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Europe 2007 Archives

August 29, 2007

Amsterdam It Is

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It's official, my husband and I are going to Amsterdam for a week following a business trip to Switzerland. We found a perfect looking apartment in the Jordaan neighborhood. I found the apartment through the VRBO website, but they also have this website. I have been researching and Googling all sorts of things about Amsterdam and the more I read, the more I realize that this is going to be a wonderful trip. The Slow Travel forums have had a flurry of Amsterdam posts lately. I'm not the only one going there soon, so there's tons of great information. With so many museums to see, pubs to visit and daytrips to take, will a week be enough? Probably not, but it will be a great start.

August 30, 2007

Researching Dutch Cheese

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I could be researching museums or transporation options or any number of useful travel oriented subjects for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam. But instead I have gone off on a tangent researching cheese. Of course I tell myself that this is very useful information. To know a country, you must know what they eat. Right? And I certainly need to know what to eat once I'm there.

So far I have gleaned that there are many varieties of Dutch cheese - far more than just Gouda and Edam, though clearly those are the most popular. Here are my preliminary cheese notes.

Gouda starts out mild and creamy but with aging it becomes more robust. There are lots of variations and flavored versions.

Most Edam cheese has a characteristic red wax coating. It is a young cheese and is mild and smooth. Aged Edam is given a black wax coating and has a stronger flavor. You can also find herb flavored Edam in a green wax and baby Edam with an orange coating. Hmmm, maybe I should collect one in each color.

Leerdammer is a semi-hard cheese with a creamy white texture and a sweet, nutty taste.

Leyden is a flavored cheese that uses caraway, cumin and other spices during the making of the cheese.

Limburger is known for its pungent body odor smell. We might want to pass on this one.

Maasdam cheese has large holes and a mild and sweet, nutty flavor.

Roomano is the one to really keep an eye out for. It is hard to find but has a delicous aged flavor, said to have hints of butterscotch and toffee.

There are more cheeses, but just glancing at this list, I think I will have more than enough to taste and enjoy.

September 9, 2007

Researching Amsterdam

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It has been a fairly productive weekend in terms of Amsterdam research. I have a number of interesting and just plain quirky things to add to my list.

First, I was very excited to hear from the person we are renting the apartment from about a fantastic organic market every Saturday near the apartment. The website is only in Dutch, but I used an online translator for some of the sections and it sounded very interesting—not entirely clear, but I know I'm going to love it.

The second exciting tip is that there is a fabulous cheese store nearby. Again the site is only in Dutch, but with the help of my translator, I successfully translated a few of the categories and the list of cheeses is quite recognizable (and impressive!).

Ever since a friend brought me back a Wagamama cookbook from a visit to England, I have wanted to go to one of these restaurants. So, I was thrilled to find out that there is one right in Amsterdam. From their website you can download a pdf of their menu, which I just did. I am now very hungry for some gyoza and some ramen.

On a nonfood related note, I found out that the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses has just reopened in a larger space. I had no idea that there was a musuem devoted entirely to handbags, but I am definitely interested in seeing it. This will probably be a solo adventure.

But perhaps I can talk my husband into joining me for a visit to the Kattenkabinet, a cat museum. It appears to have quite a collection of cats in art, including a Picasso etching. I love the idea of a small museum focused on one subject.

There is a really good article in United’s Hemispheres Magazine called Three Perfect Days in Amsterdam. Reading it makes me very glad that I am going to be there for more than three days. It looks like a pretty exhausting itinerary, but the article is nicely written and has some great tips.

And finally, while browsing the MorgueFile website, I came across the photo I used with this entry, and it reminded me that at the top of my must see list is, of course, the Van Gogh museum (can’t wait to see his Butterflies and Poppies in person!). But I am happy to see that the streets of Amsterdam may be just as interesting as its many museums.

September 22, 2007

Amsterdam Reading List

I like to bring a few novels with me when I travel. It’s the only way I can get through a long flight and I enjoy reading throughout the trip - particularly if the books have something to do with my trip. I couldn’t find any books about Switzerland, so I concentrated on Amsterdam and I picked these three:

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
This looks like just the sort of cross between a soap opera and historical fiction that is perfect for a quick read on the plane. In fact with only 288 pages, I'll probably finish it before the end of the flight and I can leave it in the seat pocket.

My 'Dam Life: Three Years in Holland by Sean Condon
I am really looking forward to reading this one. It’s a (mostly) true account of an Australian who moves to Amsterdam written in the style of Bill Bryson. And though humerous, it should give a pretty decent picture of what it’s like to live in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
How could I not read this before going to the Anne Frank House? Even though I saw the movie, and I’m familiar with the play, I never read the original diary. This edition contains more of her writing than the originally published diary. So, it’s about time I read this classic.

