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Unread 19 Jul 15, 11:08 AM  
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Gill H
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Happy Amsterversary! Day 3

<<<Day 2

Goedemorgen and welcome to Day Drie, which is Day 3 to you and me. This morning we’ve set the alarm for 8am as we didn’t get a chance to book an early breakfast, so we’ll be eating at 9am. But unfortunately I wake up about 6.30 and immediately I’m wide awake. I realise straight away that something very odd has happened during the night. I can’t move the left side of my face and can’t see properly out of my left eye! Immediately all sorts of panicky thoughts go through my head as to what it could be, so I rush to the bathroom to check the mirror.

Fortunately it doesn’t look like anything major, but it does appear that I had failed to take account of one of the hazards of spending a lot of time near canals. Mosquitoes like to live near canals too. And they absolutely love me! Closer inspection reveals that I have several large mozzie bites on my arms and legs, one on my face which has caused my eye to swell up, and a really nasty one on my back. Since I was wearing a t-shirt and jacket or raincoat most of yesterday, I come to the conclusion that the mozzie must have bitten me during the night, so it must have got in when we opened the window yesterday afternoon. Honestly, I had fewer bites during two weeks in Orlando than I’ve got this morning! Lesson learned – next time pack some good repellent!

I take a while over my shower, hoping the steam will help matters. Once I’m done I take some antihistamine, which fortunately I’ve brought with me anyway – apparently it really helps to bring down the swelling. I also put on some bite cream which helps a bit.

By now Peter has woken up and is a bit worried at my sudden resemblance to Quasimodo, but is reassured that I’m doing all I can to deal with it. So we relax a little over some TV and then go down to breakfast at 9am.

This morning we are not the first downstairs! We’re joined by an American couple, but my attempts to make friendly conversation don’t get far – I think they just don’t do mornings. Gabriel is busy cooking and serving, and he makes Peter egg and bacon again for breakfast, but I decide I will stick to just the cold offerings this morning, which are my favourites anyway. The usual local cheeses, ham and bread are served, along with croissants, fresh juice and lovely coffee. Despite my mozzie bites itching like crazy and the fact that half my face feels like I’ve been to the dentist, I relax and enjoy another lovely breakfast in this friendly place.

This morning we plan to start with the Van Gogh Museum, and we’ve worked out that we can get a tram from Dam Square (‘a tram from Dam’ is already becoming a catchphrase with us). So we head out into the pleasant sunshine for the short walk to Dam Square. It’s a much quieter route this morning. Amsterdam evidently doesn’t get up much before 10, or at least the streets around here don’t! So we have a chance to look in the windows of some of the more unusual shops.



The national monument is much easier to get to now it isn’t surrounded by hundreds of parked bikes, and we get a good look at it. Discovering as we do so, that Mo Farah evidently didn’t invent the mo-bot…



We also spend a few minutes in one of the less tacky tourist shops around Dam Square, and decide we may come back there later for some small souvenirs for our families. But for now, we’ve got a tram to catch. Our map app has told us we want a number 16 tram to Museumplein, and once we ask a friendly local, he shows us where the stop is. Honestly, it is so easy to be a tourist here. We hardly get a chance to use any of the tiny smattering of Dutch words we’ve learned, because everyone speaks perfect English and is only too willing to advise the confused traveller!
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Edited at 10:05 PM.
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Unread 19 Jul 15, 11:10 AM  
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Gill H
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The tram takes about 15 minutes or so to get to Museumplein, which turns out to be – surprise! – a place full of museums. The Rijksmuseum dominates the area, a beautiful building dating from the 1880s. But in front of its imposing exterior there’s evidence of more modern touches. The route towards it is lined with hoardings painted with various figures in different artistic styles, each with the head cut out so you can pop your own head through for a photo. And on the pond in front of the building there are currently two huge statues of giant cartoon figures standing on the water. This is part of a current outdoor art exhibition, and makes a great contrast with the classical building behind the sculpture. Not as much a contrast, however, as the now famous ‘iAmsterdam’ sign, which is a magnet for tourists wanting a quirky photo. Not to be outdone, we of course have to pose with the sign – although you’ll have to wait for the video to see the results!

