February 9th & 10th, 2018 – My last day in Amsterdam. This morning Kirk and I got up and while he was in the shower his phone pinged with a text message, I glanced at it and thought ”Seriously?”.
When Kirk got out of the shower I told him he should check his texts. He did and then we both grabbed out computers to check the weather forecast. There is a winter storm on the way and the airport is cancelling flights in anticipation.
Winter seems to be chasing me around the world. Well, if I have to get stuck somewhere, here in Amsterdam would be preferable to having almost been stuck in Terrace a week ago. I can still find a hundred more things to do here. We shrugged, not much you can do about it, so why worry about what you can’t control.
We went downstairs from breakfast. Today was a slower start, he had a meeting this morning, but not until a bit later than previous days, so it was a more relaxed and leisurely breakfast. I made a sandwich for the day out in the city and grabbed a banana and a danish to go along with it and tide me through to dinner. While we were chatting and enjoying another fabulous coffee (I have to say that I never had a bad coffee here), we both received a text from KLM telling us that check-in was open. We zipped back to the room to see if there were any upgrade seats available and, since we had acted so quickly, there were a few. And luckily, there were two together. We snatched them and I grappled with the cost before Kirk reminded me that it was nine hours in a chair and that I’d almost passed out on the way here.
I only had two museums on my list for today, two left that I didn’t want to miss – The National Maritime Museum, and The Amsterdam Museum. Since Kirk figured he would be free after lunch sometime I decided to put the Amsterdam Museum off in the hopes that he could join me at that one since it seemed like it would be the one that would provide the most information on the history of the city.
I walked Kirk to the hotel his colleagues were staying at and walked to a bus stop a block away to catch the first of two buses to get myself to the Maritime Museum. It seemed to me that a tram should go to it, but Google Maps told me to take this bus and then the next so who was I to argue with Google? After a long and convoluted bus trip with one transfer, to a bus with me the sole rider on it, that went past the cruise ship terminal and through several business and residential areas, I was deposited across the street from the museum. And as I looked a block away I saw a tram go by, and beyond that I could see NEMO, and beyond that I could see Amsterdam Centraal. I could have walked from the central station…why did Google take me on this trip? I took a look and realized that the setting was for “least amount of walking”. Perhaps my phone was taking pity on me after all the kilometres I’d put on over the past four days – 10 – 20 km per day. I changed that setting, but also had to admit that I’d seen some parts of the city I otherwise wouldn’t have otherwise.
I entered the museum, presented my card and received my ticket, and was directed to the stack of audio tour guides and started in the centre square. The building dates from 1656 and, designed by Daniël Stalpaert, at that time it was an architecture wonder, built on over two thousand wooden pilings sunk deep into the muddy ground. Called The Arsenal, its storehouse held cannons, sails, flags and sailing equipment stored for the war fleet. The vaulted cellars under the inner courtyard were used to store rainwater – some 40,000 litres – to provide drinking water for ships; it was here that the war ships of the Dutch Republic were equipped. In 1791, the inside of the building was gutted by fire, leaving only the stone shell of the outer walls. The charred brickwork was covered with a layer of plaster leaving the appearance of stately blocks of sandstone. In 1795, Napoleon entered the country and found the Batavian Republic. The five Admiralties were abolished and replaced by a national navy. The Arsenal became and remained a storehouse for the navy until the early 1970s. In 1972, the Arsenal began a new life as a ‘storehouse’ for the best pieces of The National Maritime Museum’s collection and was officially opened by Princess Beatrix in 1973.
Outside the museum floats a tallship – an exact copy of The Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam, a ship lost on her maiden voyage in 1749. In 1749, the original Amsterdam set sail on the North Sea into a sudden storm, breaking its rudder. The captain decided to beach the ship on the southern coast of England in an attempt to save the cargo and crew, and perhaps even the ship itself. Unfortunately, the Amsterdam sank quickly into the mud and was lost. Archaeologists later found artefacts in the wreck providing details of the construction of East Indiamen, their cargo, and life on board. In 1969, the Amsterdam was discovered after being exposed by a low spring tide. It is the best-preserved VOC ship ever found. The VOC Ship Amsterdam Foundation started researching the wreck, followed by major excavations in 1984, 1985 and 1986, during which many artifacts were found. Work began on building an exact replica of the Amsterdam in 1985. Around 400 volunteers helped out. The ship has been moored beside The National Maritime Museum since 1991.
