Amsterdam 2

At the end of the walking tour from the previous day, our guide gave us some flyers about a comedy evening happening at a restaurant later. Since I didn’t have any plans for the evening, I thought it would be a good idea to go there. I had made acquaintance with a lovely young couple from Germany during the walk and they also expressed interest in going there. So we agreed to meet later,  after having a coffee together (not the “Coffee Shop” kind ;)). They needed to buy some things and I wanted to get rid of all the heavy stuff I’d been carrying all day (remember the umbrella, jacket that I was carrying due to rain and cold temperature from the morning?) as it had become quite hot during the day. So I went back to my hotel, dumped the things and then returned to the city. Now it was a difficult task to reach that restaurant but with google’s guidance, I did reach – only to find myself in an Industrial area! I wasn’t sure if that was the right place with hardly anyone around. But upon entering that beach kind of restaurant (sandy and open air), I saw the German couple and heaved a sigh of relief. They told me that they were also unsure when they arrived but upon seeing our walking tour guide there, they were confident that this was the right place.

Then we waited. Nothing happened for a long time and there weren’t too many people either. We ordered some food (which was a disappointment by the way) while waiting. Then someone came on the stage and announced that we would start soon. Then they counted the audience, looked at one another and we understood that there were 5 comedians and 5 people in the audience. It was gonna be good – 1:1 interaction! Anyway, a few more people arrived but yet, the ratio didn’t change drastically – might be 2 audience per comedian. They then started – of course not before wondering about the advertising of the event! The first thing they asked was about the nationalities of all the people present. It was amazing that in total (including the comedians), there were people from at least 7 different ethnicities/nationalities – Indian, German, Canadian, American, British, Iranian and Dutch (I can’t recall the complete set). There were four/five new comedians and the chief guest was the one who became famous with his creation of the “Holland Second” video (starting from 0.38 seconds in the link). It was really funny to hear the comedians share their take on the experiences with the people of the different nationalities present there. There are some things which many of us do and it seems normal to us until someone presents it back to us like showing a mirror :-).

Thus, the evening went quite nicely and we then decided to call it a night. I got a good sleep after all the action of the day.

The next morning, I was wondering about what all places should I go and see. The Anne Frank museum was difficult because it has time slots that you need to book in advance else you stand in a huge queue and there is no guarantee that you would get in. So I went to the Rijks Museum to get inspired by art. Now, that is one huge museum. I hadn’t planned it properly. Spent almost the whole day there and yet, it wasn’t over! It’s fascinating to see the art from the masters of the previous centuries, sculptures, models of boats/ships and also what the Dutch explorers brought back from their expeditions in Asia.

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Rijks Museum solarium

When I wanted to sit down to give my feet some rest and found this room where they provided colors and paper and also some inspiration. I made the postcard and put it up on the wall of that room. So now I also have an exhibit in Rijks Museum ;-).

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My “inspired” art-work at Rijks Museum (inspiration in front)

There were amazing sculptures there – some European and some Asian.

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Guanyin (China)
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Statues of Gabriel from different times

The self portrait of Van Gogh – I don’t remember but I guess this was one of the very few paintings from Van Gogh there. Rest of his work is in a separate museum Van Gogh Museum which is across the street from Rijks Museum but I didn’t get the time to go there.  I was enlightened that there was not just one of these portraits – he kept experimenting all his life and perfecting the technique!

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The Maestro himself

There were lots of amazing portrait works in the museum commissioned by the patrons of those times. I loved this one, of a woman who lived in the 17th century. There was a plaque that told her story briefly.

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Portrait of a beautiful woman with her dog

There were some exhibits also about how artists created 3 dimensional visuals with layers of painted papers spaced in a way that it created the illusion beautifully.

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Amazing 3D visuals with paper

One post will not be sufficient to explain all that I learnt and experienced in that museum. It was just beautiful and should be experienced by anyone who visits Amsterdam and wants to learn about the rich heritage of Dutch artists.

Since it was almost closing time of the museum, I had to get out else I would have stayed even longer. Then I was super hungry. So I went to the same restaurant as the previous day and had a super “lunner” (lunch + dinner). Satiated, I came to the harbor area with the hope that I would be able to get a boat ride through the canals. I was lucky and found one of the boat tours that was still open. It was just lovely to go in the evening through the canals and look at the historic landmarks of the city. Got this beautiful view at the end of the tour that captured the essence of my blog – reflections.

