24 December 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 30 - Museum After Museum

We finally arrived at the Rijks Museum. Tickets were about 15 euros each, but it was worth it. There are four stories with untold displays of Dutch art and artifacts that range from the 1600's to present day. And they let you take photos of whatever you wanted!!
Mike had been here on a previous trip through work. He particularly wanted me to see Rembrandt's The Night Watch painted in 1642. It is probably the best known painting in the museum and has a room almost to its own. It is nearly 12 feet by 14-⅓ feet in size and impressive to see.

The only issue was the crowd. When Mike was here before, he shared the space with just a few others. But in this student holiday week, we could not get close at all. This photo was taken with my arms in the air (so not so good). I was just glad to be in the presence of such a fine piece of art, even though it was impossible to study in detail. Back to the U.S., I read up on this painting at: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_Watch

The entire museum was crowded (and noisy), so not particularly pleasurable on this day. And all the "good" stuff was impossible to enjoy up close. But displays were of wide variety and interesting. There was fine Dutch furniture.

Statuary and sculpture of every ilk, including this intricate gold piece.
There was WW I and WW II artifacts, Delftware (blue and white pottery), weaponry, model sailing ships, oh so many beautiful paintings--portraits of the rich and famous, scenes of everyday people, still lifes of food (a fantastic lobster) and flowers, ships at sea, stained glass windows, clothing, and every other topic. The crowds finally overwhelmed us, so we decided to move on to the recently opened Van Gogh Museum.
There was a nice promenade between the two museums. We grabbed a bite (big pretzel and large fresh squeezed OJs), while we rested our feet. There was a huge Amsterdam sign along the way. People were climbing all over it to get there photo taken.
We asked some folks to take our photo with Vincent on this bench.
There was a lovely hill along the way also. The sun was out at that moment and people were sitting or lying with there faces up to take it all in.

As we suspected, when we got to the Van Gogh entrance, there was a long line there, too. Oh, why didn't we buy tickets in advance? The wait was a minimum of 40 minutes (closer to an hour in reality), but we had nothing better to do and I really wanted to go in. Mike NEVER stands in line, but he indulged me today. Thank you very much. xx
I was glad we waited even though it was as, if not more, crowded then the Rijks Museum. Good signage advised what the status of the wait was and offered other interesting facts and information. Another 15 euros per person.

No photos here (although lots of cell phone cameras clicking away), so I was glad I took a shot of a self-portrait of V.G. at the Rijks.
There were two huge reproduced murals of V.G.'s work--another self-portrait with his ear bandaged and one of his famous Sunflowers in a Vase. Not as good as the real thing, but somewhat of a photo opportunity. We felt the wait was worth it, as V.G.'s paintings were lovely to view in person.
As this museum was dedicated to Van Gogh, we got through it fairly quickly as best we could with the crowds. Soon we were ready to return to our hotel--Mike's feet hurting and my knees. We saw many more interesting shops on the way back. One chocolate shop intrigued us, but we fought the feeling.

At one point we also spied the Museum of Bags and Purses. Sounded a little off-the-wall to us and besides we were tired of looking and studying, so we blew passed it.

An aside: After we got back to the U.S., we watched a Burt Wolf travel show where he visited this innocuous little museum. He said it was one of the most fascinating museums he'd visited. It displayed the history of handbags from the 16th century to the present, as well as some unusual and unique one-of-a-kinds. Sorry we missed that one after all.

Our random route took us back through the art and antiques district. Along the way we saw two debonair young guys shooting a Hugo Boss advertisement. I'm sure we miss a lot, but it is fun to run into unexpected situations and places like these when you are your own "tour guide."

Back at the hotel we had a few glasses of wine and beer before heading upstairs to our comfy room. Mike was not about to wander further. Blisters on his feet. In for the evening with reading on the Kindle to pass the time.

But ... we had not eaten much today and I was hungry. I had spotted a pizzeria on the return walk and I thought I remembered where it was, so I ventured out alone to hopefully find it. Success! 

