Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elfstedentocht ... not yet ... maybe ...

The official word is nay, no Elfstedentocht this year, but the winter is not over, and folks are still hopeful. Here is a terrific wrap up of the mood after the royal announcement, and the Dutch passion for ice skating in general.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Skating on Keizersgracht in the center of Amsterdam, 5 Feb 2012

This was a dream of mine that I thought "global warming" had squelched: the Amsterdam canals are freezing over in the Centrum. After years here, it's finally happened!

The whole country is going nuts over the possibility of Elfstedenocht, an ice-skating event that takes place through 11  Friesland cities, but only if the Dutch weather permits: the ice must be 15 cm thick along the whole natural route.

You have to live here to appreciate the excitement this generates. The media is already in a frenzy nightly; bets are being laid as to whether or not it will take place. The official announcement comes from The Queen. The entire nation is holding it's breath. I kid you not.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fantastic Halloween decor in the Nine Streets

 FABULOUS decor by the magician at this historic 9 Streets home. Tonight is the last chance to see it yourself, so make your way past Berenstraat 7 when you are out wandering with the ghouls and goblins this evening. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Original photo: David Cullen Powers
Post capture work: Suzanne Miller

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Museum Willet-Holthuysen

Hello everybody, greetings from autumnal Amsterdam. Halloween is just around the corner, not that that means much in this city. By now we have eased into the miserable weather portion of our year, euphemistically referred to as "The Culture Season," which sounds much better than "The Crappy Season."

Hubby and I decided to enrich our lives last week with visits to Amsterdam's two preserved Golden Age canal houses,  The Museum Van Loon and Museum Willet-Holthuysen. They are both interesting to see, but if your time is limited, I would recommend the Museum Van Loon over the Willet-Holthuysen, because I think the Van Loon does a better job of evoking that era. Also, the carriage house to the Van Loon is opening any day now, and I believe it is the only example in crowded Amsterdam of a home surviving with its carriage house intact and still part of the property.

Nevertheless, this post has more to do with the Willet-Holthuysen because I have photos of it!

I stopped across the canal to get a wide shot before I went in. Now, with the thinning foliage, this is a great time to capture Amsterdam canal house architecture often obscured by leafy branches.

We entered without paying with our Museumkaarts, a must-have for any Dutch resident remotely interested in museums. These cards give you free entrance (and often a preferred place in line) to all nationally supported museums in The Netherlands. I feel compelled to note that the famed Rijksmuseum, home of the finest examples of Dutch Masters, is as of this writing still only partially open due to the extensive renovation taking place; if your goal in coming to Amsterdam is to see the Rijks, you'll want to wait a few years. If you do go into the partially-open Rijks, you will still be cheerfully charged the full amount, 12.50 euro, as if the entire exhibit was open. Bit shameful, that. But I digress.

Back to our 17th century mansion: at this writing, there is a very strange fashion exhibit meshed into this house. What the two have to do with one another is not clear, though a variety of media tools are strewn throughout this elegant home. These ridiculous mannequins and photo boards, and in one case, a towel(?!), were anachronistic to the Willet-Holthuysen and greatly detracted from the experience.
A towel, considered edgy art, I suppose

Trying to find any artistic justification for pairing this 1960s style sheath with a tasteful tableau from a 19th century salon just hurts my brain. The bad angle must be because I was holding my nose as I took the photo.

 A white mannequin draped in a zippered potato sack greeted me at the lovely alcove on the first elevated floor.

As a whole this is not going to be one of the most impressive houses you've ever seen, but there are loads of details and furnishings worth a gander. The house's last residents were Abraham Willet and his wife Louisa Holthuysen. They were both children of wealthy, educated families who held many soirees in their fine home. The couple traveled frequently and collected objects from all over Europe. They did not have offspring. They left the house, its contents and its sizeable art collection to the city of Amsterdam in 1895, on condition that it become a public museum.

I thoroughly enjoyed the collection of silver miniatures on display. That basket in the middle is the size of a walnut. I thought it a terrific bonus that I could take pics, but that's true in many museums here.

Museum Willet-Holthuyson
Herengracht 605
1017 CE Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 5231870

Hours: Sun, Sat 11am–5pm; Mon-Fri 10am–5pm
Transit: Rembrandtplein


such detailed dishes

This gold and turquoise decanter is quite a stunner. Note the rampant lions, a figure used a lot in The Netherlands. The rampant lion is both part of the Royal Family's coat of arms and part of the National crest.

