Wednesday, 23 April 2014

London & Holland April 2014 Day 4

Monty the Motorhome is at the Gaasper campsite in Amsterdam, proudly sitting alongside a host of other vans, mainly from France, Germany and The Netherlands. However we have an Italian neighbour, whilst behind us is a Swedish caravan. All very European.

We were up nice and early at 6.15 (CET - so one hour ahead of BST) and didn't need the 6.30 alarm call that echoed through the ship. We had pre-booked breakfast, which was a buffet style arrangement with cooked and continental options and really filling.

The ship got into the Hook of Holland at 0815hrs, but it was probably about 8.45 by the time we disembarked and the Sat Nav did a sterling job in getting us to the campsite, arriving at 10.45. We were uncertain about the arrangements for arriving that early as the paperwork we had suggested arriving after 1300hrs. However there were no problems and a bloke on a bike showed us to our pitch. We got sorted out and then left for the city.

The site is only 15 minutes walk to the metro station Gaasperplas, and with trains every 10 minutes to the city centre this is the way to travel. The campsite sell public transport day tickets, covering unlimited   use on the GVB network (metro, trams and buses within the city). We bought 48 hr tickets for €12 each. The site also sells tickets for some of the main attractions, they are advertised as discounted but there didn't seem much if anything off the listed prices, but they do help to beat the queues.

On arrival at Central Station we took one of the tourist boat trips. A one hour cruise can only take in a small part of the extensive canal network, but it did help us get our bearings. There are four core semicircular canals that radiate out from the centre, with radial canals that cut across the others. There was quite a number of tourist boats on the water, showing what an essential part of the city economy these waterways are.

Then on to Albert Cuypmarkt, the City's largest street market. It spreads off one street and runs for 800m, with stalls selling all manner of things, including fast food. We sampled Dutch herring sandwiches - raw fish with pickles. I found it surprising tasty, and even Ruth enjoyed a mouthful though she normally baulks at the thought of raw fish. We also stopped at a little side street cafe and had coffee and apple cake, the latter being a huge homemade pudding served with lashings of cream.

The market is within walking distance of Museumplein, an area where three of the city's most famous art museums are sited. We had previously decided just to take in one on each of the two days we were here. So today it was the Rijksmuseum. This place is the Netherlands' premier art trove. It closed in 2003 for a 10 year renovation, so has only been open again for a short time. The place is huge, with 1.5km of galleries. We headed to Floor 2, for the period 1600-1700 (also known as the Golden Age of Dutch painting) to see pictures by Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as various other notable artists of the age. The highlight was the massive Night Watch by Rembrandt, which has almost a room to itself. It is the most famous painting in the museum and was mobbed by the crowds.

Not too crowded in the Night Watch room

The actual painting in all it's glory. Surprising there was no ban on taking photos

The Milkmaid, probably the most famous painting by Vermeer

Apart from pictures the museum also displays various other forms of art, including an extensive collection of Delftware - blue and white china made in the Dutch town of Delft for hundreds of years - interesting to see, but very glitzy on the eye.

We had arrived at the museum about 3.00pm and spent two hours there, right up to closing time at 5. This is a good time to go, as the crowds had begun to thin and we got to see paintings close up and without much pushing and shoving - which apparently can be the case for visits earlier in the day. So by now we were quite weary and sought out Cafe 't Smalle, one of the most lauded brown cafes in Amsterdam. Brown cafes are time-hewn pubs with candle topped tables that have gradually given the whole place a darkened ambience. They are cosy and with atmosphere. This place certainly had the ambience. We ascended some steep wooden stairs (almost vertical) to get to a small mezzanine floor and were lucky to get a window table for two. Our evening meal was tomato and meatball soup - delicious and plenty of it, along with a platter of cheese, salami and liverwort. The meat was not to our taste, being almost raw, but the cheese was fine. I had some 0% Amstel malt beer - really tasty and worth looking out for when back home.

We did have plans to stay on in the city and take in one of the Red Light district walking tours - yes one is recommended in the Lonely Planet - Randy Roy's Redlight tour - and it has loads of good reviews on the internet. However it didn't start until 8pm and lasted 1.5 hours, so with weary bones we headed back to the campsite.

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