To the left of the sign there’s evidence of another well-loved Dutch cultural icon – the cute little rabbit Miffy! In fact there’s a Miffy parade! To celebrate Miffy’s 60th birthday and raise money for Unicef, various artists and celebrities have decorated statues of the rabbit in various guises. We spend a little time filming some of these, though we have to wait our turn while excited children clamber all over them and pose for their parents!



Just around the corner is the current entrance to the Van Gogh museum – it’s in the middle of a huge refurb which will create a spectacular new entrance soon. Our iAmsterdam cards entitle us to the equivalent of a Fastpass queue, rather than joining the long queue of those buying tickets or the equally busy queue for groups. But we still have quite a long wait to get in. There are several groups of people at the turnstiles who, for whatever reason, are taking absolutely ages to get into the museum. But the cheerful and unflappable staff are doing a great job keeping the queues in order, and eventually we make it inside the museum.

Incidentally, we’ve been doing our best to pronounce the artist’s name like the locals. It’s not Van Goff as we say in Britain, nor Van Go as the Americans say. The ‘Van’ part is pronounced with an F instead of a V, and sort of squashed into the Gogh, which is pronounced Hoch, to rhyme with the Scottish loch. So it’s FnHoch – or something like that, anyway. Don’t say you never learn anything from my trippies!

Having finally got to the museum, we both agree that the first stop needs to be a restorative cuppa in the café. To accompany this we choose a ‘coffee cake’ which we presume means a cake you eat with a coffee, rather than a coffee flavoured cake. This one is a frangipane tart, not unlike a bakewell tart without the jam. It’s very dark – we’re not sure if it’s meant to be like that or whether the oven was a bit enthusiastic! But it tastes fine and is a nice accompaniment to the coffee.

One thing we notice is a design of almond blossoms on a blue background. It seems to be everywhere – on panels in the entrance, and on items people have evidently bought from the gift shop. It’s not something we would usually associate with Van Gogh, but we will discover later the story behind the design.

Across the café from us is a man wearing a tie with the famous ‘Starry Night’ painting on it – yes, the one which inspired the famous song ‘Vincent’, and which is currently housed in New York. It’s not part of the staff’s uniform (for which I’m sure they are grateful) so evidently he’s worn it deliberately for his visit to the museum. We wonder idly for a moment whether he has a whole wardrobe full of appropriate ties for the different artists!

In the foyer we also spot a familiar figure – who knew Donald had artistic talents?



We decide that this time we won’t bother with the ubiquitous audio guides, and instead we’ll browse and take things in as we come across them. So we drop by the cloakroom desk to store my jacket, and then start with the ground floor, which is mostly about contemporary painters and their response to Van Gogh’s works. Then we make our way up floor by floor, trying to ensure we see all the ‘big names’ and a few others which catch our eye.

Several of the most famous paintings are here – ‘The Bedroom’, ‘Sunflowers’ (or ‘The Cracked Vase With The Big Daisies’ for fans of ‘Allo ‘Allo) and also the dark and brooding ‘Wheatfield with Crows’. According to the helpful note on the wall, many people assume this to be his last painting, because of its gloomy nature, but in fact he painted several more cheerful paintings afterwards. A clear case of people preferring to believe the convenient myth rather than the facts!

But alongside the familiar images, we also discover some surprises, including the Almond Blossom painting we mentioned earlier, which comes out of a fascination the painter had with Japan and its art. It’s not at all what you expect – rather than the usual bold brush strokes, the blossoms are dainty and delicate. Apparently it was painted to celebrate the birth of Van Gogh’s nephew, and the blossoms symbolise new life and hope. We’re not surprised the museum has chosen to highlight this painting and use it so much in its promotion.

