Monday, September 25, 2017

Amsterdam (Bicycles, Pancakes, and Canals)

Spotting super cheap tickets online for Amsterdam, I was able to book flights to the city in September. While Tori had never been, I spent one night in the city back in 1995. Since my friend, Greg, and I had such a short window before our morning train, we decided to stay up all night and wander the city. This time, I wanted to see more. We had an early departure out of LAX so we slept at the nearby Airport Marriott before catching our first flight to Newark, NJ. From the terminal we had our first view of the Freedom Tower off in the distance before our overnight flight to the Netherlands. Early in the morning as we raised our window shade, we saw huge wind turbines below us in the North Sea as we flew into Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at sunrise. After taking the convenient train from the airport to Centraal Station, we rode the free ferry across the IJ River to our hostel on the North Side of the city. Despite predictions of a rainy vacation, it was surprisingly sunny when we arrived at our new home for a week, the ClinkNOORD Hostel. We had booked a private room in the former 1920's laboratory building directly across the river from the main train station.

After dropping off our bags, we walked over to the nearby EYE Film Institute to buy our Museumkaart passes which gave us access to most of the city's museums. Imbibing caffeine for a much needed energy boost, we enjoyed the views of the river traffic behind the giant windows of the museum cafe. Crossing the river, we caught a tram down to the busy Leidseplein square looking for lunch. Unable to make up our mind, we walked back toward the center of the city, crossing four of the canals before picking a place to eat. Luckily we arrived ten minutes before the Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs (Pancake House Upstairs) opened at noon since a line quickly formed up behind us. We were happy to get one of the four tables in the tiny second floor restaurant reached via the traditional steep staircases. For our first taste of delicious Dutch pancakes, we ordered one savory (cheese and tomato) and one sweet (strawberry jam).

Our extreme jet leg kicked in rapidly after eating so we headed back to the hostel for a five hour nap. Feeling refreshed, we went over to the A'dam Tower next door to watch the sunset from the rooftop observation deck. This tower was formally the Dutch research facility for Shell Oil. From the top, we could watch the ferries crossing the IJ River to Centraal Station on the other side. The IJ (pronounced "Eye") is technically a narrow lake that is connected by locks on both ends to the North Sea and the IJmeer. The IJmeer was once part of an inland sea that was gradually diked off and turned into a giant freshwater lake by the Dutch. Back in the 17th Century, the city's gallows were located on the site of this tower. In the video below, Tori is laughing at my struggles to mount a bright red horse. It was scarier than I expected. Ha!

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We had fun taking a few AcroYoga pictures in Star Pose. It was much harder for Tori to point her toes in boots. Ha! On one side of the A'dam Lookout was the Over the Edge Swing. It looked fun so I was surprised that I didn't want to try the giant swingset that extends over the terrace more than a hundred meters to the ground. Maybe I was still a little worn-out from our flight. Below was the indoor observation deck with several interactive displays describing the history of the area. Behind one of the interior windows, I kept seeing people exhibiting strange behavior and it wasn't until I went to the bathroom that I realized that they had been using the urinals directly beneath the glass. Below is video of the cool light show you experience as the elevator descends twenty floors in 22 seconds.

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It was dark by the time we crossed over the IJ again to visit the Red Light District. Wall Street in New York City is named after the official title of this historic and notorious district, De Wallen. Our first view was from "Pill Bridge" above the Zeedijk locks as a canal boat entered the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal that runs down the center of the famous area. The road along this centuries old dike is the northern border and used to be called "Heroin Alley" before it gentrified with shops and restaurants. Passing lots of red-lit windows, we made our way to the Oude Kerk (Old Church) which sits at the heart of the district. Built in 1306, it is the oldest building in the city. At a small shop in the surrounding Oudekerksplein we ordered the local delicacy, French Fries with Mayonnaise, which had a nice citrus tang. Exploring further, we encountered the Trompettersteeg, a tiny crowded alley only three feet wide that is known for having the highest priced prostitutes.

Leaving the district, we found the Condomerie, a famous condom shop, but it was already closed. Not far away was Dam Square, the historical location of the original dam that first blocked the Amstel River and gave the city it's name. On one side is the National Monument, a large white stone pillar that was erected in 1956 as a memorial to the victims of World War II. On the other side of the square was the Royal Palace. It was formally the Town Hall before the Netherlands was conquered by Napoleon. On the right hand side of it is the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) built in the 15th Century after the city outgrew the Old Church. At 11pm, we took the ferry back over to our hostel at the end of a long day.

Monday morning started out overcast with scattered rain showers as we joined a city walking tour in Dam Square. Our guide led us back through the Red Light District as she described the history of the sights we saw the night before. Leaving the district behind, we entered a beautiful courtyard within the University of Amsterdam. The ornate building used to be the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), the first company in the world to issue public shares. It's trading power led to the Dutch Golden Age during the 17th Century when Amsterdam was the richest city in the world. Blue skies began to peek through the rain clouds as we crossed over Dam Square again. Walking through the city, our guide pointed out the crooked houses tilting and leaning into each other. Because of the swampy soil, the old houses were built on wooden pilings imported from Norway. Over centuries, the wooden pilings have slowing sunk unevenly into the ground or have rotted if exposed to low water levels. Reaching the Singel Canal, we stopped on the Torensluis, the oldest bridge in the city (1648) that is preserved in its original state. It is also one of the widest bridges due to the former tower that stood here until 1829. White paving stones outline the tower's base and its dungeon is still accessible below. A statue to the famous Dutch writer, Multatuli, sits on the bridge as well. While colonialism made Amsterdam rich by exploiting the Dutch East Indies, this former administrative officer exposed the system's abuses in his book, Max Havelaar.