People were in line at the door, so I figured it was good. Plus they had an Italian style stone oven to boot. I ordered a margarita with mushrooms and hurried it back to our room. It was thin crust with quality mozzarella. We gobbled it down and settled in. Me taking blog notes and Mike on the Kindle reading some spoof-on-religion book. We went to sleep with the leaves rustling in the trees outside our window.

Today ties with Berlin Wall Day for "most steps taken" in a day.

2014 EUROPE by Rail 29 - Rainbows and Tulips

First thing out of bed I looked out the window to see our view in daylight and check the weather. What did I see? A perfect rainbow arched above the Dutch homes across the canal. Although it drizzled much of the day, it was a definite sign of the wonderful exploring ahead of us. We put on our walking shoes and headed out. 

First stop was a bagel shop (our favorite easy but filling breakfast). We found a quaint spot not too far away. We had our au laits and usual bagel combos. It was not quite as good as the Berlin bagels, but still good. BUT this was the best cream cheese of the trip.

Today was a museum day. Our second stop was the Rijks Museum. We looked on the map and sallied forth in what we thought was the general direction of our intended destination. 

We started walking, but did not realize we soon veered off course. No worries. It was a lovely day and an enjoyable walk. We criss-crossed the series of four horseshoe designed canals filled with every sort of barge and boat you can imagine.

Some were working vessels and some were house barges. And in all conditions from rusty scupper to elaborate and spit-shine polished. Designs were traditional to modern. All so interesting! What a life this must be!
We enjoyed the architecture, too. Buildings here are tall and skinny. Most have a gable on top with a hook suspended at its tip top. These are often elaborated decorated, but they are not just decoraTIVE.

These buildings have narrow, steep and winding staircases, so the hooks enable occupants to pull large or bulky objects up and into the wide windows of the proper floor. For more interesting information about architecture in Amsterdam, go to: www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g188590-s201/Amsterdam:The-Netherlands:Architecture.html

We did come across a new fangled way to handle this issue. A moving company uses an extending ladder / elevator contraption to move bulky objects in and out of buildings. Pricier, I bet, but seems way more safe for the objects, the movers and the walkers-by.
Shops often had hanging signs over their door or prominent "sculptures" that tell what their businesses were about. Here was a tailor shop with button sign and maybe a florist shop (could not tell for sure as it was across the canal from us). It has a basket of flowers as tall as the door.

Amsterdam is a biker town. Thousands of them. We even saw a wooden one. Along both sides of the canals are narrow streets, one-way direction on either side. You see cars there, but not so many. Mostly they are traversed by bicycles, scooters and motor bikes.

Those definitely have the right of way, so you'd better beware. Most sidewalks are narrow, uneven or non-existent. Walkers must be watchful, always listening for warning bells from an otherwise unexpected silent two-wheeler.
I learned to do a 360-perusal before stepping off a curb, and usually it resulted in spotting a surprise vehicle. Don't know how we got through all this trip without some kind of vehicle mishap! 

Lots of other small and some goofy looking vehicles, too. These streets, after all, where not built for Land Rovers or Cadillacs.
Next we ran into the Bio Markt or flower market. It was like a farmer's produce market, but here they sold unlimited varieties of tulip and other bulb flowers. You could purchase fresh flowers, bulbs, even plastic tulips. There were endless varieties of colors or combo of colors and sizes for sale. There were garden books and gift items--most related to bulb style flowers. 

Well, here we finally found ourselves on the map. We were way off track, but had so enjoyed the things we discovered so far. Time was a wasting, so we made a bee-line for the Rijks.

23 December 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 28 - Hotel Comfy

In Amsterdam, we loved our accommodations at the The Times Hotel (built in 1650). It was restored in 2006 with original features carefully preserved. I think it was my favorite of the trip (although Mike would probably choose Hotel Patritius in Brugge as his fave).