This exquisite marble figure must have been a favorite of Abraham Willet's, as it is in featured by his side in many painted portraits.

The Willet-Holthuysen couple were enthusiastic art supporters. My jaw dropped when I saw Lousa's financial accounts. One small rough painting of a dog was purchased for around 6,000 euros, another impressive still life was 42,000 euros (converted here from the original Dutch guilders). There were many purchases like this. Back in the late 1800s, those were princely sums, indeed.

nice place to compose a letter
I enjoyed the art collection a great deal.  Unfortunately, the credits were spare and confusing to follow, so I'm unable to name all the artists. The picture on the right is typical in that many 18th century Dutch had their collection of oddities painted. I guess it's like taking a photo of your cool stuff today.
Not a bird cage there above the chair; it's cleverly painted tiles.

The kitchen is my favorite room in any house, but it's especially fun to see the ones in these grand homes; it balances the house, this part.The upper floors of finery always seem museumy to me, but here I can truly imagine myself living.

Another tile bird cage, this one close enough to capture.

All in all, I'd say there are worse ways to spend the afternoon than wandering hallways of a restored Golden Age canal house. The bizarre fashion exhibit ends on November 13th, so either hurry or pause, but do consider that event.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to the Blogosphere, and maybe back to more

    I've been away from this blog a long time; these hollyhocks were in bloom the last time I posted an entry, and they were still in bloom when my grandmother died, surrounded by family, on July 2.

   These insistent, exuberant flowers remind me of her. She was a relentlessly positive person, an All-American girl, "raised on her promises" (thank you, Tom Petty.)

   Her death has been difficult for me to accept, and the inability to attend her funeral, due primarily to distance, has been yet another dimming, for me, of the brilliant expat life. While her death was not unexpected, it is nonetheless saddening, and to not have the closure of the funeral and time with my family after her death has only underscored a growing sentiment of mine: it's time to go back to the country of my origin. But more about that later.

   I emailed a eulogy of sorts to my family, and I am pleased to hear that my cousin Grace printed it and distributed it at the funeral, and that my father read a few words from it then, as well. I truly have been in mourning since she died, and my purpose in sharing this here, I suppose, is to have my own sort of cyber memorial for her. I am unable to write about Amsterdam goings on and so forth without first acknowledging the passing of this great lady who touched my life.

   This is my remembrance of Anita High Miller:

                    My grandmother Nete was everything you want a grandmother to be. She cared for me during many summers as I grew up. She always greeted me with a huge smile, and made me feel completely welcome and at home. She was pure love and happiness, warm and loving, breezy and laughing all the time. At least, to my four-year-old eyes, that's how it seemed.

                           I mostly associate her with this season, because it was usually July when I was visiting. I remember one summer I was sixteen, and staying with her and my aunt Anne and her family in Robesonia, Pennsyvania.

                        My cousin Marc went berry-picking with me one morning, and we brought home buckets of wild blackberries to her. To my astonishment, she had them rolled into a perfect home-made pie and in the oven in less than half an hour.
                    She explained that she had had a pie business for a while, and had learned to whip up a pie very quickly. At that point I realized that there was a lot more to this woman than what I knew, and I began to ask her questions about her life.  That summer, I learned about her romantic teen elopement, her life as a young bride on a working farm, and her family's general store.

                    She told me about feeding the vagabonds that would wander by the farm during the depression, and about being so confused about what to do with the livestock and everything that came with that life. She recounted all parts of her life with freshness and humor, and I realized then what a strong, pure voice in the world she is.

                    I am extremely fortunate to have her in my life for so much of my life. I am delighted that a few short years ago I was able to join in her jubilant 90th birthday celebration. She positively twinkled, surrounded by loving friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
                    This time of year has traditionally been when our family gathers for a reunion. This is when I usually was with her, going for long walks past the corn fields to the old furnace. "Swing your arms!" She would command, walking briskly with purposeful long steps.  I think she loved summer.

                    This is her time. This year, it was her time to go. Nete loved music and loved to sing. All the flowers are open and singing, and I like to think they serenaded her on her way to heaven. I'm sure, in her jubilant soprano voice, she joined right in.

     Goodbye, Nete, thank you for all the love.

Friday, June 10, 2011

classic photo

The black bike on the gracht as the boats go by, this is the essence of Amsterdam in the warm-weather months. Also essentially Amsterdam: the back tire is flat and the seat is missing. Probably an abandoned or oh-gee-where-did-I-park-my-bike situation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

whimsical touch

I remember that this was a nice area, sort of a surprise neighborhood in Oost I believe.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

carnival detail

I was impressed with the quality of decoration around the burger and bratwurst food stand. The inscription on this glass and lead panel roughly translates to "He who sows shall reap."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Best Amsterdam Blog of the Year Award never going to be mine, at this rate!