After the tour, we ate a delicious lunch at Singel 404. Their open-face sandwiches were very tasty. I ordered the roast beef and Tori had the smoked salmon. (I was surprised how available Avocado was in the Netherlands.) While waiting for our food to arrive, two elderly Italian ladies came in and took over the other side of our little cafe table. Our server apologized for the intrusion but we didn't mind as they chatted away with their companions sitting at the next table. We then took a tram to the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch National Museum. There was no line to get in after 3pm on a Monday so we headed straight for the Gallery of Honor on the second floor filled with 17th Century paintings of the Dutch Masters. In one alcove was the "Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul" (1661) by Rembrandt. (It required talent to take a Selfie back in the day.) On the far end in it's own room stood Rembrandt's Masterpiece, "The Night's Watch" (1642). The painting received its nickname before restoration work on the darkened canvas revealed that it portrayed a daytime marching scene of one of the town's militia. Large group paintings of the Civil Guards (or Schutterij) were popular at that time as the rich officers would commission frequent paintings of their militia groups, frequently staged around a banquet scene.

Among the paintings within the alcoves , the one I recognized the most was "The Milkmaid" (1658) by Johannes Vermeer. He also painted the more famous "Girl with a Pearl Earring" displayed in The Hague. A few of my favorites were "Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue" (1641) by Johannes Verspronck, "A Watermill" (1664) by Meindert Hobbema and "The Threatened Swan" (1650) by Jan Asselijn. I loved the last one! It took me a moment to notice the dog in the lower left corner that was the cause of the swan's distress. On loan from the Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden during renovations was the triptych masterpiece "The Last Judgement" (1526-27) by Lucas Van Leyden. This 16th Century Catholic altarpiece that survived the Protestant Reformation shows the dead rising from their graves to ascend into Heaven or to enter the jaws of Hell. Leaving the Gallery of Honor through the stained-glass windows of the Great Hall, we walked through one of the seconds floor wings filled with art from the 17th Century Golden Age. A painting of a minstrel called "The Serenade" (1629) by Judith Leyster caught my eye. Leyster was one of the very few professional female painters of that time. Sitting among the paintings was a 17th Century Naval Cannon. This ship's gun could fire an 18 pound iron ball. The Dutch fought the English in four wars over trade and naval supremacy.

We were exhausted and our legs were too worn out to visit the rest of the giant museum so we headed back to the hostel to rest before our AcroYoga class that evening. Amsterdam teems with bicycles lining almost every available wall and railing and the largest collection gathers in endless rows in front of Centraal Station. Across the street was a huge indoor bike garage and there were at least two more floating barges full of bikes on the IJ side of the train depot. After a short nap, we experienced the most beautiful sunset of our trip as we rode the ferry back across to catch a tram to the Kostverlorenvaart canal in the Oud-West neighborhood. We arrived at the Rasalila yoga studio a little early so we walked along the canal and checked out the new Westermoskee, the largest mosque in the Netherlands sitting on the other side. We encountered several of the city's many Micro Cars. One of the tiny cars had its back tire locked up with a heavy chain just like a bicycle. Ha! I guess they are light enough to be hauled off by thieves.

Our AcroYoga class started at 8:15pm. After warming up with some regular yoga, our teachers started rotating us through a lot of trio acro-poses so I had a chance to fly a lot more than usual. I am not a huge fan of double basing since I tend to have longer legs than the other base. To keep the flyer level, I have keep my legs bent the whole time to match the other base instead of conserving energy with straight legs. Luckily, this was the Netherlands with the tallest people on Earth so I was paired up with a girl who had legs as long as mine. We also learned a new entry into Reverse Shoulderstand called Bobsleigh. After class we were starving as we walked down Kinkerstraat to De Foodhallen for a late night meal. Most of the food stalls in the former tram depot were already closed as the clock neared 11pm, but Pita, the organic döner kebab stand was still open. I might not have picked it if we had more choices available but it turned out perfect. The Chicken Kebab sandwiches with the Spicy Bellpepper Harissa and 30-Days Fermented Garlic Sauce were awesome and I spent the rest of the week wanting to go back.

After breakfast at the hostel on Tuesday, we began walking toward the Jordaan District to arrive for our visit to the Anne Frank House. Passing through the tiny Molsteeg alley, we saw one of the city's narrowest houses along the Singel Canal. The red brick facade is barely wider than the front door. Due to the curve of the canal, the house widens out a bit in the back. The relatively tall Astoria building caught our eye on the corner of the Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal). Built in 1905, this Art Nouveau building was one of the first office towers in the Netherlands and served as the international headquarters of Greenpeace for 15 years. Near the Anne Frank House, sits the Westerkerk. Unlike the Oude Kerk and the Nieuwe Kerk which began as Catholic Churches before converting after the Reformation, this church was purposefully built Protestant in the 17th Century. The church tower is the tallest in the city at 286 feet. At the base is a small statue of Anne Frank. She wrote about this tower in her diary. "Father, Mother and Margot still can't get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night."