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After that I just walked around a bit to take in the feel of this wonderful city and then called it a day.

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Amsterdam – Day 1

I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a long distance bus. It was a long weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.

First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!

Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.

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After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.

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But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!

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Inside the cheese shop
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Royal Palace

Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.

I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.

The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!

With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.

There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.

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Oude Kerk

About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.

As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.

In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!

Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.

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The photo artist with his paraphernalia

We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.

The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.IMG_5210[1]

Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.

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Dutch East India Company

 

The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.

A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry.  Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or  Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).

Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:

  • Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.IMG_5218[1]
  • The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
  • Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
  • In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
  • 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
  • 20% of country is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!

Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.

 

Afterwards

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The Clouds with the message..
As I was waving away goodbye to Italy, little did I know that the return journey would become so long. First the flight didn’t start on time – stood in that queue for almost 1.5 hours because in this cheap flight, they don’t let you in sequentially but rather haphazardly. So everyone just queues up to avoid problem later with no spaces left for the carry on luggage.

Finally it started and I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was being announced that we would be landing soon although the weather conditions don’t look good. I was thinking of my options from the airport once the flight lands. And then all of a sudden, the pilot made the announcement that the flight will go to another airport which is about 125 km away from the airport at which we were supposed to land! Reason given was weather conditions. But I think it had something to do with the delayed arrival too.

Everyone looked at one another incredulously but what else could we do? A little muttering started among people.

Finally we landed and waited in the aircraft while the crew was getting the information about what would be done. Then after some time, they let us disembark and told us that there would be a bus arranged to go to the other airport and “most probably there would be information at the terminal”! Not very promising but again, what could you do? I remember one such incident in India with a local low cost carrier there. They served us water and snacks for free while we waited for more information and then they flew that flight to the correct destination! But probably there it was a strategic move to prevent the situation from getting escalated – we all know the passion that warm countries can generate :).

So here, everyone came out of the plane and reached the terminal but nobody was there to give any directions. I went like some others to get something to eat while all this was getting figured out. Waited near the exit and gradually the people started appearing (after having collected their checked-in luggage). I wasn’t sure what would be better. To sit at this airport and wait for a shuttle that would start post midnight but that which goes to the city I needed to go or go to the other airport which has a proper train station (so possibility of more connections). I had about 3 hours to kill whether I sat at this airport or took the bus ride to the other one. Finally after an hour, a bus arrived while I was still deliberating, and I took it to go to the other airport. (First one got filled just before I could get a place, then a second one arrived some minutes later.)

Reached the main airport at around 23:10 hrs. But it is so huge, it was difficult to get the ticket, figure out where the train would be arriving, reach the platform and board the earliest train. You know the drill.

The next train was at 00:28 hrs. Not any better than the shuttle that I could have waited for at the previous airport. But it just felt safer here waiting than at the other airport which is in the middle of nowhere! It did need a train change at one station. So it was risky due to possible train delay. But I took the chance. The first train was delayed but thankfully the connection was from the adjacent platform (no running needed) and was also delayed. So I managed to reach as planned. Then took a taxi home. Finally sometime between 2 and 3 am, I was at home. And did I mention that temperatures were arouns 10 degrees outside and I was clothed according to the 22 degrees of Italian temperatures?

Was so exhausted but grateful to be safely at home in the warmth of my blanket and went to sleep immediately.

Looking back, it seems that the real adventure was in returning..

Italian Adventure – Day 8

Alas, the trip has come to an end.

As they say, the body is tired but the soul is longing for more. Looks like I’ll have to come again. Italy had captivated me long ago when I came here for 2 days in 2005. One day was spent in Rome and one in Venice – a whirlwind trip. I can’t believe that it took me 12 years to be able to visit this lovely country again. I hope the next trip is sooner.

About today then. I woke up this morning at a lazy pace, had a slow breakfast and then had the major task of packing everything back in the suitcase. I need the charm that I saw Professor Lupib use in the Harry Potter movies! It was such a time consuming task – to compress everything and fit into the carry-on luggage and that when I hardly bought anything here (so much self control – I must be reaching the gyaan stage of the Buddha!).

So I came to Pisa from Florence – this time I did take the train that was in 10 minutes. Took the chance and it worked :).