Well, let me dust off my winter and, in honor of daylight savings time, which started here yesterday, and resurrect Amsterzanne blog with a few looks of early spring. And, I do mean early spring. I am still wearing a scarf, gloves and long winter coat. But, the days are longer and the forsythia is frothing out, and daffodils are getting more plentiful by the day.

This is a decent capture, considering it was on the fly, of the Rijksmuseum yesterday evening. I cycle through Museumplein daily on the way to and from work, one of the nicest perks of my day. The sun was a great angle on the museum last night, and I like the current placement of the moveable I Amsterdam sign. Too bad about that daggone gray construction hut in the center. Imagine how many tourist photos that silly thing is ruining. Oh well, the price of renovation.

We are having the spring tease. Last weekend the sun shone and the temperatures were mild, but don't put that winter coat away just yet, folks. The carnival at Westergasfabriek last weekend was a great place for photos, here's a few:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shopping in your underwear!

Wow, here's an idea for those of you needing to tame a wild hair: strip and save money at Desigual on December 28.

Yeah! Show up at the Desigual on Kalverstraat in your underwear, but get there early, because only the first 100 of you will get the reward: a free outfit from the shop.

Here's the link, for the intrepid among you.

(Photo taken in Second Life by my alter ego, Xanna Ziskey, in SL Amsterdam)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

de Krijtberg Kerk

I can't resist my camera when it's snowing, and I'm pleased with this photo I took last week of de Krijtberg Kerk, a Catholic church on the Singel near the flower market. The post work is done with GIMP, a free photo manipulation software.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Dat is niet Kerst papier!" "That is not Christmas paper!"

Living in a foreign country is quite the interesting experience, and education about the host country frequently comes in unexpected ways.

I moved to The Netherlands in December of 2005, but I still feel clueless about many things in the culture around me.

I was quite proud of myself this year, informing our housemate (his first year as an expat) about the whole Sinterklaas and Zwaart Piet stuff, as I covered in the previous post. But I was only partially getting a grip on Dutch Christmas customs, as a recent customer informed me.

A few days before December 5 a customer made a purchase that she wanted gift wrapped. I reached for our holiday paper, shown above left. "Do you have Christmas paper?" she asked. "Yes, I said, holding it closer to her, "we have this, would you like red or blue?" She looked unsatisfied. "Maar, dat is niet Kerst papier; dat is Sinterklaas papier." ("But, that is not Christmas paper, that is Sinterklaas paper.")

The light dawned. Oooooooooooh. So, it's not all one big season from the arrival of Sinterklaas at the end of November to December 25. No no no. I had that all wrong. Instead...Sinterklaas arrives and all the zwaart piets dance around and give the kids goodies and all that. The kids put their shoes out on December 5 (and a carrot for the horse!) and they wake up to shoes filled with kruidnoten and chocolate coins and candy; along with presents from friends and family.

zwaart piet dolls with Quila

After December 6, the whole Sinterklaas bit is over. Anything smacking of Sinterklaas and zwaart Piet is taken down or discounted and the second phase of the holiday, Christmas, begins. My housemate ran out and grabbed a bunch of zwaart piet dolls, which my cat Quila found fun to pose with. These dolls have blue eyes, which is exactly what you see when scores of Dutch people dress as "Black Peter."

Until December 6 Christmas trees are not even available. But exactly on December 6th, BOOM they appeared on every street corner. Now the focus is on the traditional story of the birth of Christ, and only now are the lights appearing in the windows and so on. However, although it's not part of traditional Dutch culture, Santa Claus' image is now making an appearance here, but this is a distinct character, he is NOT Sinterklaas. We were completely wrong to have a small Christmas tree with ornament display before December 6 (forehead smack). Okay, it's been five years, time to catch on. Makes me wonder what other glaring cultural norms I am blind to.
Typical "Sinterklaas" (not Christmas!) candy, which we are now shoving down the throats of unsuspecting La Naranja customers, because if they don't eat this stuff we know we will, and we are desperately trying to watch our girlish figures over the holidays. In fact, we will discount anything in the shop ten percent if you eat some our candy. Please. Keep Bilderdijkstraat beautiful, and remove these sweets from our reach.