At 11am, we were allowed to get in the short reservations line for the Anne Frank House along the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal). We ordered tickets online two months early so we were able to avoid the giant line that forms in the afternoon for those without tickets. Walking through the secret annex in the back where Anne and her family hid two years from the Nazi's was very moving. Per the request of Anne's father the rooms are kept bare instead of filling them with recreated furniture. Since camera's are not allowed, I have no pictures from the interior. After our hour long tour, we explored the Jordaan District on the opposite side of the canal. This trendy artistic district used to be the working class area of the city. Many of the buildings have old stone tablets above the front door, revealing the profession of the early inhabitants. The famous painter, Rembrandt, moved to Jordaan when he could no longer afford his house in the center of the city and was buried in the nearby Westerkerk. Six of the eleven canals named after trees and flowers that used to run through the district were filled in during the last century. As we heading for the tram stop, the bright sun changed to rain showers in moments.

The rain was over by the time we reached Spui Square to meet up in front of the Little Darling statue (Het Lieverdje) for our Food Walking Tour. This area used to be a body of water before it was filled in when they constructed the first moat around the city. The Spui is now surrounded by several book shops, including the American Book Center, and holds weekly book and art fairs. Our first stop on the tour was Vlemnickx Sausmeesters in a nearby alley for their famous double-fried frites. They have a ton of different sauces but I picked citrus mayonnaise and spicy sambal sauce for my french fries. We then headed to the HEMA department store for their patented smoked sausage, Rookworst, that is the Dutch equivalent of IKEA's Swedish meatballs. Walking along the Singel Canal, we reached the Lanskroon Bakery for homemade Stroopwafels which are two waffle cookies pressed together with syrup. We also tried one Syrup Waffle made with honey. This Dutch treat was invented in the city of Gouda around 1810. We got caught in another rain shower, harder this time, as we made our way to Lucien's Pancakes. It was relaxing listening to the rain outside as we ate Poffertjes, hot puffy pancake bites covered with butter and powdered sugar.

The sky quickly turned blue as we walked north along the busy Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and passed a Heineken Delivery Truck. Instead of delivering beer kegs, they park in front of a bar, hook up the hose and pump in the beer. Across from the Royal Palace, we stopped at the Haring & Zo stand for some Dutch Raw Herring. This small fish is only caught between May and July in the North Sea and is preserved in salt for the rest of the year. Our guide ordered it served chopped up "Amsterdam Style" with onions and pickles. Tori loved it and thought it tasted like high quality sushi, but I only had one piece. We also tried the Smoked Eel. On the way to our last stop at a distillery, we passed the 19th Century Main Post Office which was transformed in the Magna Plaza shopping center in 1992. I wish we had gone inside to see the neo-Gothic architecture and visit the Rembrandt Exhibit which displays digital recreations of all his 325 paintings in one place.

Near the New Church is De Drie Fleschjes (Three Little Bottles), a gin-tasting room with a sand-covered floor and sprigs of hops hanging from the ceiling. Since 1650, the locals have been renting the different sized barrels that lined the wall and filling them with their favorite liquor to drink whenever they visit. The friendly Bartender poured us a couple Dutch Gin cocktails the traditional way, filled to the brim of the tulip-shaped glass. A juniper-flavored liquor, Jenever, is the national spirit of the Netherlands. Gin became popular with the English when the leader of the Netherlands, "William the Orange" also became King of England in the 17th Century. Instead of lifting the glasses to our mouths, we had to lean over to drink from the counter.

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After the tour, we headed down the Kalverstraat, the busy shopping street that is one of the few places that you don't have to worry about being run down with a bicycle. Ha! Even though it closed in a half hour, we went inside the Amsterdam Museum which is dedicated to the history of the city from the Middle Ages to the Present. We learned a lot of interesting facts, including how far below sea level different parts of the city lay and the crazy amount of things that have fallen into the canals and had to be retrieved. On a red pillow, lay a pair of sliver keys to the city gate that were given to Napoleon when we entered the city in 1811. Part of the museum is the Civic Guards Gallery, an indoor walkway that is free to the public and filled with paintings of the wealthy citizens from the city's Golden Age. Statues of David and Goliath that started out life as displays in a 17th Century amusement park dominated one end.

Not far from the busy shopping street is the peaceful Begijnhof, the last inner courtyard remaining from the Middle Ages in the city. It is named after the Catholic sisterhood of Beguines who lived in the surrounding houses. While they were allowed to keep their privates homes during the Reformation, their tiny chapel in the courtyard was taken from them and given to English-speaking Protestants living in the city. Some of those earliest Protestants ended up sailing to the New World as pilgrims on the Mayflower. While the last beguine died in 1971, the homes are still reserved for single women only. The wooden house (Het Houten Huis) siting in the corner is the oldest surviving house in the city. (1420) Wooden homes were banned in 16th Century due to several catastrophic fires. Only one other remains.

