Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Easter Sunday in Amsterdam

I Amsterdam.

  A regular Sunday in Europe is quiet. Many stores and shops are closed, even in a city the size of Amsterdam.

  There will be pockets of small shopping districts open, but for the most part, every thing's closed up for the day. That's just the way Sundays are.

  They're for taking Sunday strolls, Sunday drives, and relaxing.

  Easter Sunday in Europe? Yeah, you can imagine.

  Tera, Tracie, Rene and I were about to see what Easter Sunday had to offer in Amsterdam. I was hoping it was more than gesloten sign after gesloten sign.

Rijksmuseum and I Amsterdam sign.
  We 'sprung forward' Saturday night and it put us behind schedule right off the bat (Europe changes to Daylight Savings several weeks after the US. So Tracie, Tera and Rene were lucky enough to spring forward twice this year!). We had chronically been a few hours behind scheduled-plans the entire weekend, so one less hour didn't help matters.

  Most of our time, the two days prior, had been spent in the western and northern parts of the city, but there were some sights south of the city center that I wanted to get to. We scrambled out the door, and headed for the southern part of Amsterdam.

House boats lining the canals.
I Amsterdam Sign
  The I Amsterdam sign is one of the most-photographed spots in Amsterdam. Initially, the phrase was used as a marketing campaign, but quickly became a motto of the city.

  Located just in front of the Rijksmuseum, you commonly see tourists crawling all over the giant letters to capture a fun picture for their Amsterdam photo album.

  When we came upon the sign, we found exactly that. It was difficult to gain a good perspective for pictures because there were so many people, but we managed to snap a couple good shots.

  The whole area surrounding the sign, known as Museumkwartier (Museum Quarter), was interesting. There's the Rijksmuseum -- the national museum, the Van Gogh Museum -- that houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work, the Nederlands Filmmuseum -- that showcases 1000 screenings a year, and a few other museums.

The basketball court in Museumkwartier.
  There is also open space, Museumplein and Vondelpark, that give the neighborhood a nice atmosphere. There was even a basketball court!

Easter Market Goose Chase
  In previous years while traveling on Easter weekend, I had always found many of the cities had Easter Markets. We were hoping, since most-everything else would be closed, that maybe there would be a market for us to enjoy.

  I had done my homework, but forgot to make note of where the markets were. Oops! One difficult thing about traveling in Europe, is it's hard to research on the fly. Unless you want to pay an arm and a leg for your phone to work abroad, your smart phone is merely a glorified map. And public wifi is hard to come by, so you can't count on being able to Google anything once you're out and about.

  So I asked a vendor where there might be an Easter Market to stroll though. He then sent us on, what turned out to be, a wild goose chase for the Albert Cuyp Market. He said it was 'one of the most famous markets in the world'. I thought, wow, this should be great -- if we could find it.

  We set out for the De Pijp neighborhood and the Albert Cuyp Market. We found where it was supposed to be, but all that was there were quiet, empty streets. Guess what, it's not open on Sunday.

  It was a sunny day (but still pretty chilly), so we were happy to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. As we made our way from the closed Albert Cuyp Market, back towards the city center, we had our eyes peeled for a place to have lunch.

  We walked along Utrechtsestraat until we found a spot that grapped our attention: Zuivere Koffie did just that. For the second day in a row, we felt like we found a winner. This cafe wasn't quite as good as Singel 404 from the day before, but still a good stop for sandwiches and coffee or tea.

Zuivere Koffie for lunch.
Cafe to Cafe
  Almost immediately after lunch, I had planned to meet a high school classmate at yet another cafe along the Amstel river. I can never have enough coffee, and was anxious to try out another Dutch dessert, so I didn't mind.

  I hadn't seen Ariel since high school graduation, so it was fun to catch up on the last decade-plus (wow!) for a couple hours at De Ysbreeker (pronounced ice breaker).

  I love how Facebook and traveling can put you back in touch, and it's always fun to see a familiar face so far away from home.

  Along with a few cakes and coffee, Ariel introduced us to a Dutch specialty called bitterballen -- fried gravy. I'm usually not partial to fried anything, but they were good!

  The day was winding down, and there was nothing more in particular we wanted to see (that we could do in a short time frame), so we were happy to slowly make our way back through the city.

LHS grads in Amsterdam -- me and Ariel.
  Right before heading back to our house via tram, we came upon Rembrandtplein, one of the largest and busiest squares in the city center. It was a lively part of the city, with an art market in the square that afternoon.

  I had been wanting to get to Rembrandtplein all weekend, but hadn't managed to be in the right place at the right time til then. And since we were short on time, we didn't get a chance to explore the square and the surrounding area.

  Because I had a three hour drive back to Dunkerque (by way of Brussels to drop my friends at the airport), I didn't want to get on the too road late. But as usual, we were behind schedule. So it was time to hit the road!

Summing up Amsterdam
  Usually, after visiting a new city for a weekend, I have a very good feel for the layout of the city by the time I leave. I can't say I felt that way after our weekend in Amsterdam. I found it more difficult than usual to get my bearings. Even though the city isn't all that big, I never felt comfortable with my sense of direction, or exploring without a map.

Where the Amstel river turns into the canals -- I think.
  With the countless canals, every corner and crossing felt the same. You'd try to remember 'that place' by the bridge, and then you come upon 12 other bridges that look nearly identical.

  Also I usually feel very comfortable with public transport. In Amsterdam I explored less than I usually do, and really only rode one tram the entire weekend -- always getting on/off at the same stops.

  From what I saw over the course of the weekend, the best way to explore Amsterdam is to get lost on a bike. The days we were there, were not fit for biking -- too cold! Walking does the job too, but to fit in like a true Amsterdammer, you definitely need a bike. And a bell to ring at all the wandering tourists that walk into your path!

Near Staalstraat.
  After three days in Amsterdam, I came to this conclusion: it's essentially two different cities. One inside the Red Light District, and one outside the Red Light District.

  The one inside was pretty overwhelming, and not exactly my cup of tea. But the one outside, was a place I loved.

  It had pretty scenery, friendly people, international fare, great sights to see, and on top of it all, was health conscious. The Dutch, to me, seem to be committed to living a healthy lifestyle, and make it easy for their citizens to follow suit.

  If ever there was a European city I could see myself living in long term, it would be a place like Amsterdam (outside the Red Light District, of course)!

Tree art.
On the move!
Art in Amsterdam.

Along the Amstel river.
Rene's little cream to go with her little coffee.
You see this everywhere --  it's the Amsterdam flag.
Amstel river.
Rene -- I Amsterdam.

Me -- I Amsterdam.
One last group picture!
De Pijp neighborhood.


Post a Comment