September 25, 2007

We’ve Arrived

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You can see that we’ve arrived by this photo of me in Lucerne sitting next to the river with a champagne cocktail. What a great way to start off.

We left Santa Barbara at 2:00 pm on Sunday and we arrived at our hotel in Lucerne at about 6:00 pm on Monday — so about 28 hours later. Well, not really, with the time change it was only about 19 hours of travel. We flew into Zurich and were met in the baggage claim area by one of the staff. She had train tickets for us and walked us over to the train station and made sure that we got on the right train. Everything was so easy and efficient. Of course, we are in Switzerland.

After the champage cocktail (complimentary from the Hotel des Balances) we walked around the town and looked for a spot to have dinner. After walking all over, we ended up at an Italian restaurant right next to our hotel. And we definitely made the right choice. Valentino’s was authentically Italian, so it reminded us of our usual travel destination.

We started of with a Caprese salad. It was a large one, so it was good that we split it. Then I had the Tortelloni Noci e Spinaci (walnut and spinach) and Steve had his favorite, Penne Arrabiata. With two glasses of wine and two bottles of Pellegrino, the bill came to 73 Swiss francs (about $62).

We were fortunate that the only table when we came in was a large round table in the corner. So, even though it was set for at least 6, they put us there. Then later they sat two Swiss men across from us, one of whom spoke perfect English and we had a great conversation with them, learning a little bit about Lucerne and what it's like to live in Switzerland. We also learned that we had indeed picked a good spot for dinner, when one of them asked us "Did someone tell you about this place, or did you just get lucky?" Just lucky, I guess.

September 26, 2007

Settling Into Switzerland

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The view of the Palace Luzern as we walked up

Yesterday was our first full day in Lucerne. We switched hotels to the Palace Luzern to be with the rest of the company. Our room is amazingly spacious and luxurious—it’s probably as big as some of the apartments we’ve stayed in. And the view of the lake is gorgeous.

After getting unpacked and checking in with the hospitality desk, we walked back into the center of the old part of town and did a little shopping. At the Manor department store I picked up some toothpaste (Elmex) and a cashmere sweater, both of which I felt were essential purchases. At the top floor of the Manor department store is a cool little cafeteria where we took a capuccino break.

That evening we had the first of our organized events, a welcome buffet dinner at the hotel. The dinner was fantastic and we had a great time talking to people who had already been traveling to Hungary, Germany, Austria, Romania and, of course, Italy. But as we settle into Switzerland, we’re quite happy to be here.

Lovely Lucerne

Did I mention that it has been raining? The first night that we arrived it was clear, but then the weather shifted and the mild sunny weather vanished overnight. It has been in the 50s with rain, drizzle and what the hotel breakfast menu described as “few rain.” I’m very glad that I packed clothes that layer well. I think I’ll need all of them for Friday’s outing to Mt. Pilatus.

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But there is nothing like a little rain to make you want to visit museums, and luckily there are two really fabulous museums to visit right in Lucerne. The Picasso Museum has an extensive collection of photograps of Picasso and his family from the later years of his life. They also have a number of drawings and a few of his ceramic pieces. It’s a charming museum made up of little rooms in a former mayoral residence and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Then we went to the Rosengart Collection which has a quite a few of Picasso’s paintings and drawings along with works from Braque, Chagall, Kandinsky, Miro and quite a few more. The lower level has several rooms of work by Paul Klee. The spacious and light filled Picasso rooms were the highlight for me. I do not know when else I have seen so many of his later paintings (some of his finest) in one place. I forgot all about the fact that my feet were tired and I hadn’t had lunch and just lost myself looking at all that wonderful art. If I had to choose one to take home with me (a girl has to dream, you know), I think I would take Buste de femme (Jacqueline), 1963. It is one his most stunning portraits and, like most, looks so much more interesting in person. The thickness of his paint is amazing.

For dinner, we went back to our now favorite Italian restaurant, Valentino’s. This time we each had tomato soup to start off and then we split a pizza named “Santa Barbara”—eggplant, zucchini and peppers. It was just as delicious as the other night. And, like the other night, we struck up a conversation with the Swiss man next to us. He hesitated to talk to us at first because he heard us talking to the waiter and thought we were Italian. He was here on business from Zurich and happened to be staying at the same hotel we stayed at on our first night. It was interesting to learn a little bit from him about why the Swiss don’t want to join the EU (basically they don’t want to governed by someone else) and to hear about all the places that he been in the U.S. (more places than I’ve been).

On the walk back to the hotel it stopped raining and it was as mild as the depths of winter in Santa Barbara.

