June 12, 2019

The City of Rembrandt

by Rosemary

Amsterdam is so crowded with tourists that city officials have considered an advertising campaign to encourage people to go to other cities. It's not surprising everyone wants to come here; the city seems to have everything: scenery, history, art, a lively nightlife, shopping, and plenty to eat.

This old clock on a building in the main square is actually a sundial.

Probably the most famous historical site in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her diary while she and her family, along with some other people, were hiding from the Nazis in the Secret Annex, a small suite of hidden rooms connected to her father's business. The furniture and personal possessions are long gone, but the magazine pictures Anne tacked to the wall are still there. It's a tiny space for eight people, who had to share one bathroom whose toilet couldn't be flushed during the day for fear of making too much noise. Eventually, the location of the annex was revealed to the Nazis; Anne and everyone else, except her father, died in concentration camps.

A statue of Anne Frank on the way to the house.

It rained nearly every day.

During its Golden Age in the 1600s, Amsterdam was the world's richest city, and it is still an important center of commerce and technology. The Stock Exchange building opened in the city center in 1903.

The Amstel River runs through the city and is connected to a system of canals that are lined with distinctive, traditionally styled buildings.

These houses are not falling over. They were built this way deliberately. Using the hooks and pulleys on the roof, the angle allows heavy objects to be lifted into the building without hitting it.

We appreciated Amsterdam’s good public transportation, but we also enjoyed walking along the old cobblestone streets and the canals. One of our walks took us through the Red Light District, where prostitution is legal and carefully regulated.

Outside the Old Church at the heart of the district is this statue of the Unknown Prostitute, nicknamed "Belle”, who symbolizes the sex workers of this area.

There are no streetwalkers in Amsterdam, and no pimps. Each prostitute is an independent, taxpaying businesswoman who rents a small storefront. The ladies, dressed in skimpy underwear, stand (or sit, or eat dinner, or make phone calls) in the display windows as tourists and potential customers walk by. For some reason, I had expected the windows to be above street level, and was surprised to find myself eye to eye with the workers.

Another interesting walk took us past the flower market, where we saw every possible kind of tulip. In the early 1600s, tulip mania overtook the country. Fortunes were lost as people speculated in bulb futures. Today, the Netherlands is Europe's largest flower exporter.

The starter kit is a reminder that recreational cannabis has been decriminalised in the Netherlands since the 1970s Although possession for personal use is technically a misdemeanor, it is not enforced. Marijuana is sold and consumed in coffee shops, and other “natural” psychoactive substances are available in boutiques.

Other popular shopping experiences include wooden shoes and Delft porcelain.

The department stores had fancy Christmas displays in their windows.

Herring stands were selling snacks and sandwiches.

Steve looks hungry

We enjoyed a visit to the Rijksmuseum, filled with the works of master painters from the Dutch Golden Age.

Rembrandt’s huge masterpiece, ”The Night Watch,” is a crowd favorite.

A short tram ride away, in Rembrandt Square, is a sculptural tribute to the painting.

Rembrandt is buried in the church known as Westerkerk, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

It's here somewhere.

We also visited the Van Gogh Museum. Vincent van Gogh created over 2000 artworks in his brief career. He struggled with mental illness, and committed suicide at age 37. Today he is one of the western world's most famous and influential artists, but during his lifetime he sold only one painting.

The museum does not allow photography, so these pictures are from Wikipedia.

For a change of pace, we went to the Botanical Garden, where we were able to warm up a little in the greenhouses and the butterfly exhibit.

We were here during the first week of December. It was always cold and damp, and I came down with a terrible cold. Steve's attempt to get me some medicine at the local pharmacy did not work out. In a city where cannabis is sold in coffee shops and people smoke weed on the street, we were surprised to learn that you can't get decongestants without a prescription.

It was past time to go someplace warmer, so we headed for Spain.

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