This one wasn't the most spacious (although plenty of room to store our luggage) or the most luxurious (although bathroom quite modern with a flush button for "light" or "heavy"), but it was homey and had some nice features.

It had the simplest remote of all our hotels--on, off, volume up and down, channel up and down. That's it. And a good channel selector. Not that we used the TV much. Mostly for weather reports.
However, we were on the third floor (elevator included) and the highlight was a lovely window view overlooking the quaint canal just steps away. We could even open it to let fresh air into our room. Across the canal were typical tall narrow Dutch buildings, mostly homes, I think. It was a quiet, serene location and brought our blood pressure down.
Another feature we liked was the Van Gogh wall mural. Across from the bed it filled the entire wall (maybe 15 feet wide). The TV mounted in the middle didn't really bother us. The title of the painting is Wheatfield with Crows. It made the smaller room seem much bigger. We found later that each room has a different "mural" by an old Dutch master, including Rembrandt's The Night Watch.

As we had been sitting on the train all day, we were anxious to stretch our legs  and see the sights. Our driver had pointed out where city center was, so we headed that direction. It was only a few blocks away.

It was unbelievably crowded. More crowded than we had seen anywhere else on our trip so far. I wondered it if was like this all the time.

Like my first night in Berlin, I was a bit uncomfortable, almost claustrophobic. But the next morning, in the sunlight, that passed as I got my true bearings. Later we learned this was the week when most students in Europe were off on holiday. So it was a bit more crowded than usual.

We didn't linger too long, but saw the Oude Kerk (Old Church, founded in 1213 and Amsterdam's oldest building) across the canal.

Then we passed a fruit stand, the Torture Museum, the Sex Museum, a ganga market, cheese boutiques, souvenir shops with wooden shoes, lots of cafes and bars. All full to the brim or with a line of waiting customers. An every cuisine of the world was available.

We didn't make it that far down the street, but we saw a carnival-like set-up with a huge ferris wheel and other amusement rides. It was colorful and looked beautiful at night.
We found the street (well-lit alley) back to our hotel. We weren't starved as we had a light dinner on our connection train, but needed a bite.

Nothing grabbed us until we saw a little Mexican cubby hole in the wall cafe. I ordered a veggie quesadilla and Mike ordered a burrito. Eyes now bigger than stomach.

It was taking a while for our order to come up, so the cook brought us some nachos to tide us over. By the time we got our "main course" we could hardly fit in a single bite. It was tasty, but hated to leave with so much food on our plate. No fridge or micro in our hotel room, so ....

There was definitely some tossing and turning in our sleep that night with too full tummies.

22 December 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 27 - Last Stop Amsterdam

Here's all the walking we had done in Berlin. We were happy to be on a train for most of today to give our feet a rest. But we were sad to leave Berlin without a visit with our niece who lives here. She was back home in Kalamazoo while were we here. Go figure.

Today was to be an easy travel day or so we thought. We had a direct high-speed train from Berlin at 8:36 with arrival in Amsterdam at 15:00. But when we got to the Berlin train station, we did not see our train number listed on the big screen. We went to the info counter. Our train was cancelled due to a strike.

OK, what next? They directed us to another counter at the opposite end of the building. They directed us to a counter on the second floor. There they asked if we were First Class. Yes, we were. They directed us to a much shorter cue. Yahoo! Time was a wasting.

At the counter the agent rebooked us. We would now leave at 10:47, arriving Dusseldorf at 14:47, change trains leaving there at 15:29, and arriving in Amsterdam at 17:27. Both segments were First Class. Yay! That still gave us some daylight time to get to our hotel and do some sightseeing.

And we had a little time for a bite before leaving this station. We got bagels and cafe au laits, not as good as we were used to. We could see the Reichstag glass dome from the station. Sorry we missed that.

Berlin was the only station in Europe where we encountered smoking sections in the train track wait area. There was a little sign near a roped off "zone" for smokers and they were packed in. Only issue was there was no roped off zone in the air to keep smoke from wafting everywhere. I had forgotten what a turn-off this is--visually, stinkily, and health-wise.