After leaving the courtyard through the Spui, we returned to HEMA so Tori could do some shopping while I wandered around the store trying to find a bench to sit on. My legs were exhausted after being on my feet all day. After checking out the Munttoren (Mint Tower) that used to be part of the city's medieval wall and temporarily housed the Mint when the French invaded the country in 1672, we headed back to our hostel along the Rokin Canal. This short canal is the last section of the Amstel River that is not diverted through the canal belt circling the city. After leaving the Rokin, the remaining water of the Amstel is funneled through large pipes under Dam Square to drain into the IJ Bay. After resting, we went to dinner at Aneka Rasa on the edge of the Red Light District. Due to the Netherlands' colonial history, there are a lot of Indonesian restaurants in the city and the Rice Table (Rijsttafel) is the most popular way to sample a wide variety of tiny dishes for two or more. We ordered the "Aneka" that contained 14 different items. It was very good and reminded me of Thai food. After dinner we walked over to The Grasshopper to visit the coffee shop where I smoked weed for the first time while backpacking through Europe in 1995. It turns out they no longer sell pot in the basement and is now just an Argentinian steak house. Bummer!

We had an afternoon bike tour scheduled Wednesday afternoon so we left the hostel at 10am to visit the sights along the Oosterdok harbor on our way. Floating along the shore was the Sea Palace Restaurant, a three story Chinese pagoda that was built in 1984. Near the tip of the Osterdokskade island sits the Amsterdam Public Library and the Dutch music academy, Conservatorium van Amsterdam. We took the elevator to the top floor of the library to visit the cafe terrace with great views of the surrounding area. Across the water from the library was the NEMO Science Museum designed by Renzo Piano. While the copper building with the green patina looks like the prow of a ship, the roofline is actually a mirror opposite representation of the sloping highway tunnel beneath that crosses the IJ River. We walked across the bicycle bridge just before the center drawbridge rose to allow two tugboats to tow a long cargo ship through the narrow gap. We didn't have time to explore the interior of the science museum but we walked up the long staircase to the roof terrace. The gray clouds started to clear to the West as we enjoyed the view from the stepped roof containing interactive wind and solar sculptures that powered the fountains in the Water Cascade running down the center.

We arrived at Mike's Bike Tours at noon for our tour out to the nearby countryside. After some brief instructions, I volunteered to help our Dutch guide by bringing up the rear and making sure we didn't lose anyone off the back. Our first major stop on the tour was the historic Skinny Bridge (Magere Brug) that crosses the Amstel River. (The city takes its name from this body of water.) Just upstream of the bridge was the Amstelsluizen, the main locks controlling the amount of water entering the canal belt. As we worked our way south through the busy city, we quickly got used to navigating the heavy bike traffic. As we approached the A10 highway that circles Amsterdam, we passed through the Amstelglorie Allotment Park which is filled with small garden plots and cottages with long waiting lists for city dwellers who want to rent a tiny plot of land to grow whatever they wish.

After passing under the busy ring road, we biked along the top of Ouderkerkerdijk berm that keeps the river water out of the surrounding farms. We passed farm houses on the East Bank of the Amstel, but the West Bank had many expensive homes lining the river. After biking 10 kilometers from the beginning of the tour, we reached the Swan Windmill (De Zwaan) near the halfway point. Built in 1638, it was used to move water from the lower polder land into the diked river to create more land for agricultural.

Soon after crossing the river at the Ouderkerk aan de Amstel village, we biked away from the Amstel to follow a canal that traced the outline of the Middelpolder nature preserve. The farmland filled with grazing sheep to the left of the polder dike (dijk) was significantly lower than the water in the canal due to centuries of peat harvesting. Our guide demonstrated the rope ferry that is used to cross over the canal into the preserve full of birds.

After biking back to the Amstel River, our next big stop was Rembrandt Hoeve, a dairy farm that makes traditional farmer's Gouda from non-pasteurized milk. After learning the cheese making process, we entered the farmer's woodworking shop. He is one of the few remaining craftsmen in the Netherlands that makes the traditional wooden clogs by hand. He loved to flirt with the ladies and made sure they were all front and center as described his crafting process. After making a shoe, he led my wife by the arm into the next room where we were able to try samples of the different cheese flavors, like mustard, pepper or garlic and chives. I ended up buying an armful of Gouda.

Further up the river next to the Amstelpark is another windmill, De Riekermolen, built in 1636 that was also used to drain the surrounding polder land. Near the mill sits a statue of the painter, Rembrandt, who used to sketch along the riverbank. As we reentered the city, we detoured along the Ringvaart canal so our guide could show us the dramatic difference between the water level and the buildings built below the dike. Our last main stop was the De Gooyer Windmill (or Funenmolen) towering over the brewery (Brouwerij 't IJ) next door. It is the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands. It was last used to mill corn during World War II due to the lack of power in the city. Returning our bikes, I was given a bike bell as a gift for my service at the back of the bike line. Tori and I were starving after our 26 kilometer ride so we walked to the nearby Broodje Valk cafe for grilled cheese sandwiches (toasties) and salads.

