Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Two Days in Berlin

Hello Folk,

We have had two clear and wonderful shirtsleeve days for walking around and exploring the town.  The change in temperature since we first arrived in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago has been pretty dramatic.Our decision for planning our activities is to focus on outdoor exploration when the weather was great, saving the museum visits for cloudy or rainy days.

Our first day of exploring the town was a Sunday, so we decided to do a circle tour using the city buses and walking.  We used the buses because even though they are slower than the U-bahn and S-bahn, there is a better chance to view the areas you are traveling through. It is nice on the first day to get a broad brush look at a town and the start spending more time in the individual areas.  As it was Sunday it was not too crowded on the buses, particularly in the morning.

We traveled through the different neighborhoods some that had survived the war, others built by the East and West Germans, and others that are in the process of being rebuilt today. It is fascinating to see the different layers of old and new, historical and modern blended together.  There is an incredible amount of building and reinvestment in the infrastructure going on here.  It is no wonder that their unemployment level is so low, and that the place looks a little different with each visit.

Kurf├╝rstendamm (Ku'damm street)

Palace grounds - Charlottenburg

Palace at Charlottenburg

We finished our first day's tour walking through Alexanderplatz, where there was some sort of festival going on.  It looked a lot like Oktoberfest, but it must be a similar springtime festival.  We stooped for a German beer at a restaurant in the Hackescher Markt, and then headed home.  We have seen evening fireworks two of the nights that we have been here, adding to the mood of a celebration.


On our second day we walked to the Brandenburg gate, down Unter Den Linden, and to the Berliner Dom.  We then revisited Alexanderplatz and then took a train to the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin wall standing.  It is covered in modern murals, which have been sadly defaced with graffiti by visitors. After supper at the apartment we walked over to the Sony Center to see it under the multi colored lights.  We were treated to another fireworks display just before we headed off to bed.

Brandenburg Gate

Unter Den Linden

Berliner Dom

East Side Gallery

Sony Center at Night

We hope you are all doing well.

Stephen and Linda

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bike and Barge Update

Hello Folks,

We had a wonderful time on the bike and barge trip, the weather was great, the scenery was spectacular, and the mood of the trip was very relaxing. We did in fact see a lot of tulips, we were right at the peak of the season instead of the beginning of the season as planned. Apparently the Netherlands had a very mild winter bringing the tulips out a little earlier than usual. Even though the weather seemed rather chilly during our first week, if the winter doesn't furnish an opportunity for skating on the canals, it is considered to be mild.

Cycling in the Netherlands did take a little getting used to, there are often three different signals at an intersection, one for cars, one for pedestrians, and another for bicycles. You might guess that they would all turn red or green at about the same time, but if you did, you would like me, guess wrong. During the week of cycling, mostly out in the country, I never did figure out why and how the different types of lights would turn, I just took it on faith that proceeding on a red light was bad.

As I mentioned, the countryside was beautiful. With an abundance of water everywhere, everything was absolutely green or blooming.  One surprise, was the number of birds that we saw, both the variety and the sheer numbers.  It seemed like we were seeing different types of birds all day long, and other than when we were in a town or city, we could hear them singing. It was very special being able to see cranes, pheasants, hawks, and several kinds of ducks and geese. The singing from the geese and ducks wasn't quite up to par with that of the other birds, but it was fun seeing them as long as they were out of pecking range.

We are now on the train to Berlin, typing on a touch pad whilst riding with a few bumps. We decided to take off a half hour earlier than originally planned in order to avoid any complications with our connection due to delays. Today is "Kings Day" in Holland, which is probably celebrated with a number of different ceremonies, but the most obvious manifestation is the wearing orange clothing and drinking beer. We should have a holiday like this.  There was a negative side effect however, the crew that man's the restaurant car and makes the coffee for the trip, did not show up. Perhaps they began celebrating too early. The conductor indicated there might be a chance for a new crew when we get to the border of Germany. 

Our train trip to Berlin did not work out as smoothly as planned.  Lighting struck the electrical wires which power the trains just ahead of our route.  The train company actually did a pretty amazing job of pushing the train back to a station where there was electrical power available and rerouting us to get us to our destination.  We did wind up getting there 4 hours late, but we made it!  We just had a late supper and are going to head of to bed.

We haven't had a chance to sort through our pictures from the bike ride yet, but when we do we will post a link to some of them.

