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ARTSY AMSTERDAM VS VILLAGE VIBES: HOLLAND
by Irene Butler
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

"The old buildings alongside the canals are built leaning forward with hooks near the roofline", says an audio-voice. "Years ago when the city used to flood, goods had to be hoisted by pulley to the upper window, the tilt ensured the cable and product would not hit the facade."

1 Tilted houses with roof hooks

My husband Rick and I are cruising along one of the many canals radiating out from central Amsterdam like silky blue ribbons joined with solid stitches of bridges to the tapestry of land. Captain Frank is adept at maneuvering our Blue Boat past breathtaking scenery while we listen to more tidbits about this historic city.

2 An Amsterdam canal

Then, it's off the boat and onward to Central Station where we catch a bus to Zaanse Schans for, as Rick reasons, "You can't visit Holland without seeing the old windmills!"

Arriving at a village setting of stilt-houses, small shops and factories, we are time-warped back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The scent of chocolate lies heavy in the air from the area's many chocolate factories – and right inside Zaanse Museum is one that has been operating for 100 years. Willy Wonka has nothing over the Verkade Chocolate and Biscuit Factory! Wheels and rollers turn cocoa beans into thick creamy bars and rounds of dough into crispy delights. We do justice to the sample bar and purchase a stash for later.

3 Chocolate & Biscuit Factory

Then it's out to the sizable grounds of the complex—and there they are. The slow rotation of large wooden arms power machines in the factories below – a saw mill, paint mill, and spice mill. Investigating the latter, we see huge stone grinders pulverising spices.

4 Old wooden windmills

Another small factory carves out wooden shoes or "klompen" (now mostly for sale to tourists). The museum section displays styles through the ages, ones for work and ones for Sunday best. My opinion of them being clumsy dissolves on seeing the staff move around in them with quick ease, a soft "klomp" at each step.

5 Wooden shoe factory

Seeing a mini-factory churning out cheese next to a bakeshop translates into purchases for our scrumptious picnic lunch.

Back in Amsterdam we enter Anne Frank Huis (House) where this young Jewish girl wrote her diaries. A secret bookshelf opens to the annex where Anne, her mother, father, sister, plus four others hid from the Nazis during WWII – being in these hidden rooms is a haunting and moving experience.

Art and Amsterdam are synonymous! The Van Gogh Museum boasts the world's largest collection of this postimpressionist's soulful work. We follow Vincent Van Gogh's life in brush strokes, through sombre depictions of his Netherlands homeland, to his time in France celebrated in brilliant colour—and his friendship with Paul Gauguin.

Another day, it is the Rijksmuseum with over 8,000 works of art. On the second level we find paintings by Johannes Vermeer that uncannily resemble photography - except this Dutch artist lived 350 years ago, which is 150 years before cameras were invented! Theories have evolved on how he achieved this. All we can say is Vermeer's paintings are indeed photo realistic.

We next seek out Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" and absorb his style of enhancing the most important persons and items in the painting with light.

For more of this renowned artist we visit the Rembrandt House Museum (Museum het Rembrandthuis), where he spent twenty years before declaring bankruptcy. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) made a goodly income from his work – his problem was extravagance and mismanagement of funds. A heart-stopper is the large attic room where he produced many of his masterpieces. A large easel is positioned in the exact place where Rembrandt worked to catch the best light. His paint pots are nearby. A fireplace wards off the chill of a winter's day. In this room the aura of this great man is overwhelming.

6. Rembrandt's attic room

I will always remember "Erwtensoep" as the pea soup that saved our marriage. Leaving Rembrandt House I am raring to push onto another site – but know I've taxed Rick's regular feeding time when he stops abruptly and growls, "Irene, I don't care where we go next, as long as it serves food!" At the small cafe called Rembrandt Corner, we dive into soup so thick with peas, carrots, onions, and bacon that our spoons could stand upright, plus high-octane cappuccinos – and the site-seeing resumes.

The magical quality of Amsterdam's canals and lovely countryside, coupled with its rich culture and fascinating history won our hearts. We look forward to someday seeing more of what has been called "a very big small country".

IF YOU GO:

Tourism Holland (Holland refers to two provinces of the twelve that make up The Netherlands) www.holland.com

www.iamsterdam.com "I amsterdam City Card" – for convenience/great value - unlimited use of public transport system, free entrance to Amsterdam's best museums and attractions. - Zaanse Schans is 42km north of Amsterdam.

The Bridge Hotel (our Amsterdam home) www.thebridgehotel.nl

PHOTOS by Rick Butler

1 Tilted houses with roof hooks

2 An Amsterdam canal

3 Chocolate & Biscuit Factory

4 Old wooden windmills

5 Wooden shoe factory

6. Rembrandt's attic room

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com

 


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