Saturday, August 27, 2016

Quaint little Dutch towns

During the 4 days we were home based in Amsterdam, we ventured out to a few quaint little towns around the area.  We mostly took the trains to get to them...with one exception I'll get to later.  

The first morning was the Alkmaar cheese market, so we took the 15 minute train from Amsterdam Centraal Station down to Alkmaar.  Despite the rain, the crowds were thick.  

The cheese carriers guide was established in 1593, and contains 30 men and a cheese father.  There are 4 groups within the guild, and they are recognized by a different color, which you can see in their hats and bowties.  At the market, the cheeses are weighed, sorted, sold and packed into trucks to take to stores and restaurants.  

Suckers are heavy! 

After watching the market for a bit, we went into the small but well done cheese museum, with a great view looking back at the square. 

We stopped at one of the market vendors for a small collection of the different cheeses - perfect sample! 

We explored the little town for a bit, grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoyed the scenery.  

The church was really cool...

And the inside was so different and beautiful.

We then were heading to Den Bosch next...however apparently some guy threw himself on the train tracks, causing a bit of a challenging travel adventure.  We made it most of the way on the train, but then had to get off and cram onto coaches to go the rest of the way.  What a mess!  But...once in Den Bosch, it was another beautiful and quaint little town.  

We walked around town before our scheduled time to go to the art exhibit.  We discovered a beautiful little store, Robbies, and enjoyed exploring the little town.  We had tickets to go to the Jheroniumus Bosch exhibit that afternoon.  To celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death, they were hosting a number of different events.  This included bringing together a collection of his artwork from museums around the country back to Den Bosch, his birthplace.  

I tried to see if we could get this guy home for our back yard...

The city was just bustling, and people we talked to said it had been that way since the exhibit opened.  We walked around a bit more and decided on the restaurant Lokaal 1650, sitting outside on their lovely patio.  

After our afternoon in Den Bosch, luckily the trip back to Amsterdam was a much smoother one. 

Haarlem was the next town we ventured off too, and it was my favorite of the bunch.  While small and quaint, it was a bit more bustling.  

Some more rain that morning, but that didn't deter the market from setting up along the town streets. 

So many tulips!  You could buy 50 stalks for only 5 or 6 euros!

It must have been fair season, as every town we went to, including Amsterdam, had quite the little fair set up in the middle of the town square.

We poked our heads into the church, and again it was beautiful and very different than the others.  

Over the centuries, the stained glass windows were neglected, and few originals remain.  However, they have brought in windows from other demolished or defunct churches, so today it has quite a collection of different ones.  

The organ steals the show in this church.  It sits 30 meters off the floor and has over 5000 pipes.  It has more than 25 larger than life statues.  

They have free concerts twice a week, and one was happening the day we were there.  It was still 2 hours before the show and people were already claiming their seats.  Once the concert started, you weren't allowed to leave until it was we decided to save that for the next trip, and just admire the organ while we were there.  

Back outside we wandered around the exterior more, and then off to explore the town a bit.  We did a bit of shopping... and Haarlam is where we acquired the large copper tray that I had to have...which then meant we'd have to carry it the rest of the trip! 

Then we went to another church, but this one was a bit different... it was a brewery in the old church.  

Haarlem has been one of the best beer cities in the Netherlands, starting from the early middle ages!  According to the Jopen website, "Jopen’s history goes back to 1407, when the recipe for Jopen Adriaan was first registered by the Haarlem Guild of Brewers."  The brand really got going in 1994, when they started making their traditional beers, some that they still make today.  While looking for a place to house the brewery, they discovered this church.  They converted the church in 2010, and Jopen moved in.  

They wanted people to be able to see where the brewing process took place while enjoying a beer or food.  We were enjoying the spot so much, we stayed and had lunch and sampled a few of their beers!

After a great day in Haarlam, we headed back to Amsterdam.  If you get to the Netherlands, be sure to get out and explore some of the beautiful little towns around the country!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wheels up to Amsterdam!