We hope you are all doing well well,

Stephen and Linda

Friday, April 18, 2014

Starting the Bike and Barge Portion of our Trip

Hello Everybody,

We are just about ready to our start the Bike and Barge ride with our friends from the Bicycle Adventure Club (BAC).  We have been told that although there is an internet connection on the boat, we should plan to use it sparingly.  It sounds like there will be a lot of people sharing a slower connection, so the posts during the trip might be a little short and possibly infrequent. We may also have to wait for pictures until the end of the trip.

So far, the weather here in the Netherlands has been very nice but a little cool, which should be good for cycling, but with some jackets and long pants.  The tulips in Amsterdam are obviously out, so we have high hopes for seeing some beautiful fields of flowers growing during the ride.

The map below contains the area where we will be riding (you may need to adjust it a bit to see the entire area):

View Bike and Barge Netherlands in a larger map

Day 1 Saturday the 19th - we check in at 4 pm at the Merlin.  Docked behind the Centraal Train Station Amsterdam. (Violet colored map pin)

Day 2 Sunday  the 20th - The boat sails to Nigtevecht, where we actually start the riding part of the bike tour. Visit cheese farm & stay for lunch. Bike to Utrecht & meet boat. (Blue Map Pins are the star and end points of the ride)

Day 3 Monday the 21st  - The boat sails from Utrecht to Vreeswijk. We ride the bikes from Vreeswijk to Schoonhoven (Red Map Pins)

Day 4 Tuesday the 22nd - We ride from Schoonhoven (our destination from the night before) to Kinderdijk meet the boat and sail to Gouda (Red and Green Map Pins).

Day 5 Wednesday the 23rd - We ride from Gouda to Leiden (Yellow Map Pins)

Day 6 Thursday the 24th - Sail from Leiden to Lisse and nearby Keukenhof ride to Haarlem. (Purple Map Pins)

Day 7 Friday the 25th - We ride from Haarlem to Amsterdam.  Time to tour both. (Purple and Violet map Pins)

Day 8, Saturday the 26th - Amsterdam. Have an early breakfast and head for the train station and catch the train to Berlin which will be the next phase of our trip.  Two of our friends, Vickie and Karin, from the bike ride will be joining us during the first week in Berlin.  We should have a great time there and we will be staying in the same apartment that we had during our last trip to Berlin.  We loved it.

It is a short distance from the boat dock to the train station for our departure to Berlin, it is just a couple of blocks and should be an easy walk to the platform even with luggage.  Saturday is some sort of a special holiday a Kings Day, so the trains running out of Amsterdam are on a special schedule, but it should mean that we will just have to leave a half hour earlier catching an 8:30 train and making a connection in a town called Amersfoort, it should be interesting.

We will have to see if it is practical to do any postings from the boat, if not we may do a summary when we reach Berlin.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Day 5 in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

We started out today with a visit to De Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church), which is right next to the hotel where we are staying. It has been closed for the last couple of days for the installation of an exhibit called the "World Press Photo Exhibit". Both the church and the exhibition were a terrific visit. The church is where the King is installed and manages to be plain and very impressive.  The exhibition featured photos and short clips that were not only excellent in quality, but left you with a lasting, almost haunting feeling. Some of the photos confronted real issues around the world, some of them rather sad. 

Photo Exhibit at the New Church

The Choir Screen at the new Church

Our next stop was the Oude Kerk (old church) which had smaller exhibits, but it is a wonderful building to see. The church did have an organ concert playing while we visited which was very nice as well. 

Organ at the old Church

Linda with Rembrandt's wife at the Old Church

Old guy - Old Church

 We then visited the National Maritime Museum, which has all sorts of displays about Dutch sailing history, maps, navigation instruments, ship models and also includes a full sized tall ship that you can explore.  This will help to get us prepared for our bike and barge trip coming up starting tomorrow. 

On the tall Ship at the Maritime Museum

On the Tall Ship

In the Captains Quarters

Ship's Decorations
We walked over to meet two of our friends, Vickie and Karin, who arrived earlier today.  We all walked around the town a bit and found a restaurant that seemed to be packed with local folks. We was great that we could all celebrate Vickie's birthday together, even if we were a day early.  Our waiter told us that the restaurant has been in business there for one hundred and sixty years. 

Karin and Vickie

We walked back, and walked by the dock where we will board the Merlijn tomorrow.  The boat is there, so we are planning to go over at about 11:00 in the morning, drop off our luggage, and go for a final walk around town.  It is kind of sad to think that we are just about done with this phase of our trip.