It really is astonishing how much Van Gogh packed into a tragically short career of only ten years. We leave with a new appreciation for his genius. This place really is well worth spending some unhurried time exploring.

After an hour or so, however, we decide we’ve done enough. I’m not sure whether other people find the same as us, but we always find art galleries and museums a bit like eating a big dinner – lovely, but you come to a point where you’ve taken in all you can for now, and you stop really appreciating it. So we retrieve my jacket and have a quick look in the gift shop. We’ve already checked out the bookshop upstairs, where we were sorely tempted by a lovely book for children and almost bought it for a friend, but we resisted. In the gift shop, however, I find an anniversary present for Peter – a pair of elegant cufflinks with the Wheatfield painting on. (Readers of my DLP trippie will remember Peter’s gift to me - a beautiful necklace which he got Mickey to present me with! Details here if you’re interested…) We also buy a phone case for Peter, as his has just broken.
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Edited at 10:07 PM.
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Unread 19 Jul 15, 11:12 AM  
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Gill H
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And with that we leave the museum and step outside into the bustle of Museumplein, where we stop at a refreshment stall for a coke while we consider what to do next. We decide on the Diamond Museum which is just across the street, and head in there to show our iAmsterdam cards and be shown through to the exhibits.

The Diamond Museum is a small collection of exhibits and information spread over two floors of a house. We begin with a short film giving an overview of how diamonds are formed in the earth, and some of the history of how they have been mined, fashioned and sold. This is presented in a small room with two benches, and buttons on the wall marked ‘English’ and ‘Nederlands’ which you press to start the film in the language you want.

Then we go through to the main room, which has replicas of some famous diamonds and some of the tools of the trade. It also has a copy of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ embellished with diamonds, so even though the original isn’t in Amsterdam, it seems we can’t escape it today!

The next room is supposed to be the inside of a diamond. The reflective walls are shaped so you feel you are at the centre of one of the precious gems. In the walls are several screens showing clips from famous films such as ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and of course ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ from ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’. In the centre is a tribute to Damien Hirst’s infamous artwork of a diamond-encrusted skull. The piece is called ‘For The Love Of God’ and the caption explains that this is what Hirst’s mother said when he told her what he was going to do! The version here is actually a monkey skull, but it does use real diamonds.

Exploring the museum further , there are some entertaining stories about famous diamond heists, and also a webcam thingy that you can use to take a picture of yourself wearing a computer generated tiara. We spend a good ten minutes playing about with this, but either we are completely technically inept or it’s frankly a bit rubbish, because we just can’t get it to look like the tiara is actually sitting properly on my head. Oh well.

Anyway, with that we’re pretty much done with the Diamond Museum. It’s OK for what it is I guess – lots of replicas in glass cases with random bits of info – but it’s more of a cheap rhinestone than a polished gem. Maybe we should have gone to the diamond factory instead, to watch diamonds being cut and polished. But right now we just check out the shop and decide we’ve had enough museum-ing for the day. In the general gift shop at the entrance, we buy some nice Amsterdam shot glasses as a souvenir, and then we head out.

According to our research earlier this morning, there’s a big park nearby called Vondelpark (stop sniggering at the back there, it’s named after 17th century author Joost van den Vondel, apparently). Our plan is to find it, grab something to eat and relax in the park for a while. So we flag down a friendly local and eventually find it a few streets away, after having taken what turns out to be the most confusing route ever to get there – through what looks like Amsterdam’s answer to Bond Street, full of posh shops and (naturally) diamond merchants.