Once we got going, the ride was smooth sailing. We back-tracked our previous route passing through the towns of Spandau, Hanover, Bielefield, Hamburg, and Cologne. Then a short jog northwest to Dusseldorf. This time we sat on the opposite side of the train, so the scenery between Berlin and Dusseldorf was again lovely, but much the same. 

Once in Dusseldorf, we encountered more uncertainty with our travels. While waiting for our connection, we overheard folks saying the train here might be cancelled due to the strike. Then the track schedule sign changed to Cancelled. Uh, oh!

We had worked in the airline industry for 30 (me) and 35 (Mike) years. We knew the meaning of patience and calm in these situations. We waited a few minutes for a loudspeaker announcement for our next step. But shortly the sign changed again. This time to Late. Late being 20 minutes. Another phew!

Still saw no "welcome to ..." signs as we are used to in the U.S. when we enter a new state. But we figured we were in The Netherlands when we started seeing more canals and waterways. We saw buildings with the name Schindler Group and we wondered if this was the Schindler from the movie Schindler's List.
Land mostly green, but a little more red than we had seen so far. Weather was mostly sunshine. Many backyard and community gardens and little greenhouses. Yards neat and orderly. Far less graffiti along the track. Small town after small town, close together.

Animals were donkeys, newly shorn sheep, cows, horses, and lots of geese. A few old fashioned windmills and a few new turbines with red and white stripes on their blades. Thatched roof houses. No tacky billboards along the way. This segment was the most interesting part of all our train rides.

But we were happy to finally arrive in Amsterdam. A few hours late, but we got there none the less. The station was crowded. We caught a chatty cab driver to our hotel. He offered a little Amsterdam introduction and said our hotel was in a good area for sightseeing.

2014 EUROPE by Rail 26 - Light Show

We had not had lunch, so after a brief respite we ventured out for an early dinner. Back through the market to the schnitzel joint. We pretty much had a repeat of our first night's meal here.
Even sat at the same table and had the same waitress (in photo). Mike had the same schnitzel dinner and I had a variety of veggie sides as before. Still just as good as two days earlier.

We browsed the night market for a while until Mike's feet gave out. He returned to the hotel while I was determined to see the light show at the cathedral, albiet on my own.

I wandered back under the train station tunnel, along the Spree River, over the bridge, past the side of the Cathedral and into the open plaza in front of it. No worries, as many were strolling the same way I was. The plaza was near full as we arrived.

There was interesting people watching to keep me amused until the show started. This first shot shows a regular ol' night time view of the Berlin Cathedral.
 This is the projection booth where the displays originated.
The following shots record some of the artistic light displays projected onto the building. They don't really do justice to this virtual art, but you get the idea. 

There was no music here, just people whispering among themselves. That seemed appropriate for this church setting. I heard some of the other locations (like at Brandenburg Gate) have coordinating music. That would be cool, too.

About 21:00, I decided it was late enough for me to be out on my own. On the way back to the hotel I stopped in a variety store and bought Mike a gift set of  4711 cologne. When we first met, he wore it regularly and I loved it to. He hadn't had any for a LONG time and we had been talking about it on this trip. We had just not remembered to pick some up.

When I went into the store they said they were closing. Bummer, this was my last opportunity because tomorrow we were headed to Amsterdam on another train. No time for shopping in the morning.

They asked what I needed and I said, "4711 for my husband." They smiled and winked between themselves and quickly showed me where it was before locking the door.

I also passed the fabulous pastry store we had looked into and drooled over so many times on our walks. I was going to buy a tidbit, but figured Mike had already bought some on his way back. When I got to our room, yep, he had.

I presented him with the 4711. He was delighted and thanked me properly.

An aside: A week or so after we got home, there was a piece on Euromaxx on this Light Festival. It showed some shots at the Brandenburg Gate event, so we didn't miss it entirely. Very cool!