Thursday, February 20, 2014

Famous artworks and floating flower stalls

Our first full day in Amsterdam began in a wonderful patisserie near the hotel, where we had our morning cappuccino and croissant. It was Valentine's day and the bakery had a huge selection of cakes and pastries on display. They gave us part of a shortcrust pastry raspberry valentine's cookie with our coffee. Mmmmm.

Fortified, we walked a little further down the street to the Albert Cuyp outdoor market that stretched for over a kilometre along a pedestrian street. The market had lots of fruits and vegetable stalls, beautiful wheels of Dutch cheeses, fresh fish including beautiful halibut and sole, clothing and household wares. We stopped to buy some almonds for our breakfast from a huge stall selling nuts and dried fruit. One thing we did notice, the prices were certainly higher than we were used to paying.

After another cold walk we arrived at the Rijksmuseum, the premier art museum in Holland, which has been recently renovated. As you approach the building it looks like a fairytale castle. There are many masterpieces in the collection with perhaps the most famous being Rembrandt's Night Watch. Another masterpiece I enjoyed seeing was Vermeer's The Milkmaid. I felt I knew her really well since my mother had a print on the wall as you entered her house. Too bad it wasn't the real thing.

My favourite painting was the massive canvas, The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman. It is not actually a depiction of the battle itself, but rather a group portrait centred around the Duke of Wellington on horseback, with the wounded prince of Orange on a stretcher off to the left. I loved  the detail of the picture. The prince was so proud of his part in the battle that he continued to sleep on an iron camp bed for many years. He received this painting as a present from his father, King William I.

Many of the Dutch pictures portrayed quite happy, smiling people. I later found out that the water at that time wasn't too good so everyone drank watered down beer. Perhaps that accounts for all the cheerfulness.

By now it was time for lunch in the museum restaurant, where I had some lovely green pea soup with mint and some little pieces of smoked haddock and creme fraiche. We also had a tasty salad of chopped borage, potatoes and carrots.

If you visit the entire collection you will walk for 1.8 kilometres. Eventually, we felt that we had nearly accomplished this. It was time to take our leave. We boarded a tram and arrived at the flower market. This is the only floating flower market in the world, and one of the most fragrant places of interest in Amsterdam - even in this weather. The flower stalls stand on the houseboats. Here we saw all sorts of tulips, narcissus and roses. There were some giant amaryllis bulbs. The bulbs are ready for export, so we could have taken some home if it wasn't for that pesky carry-on baggage we had taken with us.

As we wandered about we discovered Marks and Spencer's Food Hall. To some of you this may mean nothing but I was quite excited. There were lots of things to buy but we left with a package of "luxury hot cross buns" and a Battenburg cake. Items definitely not available to us. We were a little disappointed in the hot cross buns but the Battenburg cake was a find. Needless to say it didn't make it into our homeward bound luggage.

As we window shopped our way down the streets, it had become even colder and was threatening rain. It was time to stop for a coffee to warm us up. As we were enjoying our drink a very thin, very tall platinum blonde transvestite dressed in a little short dress came into the coffee shop and started making the rounds. We chatted with her only to find out that his brother lived in Sarnia. What a small world. I took a picture for posterity but unfortunately it was the exact time that the camera battery died. So no posterity.

By now the rain had really started coming down. Instead of waiting for a tram we kept walking, to keep warm. By the time we reached the hotel we were soaked. Never mind. It was soon time for our Valentine's dinner. This time we ventured out under the cover of umbrellas. Happy with some prosecco and half a lobster for me and a really nice piece of butterfish for Seamus we felt much better. It was a good ending to our first full day in Amsterdam.

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