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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Going Dutch - the first day

The view from our room at the Hotel Brouwer

Thanksgiving - a time for American families to get together over a sumptuous turkey feast...or an opportunity to take the week off from work and do some traveling. Which explains why my family and I have just returned from a six-night sojourn to the Netherlands, which began the previous Sunday morning with our arrival from Vilnius first at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and then at Amsterdam Centraal station. The exterior of the station is a Gothic/Renaissance Revival beauty completed in 1889, and the influence on Tokyo Station 東京駅 was immediately obvious:


Our home in Amsterdam was the Hotel Brouwer, where we stayed three nights. A short walk from Amsterdam Centraal, the hotel occupies a house that dates back to 1652. All the rooms are named after famous Dutch painters (ours was Vermeer) and have views overlooking the Singel, one of the city's numerous canals (see above). To reach our floor, we had a choice of using a tiny elevator or going up and down a narrow spiral staircase:



After checking in and dropping off our bags, it was time for lunch. Our first choice, the Pancake Bakery, unfortunately had a long queue of diners standing outside in the cold and the rain, so we retreated to a nearby Dutch/Indian cafe, where I lunched on uitsmijter, fried eggs placed on bread over ham:


We finished lunch, and then walked over to the Anne Frank Huis, arriving with a few minutes to spare before our reserved 1:15pm time slot (before 3pm, tickets must be pre-purchased online for a specific time period; after three, tickets can be purchased at the door but the lines to enter can be long). A good thing, too, for while the rain had stopped, the wind started blowing with a typhoon-like intensity. My portable umbrella was rendered useless by the gusts, which didn't stop someone from making off with it while we were touring the house (the joke was on them). As for the museum, we all know the story of Anne Frank and what eventually befell her and the rest of her family hiding out in the secret annex (her father Otto was the only one to survive the camps), but seeing the reconstruction of the bedroom where Anne wrote her diary, and the actual book itself (sitting in a glass case; no photography permitted inside the museum) is still an extremely moving experience. My daughter is familiar with the tale, but hadn't read the diary, so we bought a copy for her from the gift shop:



Needing to see beauty after the Anne Frank Huis, we crossed the Prinsengracht canal and made our way over to the small but very informative Amsterdam Tulip Museum, where I was surprised to learn the country's national flower isn't native to the Netherlands (it originates from Central Asia). Though small, the displays cover not only the history of tulip cultivation (including the notorious episode of tulip mania in 1637), but also goes in depth on the particulars. Everything is rounded off, of course, with a well-stocked gift shop, though my wife somehow managed to fight the urge to buy some bulbs to bring home (though she did end up purchasing a flower holder at the airport this morning before boarding our flight back to Vilnius):



Crossing back over the Prinsengracht from the tulip museum. In the background can be seen the Anne Frank Huis and the Westerkerk church:


When in Amsterdam, do as the tourists, so we finished the afternoon by taking an hour-long boat ride through some of the city's World Heritage site canals, passing numerous houseboats, bridges, cafes and shops along the way:






We had dinner at an Argentinian steak house near the Westerkerk before returning to the Hotel Brouwer. It had been a long day (having woken up at five am in order to catch our early-morning flight to Amsterdam), so it was early to bed, but not before taking in the night view of the Singel canal from our room:


Dutch treat:








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