By now it’s about 2pm, and we’re tired and hungry, so we head for the nearest building inside the park, which turns out to be the Pavilion. And yes, there’s a café both inside and outside. Initially we go for the outdoor seating area, where we hover for a while, uncertain whether we just go and find a seat or wait to be seated. The café staff have obviously taken customer service lessons from the staff in the tourist information centre. They’re all determinedly avoiding our gaze and studiously ignoring us, despite the fact they have obviously seen that we want to come in and buy some food. What a contrast to the friendly and upbeat staff managing the queues outside the Van Gogh Museum. This lot are so offhand we wonder if we’ve turned invisible. Eventually we flag someone down, she shows us to a table and disappears. But the bench at the table is wet with rainwater, and Peter goes over to ask if someone can either bring a cloth and clear it up, or find somewhere else we can sit. But no-one seems to be rushing to help, despite the fact they clearly aren’t busy at the moment. OK, you know what? Let’s just go and eat indoors instead.

So we make our way to the inside of the building (stopping to helpfully tell our server where we’ve gone) and soon we find ourselves in the cool calmness of the downstairs café. We decide on a couple of cokes and a plate of snacks to share – we don’t want a big meal because of the epic dinner we have planned, of which more later.

As we noted yesterday with the Hema hot dogs and Vlamse Frites, Amsterdam does snacks rather well. Evidently there’s something about a city where lots of people legally take part in activities which make you unusually hungry. By which I mean cycling, of course. Definitely works up an appetite, all that cycling.

So anyway – the snacks. We have the Dutch classic, bitterballen, which are not bitter at all. They’re little round croquettes filled with a rather nice pate. Then there are kaaserolletjes, little cheesy filo pastry snacks; geitenkaaskroketten, which are goat cheese croquettes; and finally butterfly shrimp. They are served with various dips, and they make a lovely satisfying snack.



Once we’ve enjoyed our meal, we suddenly realise how tired we are and how much we’ve done. We’re almost tempted to go home right then, but having made it to the park, we decide to spend a little time exploring. It is indeed a beautiful park, although like everywhere else in Amsterdam, you need to keep your wits about you to avoid being knocked over by the constant stream of bicycles! But it’s a lovely place to wander, and I’d certainly come back here another time with a picnic and spend a longer time enjoying the surroundings.
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Edited at 10:08 PM.
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Unread 19 Jul 15, 11:15 AM  
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Gill H
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When we exit the park and go straight down the nearest street, we soon find ourselves back at the Rijsmuseum, and realise what an easy walk it could have been! We jump on a tram back to Dam Square, and since we know the walk back from there so well now, we decide to strike out and take a different road through to our canal. But of course, it doesn’t work out like that, and we find we’ve ended up back in the red light district, so we have to walk back down to Oudekerk, Niewmarkt and back to the hotel.

Rachel comes up to see about the coffee machine but fortunately Peter has managed to get it working properly. We ask her whether she has managed to make the reservation for our meal tonight that we requested, and she confirms she’s booked for 6pm. We discuss arrangements for checkout tomorrow, which she says is 12.00 so we don’t need to rush – although we plan to be out and about well before then. We also explain to her about the luggage service we’ve booked. This is something we found on the iAmsterdam website. It’s a company called Leave Your Luggage. If you book them, you can leave your luggage at your hotel reception, with a label which you print and attach. The company then pick up the luggage from your hotel and take it to the left luggage office at the airport, where you collect it before taking it to bag drop for your flight. It’s cost us 17.50 Euros (for one suitcase) and means we don’t have to come back to the hotel later, but can just nip to the airport on the train without having to haul our luggage up there. Rachel hasn’t heard of this service before, and she asks us to let us know how it goes, so she can recommend it to others if it works.

Once Rachel’s gone, we commune with the inside of our eyelids for a little while before getting washed and changed for our meal.

Having checked our directions, we head out towards Rembrandtplein. We haven’t been here before, though our taxi driver pointed it out as he brought us here on Thursday so we know it isn’t far. And indeed, it only takes us about ten minutes to reach the square, with its famous statues depicting characters from Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’. We soon spot tonight’s destination – an Indonesian restaurant called Indrapura. The Netherlands has a tradition of great Indonesian food because of its trade history with the former ‘Dutch East Indies’, and tonight we intend to try what’s called a rijstaffel or rice table – an assortment of small dishes which enable you to taste a variety of Indonesian food. Indrapura has been recommended to us, and since we’re treating tonight as our 20th anniversary meal, we’re prepared to blow the budget a little and treat ourselves.