The first thing at the Pisa station – the airport shuttle (mini train) goes every 5 minutes from there and costs 2.70 Eur one way. There is a machine at the same place from where the train leaves. It is not the same as that for normal trains. The Tabacci at the station very patiently and genially answered my queries about the regular bus and airport shuttle. The regular public bus can take you to the tower. Ticket one way costs 1.20 Eur and valid for 70 mins after stamping in the bus.

I noted the location of the shuttle departure (at the end of the platforms – there are 13 of them) and then went on my exploration of the famous architecture of Pisa. It was perfect to be able to see all the buildings in just one location with green grass lawns around. I lightened my luggage by having the food that I had brought along. Sat at the lawns and enjoyed the view. Since I had started late, I didn’t have time to go inside any building.

Battistry
Of course
Keith Haring Mural

Now I need to board my flight. I checked the temperatures back at home and it is going to be so different there after all the sun and warmth in Italy. Until next – Ciao Italy.

Italian Adventure – Day 7

According to the Old Testament, God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th. I can imagine why us humans would think that – we get exhausted after 6 days and need to rest – whether at work or on vacation , as has been my experience since the last one week.

Today morning I was just not in the mood to venture out for anything. It was raining in the night and I had again a broken sleep. But then at around 9 AM, I saw that the sun was peeking out. That encouraged me a bit as then it would feel like committing a sin to keep sitting inside the hotel. So I got ready, had breakfast and did a kind of “Eena Meena mina moe” to decide between Lucca and Siena as the destination for today. Siena won.

At the train station, I bought the ticket that gave me 25 minutes – you know why! Then located the right platform after asking a trenitalia staff member. It was hidden behind due to some renovation work going on at the station. The train looked rather small – I guess 3 carriages only. The driver was a young guy and just went past us in the carriage and entered his cabin through a door within the carriage. That was unusual – I had never before seen a train driver get inside his cabin through the passenger seating area. 

Then after about 1.5 hr of journey (sleeping intermittently), the train reached Siena. I had read on the net that there is some kind of escalator going up from train station to the city. The posts were from 2011 and peope were discussing in it the ongoing construction. Now it is all running very well – I can tell from first hand exprience today. There is a shopping mall opposite the station. Just keep going up in it using the escalators and you would reach the town. Upon exiting, go left and keep going until you reach a medieval style gate on your right hand side through which majot traffic is passing by. You have to enter that and then just follow the crowd. You would reach the city center.

Siena is a town which had rivalry with Florence. While Florence became the main center of Renaissance, Siena retained the Medieval character. 
I stopped for a coffee and rest room break as the train journey had given me a headache. Then proceeded to the Piazza del Campo while peeking into the smaller churches on the way. 

The piazza was circular with a stunning huge tower on the arc. Lots of people were just sitting there and enjoying the feeble sun. I also sat down to eat something as it was lunch time. People were either at the restaurants or at the piazza with their sandwiches etc. Kids were running after the pigeons and parents after the kids. Thus taking in all the scenery and relaxing my feet, I moved ahead.


The guides yesterday had told that Siena had a huge cathedral and Florence had built its Cathedral to score on Siena. So of course I wanted to see the cathedral here. There was a OPA ticket that allowed to visit 5 places. I took that though wondering if I would have enough time to see everything. I managed by skipping the panoramic view for which the queues were really long with a waiting time of 1 hour. 

The cathedral was indeed impressive but after having seen the one in Florence before it, it seemed just fine. But I am glad that I went inside. I had not seen these bright colors inside a church before this one. It was just awesome. And in addition, there was a library inside which was also lovely. I saw the hand written books on display with beautiful artwork as was the way before the printing press of Gutenberg.



Then I went to the museum, baptistry, crypt and oratorium in that sequence. The panoramic view was through the museum but I skipped it as I wanted to see the other things before they closed.

The amount of religious art from the middle ages that I have seen in the last 3 days is enough to make me see green faces, and babies with adult features in my nightmares! The reason is that the skin tone was made by first giving a green base and then coloring on top. Over the centuries the top coats have faded and one can see the green underneath. And regarding the adult face – for whatever reason, the artists in medieval times had to represent Jesus as a homunculus man – perfectly formed but small.


But the sculptures and architecture works that I have seen makes up for it. They are just marvelous.

I wanted to spend some more time in Siena but was afraid that I might reach too late to Florence, as it is about an hour and half journey plus the time to reach the station and waiting for the train. It had also started raining a bit so I set off. After having missed one by a few minutes, I took the ticket for the next direct one which was one hour later, grabbed some dinner from a lovely salad shop (make your own combinations), returned to the station, found the train and came back home (hotel after 2 days starts feeling like home).