September 27, 2007

More Picasso

As if this town didn’t have enough Picasso, there happens to be a temporary exhibit of Picasso and Francis Bacon going on at the Kunstmuseum Luzern Museum of Art. So, naturally we went. Steve really enjoyed the Francis Bacon work. I found some of it a bit painful and disturbing, but I was happy to get my fill of more Picassos and the combination of the two artists was very interesting. All the work (there were seven rooms full) were loaned from an anonymous collector.

For dinner we had Swiss food. I know you were wondering if we were going to eat Italian the whole time. We hosted a group for dinner at the Restaurant des Alps right next to the river. We had a mixed plate of appetizers to start, then I had the fera fish from Lake Lucerne (you know how I love eating local) and ice cream for dessert. On the way back to the hotel the big moon peered down and gave us hope that it would be clear for our outing to Mt. Pilatus the next day.

September 28, 2007

Mt. Pilatus

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We went up to top of Mt. Pilatus, and I have to say it was the highlight of the trip so far. I had been worrying about how cold it might be up there and planned to wear a ton of layers to stay warm. Well, it was freezing and it really wouldn't have mattered if I had ten more layers on top of what I had. It was freezing—as in, there was snow everwhere. It was also cloudy—as in, we couldn't see the gorgeous view that people go up there to see. But it didn't matter. The whole experience was the amazing thing.

We started off the day with a walking tour of Lucerne. Now, we have been walking all over Lucerne for the past four days. I wondered if we really needed a tour. I figured I should just plan on taking pictures. But our guide was really good and by the end of the tour, I was hanging on her every word. Her description of the Lion statue almost had everyone in tears.

Next we took a short bus ride to the station to catch a four-seater gondola heading up the mountain. The next mode of transportation was a 40 person cable car. At this point some of us were glad that it was a sea of white outside because the height would have been dizzying.

We got off at the top of the mountain and had lunch at the Hotel Pilatus. After lunch there was just a bit of time to climb up to the lookout point. Or in my case, to climb halfway up and decide the cold wind was no fun and to go back down and chat with the others who weren't keen on going up there.

Then we boarded what we were told was the world’s steepest cogwheel train to go back down the other side of the mountain. It was steep. We had some great views going down this thing. At the base, we got on a boat and took an hour or so cruise back to Lucerne.

It was an all day adventure. All I needed to top off the day was a great dinner in an Italian restaurant. But I'll save that story for the next entry.

September 29, 2007

Another Italian Dinner

We got a recommendation from our tour guide for another Italian restaurant. She said it was her favorite and she is married to an Italian, so we thought we better trust her. So we headed off to Casa Tolone. I'm not sure if Steve asked her the best way to reach the restaurant, because we walked up the street until we saw a sign for the restaurant and then we had to climb a staircase of something close to a thousand steps. Maybe not quite a thousand, but the next day when we told the guide that we went there, she asked if we had taken the elevator and seemed shocked when we told her that we walked up.

But the walk was worth it. I would tell anyone who is coming to Lucerne to put Casa Tolone at the top of their list. It was a little more expensive than our meal at Valentino’s, but we had more wine and better wine, so it’s hard to compare. The atmosphere is a little more sedate and a little more elegant, too.

As for the food, it was incredible. We started off by splitting our favorite antipasto, a tomato mozzarella salad. Then I had the lightest, most delicious ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach in a sage butter sauce.

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Steve had a variation on his usual Arrabiata. Their version was with rigatoni and it had lamb on top. I tasted the lamb, and it was pretty amazing.

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It wasn't a heavy meal but we were so full we couldn't order dessert, although the gelato plate of assorted flavors looked tempting. Our bill with wine and Pellagrino came to 105 Swiss Francs or about $90 US dollars or 63 Euros. Very reasonable, and we both agreed it was the best meal of the trip.

October 1, 2007

Leaving Lucerne

We had a full day of sightseeing in Bern which included a lunch at the Kornhaus (beautiful setting). Bern was pretty, but crowded and a bit torn up with construction. I did manage to buy some chocolate and some Pocket Coffee, so now I´m set. After that full day of sightseeing, we had our final gala dinner with the group. The hotel pulled out all the stops. I did some videotaped interviews during the cocktail hour then I was free to enjoy dinner. We had a fabulous sit down dinner with a quartet playing beautiful classical music. What a fitting ending to our stay at the Palace Luzern.

We left the next morning, walking to the train station early in the morning to the sound of the church bells. Next stop Germany.