In April 2016, we headed off to Europe for an 11 day getaway.  We started in Amsterdam! 

Once we landed, we took the train to Central Station - and our hotel was just across the street.  

We knew there would be a lot of bikes...but never expected a 3 level bike parking garage!

Once we got checked in and got some coffee, we were starving!  Where did we go first?  French fries, of course!

That's one happy guy right there. 

We had downloaded several walking audio tours from Rick Steves, so we were off to do our first one, the City Walk!  We each had them on our iPhones and were able to listen through our ear buds.  They were all really good - and the timing was very good.  We were able to pause when we wanted to duck into a store or linger longer.   

We ducked into the Amsterdam Museum along the way...

and then we continued on our tour...

The tulips were amazing - and everywhere - and SO cheap! Here, 50 stems for 8 euros!

It was just as beautiful and picturesque as I'd imagined.  

That afternoon we did a boat tour.  But not a fancy, touristy one.  

We took a Those Dam Boat Guys tour.  It's an 'alternative' tour - so you are encouraged to bring food and drinks on board.  This was our tour guide - he's lived in Amsterdam for 6 years after growing up in California.  It was cool to hear from him about the culture and city.  

We got to see the famous dancing ladies houses.  They are nicknamed that as they look like 4 girlfriends who are just leaving a bar, arms around each other and a little tipsy. 

For being just off the plane, we were doing pretty good!

Once off the boat, we headed to In De Wildeman, a beer bar in the heart of the city in an old distillery.  We found a good little spot at the bar, and were commenting on how busy it was.  Well, turns out, it was their 30th anniversary party, and we just happened to be there!

The owner was there, and they had all kinds of special guests.  

The gentleman had suffered from a stroke or something, but you could just tell the excitement and pride that he had of this bar.  We didn't understand anything, but it didn't matter. 

They were releasing special collaboration beers with 5 different brewers from famous breweries around the world.  

Great fun!

We spent a few days exploring some smaller towns around Amsterdam (another post coming soon!), and then one more day back in the city.  We did a couple more audio walking tours, went to the Anne Frank house, and some of the museums. If you go, and want to do the Anne Frank house, be sure to get tickets ahead of time.  The lines were INSANE and would take hours... while it was interesting to see the house, and learn about the family and the war through her eyes, it's a pretty quick visit... I would have been sorely disappointed if I'd waited for hours.  

It was chilly - but at least we had sun! 

That night we went to the Foodhallen for dinner - it's a massive, indoor food market.  Similar to those in Copenhagen, Madrid and London, it's "a unique addition to Amsterdam. The very first "indoor food market in the Netherlands, where you can enjoy good food and drink on site."  The place was absolutely PACKED.  They were eating and drinking on every possible surface.  The food was delicious - we had several different things: a burger, pretzel dog, and more.  What a fun evening in the midst of all the local hipsters!

On our last day, we did some more wandering, soaking in the sites, and a few museum visits.  

Delicious lunch spot - and complete with cherry blossoms!  We might have missed them in DC, but we had them in Amsterdam!

We had to find the sign and get a photo...even though with all of the people, you can hardly see the sign!  We should have snuck one in at the airport, without any of the crowds!

A stop in the Rijksmuseum, complete with a Rick Steve's tour of the highlights, and a trip to the Van Gogh museum for the afternoon. 

Followed by apple pie, of course!

There's a very good chance we had 2 of these...

Our last night in Amsterdam we decided to try Indonesian food, and this little restaurant Jun was just perfect.  The owner and chef were both just wonderful, and as nice and helpful as could be.  We had a delicious meal, and enjoyed chatting with them. 

And with that, we said goodbye to Amsterdam!  We really enjoyed the city, and the atmosphere around.  Yes, we smelled pot around almost every corner, but you kinda get used to it after a few days!  We just loved the Dutch 'do whatever you want, just don't be a jerk about it' attitude.