Oh, I forgot to mention – a daily dose of sorbet/gelato is also being taken during all the sightseeing. It’s not cheap here considering it’s the source but it’s superb.

So that’s the end of day 7. Tomorrow is the day of return. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Ciao for now. 

Italian Adventure – Day 6

Today I am about to write my exploration of Florence both from yesterday and today.

Upon arriving yesterday after all the adventures, I ventured out to explore the city a bit. A walking tour was to start at 5 PM (they call it afternoon here!). So I had about 4 hours to kill. I decided to take some pictures around (art everywhere), grab some lunch and get a feel of the area. The churches looked interesting with green and white marble facades, some with only bricks and some with yellowish brown stones. Walking around I also reached a street market – San Lorenzo Market which was full of vendors with leather goods – bags and jackets. I didn’t notice any shoes though. There is also an indoor market there – Mercato Centrale – see the one with the green roof in the picture below. That has food stalls. 

There is of course a basilica of San Lorenzo around. Interesting thing is that it has only the brick structure in the facade which was made in such a way so that marble could be laid on top of it. Michael Angelo was given that task in 1518 but Florence is still waiting for the marble to come from Carrara!


I was hungry and after some futile search for gluten-free vegetarian food even at restaurants marked in tripadvisor, I landed in an Asian fusion cuisine restaurant. The waitress there told me she could get me the hot and sour soup with rice noodles and no meat. It was a huge portion and quite alright.


Also took some matcha bubble tea to beat the heat of the spicy soup. But it was in the end too much for me.

Proceeding further, I reached the main cathedral and was bowled over by its beauty.

It is huge – as I got to know today – the 5th largest church in the world.

And now it was time to start the tour. So I came to the Santa Maria Novella church in front of which everyone was supposed to assemble. 

We started for the tour about the Medici family. Very intriguing. I need to write one post separately about that! For now, just know that they started with the Banking business and became the Dukes of Florence. Four members of the clan even became Popes! Business, politics and religion – the three pillars of medieval times.

Once done, I was exhausted with all the walking but still did some more on my own and looked at the shop windows, curbed my desire to buy things and then came back to the hotel. It is crazy with the buses here. The schedules written at the bus stops seem to be valid sometimes and invalid at another. So you can never be sure!

Thankfully I reached when I reached because as I told yesterday, it rained cats and dogs all night long and also this morning!

Due to the heavy rain, I could start today only just in time to reach for the Renaissance walking tour. That was good too but it was still raining from time to time – so a bit difficult to manage taking notes, pictures and saving all the paraphernalia from rain! Would write another post just for this tour and what I learnt about Renaissance art.

 After that got over, I went in search for food. Luckily I came across a shop that had everything gluten-free in it! Enjoyed a slice of pizza margharita and a fruit tart.

Thus fuelled, I moved ahead and thought of what next to do. Reached the Uffizi gallery and remembered the words of the receptionist from this morning – that when he came to Florence for the first time, it was for about 6 hours and he spent the time in this gallery to absorb all the art.

And looks like the guides there read my mind or just noticed that I was getting deterred by the queue and one of them approached me. The agency offered guided tour of the gallery with no standing in the queue for the ticket. It was quite expensive but I took it. Now I realize that I should have taken the earlier slot because the last slot meant having to rush through everything and not having the time to explore on your own even though the ticket allows that. Anyway, that was lesson for today. 

While waiting for the time, I went to look at some of the spots suggested by the guide today morning. Even splurged a bit in shopping (yes, the self-control of yesterday was gone). And then returned for the tour. 

Now the Uffizi was originally the administrative office of the Medicis – Cosimo the First got it constructed. It was turned first into a private art gallery for all the collections of the Medici family by Francesco – the son of Cosimo and then became a state museum when the last female of the clan – Anna Maria Medici willed everything to the people of Florence to prevent the taking away of the artistic treasure from Florence. The tour was very informative and showed the most important pieces of the gallery – Michael Angelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Carvaggio to name a few illustrious artists. A lot of Greek and Roman sculptures were there as well but the tour didn’t spend much time on that. Some pieces below for a glimpse. 

Prima Vera (Spring) by Botticelli
Doni Tondo by Michaelangelo
Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci
I ended my day by having nice Indian food for dinner. And then with no plans for tomorrow, I go to sleep now.