Here is a link to the pictures that we have taken during our visit to Amsterdam.  Some of them have appeard in the blog over the last several days, but there are several new ones.  I probably will not be posting very many pictures from the bike trip until it is over and I have enough bandwidth to upload them.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen and Linda

We hope you are all doing well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Four in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

We had one more attraction that we wanted to see that seemed to be generating long lines, the Anne Frank House, so we got going early in order to be there at about 8:30 for a 9:00 opening.  We had noticed the day before that the lines seemed to be an hour to an hour and a half long, which seemed like an awfully long time to stand around waiting.  When we got there, we found that we weren't the only ones with this idea and we were at a point in the line where a sign post said the wait would be about forty five minutes - ugh.

We stuck it out, and they must have opened early because we got in the door just after 9:00 which is what we were shooting for anyway.  The visit was very interesting, with several audio visual interviews of a few of the survivors, a tour of the secret attic area, and several of the actual diary books written by Anne Frank.  When we got out it looked like the line was at least 2 or 3 hours long, and the streets looked like it was a weekend with people visiting all sorts of sights.  We were very glad we went early.  One of the rule in the Anne Frank house is no photos. There is quite a bit about the Museum with pictures at the (Museum Website - Link).

On the way to Anne Frank House

Near Anne Frank House

While we were in the area, we stopped at the Westerkerk one of the city's old churches.  It was a former Catholic Cathedral that had bee converted to a Calvinist church, which means they took a lot of things like statues, references to saints, and other ornaments out.  It is possible to design a building to look very majestic and plain.  When you take everything out of a building that was designed to be ornate, it just looks empty, like it is still under construction. As you can see from their website they do still have a very pretty tower.

We later made contact with a couple of the folks who will be riding with us on the Bike and Barge, Dick and Cheryl and had a chance to catch up and compare notes on what has been going on in our lives since we saw each other in 2012.  They had just come in this morning from the US, so they still needed to get settled in the afternoon.

Linda and I headed to the Amsterdam Museum, which focuses on the history of Amsterdam.  They do an interesting treatment of the subject, breaking it into several small bites rather than one overwhelming history.  It was real nice, and we may go back.

Amsterdam Museum

Money and Valuables Chests - Amsterdam Museum

Amsterdam Museum

All of these places were pretty close to our hotel, they are the yellow map pins on the map below.  We did not want to get too far away as the forcast was for 50% chance of rain.  It was a beautiful day, the warmest one so far, but it did rain after we were in for the night (the best time for rain).

View Amsterdam in a larger map

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen and Linda

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day Three in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

We did get up and out early this morning and were first in line at the Van Gogh Museum. We were at the head of the line, but there were a few people who got to cut in front for some reason.  We did get right in and spent the entire morning seeing everything they had on the wall. It is a pretty amazing collection and there is a lot of additional information about the techniques that Van Gogh used and about the restoration efforts that are taking place.  One point that they made was that the colors have shifted on some of the paintings quite a bit, the purples are now more blue.  They said the light is causing the pigment to deteriorate and shift color.  The paints were a new type back then, some of the first that came in a tube instead of having to be mixed by hand.  The paints in the tube allowed a lot more outdoors work, but some of the first paints were not that permanent.

Outside the Van Gogh Museum - On the Museumplein

Outside the Van Gogh Museum - On the Museumplein

The Van Gogh Museum does not allow you to take photos, which seems kind of odd since you can take photos of the paintings by Van Gogh in the Rijksmuseum right next door.  The Rijksmuseum was in fact our very next stop. We saw a few things that we missed on Monday, but still did not cover it all.  

The Rijksmuseum - Linda
We started getting pretty tired, so we started going back to the room to rest, stopping at Vondelpark on the way back. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we stayed a while, along with a lot of the folks in Amsterdam who seemed to be delighted with the sunny day.




After a rest, we went out for a walk around town, and before we knew it it was getting to be time to head home for the evening.  Tomorrow we are planning to meet up with a couple of the folks that we will be with us on the Bike and Barge, and do a little sight seeing with them.

Evening Walk

Evening Walk

Evening Walk
We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Second Day in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

It is the morning of our second day.  The forecast for today is partly cloudy with a very low chance of rain, so we are going to set out with enthusiasm, and our umbrellas.

Our plan is to visit a few of the smaller attractions, probably the Anne Frank House and the Rembrant House, and then maybe hit a museum or two.  Maybe the Van Gogh Museum or the Amsterdam Museum (history of Amsterdam). We might even do a canal boat ride as a change of pace and a different way to see the city.

