Amsterdam (by rail)

The long awaited Eurostar connection from London to Amsterdam is purely virtual as it is still necessary to change onto the Thalys line at Bruxelles Midi but, now that one ticket takes you all the way, the price has dropped dramatically. Chris and I decided to take advantage of the scheme and do Amsterdam properly – well, try out a mini-break anyway. It is not a cheap city and hotels in particular can take a big bite out of the budget so we tried out the Amstel Botel, a floating hotel on the North bank of the Ij, accessed by a free ferry service which leaves from a jetty just behind the main railway station. If it wasn’t as atmospheric as the Borea in Finland, it was at least comfortable, inexpensive and convenient. And the breakfasts were delicious.

Our sightseeing was limited by the weather which turned up an unexpected heatwave, making it uncomfortable for Chris to do much walking. But we’ve known each other for a long time so I suggested a visit to the beautifully appointed and air conditioned Hermitage gallery where some fabulous Flemish masterworks re-ignited his enthusiasm. After all, this is the chap who when visiting with his H.M. Customs colleagues let them go off to the red light district while he spent more time in the Rijksmuseum. After the gallery, he took up occupation of a lovely little canal-side cafe and perused the catalogue while I was sent off on one of my photographic footsore explorations.

The pictures will also show that we took a canal cruise (very successful) and a tour bus trip (don’t bother) but left the remainder of the museums and galleries for another trip. The tour bus was useful for one thing, I suppose; when I saw all the coaches outside the Rijksmuseum I decided that I would “save” it until it was fully re-opened next year so that I could “do it justice”. Instead I set out to familiarise myself with the old city by means of a little Dutch lesson. When the good burghers of Amsterdam decided to replace all their wooden churches with stone ones early in the seventeenth century they gave them good sensible names. Noorderkirken (North Church), Zuiderkerk (South Church), Oude Kerk (Old Church): you get the picture.

With the close set, tall houses that line the canal network, the taller and ever more distinctive spires of these churches create most attractive city landmarks. I didn’t have time to visit all these churches properly although I did cause some amusement to a group of delegates at a business conference taking place in the Ronde Lutherse Kerk (Round Lutherean Church) when I slipped in by an open door to get a quick snap of the interior of the dome. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to be there but I managed to get a couple of snaps while Mr Flip-Chart (who had his back to me) continued his address to the mounting hilarity of his audience (who didn’t).

As the guidebooks will tell you, Amsterdam has a hundred kilometres of canals and very picturesque they are too, enclosing the oldest part of the city in a sort of semi-spider’s web formation. If I haven’t explained that very well, I’ll include a map with the pictures. I kept my eye open for a pussy cat photo-opportunity hoping to include the picture that is becoming something of an institution in my photo galleries. I had in mind a sleek canal cat, sunning herself on deck besides an artfully placed tub of tulips. Geraniums would have done. Unfortunately too many people have nurtured this fanciful image for the feline good so what you will see is a few pictures of the Poezzenboot (yes – Pussy Boat), a unique cat rescue charity which provides safe accommodation for some of those poor moggies that have survived.

Fulfilling a less than cultural itinerary, I also snapped a number of the typical tourist attractions including (Beatrice take note) one of the Delft dildos that was all my parents could talk about when they returned from one of their art history visits. Clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree and a certain sense of humour must run in families. No, I didn’t buy one, I was much more enthusiastic about finding a Delft Santa Claus and his counterpart, St Nicholas, in the Christmas shop. In continuation of a theme that has been emerging during my European travels, I spent a little time in the Jewish Quarter, visiting the Portuguese Synagogue and Jewish History Museum but I will explain more about them in a separate post.

In summary, we managed to make the best use of our time in spite of the heatwave and thoroughly enjoyed our little orientation visit so hopefully there will be many more. Now for the photographs.

Categories: Europe


  • Sandy says:

    We have the same clock as 069!
    A nice sunny day there–good planning on your part aside from the heat.

  • Chris says:

    In one sense I think this trip to Amsterdam should be regarded as the closing bracket of your European “Pilgrimage”. For me, this thought was brought into sharp focus when, during our ‘processional pilgrimage’ around the Amsterdam Hermitage (with a name like the ‘Hermitage’ how else would you describe our progress!) and stood in front of a painting by the Antwerp artist Frans Francken II (1581-1642), entitled The Seven Works of Mercy, c.1617. In this work based on the Gospel according to Matthew (xxv:35-36), Francken majors on the first act of charity: to feed the hungry – and depicts at the very rear of the queue awaiting a hand out of bread, a gentleman reminiscent of many of the depictions of the “Wandering Jew” of legend. (This medieval myth, the origins of which can be traced back at least to the 13th Century, has a number of variants but generally speaking it refers to a Jew, who taunted Jesus on the way to His crucifixion, and as a result was cursed to roam the earth until the Second Coming of Christ.). Like your modern equivalent of fridge magnets, this gentleman’s various wanderings or pilgrimages are marked by the badges attached to his distinctive hat, one of which you pointed out as being clearly identifiable as being from Santiago de Compostela. When you then showed me the very same logo or motif on your Santiago de Compostela top that, uncannily you were wearing at the time, it conjured in my mind a symmetry that reverberated down the ages, and begs the question is wander-lust a blessing or a curse? Unfortunately we could not take photographs in the Hermitage, and on line images of the work are not of high enough resolution to show the detail. However I have scanned the image at high resolution from the catalogue, which I have sent to you in the hope that it is detailed enough for you to include in your blog together with a photo of you Santiago de Compostela top highlighting the motif.

  • nicola ainsworth says:

    Thanks Chris, the Santiago polo shirt with the Coquille St Jacques motif had an outing on Monday when I went to Walsingham. I’ll certainly try to upload the seven works of Mercy if you have managed to get good enough reproductions for me.

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