5th October 2018

We arrived this morning in The Netherlands at the port of Haarlem and by overnight ferry from Newcstle-Upon-Tyne and it was as if we had changed worlds. By mid-morning we had been ferried by bus through a flat, industrial area to the Amsterdam city centre. Our hotel, an Ibis, was conveniently located over some platforms of the Amsterdam Centraal station. it was surprisingly quiet, very comfortable, and right in the middle of the action of this buzzing city.

We spent the day wandering around on foot to get the feel of the place. It felt good to be walking again rather than being cooped up in the car. We enjoyed a lovely coffee in one of the cafes beside one of the city's many canals, and that night we had a nice dinner, but were surprised to be charged 3 euros each for a tiny bottle of water. It worked out at Aus$20.00 for 4 glasses of what was essentially tap water. These people know how to charge.



Our first impressions of Amsterdam:

+ Nothing is free, even a cup of hot water for your own tea bag costs 2 euros.

+ It is bustling, busy, alive with people and bikes swarming everywhere (Amsterdam has over 800,000 push bikes).



+ There are canals throughout the city - 100 in fact, according to our cruise guide, with 1,000 bridges.

+ You take your life into your hands crossing the roads ... roads? What roads? In places the car lanes, bike lanes and footpaths seem to blend into one another; you can be on a road or a bike lane and not even realise it.



+ There are not many cars in the city, but there are trams everywhere, and by the way, did I mention bikes? They have the right of way, or so it seems. Traffic lights are weird - the green "walk" signal doesn't necessarily mean car drivers or bike riders believe pedestrians have the right of way.


In Australia, we have multi-level car parks. In Amsterdam they have multi-level bike racks

+ There are lots of signs in English and lots of people speak English so there is no language problem.

+ The people are friendly and generally helpful.



+ It is much more liberal in Amsterdam than Australia. Cannabis is legal; you can get most thing cannabis - chocolates, cookies, drinks, food ... Cafes are for coffee, coffee shops are for cannabis. There are (cigarette) smokers everywhere. The red light district is alive and well; the "ladies", dressed provocatively, each posing in a separate window with a red light above it, trying to attract the eye of potential customers. They are one of the city's major attractions.



+ We saw lots of electric cars plugged into the many charging points scattered throughout the city. The Netherlands has more electric cars per head of population than anywhere else in the world. They have a car-share scheme where people don't own a car but can use one for a fee based on the distance travelled. When they need a car, they find a charging point with a car at in, get in and drive it away. When they have finished with it, they take the car to one of hundreds of charging points around the city, lock it up and walk away.

+ Most shops and cafes don't open until 10.00am but are still going strong at 10.00pm.

+ Amsterdam is about clogs, bikes, tulips, windmills, canals, bikes, quaint buildings, the best chocolate, and bikes.


Rijksmuseum

6th October 2018

Today's plan was to visit the Rijksmuseum in the morning and then continue taking in more sights in the afternoon. The Rijksmuseum is one of the great museums of the world; everyone Debbie and Steve know who had been there recommended they go there, and they soon could see why. It covers Dutch history, arts and culture with a whole floor dedicated to each of the last eight centuries. We saw the artworks of many famous Dutch masters, like Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Gogh.


Debbie comes face to face with Vincent Van Gogh in a self portrait (Van Gogh's, not Debbie's)


Steve studying 'The Incredulity of Saint Thomas', part of 'the Rockox Triptych' (or "Altarpiece")' by Rubens


Rona admiring Rembrandt's 'Night Watch'

Stephen got very excited about the gallery covering Dutch exploration and colonisation during the 17th and 18th centuries, a period of time when Dutch navigators accidentally discovered, explored and mapped parts of western and northern Australia and Tasmania. He had been to the museum before but had missed the first globe ever produced that included Abel Tasman's exporation of the Australian coast on it. He also discovered a cannon marked "Batavia", which he suspected was one he helped bring up from the wreck of the "Batavia (1629) when he worked for the WA Museum in the 1970s.



It was all too much to take in in one sitting (we'll view the rest on our next visit), so we went back into the crowded streets in search of lunch. In the afternoon Steve and Debbie went on a canal cruise. On the way they saw the smallest house in Amsterdam (98 cm wide) and learnt about the city's buildings, which are built on timber foundations, many of which have moved, explaining why many appear to be holding each other up. The trip included a visit to the port area where cruise ships regularly bring thousands of visitors into the city for the day.



7th October 2018

The itinerary for today said "Spend the day visiting other towns in The Netherlands", so that is what we did. We each have a rail pass allowing unlimited travel through Europe by train for a set number of days. The trip was planned so that, if we activated our passes today, they would expire on the day before we left Europe to fly home to Australia.



