so there are a few good felafal and other vegan food joints which have sprung up all over the place. We found a chain of Felafal joints run by some Punjabi folks and the food there was tasty. We also ate a place called Vegan Junk Food one night. They served some funky burgers and fries. Vegan food is in vogue these days, I was told. Being encouraged from environment perspective. The bakeries also carry a few varieties of vegan breads which we bought and kept handy in our bags to cover up for a missed meal. The transport system in Netherlands is wonderful. We used public transport for all our travel. A combination of bus, tram and train is adequate to cover the complete landscape. Rarely did we have to wait for the transport. If we did, it was because we were unclear about the direction in which the transport had to be taken. Overall the place seems to be safe also, but it is advisable to not carry your passport or much cash on person. The best was to travel inside the city is on foot or bicycle. There is too much to see and soak in which gets missed out on anything fast moving.
The people of Netherlands are wonderful. Very friendly and helpful. Most of the time an interaction with them leaves you feeling happy. Having said that, being a tourist town Amsterdam sometimes feels aggressive. The site to behold is full families on their respective bicycles riding around the city. They are a healthy, happy lot!