Sunday, 27 March 2016

Amsterdam {Day 2}

We woke up after a weird night's sleep... the tiny light from the TV seemed so bright, and the air seemed incredibly dry for my throat and nose, which were still recovering from a cold. The room was dark, and the little patch of sky visible from our window was ambiguous but the internet informed us that it was mostly cloudy outside. But! It was our wedding anniversary, 3 years married, and nothing could damped the thankfulness in my heart.

I remember that shortly before our wedding, with all the concerns about our future and where we'd be, Malcolm said how cool it would be to get to see Europe. He didn't promise anything and my outlook was generally pessimistic, but waking up 3 years later with Malcolm beside me, in Amsterdam, reminded me what a sweet time it's been and how incredibly fortunate we are.

So, with grateful hearts and thankfulness for the day ahead, we got ready and went out to see Rijk's museum - not the interior, but the square in front of it and perhaps Vondelpark.

We were surprisingly close and were there really quickly. The square was still deserted, so we snapped some photos by an E and an M, and then got creative to find a B in Amsterdam.

Our plans to visit Vondelpark were changed when we realised it wasn't really park-picnic-breakfast-weather, so we retreated to our hotel and ate there instead. By the time we reemerged, blue sky was making a brief appearance and we ambled north-westward to the Maritime Museum. It was a toss-up between it and Rijk's Museum, but we once again concluded (as in Paris and Florence) that art doesn't make our hearts leap, and ships and sailing seemed more interesting. 

We were pleasantly surprised at the ticket office that there was a student discount, though after seeing Malcolm's student card the saleswoman proceeded to explain everything to us in German. I didn't have the heart to tell her that she needn't struggle for our sake since we prefer English, because she seemed quite enthusiastic. 

Once locking away our jackets and picking up our free audio guides, we started in the East-wing. The museum is excellently laid out and easy to navigate (as one expects of a maritime museum), and we made our way through a display of intricately drawn atlases showing how people slowly discovered the shape of the continents, volumes upon volumes bound beautifully in books, then through an exhibition on yachts and then navigational instruments. An exhibition of old photos and albums showed us what life on board was like, and the displays of ships' decorations and of maritime art revealed to us that we do, in fact, enjoy art in small doses. 

In the west wing we got a glimpse into the Netherlands' Golden Age, shown from various perspectives by life-size characters on screens who would suddenly jump into action as one entered. The Englishman's remark that Dutch was only "good for clearing one's throat when one's hoarse from the cold" made us giggle, and seeing how the shipping and trade industry impacted so much of life back then was really interesting. We also passed through the fun exhibition on whales and their image through the decades from sea-monster to endangered specie and, besides seeing whale-eye-balls preserved in glasses, found it really cool - especially the part where one could walk though the (perhaps) life-sized whale's mouth and through a tunnel to find a big heart that would glow as the sound of a beating heart resonated.

We finished the west wing by playing the life-sized board game learning about life on board. One gets a bucket with a screen display, where one rolls a dice, moves to that space on the floor, looks at an exhibit, and answers a simple question based on it. It really was interesting, though they had a piece of tattoo'd skin preserved in formaldehyde that was rather disgusting! Also, at the end, the machine was broken and we couldn't calculate our score, so we'll never know if we're captain-material.

Lastly, in the north wing, we had a look at the displays about the harbour. At one point we entered a container and got to experience, through video footage that's taken in all directions, what the loading/unloading-delivery-of-containers-process involves. I felt a little unsteady on my feet afterwards due to the screens on all four walls, but it was entertaining and a bit of a surprise since we didn't know what entering the container would entail! Our last stop was to see the Royal barge and then the recontruction of an old VOC-ship. It was fun walking through and seeing the various cabins, digitally firing cannons, exploring the hold, and it was astounding to see how cramped and low the ceilings were! Imagining Jack Sparrow fighting while all hunched over and trying not to bump his head made all those pirate movies seem a little silly! 

In total, we spent about 4 hours there. I think that, because the exhibitions were broken up into smaller sections, it didn't seem so long or tedious. Also, the interactive nature of most areas and their excellent use of multi-media (that actually worked!) made it really fun and engaging. The children running around also seemed to have lots of fun and I would absolutely recommend a visit here! 

After all that walking and peering and learning, we were hungry! We discovered a Spar nearby and felt rather at home despite the fact that all the products were labelled in Dutch. I was particularly excited to find soft, fluffy breadrolls (Germany seems to prefer crusty) and we bought some of those and some cheese and doritos and found a bench to pic-nic on. We found a nice spot in a park and enjoyed the view, watching people in the offices opposite us, and boats cruising past with other tourists peering back at us. 

After lunch we were back on our feet and we went in search of the Royal Palace. It was surprisingly quiet, but then there's not all that much to do there, while the flag at half-mast reminded us of the day before's events. We peeked into the church besides it, but there was an exhibition of sorts there, which meant we'd need to pay to get in so we kept moving and went in search of Anne Frank's house.

We didn't plan to enter the House, but as we approached I commented on how surprised I was by the short queue in front of it. That surprise paled though, at my surprise when we noticed that actually the queue bent and went across a square and we couldn't see the end of it!

It's quite something to realise the amount of history that one stands on and next to in places like this. Seeing the narrow little house where the Frank family hid put things into perspective and I'm sure that a visit here would have been interesting.

With legs growing weary, and a full day behind us, we decided to head to our hotel to give our feet a break. Along the way we continued snapping photos, and a passer-by was kind enough to offer to take one of the two of us. Photos on bridges can be dangerous for the photographer if they take a step backwards and a cyclist somes whizzing by so I really appreciated it!

While at our hotel, Malcolm did some searching online and found a good place to go out for dinner. He came across the Seafood Bar, which had some good reviews on Tripadvisor, and since we'd been longing for battered, deepfried fish since leaving the Pirates Arms in Durban last January, the decision was easily made to go there! 
Of the two branches in the city, we chose the one closer to Rijk's Museum and wandered over there. As we arrived it was bustling and there were no seats available and we realised a booking could have been a good idea! But, the hostess was super friendly and said we could get a table in about 25 minutes. Rather than going in search for something else, we took a seat at the counter and waited. We were so glad when the wait turned out to be only 10 minutes or so, and before we knew it, we had the most delicious fish and chips and calamari before us. If it's served on newspaper it must be good, right? Right! 

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