Inside the museum is a treasure trove of maritime artifacts, atlases, charts, navigational instruments, and maritime paintings. I wasn’t prepared for the wonders that I would find here. The atlas room held me mesmerized for almost an hour. The maps and charts depicted in these breathtaking books were spectacular.
The map below, inked into a large atlas, dates to the year 1486.
Another book was opened to a map of Amsterdam and dated 1694. Around a corner (and not photographed because it was too large), was a massive map of the world as it was then known to be…in the 1600’s.
After poking through ancient compasses, knot meters, sextants, octants, cross-staffs, and astrolabes, after viewing some wonderful paintings of ships and maritime travel, after visiting a 360 theatre of cargo movement in modern day ships into Amsterdam, I walked through a room of the not-so-successful inventions in maritime history.
Like this smoke enema.
I suppose the idea wasn’t completely off base thought, a shipwrecked sailor in the cold North Sea would quickly succumb to hypothermia. There was a recognition that warming the core was vital, and warm smoke was thought to be a mechanism.
Another oddity – a wooden, oar powered submarine.
In 1578, William Bourne designed one of the first recorded plans for underwater navigation, a completely enclosed boat made of wood and bound in waterproofed leather, which could be submerged and rowed beneath the surface. Bourne was an English mathematician and former Royal Navy gunner who went on to write very important navigational manuals, that among many things, explained how to make observations of the sun and stars, using a cross-staff as well as how to use triangulation to calculate the coordinates and distance from the shore to the ship. His advancements in the field of navigation likely even led to some of the key information one needs to know in order to acquire a boat license. Bourne’s idea never got beyond the drawing board but his design went on to inspire others, including the Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel’s underwater rowboat. Between 1620-1624 Cornelius Drebbel designed a submarine based on Bourne’s design of an underwater rowboat which Drebbel built while working for the English Royal Navy. Drebbel is credited with the invention of the compound microscope, the mercury thermostat and developing a working air conditioning system. His advances in the field of microscopy and alchemy even earned him a small lunar crater named Drebbel. Drebbel’s submarine was protected with greased leather and powered by rowers pulling on oars that protruded through flexible leather seals in the hull. Snorkel air tubes reached above the surface with floats, which allowed the boat to be submerged for several hours. Drebbel ended up building 2 successful submarines between 1620 and 1624. His third ship, he demonstrated in front of King James I and thousands of Londoners. It successfully navigated at depths of 12 to 15 feet below the surface and stayed submerged for three hours, traveling from Westminster to Greenwich and back. Legend has it that Drebbel even took James in this submarine on a test dive which would have made him the first monarch to travel underwater. Despite consistently successful tests, it never aroused the Navy’s interest enough to use it in combat.
With that behind me, I descended to visit the Amsterdam in the harbour below. She is a beautiful ship. The Tall Ships have come to Vancouver a couple of times and a replica of The Bounty was moored at the Vancouver Maritime Museum for a few days a number of years ago. We took the opportunity to visit it and crawl through its belowdecks. It was fascinating and The Amsterdam was no less fascinating. I loved the wooden block and tackle, the crew hammocks, and the barrels of cargo below decks.
One very cool exhibit that The Amsterdam had, that the Bounty certainly did not, was a virtual reality tour. A series of swivel chairs were set inside a mirrored room, each with a pair of VR goggles suspended above it. A museum staff member invited me in, in Dutch and, as has become so familiar to me now, seemed startled when I responded in English. She said that she would narrate the VR tour in Dutch first and then follow up in English for me. There were only four of us in the room – again, the benefit of a February visit.
It was my first experience with VR, and it was pretty cool. The tour took us back in time to the 1600’s with ships being built around the building I’d just explored. We saw the way the ships were launched, how the bottoms were tarred, and saw them sail out of the canals, the bridges lifting to let us sail through to the sea beyond. It was a pretty cool experience to be able to twist and turn in my seat and look up and down and see everything around me. Despite having something heavy on my face, I can see how this is something people get into.
The last thing to see here was the Royal Barge. From another writer’s blog ….
Just over 200 years ago the new King Willem I of the Netherlands wished for himself a royal barge, at the time a ‘must have’ if you were a European monarch. The 21-year-old architect Cornelis Jan Glavimans designed the barge and between 1816 and 1818 the royal barge was constructed at the Navy shipyard in Rotterdam. But when it was finally finished the King never made use of it. Only on 30 March 1841, it finally had its maiden voyage, when Willem I’s eldest son and successor King Willem II used it during his investiture celebrations. In the next 150 years the barge – nicknamed “the Golden Carriage of the Water” – the royal barge was only used on 30 occasions. Until 1853 the barge could be found at the Navy shipyard in Rotterdam, afterwards in Amsterdam.