Our Ibis hotel is right next to the railway station so we didn't have far to go to get them activated, however it took three rail staff about 15 minutes to get us mobile - one would think they'd never had to activate a Eurail Pass before! Our first destination was to be Utrecht, but when we made it onto the platform, the train was just pulling out of the station. The next train leaving from that platform was to Rotterdam, which was the third city on our list of destinations, so we decided to reverse the order and go there first.


Old Harbour, Rotterdam

Rona and Stephen had been before and recalled how it had been severely bombed during World war II, but has risen from its own ashes to become one of the largest seaports in the world - and the driving force behind the Dutch economy. You can feel that sense of energy and industry as you view Rotterdam's vast deep-water harbour, which is almost a city unto itself. The Old Harbour (Oude Haven) is one of the few links to the past that remains; today it is a great place for a drink and a bite to eat.



Rotterdam's constant buzz of energy and expansion makes it one of the most dynamic places to visit. The sight of steel and cement instead of canals and cobblestones like you see elsewhere in The Netherlands is a bit of a shock at first, but what Rotterdam lacks in historic charm it makes up for in cutting-edge architecture and world-class museums.


Markthal

One of the most dramatic of Rottemdam's modern architectural wonders is the Markthal (English: Market Hall), an arched residential and office building with a market hall within the arch. Besides the large market hall, the complex houses 228 apartments, retail space and an underground 4-storey car park. The building has a glass facade on both sides, these are made up of smaller glass windows. All of these are hung around a structure of steel cables, 34 metres high and 42 metres wide, which makes it the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe. The inside shell of the building is adorned with a huge artwork depicting strongly enlarged fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects.


Markthal

During the building of the Markthal, a tenth-century farm was found 7 metres under the ground. Within the house were two stoves and a few fireplaces. The farm was part of a village before Rotterdam, named Rotta, after the river Rotte. The inhabitants of Rotta were farmers, craftsmen and traders.


Cheese stall in The Markthal

Aware that we must keep moving, and after having a good look at the area around the Old Harbour, we headed back to the railway station to catch our next train - to Gouda. This picture postcard town is a typical Dutch city with lots of old buildings and pretty canals, and is a popular destination for day trippers. Gouda is famous for its cheese, its 15th century town hall in the centre of town and the amazing stained glass windows in St. Janskerk.



Dwarfing the town centre which it overlooks, St. Janskerke church is dedicated to John the Baptist, the patron saint of Gouda, and was built during the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1485 the foundation was built for the present-day choir. This expansion made the church the longest in the Netherlands, with a length of 123 metres.


Gouda town hall and market place. I find it appropriate that Germany's town halls, which are the seat of local government, are called the Rathaus.

We found the centre of Gouda to be quite small and very easy to walk around. All the main sites are here, inside the canal, which circles the old centre of Gouda. Being a Sunday, the weekend markets were in full swing - we had our first tastes of proffitjes, a pancake-like delicacy smothered in butter and sugar. Yumm.



The third place we visited was Utrecht, somewhere none of us knew much about before we got there. The size of its railway station, with destinations as far away as Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris, gave us a hint that this was a far bigger, more important city than we had imagined. This was confirmed when we walked out of the railway station and into a huge ultra-modern shopping centre. The area surrounding it and the station itself were developed following modernist ideas of the 1960s, in a brutalist style, and rivalled Rotterdam for its unique innovative architecture.



The shopping centre was quite stunning, but for us the best was yet to come. Walk out of the other side of the shopping centre and you take a giant step back in time as you enter the old town. This is an ancient city centre that features many buildings and structures, several dating as far back as the High Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the 8th century. Utrecht was the most important city in the Netherlands until the Dutch Golden Age, when it was surpassed by Amsterdam as the country's cultural centre and most populous city.


Utrecht

The iconic Domtoren, a 14th-century bell tower with city views, stands opposite the Gothic Cathedral of St. Martin on central Domplein square. St. Martin's Cathedral (Dom church) is located next to the Cathedral Tower in Utrecht. Originally both were connected, but a tornado in 1674 caused the nave of the Cathedral to collapse, separating the Cathedral from the Tower. The first stone of the Cathedral was laid in 1254. In the years that followed, the Cathedral was Catholic until 1580 and then Dutch Reformed until 2003, when it became part of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.


The Domtoren, Utrecht

The quiet and smooth 20 minute journey back to Amsterdam in an ICE high speed train was the perfect end to a wonderful day. After a cool start, the weather had been perfect, with plenty of sunshine and a maximum temperature of 20 degrees. Our three destinations were only around half an hour by train from each other, so we easily got to visit them all in a single day with time to spare for a quiet dinner in the evening.

Stephen Yarrow and Debbie Hall

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