Monday, April 21, 2014

Amsterdam City Fun

On our last day before the Davidsons headed off to Berlin, Matt and I let the kids sleep in a bit and went to the BEST bakery for some freshly baked breads, etc. for breakfast.  We rallied the troops, picked up some other snack/lunch provisions for later.  We all met at the Van Gogh Museum, where Karie had made an advance reservation, so we avoided waiting on a huge line (and I think tickets for that day were already sold out anyway. . .)   Like, the Picasso Museum in Paris, it is cool to visit a place that really takes you through the entire life and work of one artist (even if Van Gogh’s life was a lot shorter than Picasso’s).  I was surprised how much darker the paintings at the start of Van Gogh’s career compared to later.  (You could not photograph the paintings, but here’s a link.)  I also remembered (from the exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) the influence of Japanese art on Van Gogh, and that was evident here.  On the first floor of the museum, they have Van Gogh’s paintings next to those of his fellow artists from Paris, and it was interesting to see how the impressionists of that time had such an impact on each other.

Diary of Anne Frank in dozens of languages

After the museum, we headed over to the Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s “Central Park”) and basically just sat in the sun for a couple hours.  There were several young women celebrating their bachelorette parties there, which involves dressing up the bride to be in an embarrassing outfit and making her try to sell useless products from the dollar store to people in the park.  We purchased some junk.   Before the evening visit to the Anne Frank House (which I had pre-ordered, so again, no lines!), we popped into the very chic Dylan Hotel for drinks in the lobby bar.  Then Andy found us a great Dutch pub for dinner.  
Even at night, the Anne Frank House was crowded, as we moved through the story of the Frank family going into hiding, their life in the Secret Annex of Otto Frank’s business, and their arrest and sad fate.   But the visit is very well organized and moving.  What I found most interesting was how much Otto’s non-Jewish co-workers did to hide the Frank Family and four others over a long period of time.  Over the last few days I was also reading stories of other Dutch children who went into hiding (but survived), and though their stories were harrowing, we learned that those who went into hiding had SO much better chance of survival.  It is a shame that Anne and her sister died of illness so close to liberation or they really might have made it through the war.
After some late evening apple pie at Winkel, we bid the Davidsons a very fond farewell.  Time passed so quickly with them, and I’m pretty sure it will feel like no time until they are back in NYC.

On our “Goldsteins are Alone” day, we woke up a bit earlier so we could all go back to the best breakfast EVER.  Since our 72 hour transit passes were expired, we walked all over, which was nice on a beautiful sunny day.  We started at an awesome interactive science museum (like the Queens Hall of Science or Philly’s Franklin Institute), with fun stuff to do on every floor and a sunny rooftop terrace. 

Next we headed to the old Jewish neighborhood, where the Portuguese-Israeli Synagogue looked beautiful from the outside, but was closed for Passover.  We went to the Resistance Museum, and learned more about how Dutch people had to make the choice to go along with the German occupation, collaborate, or actively resist.  The Dutch did lead a national strike when Jews started to be deported, and it seems most generally wished the Germans ill or actively tried to protest in some way.  Still, 78% of Amsterdam’s Jewish population was killed after being deported.  The Hollandsche Schouwburg  was a large theater built in the late 1800s, that eventually became a Jewish theater under German restrictions and then the center of the German deportations.  Today, though the outer walls remain, instead of the theater, the stage and seating area are an open air memorial.    

 After all the sightseeing, we again took a rest in a little outdoor square and then walked over to the Eastern Docklands (reminded us of “Battery Park City meets Williamsburg”) to dinner outside of a cool Spanish restaurant called Mercat.  They made a great paella with the nice crusty bottom.  We walked back to the center of Amsterdam for a ride on the big ferris wheel set up for the holidays and once back to the apartment, Matt and I got our last Dutch beer in a little pub near our place.   A good ending to a GREAT week.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Flowers, Canals, and Operation Market Garden

Three big activities in just two days:

1)  A trip to the Keukenhof & Flowerfields -- Matt, Karie, and I took the older kids on a bus trip to the city of Lisse (Andy took the younger girls to the Rembrandt House), where every year for eight weeks the bulb growers of the region take over the former "kitchen garden" of an old palace and plant seven MILLION flowers in rows, patterns, greenhouses, and themed gardens.  It was a color explosion, so welcome after a dreary winter in NYC.  I think the pictures will tell this whole story:

 2)  A private canal tour -- Andy arranged for us to meet a captain by one of the canals in our neighborhood, the Jordaan. We climbed onto a lovely little boat just perfect for the nine of us plus captain and sailed through the western canal loop, up past Centraal Station and over to the northern docks and eastern canal ring.  It was so cool to look up at all the buildings (with no worries of being struck by cyclists) and to really take in the beautiful architecture and changing neighborhoods.  With champagne and surprise Dutch appetizers for the adults and Fanta soda for the kids, everyone was SO happy.  We even had blankets to wrap up the kids when they got cold.   We were dropped off far out in eastern Amsterdam for our dinner at Wilde Zwijnen - a very busy restaurant, with a great casual foodie feel to it.  Food might have been a bit adventurous for some of the younger set, but they kept it pretty straight with some fried fish "fingers" some steak and veggies and a very pretty dessert with raspberry sorbet and meringue.