Some important events it was used for were the visit of the Shah of Persia in 1889, the christening of the later Queen Wilhelmina in 1892, the state visit of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians in 1910, the French state visit in 1911, the state visit of King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine of Denmark in 1914, the state visit of King Haakon VII of Norway in 1954 and the state visit of the Liberian president in 1956. The last time it was officially used was during the Silver Wedding celebrations of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands on 29 April 1962. In 1983 the barge was given to the National Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) in Amsterdam as a permanent loan.
In 2007 a comprehensive renovation program of the museum started and after July 2008 the royal barge wasn’t on display at the museum anymore. It was the last piece to leave the museum. The museum reopened in 2011, but there was no space for the barge. With a donation of one million Euros from the BankGiro Lottery, the Cultuur Lottery and input from AkzoNobel the barge was completely renovated and made seaworthy again at the Marine Etablissement in Amsterdam. The hull turned out to be in a perfect condition, as was the oak of the keel and the ribs. However the paint was damaged and yellowed, so the ship was stripped completely and repainted with a fresh layer of paint. X-rays were made of the gilded carved figures and also the rosettes were cleaned, repaired and gilded.
Finally on 7 October 2015 the royal barge was installed in its specially designed boathouse next to the museum’s landing. The official opening with pipers and drummers of the Marine Corps took place one week later, on 14 October 2015. After an absence of eight years the royal barge was again on display at the museum as off 15 October 2015. The barge is officially still royal property. It would be most interesting if the royal family would use the barge once again. Some voices were heard it should have been used for the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander on 30 April 2013, but it wasn’t to be.
The royal barge is 17 meters long and has seats for 20 rowers and can carry quite a few passengers. The barge is decorated with the Roman god of water – Neptune – at the bow, and furthermore with many other mythical creatures and golden ornaments. They symbolize the new king Willem I and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Neptune is the main feature of the barge. The master of the seas holds his trident and is seated on his shell carriage drawn by three seahorses with the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. The starboard side of the barge is richly decorated on the in- and outside with acanthus vines and orange branches – of course symbolizing the House of Orange-Nassau -, closed off on the front by two reclining lions – that symbolize the monarchy and protect the monarch. The stem, or the rear of the ship, of course displays the Dutch royal coat of arms.
None of my photos did it justice so I’ve included one from online, and a single image of Neptune on the bow that I did take.
I went back into the building to discover that today must be “Take your class to a museum day”. The place was filled to overflowing with groups of children lounging in the square below the glassed roof and eating their lunches, chatting and talking about the things all school children everywhere probably talk about. I found a quiet corner to sit down in and eat my sandwich and drop a text to Kirk to see where he was at.
Done. He was done.
Awesome! I jumped on the tram and he grabbed an Uber and we met up near The Amsterdam Museum, or where we thought it was. Turns out that this museum is probably one of the hardest to find since it is located within the narrow streets, its entrance tucked down a tight alley and around a corner. I’d been here before, but like everything in the city core, there are no easy landmarks and things are disorienting. After a couple of failed tries we eventually found it. I had my card scanned, and Kirk bought a ticket, we grabbed a pair of audio tours, programmed them for English, plugged in and became immersed in the history of the city, its growth, its golden age and through the German Occupation years. The first stock market in the world, the first country to legalize gay marriage, the lowest country in Europe, the world’s second largest beer exporter, home to 18 million bicycles (more bikes than people), and home to 178 nationalities. Pretty rich history!
When we finished up at the museum we walked over to Waterlooplein, the oldest flea market in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, faced with worsening weather and snow on the way, by the time we got there they had closed down early and things were mostly packed up.
Both hungry now, we mused about where to go for dinner. We walked for a bit to stay warm and then I recognized where I was. Down a block, over a street, and we were in Rembrandt Square, a hub of restaurants with something for anyone’s tastes. I’d hoped to have a chance to come here for dinner with Kirk but with how busy he’d been I thought that wasn’t going to happen. But luck came my way!