At 7pm, Tori and I took the underground Metro to the Weesperzijde neighborhood for the open gym at Circuswerkplaats Boost. It was mostly filled with jugglers but we had a padded area to practice our AcroYoga with a small group that included Jurgen and Arjan from our Monday night class as well as two other women. Arjan taught us the Clumsy Pickpocket which felt like a combination of Nunchucks and Ninja Star. In the video below is another washing machine he taught us that we managed to make through all the transitions on our second attempt. I wish I knew the name of it. I also worked on Reverse Star with Jurgen, basing him and then flying it myself for the first time. It is quite the abs workout. Exiting the Metro after the fun AcroJam, we walked through the Pedestrian and Bike Tunnel (Cuyperspassage) under Centraal Station. I really like the hand-painted mural by the artist, Irma Boon, of the Dutch Herring Fleet along the long wall of Blue Delft Tiles. The depiction of the large warship protecting the fleet extends up onto the ceiling.

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Thursday morning, we took the Metro again to the Waterlooplein Flea Market. At the edge of the market, is the Moses and Aaron Church. This Franciscan Catholic Church was originally one of the secret churches in the city after the Protestant Reformation. When prohibitions against Catholicism were lifted, this twin towered church was built in 1837 on the site of the former clandestine buildings in the Jewish Quarter. Following Tori through the market, we visited a lot of the stalls selling various items. At the other end of the market next to the Zwanenburgwal canal was the Spinoza Monument decorated with Parakeets. Baruch de Spinoza was a Dutch Philosopher during the city's 17th Century Golden Age. He was of Portuguese Jewish descent but was excommunicated from his synagogue due to ideas about freedom of expression and religion. He is most famous for his book, "Ethics", published after his early death at 44.

One of the booths in the market sold a large variety of marijuana edibles and drug paraphernalia. Even in this tolerant city, I was surprised to see a display for cocaine tubes. As we left the market we saw a homeless man huddled in a doorway taking a hit from a glass pipe. Next we visited the nearby Rembrandt House Museum where the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt, lived and worked for 17 years until he went bankrupt in 1656. The museum used the auction list of his possessions to reconstruct the interior of his large home to reveal how it appeared in the 17th Century.

The Kitchen dominates the basement floor of this four story house. The large fireplace was where the cooking was done and since the fire was kept burning most of the time, it was the most comfortable room in the house. Upstairs was the Main Entrance Hall where Rembrandt greeted his visitors and the Anteroom where he displayed his paintings for sale. He also acted as an art dealer for the works of his students and other masters. Directly above the warm kitchen was the Salon which was the painter's living room. He slept in a Box Bed in the corner. People at the time thought sitting up while sleeping was healthier. The museum was able to recreate this room from artworks he made of his wife lying in bed. Dominating the third floor was Rembrandt's Studio, the largest room of the house. This is where he painted his masterpieces between 1639 and 1658. The easel in the room matches the exact spot from one of his drawings. His assistants would prepare the canvasses and make his paints. We watched a demonstration of the techniques used in the 17th Century to make his colors. Next to his studio was the Art Cabinet room filled with his large collection of rare objects, exotic weapons and busts of Roman Emperors. It also contained his expensive art books filled with drawings and prints of famous artists. Under the low ceiling of the top floor were the partitioned studios of his students.

Next to the Rembrandt House is the Sint Antoniesluis locks that connect and control the flow of water between the Oudeschans and Zwanenburgwal canals. The historic Gosler's House built in 1695 started out as a lock house but is now a cafe. You can't tell in the photo below, but the building leans quite sharply to the right. Walking along the Oudezijds Achterburgwal south of the Red Light District, we passed the backside of the gothic Agnite Chapel (Agnietenkapel) built in the 15th Century. After the Protestant Reformation, this Catholic chapel was re-purposed as a school of higher learning which eventually became the University of Amsterdam. At the end of the canal was the "House on Three Canals" (Huis aan de Drie Grachten) that is surrounded by canals on three sides. (The Dutch like very descriptive names for everything.) During World War II, the building was used as a secret publishing house of illegal literature. One of the three canals is the short Grimburgwal that was once a small offshoot of the Amstel River. Grim means Muddy Ditch. The former hospital building (Binnengasthuis) towering over the canal is now part of the University of Amsterdam as well.

We stopped for food and beer at Cafe 't Gasthuys, a brown cafe along the Grimburgwal canal. Brown Cafes (Bruine Kroeg) are the Dutch version of English Pubs. They received their nickname from their nicotine stained walls. Our food was delivered by a dumb waiter from the basement kitchen below. After lunch, we took a tram down to the Museumplein to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh is the new Modern Contemporary Museum (MOCO) which opened in April 2016. It is housed in the Villa Alsberg, a traditional mansion built in 1904 by Eduard Cuypers. We should have visited the Banksy Exhibition inside but I suspect the pretty orange bike locked to the museum's fence despite the warning sign may have been a piece of contemporary art itself.

