You can’t visit Amsterdam without doing the museum thing, and the capital of the Netherlands has some of the world’s finest. Instead of heading to Amsterdam Centraal like we had the previous two mornings, Teresa and I hopped off a couple of stops early, at Waterlooplein Station.
Emerging onto the surface, we came across one of the large I AMsterdam signs, kind of like a miniature version of the famous Hollywood sign in California. We hadn’t a clue that another lies behind the Rijksmuseum where we were headed first so we stopped here instead to take a few classic touristy photos inside, in front of, and on top of the sign. A bridge over the nearest canal here sports some gorgeous street lamps right out of a Victorian Era novel. Not far away lies a square featuring a statue of Rembrandt as well as numerous other stone statues and a beautiful tree featuring pink flowers reminiscent of cherry blossoms. Along or around this stretch, called Rembrandtplein, are a slew of smaller museums, including Museum Willet-Holthuysen, Museum of Bags and Purses, and Foam – Photography Museum Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum is about a fifteen minute walk from Waterlooplein, and next to impossible to miss. The building is massive and, as usual, the design and execution of it is absolutely stunning.
Teresa and I entered through the central roadway that cuts through the middle. Out here, a small music group was playing for the thronging crowds and passing cyclists. Inside opened up to a huge hall with an open-concept restaurant one floor up, and lockers to the left of that. They don’t allow backpacks into the museum so we had to lock ours up.
The museum itself is quite stunning with a wide variety of historic art, both local and international, unique exhibits, and artefacts from centuries ago. We spent a good two hours exploring every nook and cranny. Older art, particularly Renaissance art doesn’t particularly appeal to me. I can sit there, staring and staring at a portrait without really feeling anything. For some reason, modern art, cubist art, or much of what came out in the early- to mid-twentieth century is more moving to me. I am by no means an expert on art, nor can I draw a straight line without a ruler, I can only judge based on sentiment. One thing I do appreciate about Renaissance art, however, is the detail in the human body. I love how idealistic the body of men and women are portrayed, right down to the muscular contours and the exaggerated grace of the subject painted. For some reason, the faces fail to captivate me and anything biblically-inclined I can only interpret as fantastically amusing.
After leaving the Rijksmuseum, we headed deeper into the city to find some lunch. At this point, we wanted something specifically Dutch. We’d had Indonesian food the day before, which was great and unsurprising to find considering the long-standing relationship between the Dutch and Indonesians dating back centuries.
I found a place called The Pantry, situated in a small laneway about ten minutes away. Highly rated and decently priced, it was quite a draw for us and a great decision in my opinion. They have a large section of “Traditional Dutch Dishes”. By now I have to mention that my vegan/vegetarian diet I’ve been following for months now was out the window in Europe. I made a decision before leaving that I would not compromise my cultural experience while travelling, whether in Europe or anywhere else, and would thus eat what the local cuisine had to offer. Here at home in Canada, I am back to omitting all meat from my diet and the majority of my caloric consumption comes from 100% vegan products. In Amsterdam, though, this wasn’t the case.
At The Pantry, Teresa and I enjoyed some Hutspot (mashed potatoes mixed with stewed beef, carrots and onions and served with a meatball) as well as savoury beef and onion stew served with red cabbage and mashed potatoes. They sound almost exactly the same, but were spiced very differently and each somehow unique in its own right. Oh yes, we ate a whole lot of stew, mashed potatoes, gravy, and other heavy dishes on a regular basis. I gained a solid nine pounds in three weeks, and I only worked out once, in Bruges. Those aren’t muscle gains, those are stomach gains and I have a newfound spare tire to prove it! If we hadn’t done all that walking (I’d estimate an average of 15 KM a day, some days up to 25KM) I don’t even want to know how much more I would have put on. With my return to Canada, fitness goals abound.
After lunch, we walked into the Red Light District, on Oudezijds Achterburgwal to visit the Marijuana and Hemp Museum, or officially the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum. As much of the world is aware of, smoking and selling marijuana and THC products is widely accepted in Amsterdam. However, there is a lot more depth to this phenomenon than a bunch of potheads congregating in coffee shops to light up all day, every day. There is a rich history behind the agricultural production of hemp, the politics behind its near-global illegality, and the movement to make hemp and cannabis products legal (as, in my humble opinion, they absolutely ought to be). Teresa and I spent about an hour here with an audio-guided tour. Our devices allowed us to gather information as we moved from exhibit to exhibit, with information dating back well over a century on the numerous uses and superiority of its properties over other textiles, the propaganda behind its stigma, and the ways in which activists struggle to bring the issue to the public and political arena in order to legalize it. At the end, the museum offers vaporized samples of marijuana, which Teresa and I declined, still far too full from our massive Dutch lunch to even consider consuming something as ephemeral as vaporized marijuana.
After leaving the museum, we sought out the Hortus Botanicus, a bit of a walk away but with plenty to see as we traversed the cobblestoned streets once again. The gardens are naturally gorgeous, with an indoor area consisting of environments simulating a boreal forest, a humid jungle, and a bone-dry desert. The latter environment I’ve never experienced before. All of the hot places I’ve visited are always humid, the air saturated with moisture. The tropical section brought back memories of trips past: the Philippines, the rest of Southeast Asia, the Peruvian Amazon. It’s always a good feeling to step into the tropics for me.
We relaxed outside for some time; some people come to the gardens just to read in a peaceful atmosphere, some bring little children to experience the nature surrounding them. One indoor area served as a home to a wide variety of beautiful butterflies.
Days fly by, but especially when I’m travelling. I fell in love with Amsterdam and the following day, I’d be leaving already. Teresa and I booked a rental car so we could explore more of the continent we’d come to visit. Despite warnings from concerned family members and even the rental car agent, we decided our next stop would be Belgium. At this point, it had only been about two and a half weeks since the terrorist bombings in Brussels. We would be avoiding the capital, but certainly not the entire country. Bruges would be our next stop, and a relaxing romantic one it certainly was.