Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ik ga naar Nederland

After five months of planning, six of Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh's grandchildren and great-grandchildren finally took off from Beverwijck in Nieuw Nederland (i.e., Albany, New York) on a trip to the Netherlands. Undaunted by flight delays and jet lag, we began to explore Amsterdam and to contact relatives.

The travelers have arrived!

One of my guidebooks stated that Amsterdam is a city of 800,000 inhabitants and 400,000 bicycles. For the size of the city, it felt comfortably laid back and with a lower degree of stress and hurry than a New Yorker would expect. People seemed to have a healthier work-home life balance than in the U.S.; or was it just because I was on vacation and trying not to obsess about the unfinished work I had left behind?

I am not sure about the statistic on the number of bicycles, but it sounds entirely plausible. In fact, when crossing a street in Amsterdam, you have to look both ways three times.

Once for the bicycles:

Liz astride a Dutch bike

Once for cars and buses:

This one's easy to park!

And once for trams:

Tram near Centraal Station

The bicycles have small bells that riders ring with a ting-a-ling if you step too close in front of an oncoming two-wheeler or don't yield the right of way in the fietspad (bike lane). It was easy to identify the American tourists, who seemed oblivious to the tingling bells, perhaps thinking they were merely an echo of their childhood tricycles. I quickly learned to pay attention to the tingling bells and to look behind me when I heard one in my vicinity.

Which one is mine?!

My hometown in Nieuw Nederland is lagging far behind in terms of bicycle-friendliness, but the city authorities are trying. As this recent article in local newspaper Metroland indicates, bicycle racks are being installed on more and more Albany streets, and many buses now are equipped with racks. But the bike lane still consists mostly of painted indications on city streets that drivers should share the road with cyclists.

During our week in Amsterdam, we tried to visit as many highlights of the city as possible: the Rijksmuseum, where I was thrilled to see one of my favorite Vermeer paintings, The Milkmaid;  the Van Gogh Museum; the Dam Square; and the Ann Frank House (a sobering reminder of man's inhumanity to man).


We took a canal boat tour around the Grachtengordel (Canal Belt) and the port of Amsterdam.

Tour boat on Amsterdam canal

We took pictures of some of the 400-year-old canal houses, and I also made an extra trip into the center of town to visit a couple houses that are now museums: the Museum Geelvinck and the Museum VanLoon.

Typical canal houses in Amsterdam

I also strolled through the Begijnhof, a secluded courtyard of small homes established in the 14th century for the beguines, a Catholic sisterhood who lived as nuns, but with the right to return to the outside world.


 With its profusion of flowers:

Begijnhof Garden

I walked along the Kalverstraat, a street open only to pedestrians, lined with shops offering a plethora of goods from around the world. Here I stopped to enjoy the carnival atmosphere enhanced by an old-fashioned barrel organ:

Barrel Organ on Kalverstraat

 And the flower market, which displayed more bulbs than cut flowers:

Bulbs for sale at flower market

And last but not least, we toured the Heineken Experience:

The bottles go round and round!

Sightseeing was a lot of fun. But the main purpose of our journey was to re-connect with relatives on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Coming up next: Dozens of Cousins!

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