We reach the restaurant at 5.50 and they are happy to seat us a little early. We have booked an early seating because there is a 25% discount if you are finished before 8pm, and while this is a treat, we’re still on a budget!

We are welcomed in to the beautiful restaurant, and shown to a table. There is live piano music on Saturdays, and soon we’re relaxing as an excellent pianist plays Gershwin tunes and other jazz standards.







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Unread 19 Jul 15, 11:18 AM  
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Gill H
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We start with a celebratory glass of prosecco, and as it’s a special occasion we choose the most expensive menu! This starts with half a lobster in a coconut sauce. It’s creamy, rich and utterly decadent.



Then along come the bowls of steamed and fried rice, and the many dishes that make up the meal – about 15 of them! Some are accompaniments, such as spiced potato sticks, prawn crackers and peanuts with an anchovy flavouring. Others are cold dishes such as pickled vegetables and a mango salad. Then there are the hot dishes – everything from beef, lamb and chicken to fish and shrimp, in a variety of sauces and styles. We’ve asked for the mild version, and our server points out which are the most spicy dishes, but even these are well within our spice tolerance. Everything tastes fresh and full of flavour, and there is such variety here. There is plenty to eat, but the portions are very small, so we manage to finish just about everything







Of course we find room for a small taste of something sweet to end the meal. We choose coconut ice cream with pineapple, which sounds a nice light and refreshing dessert. But rather than a few chunks, we are served a sliced half pineapple each! It’s beautifully presented, and complements the ice cream nicely, but we don’t manage to quite finish all the pineapple.



We finish off with a coffee and ask for the bill. When it first arrives, they’ve forgotten to take off the early bird discount, and we do feel a bit penny-pinching reminding them! But our server is happy to sort this, and the final bill comes to 103 Euros. Considering the luxurious meal we have enjoyed, that seems pretty good value really.

We walk home slowly – after such a huge meal we don’t have much alternative! But it’s still only about 10 minutes before we’re back at the hotel. Rachel welcomes us and we chat about the restaurant and the meal we’ve had.

As it’s still early, we decide to have a drink with Rachel and Pepjin at the hotel bar. We are keen to try the traditional Dutch spirit, jenever, which is related to gin. Fortunately Rachel knows her stuff, and for the next hour she guides us through a tasting of four different kinds, individually tailored to our palates. Of course we have to have a sip of each other’s too! It’s great to learn about the different kinds of jenever and how they are produced. A wonderful end to a very special evening.

Eventually we drag ourselves up the narrow spiral staircase (a bit of a challenge after all that food and four jenevers!) and soon we are fast asleep after a great day.

>>> Day 4

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Unread 31 Oct 17, 07:19 PM  
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Another action packed day.

The snacks at the Vondelpark look delicious, I love Dutch deep fried snacks we found them perfect when people watching in a pub too.

Your Indonesian dinner sounds delicious too. What a lovely, exotic anniversary dinner.

Good use seems to be made of your iAmsterdam cards too, despite Rachel's initial misgivings.

Thanks for sharing your trip
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Unread 1 Nov 17, 10:57 AM  
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Well, Gill and Peter what a great celebration for your anniversary. We'll be in Amsterdam next April and that restaurant is definitely going on our list. That lobster looked absolutely delicious. Glad you both had a wonderful evening.
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Unread 20 Jan 18, 11:54 AM  
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Ouch to the mosquitos, it's something not really mentioned with Amsterdam but they can indeed be a pest. I think your street you walked down was PC Hoofstraat which is the designer street in Amsterdam. There are no prices in the windows in most stores as "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it". Vondelpark is a lovely park and a lot of people have barbecues there in the summer.
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