Rudesheim

We took the train from Lucerne to Basel, from Basel to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Rudesheim. It took a bit of time. Luckily on the longest leg of the journey a young man was sitting in our compartment and Steve struck up a conversation with him. As soon as Philip began talking to us (in pretty good English, by the way), he pulled out two little English-German dictionaries the size of a matchbox. We had a great conversation with him, learning that he was headed to Berlin to go to College studying Facilities Managment. He planned to get a job in Switzerland after he got his degree because the wages are so much better in Switzerland. He also gave us some recommendations about what to eat and drink while in Rudesheim.

When we got off the train in Rudesheim, I was hoping to find a Tourist Information office because I had done a very stupid thing. I forgot to bring the address of the hotel we had a reservation for the first night. I barely remembered the name. So we got off in this very tiny station and, of course, there was no tourist information office. There was a map outside of the station and it showed the office on the other side of town. So we started walking down the main street along the river. Suddenly we were in a sea of humanity. There was a huge crowd of people -- they were all walking the opposite direction, and we were dragging our suitcases. It was pretty much one of those travel nightmare moments. We still hadn't found the information office when Steve looked up one of the cross streets and said "is that the hotel?" It was. We were very lucky. Especially since we found out later that the tourist information office was closed.

Our hotel was modest and seemed a little stark... especially after coming from the Palace Luzern. Also, they only had one night available, so we had to find another room for the following night. The morning we left Lucerne we had mentioned to Pat, one of our tour guides, that we were going to Rudesheim, and it turned out that she had a friend who had a hotel there. She gave us the address and we decided to seek it out so we could possibly stay there the following night.

As we walked through town, we realized that we had somehow managed to come here at the peak of the season. The place was packed. Steve said he thought we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Solvang. (Solvang is a faux Danish town for tourists in Santa Barbara county). We were not sure if this was really the place for us.

At the Hotel Rudescheimer Schloss, our fortunes changed. We walked through a charming courtyard and into the hotel. They not only had a room for us the following night, but they were incredibly friendly and helpful. After explaining some things to do in the area and making a reservation for dinner, gave us glasses of champagne to sip in the terrace. Suddenly things began to look a little brighter.

We walked around town for a little while then went back to the hotel to change for dinner. Dinner was at the Restaurant Schloss. We had a delicious and hearty German dinner. We started off with a large salad for two. Mixed greens that were so fresh and flavorful, Alice Waters would have been impressed. And then they were topped with fried bacon and fried garlic! It was delicious. Then I had the wild boar (that is what Philip had told me to try while here) and spaeztle and apple sauce. It was so good that it made me think of my German great grandmother's cooking. It was a very nostalgic meal for me. Steve had the bratwurst with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Needless to say we were stuffed by the end of the meal.

The entertainment was as good as the dinner. There was a live band that played everything from "Pretty Woman" to "Chatanooga Choo Choo" to traditional German songs to Creedence Clearwater. And there was dancing, too. And there was a conga line, too. A good time was had by all.

This morning we checked into Hotel Schloss and the room is great. We love it here. I am writing from their computer in the lobby so I cannot post photos, but once I do you will see how nice it is. So, now we are off to expore the town, sightseeing, cable lifts, hiking, boats and winetasting. Too bad we only have the one day here. But I think we are going to make the most of it.

October 3, 2007

More Rudesheim

After a quick stroll through town, we bought a 10 euro “ring ticket” for the gondola/lift/boat from Rudesheim to Assmannshausen, the next town along the Rhine. First we took the gondola cable car up to the Niederwald monument. The weather was nice and the views were stunning. We glided over the vineyards and could peer down at people harvesting grapes.

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At the top there is a temple on a lookout point where Steve took this picture of me.

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The monument itself is impressive but we didn’t spend much time with it, we set off on the trail to Assmannshausen, a pleasant half hour to 45 minutes walk. The trail leads through the trees with little side paths that take you to various lookout points. The views of the Rhine are beautiful, but walking through the forest was a treat for us as well. The landscape is so completely different from what we have at home. This time of year some of the trees were turning all those beautiful fall colors.

At the end of the trail there was a chair lift to take you down to the town of Assmannshausen, where we had lunch before catching the boat back to Rudesheim. Seeing the towns and various castles from the vantage point of a boat is definitely the way to go. I just wish we had more time to cruise the Rhine and to get off and tour some castles.

As it was, we got back to Rudesheim around 5:00 and had just enough time to do some winetasting at Georg Breuer Winery (same owners as the hotel where we were staying). Most of their wines are the region’s specialty — riesling. We especially liked the drier rieslings. And surprisingly they had a couple of very nice Pinot Noirs. The Spatburgunder Pinot Noir 2005 was excellent and we bought a bottle to take with us to Amsterdam. If you go there for winetasting, I would suggest that you call and book a tasting in their cellar, we just did a walk in, so that wasn’t an option. But the photos in the brochure sure looked nice.

