I paid attention when the museums we wanted to visit said it was a good idea to pre-book no-queue tickets. And I’m glad I did. Of course that meant laying out 160€ on a bet that our trip would actually come about. But that’s what an “insurance policy” is all about, right? I’m not sure if we needed them for the Mauristshuis in The Hague, but we surely needed them for the Van Gogh here in Amsterdam. And as it turned out, seeing the size of the queue for those no-queue tickets this morning at the Rijksmuseum, we surely needed them here too.
It was another cloudy morning when we hit the street following a thoroughly fortifying breakfast. While we knew the route to the Museumplein pretty much by heart having walked it twice yesterday, today I decided to go off script and follow a different street on the north -> south part of the journey. A great idea in thought, less of one in practice as it added probably a half-mile to the journey for two already tired of walking people. While it’s nice to think that these north-south streets flow straight down from the canals they start at, in reality, they radiate like the spokes of a bike wheel. And if you choose the wrong one, you actually end up traveling away from your intended location. The upside – we found a New York Times. The downside, it took forever to get there and we stepped into the line at exactly 10:00 AM. Not that it mattered, the tickets were guaranteed despite the 100 people in front of us.
The Rijksmuseum is enormous, with over 8000 objects representing centuries of Dutch history. Arranged at roughly 100 years per floor, Level 0 level covers the Medival and Renaissance eras, Level 1, 1700 – 1900, Level 3, 1900 – 1950, and Level 2, where all the gems of the Dutch Masters reside, 1600 – 1700. The general idea is that it’s best to start on Level 2, and I wish we did because Level 1 where we started was worthy of a day in itself.
A lot of thought went into the presentation, along with quite a bit of introspection. Several galleries were devoted to the Dutch colonial periods and the amount of art and artifacts contained in the collection which are tainted by their association with slavery and the abuse of the subject populations. That kind of admission is not seen frequently enough in large Western museums, whose collections were pumped up by theft, looting, and subjugation.
There were a lot of favorites, some offered here. The most famous attraction, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” is undergoing restoration, and so not available for close viewing. The rig used for the work caught my eye, a scanner mounted on an X-Y axis stepping motor frame that allows very precise movement. The same technology I used to work with in printing microchips.
Another gallery was dedicated to Dutch naval power and displayed some very interesting “pen paintings,” a genre I was unfamiliar with. Large canvases, done all in pen and ink, and in these cases depicting the significant triumphs the Dutch had over the English and Spanish navies. One story gave me a chuckle, the Dutch sailed over to England, captured the king’s flagship, the Royal Charles while the English army stood on the shore watching, towed it across the North Sea as a war prize, and then unceremoniously scrapped it. Its stern emblem now hangs forlornly over the gallery entrance.
Here’s a gallery of some of our favorites –
We spent about 2 hours wandering around taking in as much as we could before finally calling it a day.
Now, it was time to check another box on our search for authentic Dutch cuisine – pannenkoeken.
The Dutch people love their pancakes, and they’ve raised them well above our American IHOP standard. Offering both sweet and savory options, they’re an “all day” kind of meal. And lucky for us, The Pancake Club, one of Amsterdam’s top-rated providers just happened to be a few blocks away. So off we went.
A nice little place, with indoor and outdoor seating and an incredibly friendly staff. MLW had a savory – ham and cheese and I went with a sweet – banana slices cooked into the batter. What appeared wasn’t really a “pancake” per se, more of a dinner plate-sized crepe. Light, fluffy, and very tasty. A nice way to check off one more box.
The walk back was far more challenging than the walk down, due mainly to the sidewalks crowded with tourists. Apparently, every cruise ship must dock on Friday morning, judging from the mob. It’s already a bit difficult to navigate these narrow streets because a lot of real estate is given over to bike lanes. A nice idea in principle, but challenging for pedestrians as they are relegated to narrow and uneven stretches of cobblestone pavers crisscrossed by lanes full of speeding cyclists. Nonetheless, we were still able to safely take in the sites and do a bit of window shopping.
Out of pure dumb luck, we took a different street and ended up at the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market. It was on our list for another day, so we stopped and did a little shopping not realizing where we were until we got back and I did a little research. Lots of touristy doodads, dried flowers in every color hanging from the glass ceiling of the shop, and more tulip and daffodil bulbs than anyone knew existed. And that was all in the first of 8 boats, docked end to end. An unexpected treat was the two o’clock chiming from the carillon atop a tower across the canal. Known as The Munttoren, the mint tower due to its use in producing coins, it’s a rebuilt version of a bell tower that was originally built in 1480 as part of one of the gates in the city walls. The gate went up in flames in 1618, but the tower survived only to be rebuilt in 1885 in a completely different style. The carillon dates to 1668 with various enhancements and repairs over the years. Today, it consists of 38 bells, two more than the original.
And finally, sometimes serendipity reads your mind. We were walking along reminiscing about wandering around Sevilla or Rome on a sunny afternoon, one of many people strolling while enjoying a Gelato. In all the miles we’ve covered so far, we haven’t seen a single Gelateria, something we thought more than a bit strange, considering the Dutch obsession with deserts, a genre raised to unbelievable heights of absurdity. We’d just finished that thought when lo, across the street was a Gelato joint! Pistachio and Coffee for me, Stracciatella and Tiramisu for MLW, a wish come true, served up in a place where it was secondary to the incredible Dutch take on waffles – Belgian style slathered in molten chocolate, covered in Kit Kat bars, Lotus Cookies, Snickers, fruit, and god knows what else.
A block further down the street we stopped in Rembrandtplein to enjoy our dessert under the guise of the very man whose work we had appreciated earlier this morning.