Looking like an office tower, the Van Gogh Museum might be the least attractive building on the Museumplein. No pictures were allowed in the museum except in a few select spots so I took one of Tori in front of the mural of Van Gogh's Almond Blossom. Van Gogh painted the original Almond Blossom in honor of the birth of his namesake nephew, Vincent, who went on to found the Van Gogh Museum in 1973. It holds the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world based on the unsold works that went to his family after his suicide at 37 years old. I loved seeing the paintings of the artist in chronological order to see the progression of his style and skills over the short decade of his career. Taking up painting in his twenties in 1881, he was most prolific during his final years when lived in the south of France and suffered from depression, including spending time in psychiatric hospitals after cutting off part of his ear during an argument with his painter friend, Gauguin. In the gift shop, I was able to touch the surface of a special tactile painting for the blind of Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

At the south end of the Museumplein is a tilted patch of grass nicknamed the Ass's Ear. After walking around all day, it was nice to lay down on the grass and relax for awhile and enjoy the sun. We didn't realize it at the time but there was an underground supermarket hidden beneath. Behind the artificial hill was the futuristic white building of the Stedelijk Museum, the third major museum of this public square. Its collection is filled with Modern and Contemporary Art from the 20th and 21st Centuries. If we weren't so worn out, I would have liked to check it out too.

After recouping in the hostel for a couple hours, we finally decided to take our first canal boat tour so we could see the sights in a seated position. Since we didn't feel like walking very far, we ended up hopping on a Gray Line Canal Boat right in front of Centraal Station. We took the last two seats at the back of the boat and put on head phones to listen to the pre-recorded tour. After the boat cruised out onto the IJ River and past the giant docked river cruise ships, we re-entered the city through the Oosterdok. Near the entrance to the Oude Schans canal, was the Montelbaanstoren. The tower was originally built in 1516 as part of the defensive walls surrounding the city. It's height was increased to 158 feet in 1606 with a new decorative top. Passing the Waterloopleinmarkt we visited in the morning, we entered the Amstel River and cruised by the Stopera that houses the City Hall as well as the Nationale Opera and Ballet. The lights of the historic Blue Bridge (Blauwbrug) reflecting off the river looked beautiful in the twilight. This current 1883 structure was inspired by the bridges of Paris, replacing the original blue-painted wooden bridge. The rest of the tour followed the Herengracht (Lord's Canal) that circled the city center. This canal was where the leaders of the city and the richest merchants lived during the Dutch Golden Age. The highlight was the famous view of the seven illuminated arches of the bridges down the Reguliersgracht canal.

Back at Centraal Station after the canal cruise, we quickly hopped onto a nearby tram to visit Restaurant Moeders (Mothers) at the edge of the Jordaan District for a traditional Dutch meal. It was crowded and full inside but they had a couple tables available outside with heaters along the Singelgracht canal. I thought about ordering the Suddervlees, a traditional beef stew, but we both ordered a version of the Stamppot instead, a local comfort food of mashed potatoes, vegetables and sausage. We shared the Hollands Glorie or Dutch Delight, a sampling of three traditional desserts, the Vla-flip (Double-layered Dutch Custard with Yogurt), a Rhubarb Crumble and a Semolina Pie. Except for the unflattering red lights which gave an unusual color to our food, we enjoyed the meal at this popular spot.

After buying Tori's first Starbucks coffee on Friday morning, we visited another street market along the Albert Cuypstraat in the De Pijp neighborhood. Started in 1904, the Albert Cuypmarkt is the largest market in the Netherlands and is named after the 17th Century Dutch painter, Albert Cuyp. It was overcast as we walked along the three block corridor, checking out all the different vendor stands. At Rudi's Original Stroopwafels, we stopped for a huge stroopwafel made fresh right in front of us. It is the first time we have eaten one where the syrup was still warm and gooey between the waffle-pressed dough. Our last stop before leaving the market was the Dutch Cookieman stand where we ordered a delicious suikerwafel (Sugar Waffle). They are the Dutch version of Liege Waffles from nearby Belgium. They taste more like cake than a regular breakfast waffle.

We decided to hop off the tram at the Rembrantplein to check out the statue of Rembrandt sitting on the square named after him. Made in 1852, it is the city's oldest surviving statue in a public space. In 2006, they surrounded it with bronze figures from his most famous painting, the Night's Watch. After having our picture taken in front of it in a Standing Acro Pose, we walked over to the nearby Willet-Holthuysen Museum along the Herengracht canal. This mansion was originally built in 1687 for the mayor and was donated to the city in 1895 by wealthy art collectors, Abraham Willet and Louisa Holtuysen. The curator's have maintained the canal house in the 18th and 19th Century style of the last owners. Access to the museum is through the former servants' entrance beneath the stairs of the ornate main door.

Our first stop was in the 19th Century Kitchen in the basement of the mansion. The bottom floor was the domain of the staff. Behind the kitchen was the large garden in the French Classical style. Climbing up onto the main first floor, we entered the Gentlemen's Parlour and Ladies' Salon where guests were entertained on either side of the entrance hall. In 1865, the owners converted the first floor room behind the salon into a Ballroom where they held musical performances, literary events and costume parties. It was decorated in the expensive French Louis XVI style of the period. Across the hall was the Dining Room that had a lower ceiling then the rest of the first floor rooms. This allowed space for the Pantry above that stored all the expensive porcelain, silverware and linen. At the back was the Conservatory that Louisa used as an informal tea salon with views of the garden below.