For dinner, we were ready for Italian food again, and then we headed back to the hotel restaurant for a drink and to listen to the band. It was a full day. The next morning after a really fabulous breakfast at the hotel we were off to the train station.

I am really glad that we made the effort to stop at Rudesheim, even though it was far too short a time. Next time I would spend probably 4 nights in Rudesheim, that would give you 3 full days. You could daytrip 2 of those days and then have a day to relax in town, if you wanted. The Hotel Schloss is clearly where you’d want to stay. The room was perfect and had everything we needed, and the people there were incredibly helpful. You also have their fantastic restaurant right below you. The day we arrived the owner was off to an award ceremony where she ended up winning 3 awards for the restaurant! Here is a photo of their charming courtyard:

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We got to the train station a little bit early because we need to buy tickets. It was a small station with just one person, but he was a gem. We had planned to take the train to Frankfurt and then to Amsterdam, but he saved us about $100 and routed us to Koblenz and Koln. So we got to see more of the beautiful part of the Rhine on the way to Koblenz. Then at Koln we had a hour and half break so that we could pop out and see the cathedral. We also had some coffee and a snack at a Starbucks. Then we made our way to our final destination—Amsterdam.

We’ve Arrived in Amsterdam

We are finally here in Amsterdam! We arrived by train and decided to walk to the apartment. The owner gave us detailed directions and we also had a printout of a Google map with the route indicated. I was so prepared! And it was worth it, not a single wrong turn or moment of confusion. The walk took about 25 minutes and was along some of the prettiest streets and canals I have ever seen.

We went into the apartment building and up two flights of stairs —fairly steep and narrow, though I’ve heard there are worse. When we opened the door to the apartment I was so impressed by the bank of windows with sunlight pouring through. It was such a welcoming sight. And take a look at the view:

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The apartment is everything the website says it is—perhaps more. There is fully stocked kitchen and I don’t just mean the usual cooking implements, pots and pans. The owners go a step beyond and actually stock the kitchen with food: breads, milk, juice, yogurt, cheeses, sliced meats, preserves, beer, Pepsi, lots of cookies, chocolate, a huge bowl of fruit, plus all the basics like coffee, tea, butter, condiments, and a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine already chilled in the refrigerator. We are set.

There is also high speed Internet access for our laptop, and I wasted no time in sitting down and checking my email.

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The decor and furnishings are very nice—some modern Ikea touches along with some interesting collectables and warm colors. The bathroom is very, very small and quaintly old-fashioned. The kitchen is small, too, but has everything you could possibly need (including a dishwasher built into the bottom of the stove).

After settling in and getting a quick orientation, we needed to get out for dinner. We picked a traditional Dutch restaurant within walking distance that was in the apartment recommendation book. As we were leaving the owner mentioned that they had recently changed to an Italian restaurant. We could not escape our fate.

When we got there, the name of the restaurant was still named Koevoet (Lindenstraat 17, telephone: 020 624 08 46), but the menu was all Italian food. The decor remained traditionally Dutch—absolutely charming and cozy. Clearly it was popular because they were full, so we left our name and went for a walk. It was already dark, so we couldn’t see everything, but we definitely started to get a feel for the Jordaan neighborhood. When we went back the restaurant, there was short wait, but they poured us a glass of Prosecco and we chatted with them at the bar. I knew at that point that we were in for a really great meal.

They seated us at a cozy corner table by the back window and we ordered a half liter of wine. They automatically brought a pitcher of iced tap water. The water here is delicious, so perhaps we can save a little money by not having to buy bottled water. We split our usual favorite Caprese Salad, which was an excellent example of its kind, every ingredient was perfect. Then I had the mixed ravioli of about 4 different types—each one better than the last.

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Steve had the Pasta Bolognese which was also perfection.

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So here we had our favorite Italian food, in a traditional Dutch setting. What more could we want? Unfortunately we had no room for their tasty looking desserts, so we each ordered an espresso to help us on the short walk back to the apartment. Our meal came to 50 euros (about $70)—an extremely good value for the quality.

We slept well and then this morning woke up around 7:30 to the pleasant purr of construction on the street below us. Yes, we just so happened to time our visit with the repaving and new gas and sewer line work on this street. But we have a kitchen full of tasty things for breakfast and a washer/dryer so we can have some clean clothes, as we venture out at some point today to explore the city.

October 4, 2007

In Our Neighborhood

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I guess I have really embraced the Slow Travel Philosophy when I realize that we never strayed from our Jordaan neighborhood on our first full day in Amsterdam.

When we woke up it was raining, so we decided to have a leisurely breakfast and do some laundry. With washing machine cycles what they are in Europe (long!) that meant we had lots of time to also download photos and catch up on email. And, of course, we had plenty of food for breakfast. I do miss my espresso machine, but we were able to make a decent cup of coffee with the apartment's Senseo one cup machine.