It is off to breakfast now. We will head out and finish up this post when we get back.

We changed our plans and decided to head to the Van Gogh Museum first, but when we got there it had a pretty long line to get in.  We decided instead to go to the Contemporary Art Museum, the Stedelijk,  which was about one hundred yards away.  What a great find it turned out to be. Instead of the two hours that we planned to spend at the Van Gogh Museum, we spent the entire morning and then some at the Stedelijk. It featured not just paintings, but all sorts of contemporary design.

Paintings by several artists at the Sedelijk

Modern Furniture


This room was beyond description

We were so charged by this find that we decided to try a new photography museum called FOAM. It was in contrast a complete disappointment. The Dutch may know about good cheese and yogurt, but they don't seem to have a handle on photography. We did however find several blooming tulips and a Schnauzer on the way.




 After we determined that the wait outside of Ann Frank's house was to long, we went instead to the Rembrandt House Museum which turned out to be a great visit. 

Rembrandt House - Kitchen

Rembrandt House - Parlor

Rembrandt House - Pigments for paint

Along the walk back to the Hotel
The Museums we tries to see today are marked with Green Map Pins. Oh, by the way, we did use the umbrellas for a few minutes today.

View Amsterdam in a larger map

We are planning to leave a bit earlier tomorrow morning for the Van Gogh Museum, so we are going to turn in early tonight.

Stephen and Linda

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our First Day in Amsterdam

Hello everyone,

Well, we slept real well through part of the night, the beds are real comfortable and the room is as quiet as a tomb.  We did wake up at about 3:00am and faded in and out of sleep for about another hour until we decided to get up, do a little reading and look at our email.  At first it seems to make sense that you would wake up at your at home regular time until you consider that 3:00am in Amsterdam is 6:00pm back home.  What's up with that?  Anyway, we will probably be better adjusted tonight, or at least I hope so.

When 7:00 finally rolled around and the breakfast room was scheduled to open we stormed down to see what the included "free" breakfast had to offer.  I had read a travel description about the typical Dutch breakfast being primarily bread products, which seemed pretty grim from a nutritional point of view, but we were delighted to see that breakfast offered eggs, fruit, and yogurt so it really does suffice for a main meal of the day instead of a bunch of empty calories.

Last night we stopped by a nearby store and picked up a pre-made salad and a couple of Dutch yogurts for supper.  The Dutch seem to have making yogurt down.  It is the best that we have ever had, while they sell a lot of the international brands like Dannon, it would be a real mistake to get those instead of the locally made.  Almost everything in Amsterdam is labeled in English and Dutch with the exception of food labels in grocery stores. There is a bit of trying to guess what some of the words mean, which makes shopping a bit more of an adventure than it is back home. 

We walked around the town a bit after supper and and enjoyed the city lights.

Amsterdam in the evening

 Today the forecast is sunny and cloudy and a fifty percent chance of rain.  The forecasters seem to be covering all of their bases.  It might be a good day to head out toward some of the local museums, which are a great place to be if there are rain showers.  Museum directors seem to be on top of making sure that the building's roof doesn't leak.  So we are off, we will write a bit more about the day this afternoon.

O.K., we are back for the evening.  We did a bit of walking around and were able to visit a couple of great museums.  We actually bought a couple of museum cards, so we can be a lot more flexible with our time, visiting as often as we want so we don''t have to feel like we have to see any one museum in a single visit.  Today we visited the Rijksmuseum (link to website) and the Hermitage Amsterdam (link to website).  The exhibits at both places were pretty spectacular. The Rikjksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands, and the Hermitage is a satellite museum of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia.  The Hermitage had a great exhibit about archeological finds from the silk road.  We did not get halfway through the Rijksmuseum and may go back if we have the time. Both were within walking distance provided that it isn't raining, you can get an idea of where they are from the map below:

View Amsterdam in a larger map

The yellow pin is our hotel, and the red pins are the museums.

On our way to and from the museums, we walked through some real pretty neighborhoods, flower markets, and some pretty nice monuments out on the streets.  The weather did fluctuate between sunny and cloudy and it did in fact rain just a bit while we were inside.  Below are a couple of pictures from walking about.

At the Flower Market

Just one cool building after another

Warm & Sunny down by the Canal

Enjoying my new warm hat

Rembrant's "Night Watch" in Bronze Statues

Stephen & Linda