The double-width of these mansions allowed space for a Grand Staircase up the middle. The couple's Bedroom was on the garden side of the second floor. The room did not have a water supply so the staff had to carry up hot water for bathing. On the other side of the hall was Abraham's Study and Louisa's Sitting Room connected with a small corridor they used to avoid the staff in the main hallway. Above the conservatory was the small Collector's Room overlooking the garden as well where Abraham displayed his smaller art collectibles. On the canal side of the second floor, the museum replaced the guest rooms with exhibit rooms that told the history of the couple and their home. Leaving the museum, we walked down Reguliersdwarsstraat, the city's most famous gay street to reach the Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market along the Singel Canal where Tori bought some Tulip Bulbs. She had to buy ones with a special inspection label to take home to the States.

Taking a tram back to Centraal Station, we walked over to the National Maritime Museum that we spotted from the roof of the Nemo Science Museum on Wednesday. It occupies the giant former naval storehouse ('s Lands Zeemagazijn) that was built for the Admiralty in 1655 to store and equip the country's war fleet during the Dutch Golden Age. There were groups of school kids running around the large courtyard that was covered with a glass dome during the 2011 renovation. The design was inspired by the compass rose on nautical maps. In the West Wing we visited the Golden Age exhibition that described the height of Dutch Naval Power. They had lots of models of the era's sailing ships, including one of a 1725 East Indiaman belonging to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). These trading vessels went on months-long voyages to Asia and back.

On the dock outside of the North Wing was a full-size replica of an East Indiaman, the Amsterdam. The original merchant ship was built in 1748 but sank in the English Channel on its maiden voyage to Asia. It's wreck is still there. We boarded and visited all the decks from deep down in the cargo hold, to the Orlop filled with hammocks and cannons, to the bow chaser gun on the forecastle. In the covered boathouse next door, we also checked out the Royal Barge built for King William I of the Netherlands in 1818. The ornate prow had golden statues of a trident-wielding Neptune riding a chariot pulled by a team of sea horses. It was last used for the wedding anniversary of Queen Juliana in 1962.

The sun finally started to come out as we visited Cafe De Druif near the museum for beers at a carpet-covered table. The Grape is one of the oldest Dutch pubs in the city with a liquor license that dates back to 1631 but according to old sailor stories is much older than that. During the Golden Age, this was an embarkation cafe where sailors would come to register for a spot on one of the sailing ships in port. We tried the Bitterballen with mustard, a traditional Dutch snack that consists of a tasty ball of meat gravy, breaded and deep fried.

Walking back to the station we passed The Grand Hotel Amrath in the former shipping house (Het Scheepvaarthuis). Canal boats were moored below in the Waalseilandgracht canal as we crossed the Kraansluis bridge. Because of the amount of bike traffic, the streets had special bicycle intersections with their own street lights. Looking down the narrow Oudezijds Kolk canal, we could see the church tower of the Oude Kerk rising in the distance. The rear of the Church of Saint Nicholas goes right up to the edge of the water.

Instead of going back the hostel to rest, we decided to take a tram to eat dinner at the Pancake Bakery along the Prinsengracht canal. Leaving the tram near the Westerkerk, we decided to sign up for the church tower tour after dinner. Passing the huge line outside the Anne Frank House Museum, we got a table in the basement restaurant. Like our first pancake meal in Amsterdam, we ordered one savory and one sweet. I had the Ham, Cheese and Onion while Tori ordered her favorite, Lemon and Powdered Sugar. After eating we walked over to the Jordaan district as we waited for our tour to begin at 7:30. Despite a big pancake dinner, I can't resist a few cheese samples at the Cheese Museum.

A church service was about to begin in the Westerkerk as we prepared to climb the tower. While the church building is owned by the Dutch Reformed Church, the Westertoren is owned separately by the municipal government. After we climbed up two flights of stairs, our Dutch guide showed us the original carillon instrument as well as the smaller bells that were replaced by new ones in the 1950's due to atmospheric damage. Tori rang several of them with a hammer. The 51 current carillon bells sit above the clock at the top of the tower and announce the quarter-hour, half-hour and hour. They are played every Tuesday at noon by the city carillonneur. On the fourth floor there is a small brick staircase that leads to a lookout spot inside the nave of the church. In the past when it was time for the "Our Father" prayer, the bell-ringer would rush down to pull the bell rope that leads up to the fifth floor where the three large swinging bells hang from oak support beams. They are also rung fifteen minutes before a church service. The last set of steep stairs passes directly under one of the large bells so I had to duck my head to avoid it.

On the six floor, we exited the interior to take in the sunset from the balcony that circles the main brick tower. Above our heads rose the three-tired superstructure constructed of sandstone with the top two levels made of wood covered in lead. The tip of the imperial crowns sits at 286 feet. As we walked around the balcony 140 feet above the ground, we had great views of the flat city. Looking over the roof of the church, we could see all the way to the A'dam tower across the IJ River. Below us along the Prinsengracht canal was the Anne Frank Museum with the Jordaan district spread out on the left. Frequent trams passed over the bridge along the Rozengracht. This road used to be a canal through the Jordaan district before it was filled in. We had about 15 minutes before it was time to go back down.