We chatted with one of the friendly owners before heading out and so by the time we were out, it wasn't raining at all. We walked over to the Anne Frank House. We had been warned that the lines can be pretty bad, but we lucked out and there was only the shortest little line. It was so interesting to finally see the house that we have read so much about—a very moving experience. I brought The Diary of Anne Frank with me to read on the trip, but I've only just started it. Now, I am more interested than ever to continue reading.

After that we walked about and popped into a coffeeshop for an espresso macchiato. And so that I could say that I had at least been in a coffeeshop!

All over this neighborhood the streets and canals are so charming that we kept stopping on every bridge to take photos. And this area does not appear to be overly crowded either. It is very enjoyable for strolling, though you do have to watch out for those bicyclists—they're everywhere!

For an early dinner we went to The Pancake Bakery. Steve had the traditional Dutch split pea soup and I had a tomato, onion and mushroom pancake. This was quite unlike any other pancake I've ever had before and it was delicious. The pancake is thin like a crepe and the toppings seem to baked onto the top of it. With some Belgium Palm beer, we had quite a nice meal for only about 22 euro.

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Then we stopped at an ATM and went to a grocery store. I know, such mundane little things, but it was nice to walk out of the store and to know our way back to the apartment without consulting the map. So we do feel like we've gotten to know our neighborhood a bit. Tomorrow we will venture out of this concentric circle to the next.

October 5, 2007

A Day of Art

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We took a tram to the Museum Quarter to get our fill of art and culture. First we visited the Rijksmuseum. The main core of the museum is closed for remodeling, but they have put all the most famous pieces in the Philips Wing—sort of a “best of the Rijksmuseum” for easy viewing. But it did seem a little strange to go through it all so quickly. The Rembrandts were stunning, but I was also impressed with lively paintings of Jan Steen. Disappointingly, Vermeer’s “The Kitchen Maid” was out on loan. I consoled myself with the remaining three, my favorite of which was his “View of the Houses in Delft.”

After the Rijksmuseum we had lunch at a Wagamama. Of course, this wasn't a very Dutch choice—a British chain restaurant of Asian food! But ever since a friend brought me back their cookbook from her visit to London, I have wanted to go to a Wagamama. We had a rice stir fry and miso soup and green tea. Nothing outstanding, but it was good and just what we needed.

Our next museum was the Van Gogh Museum. What an impressive museum! The collection of Van Goghs is amazing and the visiting show (Barcelona 1900) was also outstanding.

When we left the Van Gogh Museum, the sun came out. Everything looked more beautiful, and we sat and enjoyed the view in Vondel Park for a bit before taking the tram back to the apartment.

Unfortunately, we have no hot water due to some construction going on in front of the apartment. Hopefully they'll get the gas back on soon. The weather seems to be improving, and we should get some sunny days before we leave. There's still so much more to see in this city.

October 6, 2007

Another Day in the City

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I find Amsterdam to be such an interesting city. It is a big, modern city yet it has small, quaint neighborhoods like the Jordaan that seem so livable. The bicycle is huge part of the culture here. I have never seen anything like it. There is every type and style of bike imaginable. I have seen cruisers, tandems, racing bikes and beat up old things that look they can barely move. In fact old bicycles outnumber new looking ones by about 100 to 1. There are also various carts and wagons that are attached to bicycles. Often you see mothers with their children in these sorts of carts. Baskets attached to the front handlebars and decorated with flowers seem to be popular with young women. The only time you see two bicycles that are the same is when they are clearly from a rental company.

We saw plenty of bicycles as we ventured to the center of the city to see Dam Square, and then we did a little self-guided walking tour of the red light district. We ended up at the Waag, where at one point Rembrandt sketched anatomy lessons. We had lunch at a bar facing the Waag called Stevens. My melted gorgonzola and smoked ham sandwich came on dark brown bread and was delicious.

Walking back to the apartment the photo and shopping opportunities were everywhere, and I can't help but to continue to be impressed by this diverse and fascinating city.

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Cats, Bags and Heineken

We dove in head first to the touristy things that Amsterdam has to offer. We started off the morning with a visit to the fantastic organic market.

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This was torture because I wanted to buy more than I could possibly consume while I’m here or carry back. There was everything you could possibly need and quite a few things I really didn’t need: cheese, flowers, delicious looking brown bread, chocolate, olives, leg warmers, socks, jewelry, all sorts of clothes and coats, toothpaste (including my new favorite Swiss brand, Elmex), hardware, bicycle seats, antiques, CDs, soaps and lots more. Though we didn’t buy much, we did get a little snack from a British chap selling Bratwurst on a bun with sauerkraut. It is downright amazing to me how good it tasted.