And, now, officially, Merry Christmas, everybody! Let the festivities begin!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sinterklaas in Amsterdam

As I was on my way to the Sinterklaas arrival party in Leidseplein last month I spotted children's cutouts in a window. The figure on the left is "Zwarte Piet," Sinterklaas' fun-loving Moorish helper. In the Netherlands, legend has it that Sinterklaas (the figure in the red hat) arrives from his home in Spain by boat, after which he disembarks astride his white horse and rides through the land, dispersing goodies and gifts. One Santa for the whole country arrives in Amsterdam (lucky me!) and a full scale parade with floats and tons of Zwarte Piets ensues from the ship to Leidseplein, where Sinterklaas addresses the crowd, spreading good cheer to the rain-soaked masses.

Dutch kids are really, really cute and happy children as a rule, and this event brought those qualities out. It almost made me teary, looking at their earnest little faces. Many of them dressed up either as Sinterklaas or one of his helpers, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). The adults dressed as Zwarte Piets all put on brown face makeup to look like Moors. This can be startling to Americans sensitive to certain images due to our history of racial conflict, but I assure you this is not construed as or interpreted as offensive, here.

The Zwarte Piets dance around, goof off, insert themselves in people's photographs and hand out goodies in advance of Sinterklaas' appearance.

The man himself!!

Sinterklaas riding up to Leidseplein, led by Zwarte Piet

Little kids in the typical flouncy beret type hat, representing santa's helper, Zwarte Piet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Zwaart Piets onderweg thuis

I saw Sinterklaas arrive in Leidseplein today! More photos soon, but this was the best of the bunch, two Zwaart Petes rollerblading home from the event.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vamos a Ver - Spanish Restaurant de Pijp

Many of the de Pijp neighborhood eateries have risen to the status of "must try" Amsterdam restaurants, and a Spanish restaurant on Governor Flinckstraat called "Vamos a Ver" ("Let's See") is one I've had my eye on for a while.

Hubby and I went there last night to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. The minute my nose got inside the door, I knew I was in for a good meal. That "yum" something wonderful is happening in the kitchen smell. The atmosphere is welcoming, low lighting, cosy warm, bustling kitchen in the back.

We were invited to sit at any table of our choosing. There were a few tables occupied on this Monday evening, and a patron or two at the bar. We settled into a corner table and a friendly woman gave us menus and asked for our drink order immediately. (American readers: this is not normal in Amsterdam, where wait staff routinely ignores all customers.) I enjoyed being close enough to the kitchen to hear our server speaking to the cooks in Spanish. Okay, they really have Spaniards in the kitchen, this is a good sign.

We started with an order of calamari a la romana, which was okay. Better than some I've tried but far from the best. Perfectly cooked, but nothing special in the breading or seasoning, and no red sauce alongside. In fact, now that I think of it, I only get the red sauce about half the time when I order breaded calamari in Europe.

My entree though, was out of this world. "Pollo al ajillo" or chicken with garlic, is a traditional Spanish dish, and they did it proud. Piping hot, perfectly cooked, delicious chicken thighs thoroughly infused with savory garlic. My husband had some sort of steak thing but I was so into my food I totally forgot to ask him about his. I let his clean plate do the talking.

They brought our entrees on big black round plates brimming with food. The order was accompanied by loads of steak fries and veggies, and everything was hot and tasty. Bread with alioli sauce was complimentary, and when I asked for a glass of water we were given a ceramic carafe for the table, nice.

We couldn't finish everything on the plates but I still took a gander at the dessert menu. Not a lot to tempt: I was too full for the house desserts, flan and crema catalana, and the rest was ice cream or fruit or a combo of the two, yawn. My husband immediately rejected the dessert menu: no chocolate.

We were in and out of there in record time, yet we never felt rushed. I loved the soft lighting and the decorative ironwork all about. I liked the look of the patrons at the other tables. They seemed to be an older, savvy set that had been here many a time before. I noticed a gentleman dining alone at the bar as we left, happily chatting with a waiter. Indeed, it is the kind of place you could wander into alone and still feel cosy and cared for.

I loved it. I'll be back.

Vamos a Ver
Pin accepted. Closed Tuesday
Govert Flinckstraat 308
1073 CJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 6736992

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Amsterdam Hotels

I'm delighted to write this post, as I have recently picked up a few lodging tips and I and busting to share them with you, dear reader. As I've mentioned in previous posts, getting a quality room for cheap is quite difficult here.

To that end, here are two places that I have heard are quite comfortable.