After the tour, we walked along the Jordaan side of the Prinsengracht canal on our way for dessert at Winkel 43 next to the Noorderkerk church. They are famous for their Dutch Apple Pie. It was very crowded so we were lucky to find a small table back in the corner. It wasn't a very visible spot so I think we were accidentally overlooked since we ended up sitting there for a half hour before a waiter visited out table. When we were finally able to wave down a server, we shared a big piece of pie with whipped cream. It was very good! We walked back to the Centraal Station, passing through the Nieuwendijk shopping street and I tried out one of city's open air urinals where you just pee against a piece of metal. It is actually illegal to piss outside in the streets but because of the high amount of bar-crawling tourists, the city decided to set up these urinals anyway to help keep it contained to certain locations. Every morning city workers hose them down.

Our original plan for Saturday morning was to take a train to the nearby city of Haarlem but we found out the trains were cancelled due to track maintenance. Since a bus would have taken twice as long, we decided to do another canal boat tour instead, this time in a smaller open boat that served alcohol and had human guides instead of an audio recording. After a shopping visit to the Primark department store along Damrak, we boarded the Friendship Tours boat on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal near Dam Square. Captain Jack was the pilot for our converted lifeboat and Lizzy was our bartender. They both took turns describing the sights as we traveled up and down the canals on a beautiful sunny September day. As we entered the Amstel Rivel, Lizzy demonstrated the cleanliness of the river water by filling a glass of water to drink. She only took a sip. Ha!

One of the benefits of the smaller boats is that Captain Jack could maneuver down the narrow canals where the regular boats couldn't fit. Passing under the low Raamgracht Bridge, we were able to reach up and touch the underside for good luck. (Under a couple of the bridges, I had to duck my head.) Instead of just looking at the seven famous arches of the bridges along the Reguliersgracht canal from the Herengracht, we turned and floated down it, passing a wedding party with the bride and groom walking along the canal. I definitely recommend the open boat canal tours. When the tour ended at 1pm, we walked over to The Bulldog Cafe Mack in the nearby Red Light District for beer and burgers. The Bulldog is mostly know for their chain of cannabis coffeehouses, but they also have several cafes that serve regular bar food as well as a few hotels.

After crossing back over the IJ River, we rented a couple bikes near our hostel from the Amsterdam Bike Company so we could ride out alone into the northern countryside. Getting passed by the occasional Micro Car driving along the bike path, we mostly followed the wide Noordhollandsch Kanaal that stretches 75 kilometers from Amsterdam to the tip of North Holland. Leaving the city behind, we reached farmland with grazing cows after passing the busy A10 ring road. Just after the car ferry at Het Schouw, the bike path diverted to follow the dijk along the much smaller Broekvaart canal. As we entered the town limits of Broek in Waterland, pretty floating houses started to line the canal. Each house had it's own little rope ferry to cross the canal from the narrow road.

Arriving in Broek in Waterland after 10 kilometers of riding, we parked our bikes to explore the historic wooden houses of this little village that was popular with merchants and sea captains from Amsterdam. At the center stood the Saint Nicholas Church with crows flying around the spire. The church was rebuilt in 1628 after Spanish troops burned down the surrounding village during the Eighty Years' War. There was a peaceful little canal running down the middle between brightly painted cottages with immaculate gardens. It was very peaceful except for the giant hairy spiders lurking in webs between every fence post and tree branch!

Back on our bikes, we rode through more farmland filled with sheep before reaching the seaside village of Monnickendam that was founded by monks in 1235. Passing the De Grote Kerk (The Great Church), we rode through the quiet streets to the Bell Tower (De Speeltoren) that is part of the city hall and contains the oldest playable carillon in the world. Nearby stood the old weighing house (the Waag) that is now a waterfront cafe. The little harbor full of boats along the Markermeer used to be an important trading port in the 16th century until it was eclipsed by it's larger competitor, Amsterdam.

It was hard to see the Markermeer though the forest of sailing masts in the harbor so we biked along the edge of town until we reached a large dijk. Parking our bikes, we walked along the path on the top of dike that used to keep out the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea). That former inland sea is now a freshwater lake after being dammed off from the North Sea in 1932. In the distance, we could see the island of Marken that is now connected to the mainland with a long causeway. We could have continued on to the island but it was almost 6pm and we still needed to bike 15 kilometers back to our hostel. My rental bike pedaled nicely but the seat was very hard so I was glad to get off it after the hour ride back. We had planned to go back to De Foodhallen again for our last night in the city but we ended up at The Butcher Social Club at the base of the A'dam Tower instead because we were too worn out from our bike ride. I ended up ordering the Beef Steak Pie while Tori had "The Ugly with Chicken" wrap.

Sunday morning, we woke up early to catch an 8:30am train to the airport from Centraal Station. It was very foggy as we caught our last ferry ride across the IJ River. At the airport, we ate Dutch pancakes as a breakfast meal for the first time, instead of for lunch or dinner. I wanted to try the bite-sized Poffertjes once more before we left. Despite the recent catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, we had no problems with our connecting flight through their airport. We had a great vacation in Amsterdam and Tori declared it one of her favorite cities to visit.