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Next I went to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. This is super tiny and not really much of a museum, but worth a look for any tulip lover. I couldn’t resist buying a bag of tulips even though they are incredibly heavy. Santa Barbara may not be the best climate for tulips, but I feel I have to try planting these in pots (so the gophers won’t get them). The guy there said with a month of chilling in the refrigerator, they should do fine.

It was a pretty, but slightly long, walk up to the Kattenkabinet cat museum. This is another small museum suitable only for a cat lover. It is slightly odd—several large elegant rooms filled with artwork depicting cats. There are also a few cats that wander about lending some extra credibility to the place. I thought it was interesting, and I loved the fact that it was practically empty so I had the place to myself.

It was only a block or so up the street to the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses. This museum is fantastic, and it has the largest collection of bags and purses in the world. The museum recently moved, so the building has been remodeled specifically for the displays which are extremely well done. I have emailed them with a request for some photos that I can use, so I will post those later.

Now, you really should have some interest in bags and purses to enjoy it properly. But if you have come with a disinterested husband, as I did, there is a nice little cafe on the 1st floor with a view of the charming garden in the back. Park him there and then go up to the top floor and work your way back down so that you see the exhibits in chronological order. It is quite educational and there are some absolutely stunning examples of artistic purses. I loved all the really old ones, from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. And if you need to use the WC, the one on the 1st floor is the nicest one I’ve seen on this trip—there are even purses displayed in the toilet stalls!

After the Purse Museum and a quick stroll through Rembrandt Plein and a bite to eat (we managed to find a shop that sold panini) we headed to the Heineken Brewery.

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The Heineken Brewery Experience is really just that—an experience. It’s a self guided tour, and they give you beer. There are displays, interactive games and even rides of a sort. It’s like Disneyland, only they give you beer. It’s pretty brilliant. You wander through some educational displays that show you how beer is made. Then you experience a simulation of what it’s like to be a bottle in the Heineken factory. Then you have your first stop for beer. After that there are more games to play and things to experience and then you end up at the final bar where you get two more beers. There’s also a gift shop involved somewhere in there. As I said, it’s very Disney, but with beer.

So a day of shopping and museums—of tulips, cats, purses and beer. There’s something in there for everyone, and Amsterdam continues to amaze us.

October 7, 2007

Beyond Amsterdam

We expanded our boundaries with a day trip to the Kröller-Müller Museum and the De Hoge Veluwe National Park. The owner of the apartment suggested that we see this museum and park and what a good piece of advice that was. Though it took a little bit of effort to get there, it was one of the best museums we’ve seen and the park was a fantastic experience.

If you have a car, then this will be a pretty straightforward daytrip. But we managed to do it all with public transportation, so though a tad complicated, it can be done. First we walked to the central train station where we got tickets to Ede-Wageningen. It was about an hour long train ride and the trains run every half hour (about 35 euro for the two of us). Then we wandered around the station looking for the bus to take us to the town nearest the museum. The buses run every hour and, naturally, we had just missed it.

Luckily a lovely young woman approached us and made us a proposition. She was trying to get to the park to meet up with friends who were running a half marathon and she suggested that we split a taxi so we could all get there sooner. We took her up on the idea and the taxi dropped us right off at the entrance to the park (30 euro). There was a short wait for tickets (a sunny Sunday is a popular day at the park), but the time went by quickly as we chatted away with our new friend, Annet.

Once we got our tickets (a combo park and museum ticket is 14 euro) we were able to pick up one of the zillions of white bicycles that are available for people to ride in the park. You see, the park is about 13,000 acres and the museum about 2 kilometers from the entrance we came in. The bikes are a brilliant idea. You get to ride through beautiful trees and vast open spaces on well maintained bike paths. Where the path branched off to go to the museum we said good-bye to Annet and we hope her friends did well in the marathon.

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At the museum you are greeted by some incredible sculptures (and that is only the tip of iceberg). We started off by having a quick lunch in the museum cafe, which was very good and reasonably priced. Then we started looking at art.

If you are an art lover, you will feel like you have struck gold. This is really an amazing collection. There are over 80 paintings by Van Gogh along with rooms full of Mondrian, a room full of cubist paintings by Picasso, Bracque, Juan Gris and numerous other incredible pieces by Renoir, Seurat, Leger and so many others. Then there’s the sculpture.

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In addition to some great pieces in the museum, there is a huge, and I mean huge, sculpture garden. You could spend a day just looking at all these great pieces. Unfortunately we had a bus to catch, so eventually we had to leave.