We circled the ring of restaurants, stopping and perusing menus as we went. The restaurants were quiet; it was just six o’clock so we were early but the weather was also deteriorating and the snow was now falling. Finally we had a winner, The Downtown Grill Restaurant. My eye had been caught by chicken roulades wrapped in bacon with a honey mustard sauce. We shared a tomato buffulata salad on a bed of arugula to start….delicious! My chicken dish didn’t disappoint, but I really shouldn’t have ordered it because Kirk ordered a mixed grill that was enough meat for both of us. Chicken breast, sausage, rib eye, lamb rack, flat steak, and something else I don’t remember. Everything cooked to perfection! And they’d been surprised we didn’t order any side dishes…. ?
If I hadn’t eaten in two days maybe.
It was an excellent meal. I haven’t eaten anything here that wasn’t though. Food is very good in Amsterdam.
After dinner we decided to walk a bit of it off and find a place to buy a sweet to round out the day. A little bakery that I’d been in the first day served us up a couple of fresh stroopwafels to nibble on as we waited for a tram to take us back to our hotel for a glass of wine and time to pack up and get ready to leave in the morning; our cab was scheduled to pick us up at 8am.
Overnight the storm failed to amount to much. A skiff of snow on the ground was all there was to show for it. From what I could find it looked like most of the snow forecast for us dropped in France and blanketed Paris. We enjoyed a last excellent cup of coffee and our last freshly cooked poffertjes before our driver arrived to take us to Schipol airport. It’s an exceptionally busy airport but our driver took us to the right entrance to get us to the KLM check in quickly. We checked in, checked our bags, and cleared security with almost no incidents. My bag was flagged for a check and the security agent was trying to find something specific. When I asked if I could help she said she was looking for something that looked like it was for opening champagne. Oh crap! It is a fish shaped corkscrew that I thought was in my checked luggage but forgot it was in a cable bag thatI’d thrown in my carryon at the last moment. I told her where to find it and when she did she smiled and opened it up and said it was a very nice one, then she laughed when I told her that I’m a fish biologist and so I tend to collect fish shaped things. She smiled again and pointed at my First Nations carved silver salmon pendant and said, “Yes, I see”. She returned it to the little bag and placed it back in my carryon bag and told me it was fine.
We wandered the airport shops for a bit, bought a bottle of mustard at a shop and once more had to explain that I was not Dutch to the cashier when she began to speak to me in Dutch. Again I was told “But you look Dutch!” From there we went to the KLM Lounge, included since we had upgraded to First Class for the flight home. It was nice to relax and have a snack while we waited for the flight.
With no delays, we boarded on time, and left on time. As we boarded the flight purser greeted me…in Dutch…. and told me where I should go to find my seat…in Dutch. He looked confused when I looked confused, and repeated himself …in Dutch. When I said “English?” He touched my shoulder and said “I’m so sorry, I thought you were Dutch!”.
“I’ve been getting that since I arrived…. why does everyone think I am Dutch?”
“Your height, your cheeks, you just look Dutch, I’m so surprised you aren’t!”
“Well, I do have Dutch heritage, and my name is Dutch, but thank you for telling me why I’ve been getting that since I arrived.”
For the rest of the flight he called me his Dutch Lady, and said “Goodbye my Dutch Lady” as we left the plane.
This first class thing was pretty nice. A seat that you can lie down in and actually sleep. Noise cancelling headphones. Wine in crystal glasses. Little linen tablecloths. Meals in Delft china. They hang your coat for you and return it at landing. A huge movie screen relative to any I’ve ever had on a flight. And before landing everyone in First Class received their choice of a collectible blue and white Delft china canal house filled with something I probably don’t want to ever drink.
Yes, I could get used to flying like that, too bad it comes with such a crazy price tag at booking. But it is definitely something I’d do again on an overseas flight, if just for the ability to lie down.
Flying out I looked down and could see lines of windmills on land, and as we crossed over the water, another series of wind turbines out in the sea. The Netherlands has a goal to free themselves of gas fuelled cars in the not too distant future, they have a commitment to renewable energy resources that I wish we could promote better in Canada. We seem hell bent on clinging to oil and gas; fuels that generate pollution in the forms of particulates and carbon dioxide. They do some things very right here, things that we could learn from.
We flew over iced over waters, snowy Greenland, and down across British Columbia. Eventually I looked out and knew we were close to home simply by seeing those familiar mountains far below. Hello home. I enjoyed the Netherlands very much and I will definitely visit it again but, British Columbia, you are and always will be my first love.