The first is the Palace B&B, which I first discovered through my colorist, Rudy, as he owns the joint. I can't tell you how many times I have been sitting in the chair at his salon whilst happy lodgers drop off their key, promising to book again the next time. But it wasn't until my housemate visited a friend staying there that heard first hand just how nice it was. Not plush, but beautifully appointed. Nice linens. Coffee maker and stuff to make your own breakfast. Kind of nice to come and go without a reception, just as though you are living on your own in Amsterdam for a night or so.

DJ had booked the largest room, which had a seating area that could be curtained off from the sleeping area, for 109 euros a night, September. DJ regularly cruises, first class, on the Queen Mary, and he can afford any hotel in town. He was so impressed with the Palace B&B that he re-booked when in town on business a week later. I guess he was not so taken with the fancy schmancy Hotel 717 that he had stayed in previously. (downchecks to that place: no awning over the front door and one must wait, in the rain, to be let in; also, in the biggest suite two couches that faced each other were separated by a table that was level with eyes of people sitting, rendering the seating area basically non-functional.)

The other economic gem I've heard about is the Euphemia Hotel. The positive reviews came from a well-traveled Danish woman in her seventies. She said it was fine, and quiet.

I have read that prices have dropped a bit from last year, but still, a normal hotel room will run you about 125 a night, even booking in advance. And, unlike some cities, here the prices go up, not down, at the last minute. Feeling brave? The prices will drop on those discount hotel sites after 2 pm on the day you want the room, if you are willing to risk it.

And of course, my services as Hotel Checker are still available.

Me, I'd opt for one of the above places so you can arrive and relax and forget about hotels during your trip. I have been with friends that book from night to night, and that means getting up early and spending every morning of your holiday traipsing around looking for a good deal for the next night, repacking and unpacking and moving your luggage. Ugh, not my idea of a holiday.

We are in the rainy season, but still a lot of green left on the trees, and there may be a glorious autumnal day out there yet before Old Man Winter bears down on us for real. Well, off to work. Come by and visit La Naranja, and say howdy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

bikes, bikes, bikes

To sum the previous, then: if you can somehow get on two wheels here, whether by renting your own or joining a group at Mac Bike or Yellow Bikes, or taking your life in your hands with an Eastern European intrepid bike taxi driver, it really is THE way to see and understand this city.

Two wheels are without a doubt the fastest way around Amsterdam. Literally nothing is more than 20 minutes away if you are on a bicycle.

If you do take the plunge and rent a bike on our own, first of all, BRAVO! You won't regret it. Now, some guidelines for first time cyclists in our fair city:

1. Always lock your bike, through the front wheel AND the frame, when you are not with it. Period. Take it from me, who is on her third bike in four years, the previous two lost to theft.

2.. ALWAYS stay on the bike path. Take it from me, who careened gleefully down a sidewalk and collided into some poor workman carrying his tools away from a house for the day. "dit is voor lopen," he said indicating the sidewalk. "This is for walking." Thank God he was not hurt, or some feeble being. I learned that lesson.

3. ALWAYS have a light on the front and the back once the sun goes down. Not only does it simply make good basic safety sense, but the politie acties may await you around every bend, and they will fine you on the spot for neglecting your "lampje." Get in the habit of carrying them with you at all times, less you get into one of those afternoon-turns-to-evening situations.

4. PAY NO ATTENTION to the casual Dutch zinging through red lights and pirouetting down the sidewalks on a single wheel while they juggle apples with one hand and text their friends with the other. They can do this without incident. If you try to buck the rules with the same disregard for flowing traffic, you will unwittingly cause a pile up. They have been running red lights for decades. Don't be a twit your first week on two wheels here. I'm not kidding. Things move quickly on a bicycle. Be careful out there.

5. DO GET OUT of the tourist centrum. I highly recommend the canal belt, over on the west side. Pick a time outside of rush hours and try the Browersgracht and Bloemengracht area for great gracht riding with little traffic. On the other extreme end of the canal belt, the east side, riding around Rembrandtplein, towards Reguliersgracht and around there is a very pleasant ride.

6. VONDELPARK is the best place, in my opinion, to go on a bike. It can get a bit wild with roller bladers and oblivious tourists strolling into your path, but it's a sure escape from cars and the bustle, such as it is, of the city.

Life on bike is delightful. I love my enforced 20 minutes twice a day to and from work. Getting to the point where I don't even mind it much in the drizzle. Guess I'm slowly going native. Next post, hotel tips!
Ivy claiming a bicycle chained to the wrought iron fence at Sarphati park.