Our journey back consisted of a bike ride to the entrance, about a mile walk to the town of Otterlo (which is very charming, by the way), a bus ride to Ede-Wageningen and then a train ride back to Amsterdam. We stopped for some hot chocolate on the walk back to the apartment and then a little bit later on went out to dinner.

We went to a Spanish restaurant called Paso Doble, which was excellent. We had a mixture of tapas: tortilla, basket of bread with garlic sauce, meatballs in spicy tomato sauce and grilled prawns. I had a glass of the house red wine and Steve had a margarita. The perfect ending to a full day.

October 8, 2007

Last Day in Amsterdam

This is just a quick entry because we are heading out soon for our last dinner. Today was our last full day in Amsterdam, and it seems a little sad to be leaving this great city. We enjoyed the day fully, though, with a canal cruise and lots of walking to cover a little more new ground. There is still so much to see. I will post some photos and write about our final impressions once we get home. So good-bye Amsterdam, hopefully we will see you again soon.

October 14, 2007

Last Supper in Amsterdam

I know it’s taken me way too long to update my blog since we got back. I can only chalk it up to jet lag and pure laziness. But now I simply must write a little about our last supper in Amsterdam. We finally got around to eating Indonesian food and boy, were we sorry we hadn’t tried it sooner. It is now my new favorite ethnic food, and I have absolutely no hope of indulging in it now that we’ve left Amsterdam. Couldn’t someone please open a fabulous Indonesian food restaurant in Santa Barbara?

We went to Kantjil & de Tijger, based on the recommendation of the owners of the apartment. Then we put ourselves into the hands of our waiter, and we let him pick out a bunch of dishes from the a la carte menu. This was the perfect strategy. We had plenty of food and every dish was delicious. Here is a photo of some of our dishes. I'm sorry I can’t even remember what we had, but I know it was all fabulous. The dish in the center was some sort of omelet, and it was some sort of fantastic.

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We walked out of Kantjil pleasantly full and had a nice walk back to the apartment. The city was sparkling and beautiful, and we knew we were going to miss it.

Top Five Trip Highlights

1. Picasso
picassophoto2.jpgWe saw a lot of great art on this trip and a lot of Picassos. I think my favorite Picasso viewing was at the Rosengart Collection museum in Lucerne. I loved the big open spaces filled with his later paintings. The Picasso Museum in Lucerne was also a treat. Seeing all the photographs of Picasso at work or with his family was very interesting to me. I guess I like to know the backstory of the art I like to look at. To know a little about the artist makes it all seem more approachable.

2. Eating Italian
kristaeating2.jpgDespite the fact that we were in Switzerland, Germany and Amsterdam, we ended up having quite a few great Italian meals. Panini are staple street food everywhere it seems. But from our first couple of meals at Valentino in Lucerne to the upscale meal at Casa Tolone to our charming Italian meal in a Dutch atmosphere at Koevoet, somehow we managed to have some pretty delicious Italian dinners.

3. The Rides
At times we felt like we were in Disneyland, but in a good way. On our daytrip to Mt. Pilatus we took 2 gondolas and a cog train and on our daytrip in Germany we took a gondola and a chair lift. There is nothing like getting up in the air and seeing things from above. Then there were the boat rides— across Lake Lucerne, down the Rhine and through the canals of Amsterdam. We got a great view of things from the water in every case. Here's a shot I took from the chair lift in Germany.

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4. The Buildings and Canals of Amsterdam
I have never seen a city like Amsterdam. The buildings and the architecture are beautiful and coupled with the picturesque canals, it just makes the whole effect stunning. The city feels alive and vibrant, but with a glorious past. People riding around on bicycles, coffeeshops and trendy restaurants all mixed in with buildings from the 1600s that look like they came straight out of a Vermeer painting. I loved wandering around the streets of Jordaan, window shopping or stopping to take yet another photo of the buildings along a canal.

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5. Rijsttafel/Indonesian Food
Why, oh why did we wait until our last night to try Indonesian food? It was so delicious. Do I dare try to make it on my own? Since there are no restaurants near me, I may have to. Perhaps I can enlist the help of my friend whose husband is Dutch/Indonesian. I did find this website which seems inspiring.

February 17, 2009

National Geographic Magazines

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I took this photo of a display of old National Geographic Magazines in a store window in Amsterdam in the fall of 2007. It caught my eye because when I was growing up we had a huge collection of old National Geographics stashed away in the spare room. The ones in this photo were from 1927-1930. I'm sure we had some from those years and older, collected by my father and his father before him. But, as a child, I used to look through the more recent ones from the sixties and later. The photos of all the exotic locations always appealed to me. And to this day I can vividly remember an article about white tigers.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to In and Out of the Garden: A Blog in the Europe 2007 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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