3) On Friday, the NYC Goldsteins took an inter-city train to the town of Arnhem, about an hour's ride away.  We had been watching the movie "A Bridge to Far" over the last couple nights, and Arnhem was the site of one of the most famous battles (and Allied losses) in World War II.   It was called Operation Market Garden.  In September, 1944, paratroopers were to drop down behind the (supposedly weakened) German defenses, to be met by tanks and then hold each bridge over the Rhine River, to cut off the German's supply line and will to fight.  But the Germans were way more prepared and well armed than anyone expected, so the paratroopers and tank battalions were stranded too far from each other to ever combine forces.  Thousands were killed or wounded and many survivors became prisoners.  The war then continued into 1945 with all sides suffering during the cold winter and the upcoming "Battle of the Bulge".  

In and around Arnhem, you can visit HUNDREDS of sites that memorialize the brave efforts of both soldiers and civilians to persist under threat.  (And today there was also a great open air market with all kinds of produce and food treats, e.g. strawberries for 1 Euro.) The famous Arnhem bridge (now named after British General John Frost) and the Old Church have been rebuilt, and there was an information center that was very helpful in telling the story right under the bridge.  We took a bus to the nearby town of Oosterbeek, which was very lovely, and which has a hotel that served as the German then British command center, and is now the Airborne Museum. This museum had even more stories, videos, uniforms, weapons, etc from the time and even a simulation of what the battle might have been like for the paratroopers.   Here's a blog by a military enthusiast that describes it all in much greater detail.

Back to the city of Amsterdam for dinner at a little Italian pizza / pasta place with the Davidson clan and then called it an early night . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


So here we are for a week in Amsterdam to visit our "besties" the Parker-Davidsons, as they round the corner towards home on their grand tour of the Eastern Hemisphere:

We were so psyched to see them, but first we had to get settled in our apartment in our own Jordaan neighborhood apartment.  We got in from a pretty decent overnight flight on KLM/Delta (many movie choices . . ) and took a taxi from the airport to  where owner Eduard met us and showed us around the place.  We immediately took three hour naps to adjust to the time change, and got motivated after that to check out the neighborhood.  Our first snacks was probably the best apple pie EVER, and then we were ready for a bit of matzah at the Davidson's wonderfully prepared Passover seder.  The kids shared lots of history from the Haggadah with us, Andy led us through the "order", and Karie's yummy brisket gravy covered up the meat / corned beef that the Dutch butcher had given her.  The NYC Goldsteins are usually traveling for Passover, so it was nice to be with good friends this year.

On our second day, we checked out a few highlights of the city - the five of us started with the Amsterdam History Museum and learned about the amazing architecture of the city (built on piles and full of canals), and its pretty cool history (center of trade in the 1600-1700s, standing up against Jewish deportations by the Nazis as much as they could, and being the first European country to legalize gay marriage!)   After that it was lunch and the recently renovated Rijksmuseum with the Davidsons.  Saw the important Vermeers, Rembrandts, etc. from the 1600s, which were cool.  But I have to say that some of my favorite stuff was from the 1700-1800s - largest painting in Museum showing Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, lots of other Napoleon related stuff. (Did you know, Amsterdam was ruled by the French under Louis Napoleon, who ran the once thriving economy into the ground?)  There was also lots of cool stuff from the Dutch control of Java (Indonesia) including all these foil packets used in the opium trade.   We ended up wandering through the De Pijp neighborhood a bit later for Indonesian "rice table" (rijsttafel) with the whole crew.

On day three, we rented bikes from MacBike outside the Centraal Station, and took a free ferry to Amsterdam Noord for a half day self guided bike tour through "Waterland" - It was a perfect sunny day, and we rode along the canals and dikes with yellow flowers everywhere (and at one point hundreds of bugs flying at us along the water's edge.  The tiny villages we passed through were stunningly beautiful, but simple, and it was amazing to think, that they were really not so far from an amazing city center.   We had lunch at the "Schoohuis" in Holystroot, and biked our way back to the ferry, a bit sun-tanned and content.   Dinner for the adults was at Balthazar's Keutchen in the Jordaan - a three course menu with great appetizers and local and fresh ingredients.  Amazingly enough, I ran into one of my iSchool students at the same restaurant on the same night!!  Too funny, but a serendipitous ending to a lovely day!